Once a tourist hotspot, the beautiful but troubled Kashmir is now seeing a welcome return of intrepid travellers.
Kashmir is a region that spans Pakistan, India and China, but when most people say Kashmir, they are referring to the disputed Indian administered region of Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmir was once a tourist haven; visitors flocked to its alpine meadows, beautiful lakes and spiky mountains to escape the summer heat of the lower lying lands, but the tourist stream dried up when violence erupted in the 1980s, which has been a continual problem in the region ever since.
Now, however, trekkers, climbers, skiers and fishermen are returning to Kashmir’s pristine landscape as unrest in the region has calmed in recent years.
Probably Kashmir’s most well known form of accommodation are the house boats on beautiful Dal Lake. Over the decades, these extremely elaborate, flat-bottomed vessels have hosted many famous names including Nelson Rockefeller, George Harrison of the Beatles and Michael Palin.
The development of winter sports in the ski area of Gulmarg, which boasts the highest gondola lift in the world, is putting Kashmir on the map as an international ski resort – at least in the more adventurous ski set. Over the last five years, intrepid skiers and snowboarders have been coming to enjoy the virtually empty slopes and top quality Himalayan powder snow, not to mention the incredible cultural adventure that Kashmir offers.
Danger and Difficulty
There’s no shying away from the fact that Kashmir is a troubled region and it’s a complicated situation; Pakistan claims Kashmir is theirs as does India, China has a claim on the north western part and many Kashmiris just want their own independence.
The British FCO currently advises against all travel through rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir, however this isn’t putting a lot of adventurous tourists off.
Be prepared for a heavy military presence, especially in Srinagar, where you’ll see armed soldiers every few hundred meters. Armoured vehicles are a common sight in Gulmarg hill station, but local Kashmiris are generally very hospitable and are only too happy to welcome foreign visitors back after the long tourist drought. Although there still is sporadic unrest, tourists are generally not specifically targeted but there is always a risk of getting caught up in violence.
Getting there and around
The closest international airport is Delhi. Travellers can then take an internal flight from to Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital. Local drivers can be hired for a small fee; beware, Kashmiri drivers and roads can be quite an adventure in themselves.