Did you know that the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state was the only state in India not to record any crime against tourists in 2017? You may also be surprised to know that this Indian subcontinent has been attracting large volumes of domestic tourists in the past decade. So why has it been marked as an area of political unrest, and where are the ideal places to visit?
Himalayan adventurer and author Garry Weare – who led his first trek in Kashmir in 1973 and has since trekked well over 25,000km in the Indian Himalaya – breaks down the facts and shares why this is a destination he loves returning to.
A place where few foreigners go
The legendary Vale of Kashmir in the midst of the snow-capped Himalaya has captured the imagination of the Moghuls, the British and, more recently in the 1970’s and 80’s, by foreign travellers keen to stay on the renowned houseboats and to trek the unsurpassed Himalayan mountain trails. They came in their throngs.
The outbreak of political unrest in 1990, however, brought tourism to a grinding halt for the best part of a decade and it was not until the early 2000’s that tourists have gradually returned.
By 2010, over 500,000 Indian tourists visited the Kashmir Valley each year to the point that visitors arriving in May and June would be hard pressed to find any accommodation.
There has also been a small but steady increase of foreign visitors mainly from Southeast Asia keen to visit the vibrant capital of Srinagar along with the scenic hill stations of Phalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg. Plus, there’s a regular influx of Australians intent on visiting Gulmarg attracted by near perfect skiing conditions during the winter – supported by a world class gondola, being the second highest cable car on the globe.
In 2011, Germany was the first country to completely lift their travel advisory for Kashmir while the UK and Australia qualified their advisory level to visit Srinagar in November 2013.
Since then, World Expeditions has successfully operated trips to Kashmir – staying in houseboats and from there, exploring tranquil lakes and waterways; the resplendent Moghul Gardens; the historic Old City and the handicraft centres, including the world-famous Kashmir shawls.
What is the current status on travelling to Kashmir?
To answer this question bear in mind:
• There are huge volumes of domestic tourists visiting Kashmir incident-free each year
• The number of foreign visitors who have travelled to Kashmir have been treated as honoured guests
• The last incident involving foreigners was in 1995, some 23 years ago
• Separatist leaders in Kashmir have regularly stated that they welcome tourists. Their issue is with the Indian government not tourists.
• Hot off the press the J&K state was the only state in India not to record any crime against tourists in 2017
World Expeditions’ Himalayan consultant Garry Weare, a long-term Kashmir supporter, has travelled every year to Kashmir each time with a group of travellers since 2013. He has also been working with the J&K Tourism officials to lift the current advisories to Kashmir.
Of course, while it is accepted that there can never be a hard-line guarantee for visitors safety, (and where indeed can you guarantee Brussels, London, Manchester, Paris or even Sydney) feedback from the groups who have recently travelled to Kashmir have been overwhelming positive.
Where do I sign up?
View our full range of trips escorted by Garry Weare which offer memorable exploratory tours and treks from Ladakh or Rajasthan and into the valley of Kashmir. Trek in spectacular mountains in the vicinity of India’s highest peak, take exploratory walks through the Old City, camel safari deep in the Thar Desert, and stay aboard charming Kashmir houseboats.
What are your thoughts on travelling to Kashmir? Let us know in the comments below