About this blog: Is Kashmir safe to travel? Is Kashmir safe for tourists? We have heard these questions time and again. Well, this blog will have our views on Kashmir, whether we found the place safe and how we spent our time there. Along with our experiences, we will also share some information that will help you take an informed decision on whether to visit Kashmir.
The first time we visited Kashmir in 2013 was when we went for Amarnath Yatra. We still remember that most of our family and friends were skeptical about our trip. Some of them were quite vocal about our outrageous decision to visit Kashmir. After all, Kashmir did not seem to be a “safe” place to visit. We were also told that outside Srinagar airport people usually raise slogans of “Go back Indians”!
As usual we took all the advice with a grain of salt and decided to carry on with our trip to Kashmir. On that particular trip we were stuck at a riot at Ramban near Jammu, spent hours on the road and literally saw fire, blood and destruction. But it was also here that we witnessed humanity and compassion. It was here for the first time we realized with every act of conflict, there is an equal share of harmony. With every blow of hatred, there is an equal touch of love and kindness.
Nonetheless, our Amarnath Yatra trek was a successful one and then we travelled on towards Ladakh. After the first visit, Kashmir had always been on my mind. Finally, we visited the ‘Paradise on earth’ again in 2021.
If foreign tourists want to visit Kashmir then you must get the India
tourist evisa. You can apply for it online, the process is extremely
easy and doesn’t take much time.
Is Kashmir safe for tourists?
If you want a one-word answer, we would say – Yes, it is quite safe to visit Kashmir. However, we have always believed that ‘safety’ depends on an individual. Whenever we travel to a new city or place, we usually get as much information about the place as possible. We also tend to stay at well-known locations for the first couple of days. And we always take the help of locals. We usually follow this rule for our long trips and Kashmir was no exception.
Kashmir happens to be one of the highest militarized zones in the world. You will always see military vans moving on the roads of Srinagar like any other vehicle. But tourists are never attacked in Kashmir. There is always a risk associated with travelling in a conflict zone. You have to make an informed decision before visiting the place.
The seven decade dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan remains one of the oldest unresolved disagreements. It is such a humanitarian nightmare and has caused two wars between the neighbouring states. A sense of mistrust always prevails whenever these two nations are concerned. Many opine that the reason for unrest dates back to the independence of India and Pakistan from the British power in 1947. But the seed of unrest has been there long back.
We do not want to go much into the history of unrest in Kashmir here. There were a number of events throughout history that lead to the situation today like the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846, Jammu massacre in 1947, accession of Kashmir to India by Maharaja Hari Singh, exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, military occupation of Kashmir and the list goes on! I would not go into details on the modern history of Kashmir. There are many accounts available online that you can check out.
This ongoing strife in Kashmir is definitely a human rights crisis. While militants are blamed for attacks on military and government; the military on the other hand is blamed for wanton killings, rape, disappearances of Kashmiris.
But where does this leave the ordinary people of the valley? What do they want? What does the houseboat owner on Dal Lake in Srinagar want? Or the local guides and horse owners in Pahalgam? In between all the hearsay, peace talks, ambassadors, we often seem to forget the common people of Kashmir.
Our experience in Kashmir – Is Kashmir Safe?
Kashmir is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places we have visited. When Emperor Jehangir declared Kashmir to be the Paradise on Earth, he was definitely not exaggerating. The snow clad mountains, rivers, serene lakes, the Chinar trees– everything makes Kashmir undoubtedly a gorgeous destination. But the real warmth of Kashmir comes from the Kashmiris.
We found Kashmir to be one of the receptive places we have visited. The people are warm, smiling and helpful. As much as the valley is beautiful, its people are even more. Every place we visited, we met smiling faces without any prejudice. And everyone welcomed us with a cup of Kahwa! The Kashmiris find no qualms in inviting strangers to their home and offering them the best hospitality. They want you to remember Kashmir with fondness and love and take back great memories of their valley.
In our Kashmir trip, we explored the valley as much as we could. We not only explored Srinagar, Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam, but also went to various offbeat destinations in Kashmir.We spent 15 days in Kashmir and travelled across 10 districts, some of them including Sophian, Pulwama, Baramulla and Kupwara. For the uninitiated, these districts are said to be the most disturbed ones in Kashmir.
