Tourists often, and understandably, have reservations about visiting Kashmir. After all, this picturesque region is prone to civil unrest and violence. It's been declared off-limits to tourists on a number of occasions. There have also been a few isolated incidents, with Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir Valley being temporarily shutdown. However, tourists always begin returning after peace is restored.
So, is it safe to travel to Kashmir?
Understanding the Problem in Kashmir
Prior to the partitioning of India in 1947 (when British India was divided into India and Pakistan along religious lines, as part of the independence process) Kashmir was a "princely state" with its own ruler. Although the king was Hindu, most of his subjects were Muslim and he wanted to remain neutral. However, he was eventually persuaded to accede to India, giving control to the Indian government in return for military assistance to deal with invading Pakistanis.
Many people in Kashmir aren't happy about being governed by India though. The region has a predominantly Muslim population, and they'd rather be independent or be part of Pakistan. Due to its location, mountainous Kashmir is of strategic importance to India, and a number of wars have been fought over its border.
By the late 1980s, dissatisfaction had increased greatly due to issues in the democratic process and erosion of Kashmir's autonomy.
Many of the democratic reforms introduced by the Indian government had been reversed. Militancy and insurgency grew in the uprising for freedom, with violence and unrest peaking in the early 1990s. It's said that Kashmir is the most densely militarized place on earth, with more than 500,000 Indian troops estimated to be deployed to counter any incidents.
To complicate the situation, there are accusations of human rights violations being committed by the armed Indian forces.
The most recent situation, known as the Burhan aftermath, arose in July 2016 followed the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani (leader of a Kashmiri separatist group) by Indian security forces. The killing provoked a series of violent protests and clashes in the Kashmir Valley, and the implementation of a curfew to maintain law and order.
How this Affects Tourists Visiting Kashmir
The substantial presence of military in Kashmir can be unnerving for tourists. However, it's important to keep in mind that Kashmiris have problems with the Indian administration, not with the people of India or anyone else. Even the separatists have nothing against tourists.
Tourists in Kashmir have never been deliberately targeted or harmed. Instead, angry protestors have actually given tourist vehicles safe passage. In general, Kashmiris are hospitable people, and tourism is an important industry and source of income for them. Hence, they will go out of their way to make sure visitors are safe.
The only time that travel to Kashmir is not recommended is when there is tense conflict in the region and travel advisories are issued.
Although tourists are unlikely to be hurt, the disturbances and curfews are very disruptive.
Behavior of Tourists in Kashmir
Anyone who visits Kashmir should keep in mind that the people there have suffered a lot, and should be treated respectfully. In keeping with local culture, women must also take care to dress conservatively, so as not to risk causing offense. This means covering up, and not wearing mini-skirts or shorts!
My Personal Experience in Kashmir
I visited Kashmir (both Srinagar and the Kashmir Valley) in late 2013. There was a disturbance less than a month beforehand, with militants opening fire on a convoy of security forces in Srinagar. Admittedly, it did make me uneasy about going there (and worried my parents). However, everyone I spoke to, including people who had recently visited Srinagar, advised me not to worry.
They told me to still go, and I'm very glad I did!
The only indications that I saw of the issues plaguing Kashmir were the pervasive police and army presence in Srinagar and the Kashmir Valley, and the added security procedures at Srinagar airport. I didn't experience anything to give me any cause for concern.
Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim area, and I found the people to be particularly warm, friendly, respectful, and polite. Even when I was walking through Srinagar's Old City, I was surprised by how little I was harassed -- a huge contrast to many other places in India. It was very easy to fall in love with Kashmir and to want to return again soon.
It seems that many other people feel the same way, as there were plenty of tourists in Kashmir, particularly domestic Indian tourists. I'm told that it's almost impossible to get a room on a houseboat on Nigeen Lake in Srinagar during peak season. It wouldn't surprise me at all, as it's absolutely blissful there.
See Photos of Kashmir
- Photos of Boating in Srinagar on Facebook
- Photos of Srinagar Gardens & Old City on Facebook
- Photos of Sonamarg and Yousmarg on Facebook