A Day in Kashmir

Kashmir should be visited as a languid sojourn on a housebout on Lak Dal or a retreat into the landscape. I had a day. Rapid travel is not well-suited to every destination, though I had a great day in Srinigar and it was far better than no day.

Foreigners do not need permits in advance to visit Kashmir. Upon arrival there is a massive arrival form, a full A4 sheet of questions, given by friendly, low-key officials. No passport stamp unlike Andaman Islands, Sikkim and others.

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Security lockdown is the lasting impression of Srinigar. There airport is sealed off with a 1km+ perimeter of checkpoints. From there into town the road is lined with military presence as well as throughout Srinigar. With elections coming this month the alert was stepped up and no one was in a convivial mood to deal with a nosy tourist so I kept my camera holstered around security. I saw a girls school wrapped in barricades and checkpoints and wondered the experience of the girls within, fighting for education.

Lake Dal is the centerpiece, a houseboat stay is the prime attraction that attracts raves and howls. Study all the the online horror stories to learn the ropes and make a plan.

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I kept to land, chartering a prepaid taxi from the airport for my first stop, then negotiating with him for the rest of the day. I surveyed several of the Mughal Gardens, still not blossomed into spring, and the sights of the bustling, predominantly Muslim old town.

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An overcast day in April does not show Srinigar in its best light. For summer, it would be a delight to launch a larger Kashmir trip, though not necessarily worth a trip just for the city.

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On departure the same massive form, now labeled ‘Departure’ awaits foreigners.

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  1. It’s called Dal Lake by all locals.

    I’ve been a few times to the Taj Vevanta Hotel — rather new — in Srinagar and it has great views of the lake and is much better in terms of maintenance than the former Oberoi/Intercontiental Grand Palace hotel there (Lalit Grand Palace) although the latter is far more traditional.

    Did you get over to Gulmarg and Pahalgam too? I have been there rather frequently and it’s all way more crowded now than it was in the 1960/, 70s or 80s — same goes for Srinagar.

  2. I despise the landing and departing form at SXR — it’s a waste of time and they pester people to fill it out on the basis of how someone looks.

  3. @Guwonder – thanks for the info and clarification. I just had the day, fly in, fly out, so only saw Srinigar.

    I agree it is irksome that they target people for the form who they think are foreign. They chased me down coming and going. Yet, for the first and perhaps only time in my life, a security guard who had a more Central Asian look said, “You look Indian.” Only in Kashmir I guess!

  4. Stefan, good write up and nice shots. Kashmir in general and Srinagar in particular, has been on my list of places to visit. Glad that you’re able to go, even for a day, I certainly want to witness the ceremonial spectacle that each army puts at the border! And IMHO yeah, you DO look Indian, just a very pale one! LOL

  5. The Indo-Pak ceremonial border spectacle is not viewable in Kashmir by the public unless seeing it on TV or leaving the Indian part of Kashmir. That is unless you call glacier-level/mountain-top firing of bullets to be the spectacle you seek.

    The regular border dance confrontation shown on CNN is from another part of India beyond the Indian part of Kashmir. The LOC border crossing from the Indian part of Kashmir to Pakistan which is used by ground vehicle traffic doesn’t have that show IIRC.

    Conde Nast recently had a write up on Kashmir and it mentioned two houseboats in particular which didn’t sound so bad. It is not so easy to find a great houseboat on the Dal or the Nagin amidst the many there that are available, so pick carefully. I stick to land there.

    The ground trip to the SXR airport there is quite a trip with repeated security checks to get into the terminal building and to even get to the plane door — many of the checks are a dog and pony show and some of them even create additional security risk.

    I know a comment was made about girls schools. The majority of girls go to school there without a problem or with nearly all the same kind of problems the boys/boys schools have faced there. School education for all young children is legally required and enforced. The government schools, non-denominational private schools, and even the private Christian missionary schools (attended by most of the Kashmiri elite, Muslim or otherwise) in the city have been operating for mostly all the same non-curfew days even during the height of the militancy period in the city. And the boys and girls schools have been open and operating for just about all the same days too even during the worst years of the militancy in the 1990s. All kids in Kashmir faced a risk and problems going to school, with militants, other separatists and government security forces making a mess of things and making it difficult for kids, regardless of sex, from safely getting an education at school. Female English literacy in Srinagar has been substantially higher than it is in most North Indian cities.

    This was a place I studied greatly.

  6. @Guwonder – I sincerely appreciate all the detailed insight. I need to study the region. It is especially heartening to hear the commitment to education in the region.

    I did a separate day up to Amritsar for the Attari/Wagah border closing and it was superb. Only downside is the sun sets on the Pakistan side so the views and photo ops from there would be better, while the Indian side is more festive. Pakistan separates the gengers, while Indian encourages a Bollywood style dance of female spectators in the road prior to the ceremony. I will have to see it from the other side as well.

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