After our visit to Kalaroos Caves in Lolab Valley, I slipped and fell down in the mud (as clumsy as I am!). As I was returning after my clumsy debacle, a local lady asked to wash my hands and feet at her house. And of course, she offered all of us kahwa!
In Srinagar, we stayed with a local family in a houseboat. Those people are a few of the warmest people we met. The family head, who we called uncle, was always smiling and told us stories of the past and the tales of the present. In Srinagar, we used to stroll around Dal Lake, talk to people and watch the beautiful sunset.
Is Kashmir Safe for tourists after the scrapping of Article 370?
Yes, definitely. There was a lot of upheaval after Article 370 was scrapped. Kashmir was pushed into strict curfew and internet services were shut down since August 5, 2019.
From mid-July 2020, the Government has opened up Kashmir again for tourists. Things are gradually coming back to normal. The Internet has been restored and tourists have also started visiting the valley.
The Covid-19 Pandemic had again created havoc on Kashmir tourism like the rest of the world. However, tourists were visiting Kashmir and January and February 2021 saw a lot of tourists visiting Kashmir.
Now let us talk about the safety of tourists in Kashmir.
- Kashmir does experience violence in one form or the other, but it is rare that tourists get caught up in such a situation.
- Stone-pelting, gun fights and any other violence rarely occur in main tourist areas like Srinagar Dal Lake, Gulmarg, Pahalgam or Sonmarg.
- Tourists are absolutely safe in Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir is one of the states where there is zero crime record against tourists. The locals are very supportive and helpful towards tourists. Tourism is considered to be a large part of the economy and a large number of people gain their livelihood from tourism like travel agents, hotel and houseboat owners, shikara owners, tourist guides, car drivers, pony owners and others. The locals will not let anything happen to the tourists.
- What we need to understand is that the Kashmiris have a problem with the administration, but not with the rest of the country. Any violence is towards the military or the local administration.
- Kashmir has one of the lowest crime rates in India. Crimes against women are rarely heard in Kashmir making it a safe place for female travellers.
So why is there so much Bad News?
The main reason for this unsafe Kashmir bubble is because of the media buzz. Most of the media houses sensationalized stories and have exaggerated the problem. The news channels have made us believe that there is something really wrong with Kashmir. This is not true.
The Bollywood industry has also played a significant part in this scenario. Before militancy, Kashmir was known as the shooting place for many Bollywood blockbusters. The ethereal beauty of the Valley had attracted many filmmakers to shoot there. But post 1990, the movies about Kashmir are mainly about wars and Kashmiri conflict. No more romances are made in or about Kashmir.
So should we visit Kashmir? Let us see what the locals think about tourism in Kashmir.
The Local Opinion – Is Kashmir Safe?
To be honest, we found Kashmiris to be one of the warmest hosts. Infact, some of my warmest experiences while travelling come from remote and conflicted areas like Northeast and Kashmir.
And then we got the opportunity to talk to the local Kashmiris.
“Do you really think that we are all violent and throw stones at random people”? One young Kashmiri woman from Srinagar asked me this as I was having Kahwa in her house. She was just out of college.
She was not the only one. Almost all the people we met in Kashmir had this question for us – “Do you really feel unsafe here? What do you think? Is Kashmir safe”?
And we kept on answering them truthfully that Kashmir is as safe as a second home.
Our hosts at Naranag asked us while we were having dinner in their cosy kitchen, “What will you tell others when you get back home? Will you ask them to come here”?
We only have good things to tell about Kashmir.
The Kashmiris we met are lovely people. They want us to visit the Valley. They actually worry about the general image that is portrayed by the media.
Of course, I do not say that everything is hunky dory in Kashmir. There are problems in the Valley. We had seen pictures on the walls saying “Azad Kashmir”. We have heard about stone pelting incidents.
Similarly, we had also seen a few Indian Military personnel treating the local Kashmiris quite poorly.
Now coming to the main question – So what do the Kashmiris Want?
After talking to the Kashmiris, we found out that they have different opinions on the matter. Some people are quite happy to be a part of India (irrespective of their religious background) while there are many that want to be a part of Pakistan. There is also a group that wants independent Kashmir without the interference of India or Pakistan.
The majority of the people, however, do not care much as long as they live peacefully and earn a decent living. This is actually the common man who is concerned about the well-being of their family. We actually found the common people of the villages, the shepherds on the valleys, the tourist guides, and a few houseboat owners who care much less about the country they are in. All they want is peace and the right to live a decent life.
