Kashmir is in the news yet again and sadly, it is becoming harder and harder to travel to this most exquisite of regions. Kashmir, India, is an area under dispute. India wants it (and has it), Pakistan wants it and is willing to fight for it, and really, Kashmir would just like to be independent.
Kashmirians have lived through difficult times where tourism stopped for years because of the war between India and Pakistan. It was too dangerous to travel. Over the last few years things have been a lot quieter and people have started travelling again. And it really is the most exquisite area and well worth a visit.
People say that Jesus came to live in Kashmir for about ten years, and if true, one can understand why. There are the magnificent snow capped Himalayas, green valleys, meadows, flowers and a lake so exquisite that the water is like polished silver.
Dal Lake, just outside of the capital Srinagar, is the starting point for Kashmir. Once can stay in a houseboat for a night or for a few nights, then explore the lake by Shakara. A Shakara is a smaller boat, fully carpeted and colourfully decorated, with a ‘driver’ who will take you around. You can do everything from the water - sightsee, shop, buy silver jewellery, fresh flowers or handmade and embroidered handbags.
The city of Srinagar is well worth a visit, with some of the oldest buildings in the world. It’s dusty and chaotic with narrow streets bustling with people selling everything from vegetables to coloured wool to pots and pans and furniture. Tuk-tuks, cows, dogs and people all compete for space, the colours and smells are amazing and it quite overwhelming but fascinating. Some of the oldest mosques can be found here and as long as you have a headscarf and remove your shoes, you can go inside.
Away from the lake you will find Gulmarg and Pahalgam, both mountain retreats, popular with the locals, for hiking, skiing and relaxing. The air is fresh and beautiful, and a real respite from the dust of Srinagar.
You need to check with a tourism office or airline before you travel to Kashmir. But if you’re told that it is safe, please go. It is really magnificent.