Kashmir cannot be won by violence. Only love and empathy can win over Kashmir and the Kashmiris.
Is it ethical to visit Kashmir?
Just like the negative image portrayed, there is also another issue that goes round in this time – is it ethical to visit Kashmir. I was even asked why being a travel influencer I was visiting Kashmir.
Kashmir has remained a disputed land for a long time. As of date, more than 600,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in Kashmir making Kashmir one of the most militarized zones in the world.
The Indian soldiers in Kashmir have been accused of grossly violating human rights issues. They have been accused for fake encounters, rapes, tortures and destruction of properties. And recently, Article 370 has been scrapped by the Indian Government. It is said that the voice of Kashmiris have been suppressed for a long time. Curfews are rampant and there is complete shutdown of the internet for days and months in Kashmir. Children cannot attend schools properly because of curfew. Life is not normal there.
So what should we do? Should we visit Kashmir? Or, should we not visit the place because of the human right violation?
What do we think?
Kashmiris want people to visit their land. They want others to know about their history, culture, landscape and in general, their life. They want people to know about the real Kashmir and Kashmiris. So who are we to deny them?
We personally believe that stopping to visit a place is the solution to any problem. It is very easy to form opinions and judgments from outside. Only when we visit a place can we understand what really is happening there. The more people will visit, the more the world will know about the real problem of the place. And what the common people of the place want.
By not going to Kashmir or stopping tourism, we are denying the locals of their livelihood. The houseboat where we stayed had two young men working hard for their family. They want tourists to visit their place. If they are denied that for the sake of “ethics”, then they might be attracted to improper means of income. Who knows?
Bottom-line, we want you to visit Kashmir. The Kashmiris want you to visit there. You can explore the well-known tourist circuit or the offbeat places. Once you are there, we ask you to be respectful to the locals and talk to them. You will realize that the Paradise on Earth is indeed a delightful place.
Tips for a safe trip to Kashmir
1. Do your Homework and know the place well
This is something that I always recommend before going on any trip. So before you start for your Kashmir trip, keep a close check on the local news and current situations in Kashmir.
This however, does not include the encounters and skirmishes between the Indian army and the militants. These clashes have become quite common in the Valley since the last decade. This is likely to impact your travel schedule. What definitely will impact your travel are incidents like curfew and wide-spread stone pelting in the valley. These incidents will create a bottleneck to your travel plan and you might be stuck inside your hotel for long. If there is continued violence and curfew in the region for a longer period of time, then it might be better to reschedule your trip.
2. Stick to the main tourist areas
Tourism plays a large part in the economy of Kashmiris, both directly and indirectly. And the Kashmiris take care of the tourists as their own. Popular tourist destinations like Pahalgam, Sonmarg and Gulmarg hardly get disrupted by protests. Infact, when we went for AmarnathYatra, Pahalgam functioned normally, even though there was curfew in the rest of Kashmir.
So for your first visit in Kashmir, we recommend you to stick to the popular tourist circuit in your itinerary. Think twice before venturing into offbeat routes.
I am not saying that visiting offbeat Kashmir is entirely not possible. We have done it on our first trip itself. Infact, we had travelled across 10 districts of Kashmir in 15 days. But this is not suitable for everyone. To be on the safer side, stick to the main tourist circuit of Kashmir for your first time. Once you get a fair idea of the place, you can plan on going off-the-beaten track.
Kashmir is so beautiful that even the most common tourist places will leave you mesmerized. So just ditch the fear and visit Kashmir.
3. Stay on the Main Routes
This is quite an important part in Kashmir and applies for both Srinagar and the rest of Kashmir. Stay on the main roads and highways. When you are exploring a city or town, stick to the main roads, tourist areas and the main market areas. Do not wander off to explore obscure mohallas and lanes on our own. Do not go to any places that you have no business visiting.
4. Avoid troubled areas
By this, we ask you to avoid areas where you might know trouble can happen. If by any chance you have heard that there might be some problem in a place, do not go there out of curiosity to see what is happening.
For example, we had heard that there were stone pelting clashes at a part of old Srinagar on an afternoon. We had actually planned on walking there that day. But we changed our plans and visited elsewhere. Similarly, if there are skirmishes at the border area, it is better to avoid visiting places like Gurez and Lolab Valley.
Do not be curious and wander off to unknown places. Just take off your explorer shoes for once and put on your tourist hat while you are in Kashmir.
5. Ditch the maps and Be Social
This brings us to our current recommendation. It is better to avoid Google Maps in Kashmir if you are travelling on your own. Google Maps by default shows you the shortest possible way, which might not be the best route you take. This is especially for the bikers. Following Google Maps might lead you to places where some protest is going on. It would be a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
So it is better to ditch the Google Map for the time being and be social again. Ask around. The local people are very helpful and they will guide you accordingly. You can ask the locals, the policemen, the army people for directions. If there are any issues at any place, they will immediately direct you to a safer route.
6. Dress in an appropriate manner
Kashmir is a Muslim majority state and you will find the women dressed conservatively and mostly wearing a Hijab. So it is appropriate to dress modestly in Kashmir. Revealing outfits are not the thing you should wear there. While there are usually no restrictions for men folks, we would suggest you not flaunt your six-pack abs there!
Of course there is no official dressing code or rule. You will definitely not get pointed out or arrested for wearing shorts or a mini-skirt. But such a dress can be seen disrespectful to a lot of people there. What you wear is definitely your personal choice. But it is always to respect the feelings of the people of the place you visit. After all, respect begets respect.
For ladies, it is advisable to carry a stole or dupatta. While entering mosques and dargahs, you are often asked to cover your head.
7. Keep a local contact, always
Keep a local Kashmiri contact with you while travelling around Kashmir, always! It might be from your hotel, your car driver, local travel agent or anyone you know. If something goes wrong, then you will always have a local person to rely on.
In the worst case, if you have to knock on the doors of a local, do not be afraid to do that. You will find them to be helpful and accommodative.
8. Stay Calm and do not get into arguments
This is the best piece of advice that I can give you. Stay calm and avoid getting yourself into confrontational debates and arguments. Please understand their situation and even if you do not, empathize with them. You might not agree with their thoughts and beliefs just like they might not agree with yours.
Remember that you are a guest there. The Kashmiris treat their guests with respect and you should also return it.
9. Get a mobile Postpaid Connection
Prepaid mobile connections do not work in Kashmir for security reasons. So before visiting the Valley, we recommend you to take a postpaid connection. BSNL has the widest network here followed by Airtel and Jio.
We recommend you carry a postpaid Sim instead of waiting to get one there. We had not gotten a postpaid Sim during our visit and we had to wait for almost 5 days before we got one local SIM.
10. Be prepared for sudden changes in plans
Things can be quite unpredictable in Kashmir. So be prepared for changes in your plans. We had to change our plans a couple of times – once because of a minor stone pelting issue and another time was due to snowfall.
11. Limit alcohols to Indoors
The majority of the population in Kashmir follows Islam where alcohol consumption is a frowned upon. Alcohol is not banned in Kashmir per se, but it is always better to consume alcohol indoors. There are few shops selling alcohol in Srinagar and most of the hotels probably have arrangements to serve them. But places like Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam so not have alcohol shops.
Do not consume alcohol openly. Respect the feelings of the locals and restrict your drinking to indoors. Have your drinks inside the hotel with your friends and then sleep on it. Do not get drunk and go for a walk or even drive.
12. Do not take Curfews lightly
Even after all your safety preparations, you still find yourself in a curfew situation; then take it seriously. Curfews are not to be taken lightly in Kashmir. If anything goes wrong, stay inside your hotel or houseboat as long as required. Get out only when things have calmed down. Even if you are caught up while travelling, stay calm and let your car driver handle the situation. Otherwise take the help of a local or security personnel. They will ensure your safety.
13. Photograph with care
While taking photographs of people, it is always polite to ask for permission. And this goes for all places you visit. Kashmir is no exception.
However, the most important tip we can give you is – do not take photographs of military installations, BSF grounds or anything related to the army, even from a distance. There are cases where the military has taken away cameras or deleted pictures.
Hope these Kashmir travel tips will help you while planning a trip to Kashmir.
A Few more pictures from Kashmir
Kashmir is undoubtedly a beautiful destination. If you are planning to visit Kashmir, make an informed decision before going there. Once again we would iterate that Kashmiris are very amiable and you will never feel unwanted there.
As for us, we loved Kashmir and cannot wait to go back there again!
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