Is it safe to travel to Kashmir?
This is one of the most common queries I come across, from people either planning to holiday in Kashmir Valley or even passing through it, in order to reach Ladakh.
Those who love Kashmir will tell you, it is perfectly fine to travel to Kashmir Valley and it is probably the safest places to travel in India.
There are many who will tell you, traveling to Kashmir is not only a dangerous affair but also a foolhardy endeavor, especially in the backdrop of all that has been going on this year.
Both these views border on extremism and I for one, do not subscribe to either of these views. Therefore, in this blog post, I will first try present to you the pros and cons of traveling to Kashmir (security wise) and then, weigh in with my opinion towards the end.
Why is it safe to travel to Kashmir?
- Terrorists rarely attack tourists.
- Kashmiris are helpful and hospitable people and ensure tourists are not threatened or harmed.
- Touristy areas like Boulevard Road in Srinagar, Gulmarg or Pahalgam are rarely impacted by protests.
- Kashmir has one of the lowest crime rates against tourists, as per news reports.
- There is heavy security along the highway and at the airport to ensure untoward incidents do not occur.
Why is it not safe to travel to Kashmir?
- This year general elections will be taking place in Kashmir on the 11th, 18th, 23rd and 29th of April and on 6th May. During this period, both security and tempers will be running high. State elections in J&K are also due this year, though have not been declared.
- There is terrorism in Kashmir and let’s face it, all it takes is a stray bullet or shrapnel to ruin a life and with it, the family.
- Protests and bandhs can cause delays or worse; ruin entire vacation plans by preventing you from visiting the sights you had in mind and can even make it impossible to step outside the hotel.
- Even though protesters do not target tourists, there have been incidents of tourist vehicles getting pelted, when they tried to drive through a protest.
- Heavy security presence can be unnerving for some, add to that frequent and extensive security checks can be annoying and time-consuming as well.
- Having first hand experienced the bureaucracy in Kashmir, I have serious doubt about administrations’ ability to step in and help tourists in case of any emergency or dispute.
Do I feel it is safe to travel to Kashmir?
In a nutshell, yes!
However, that yes comes with many riders.
I would never travel to Kashmir during elections, Independence Day, and Republic Day. Heavy security, as well as high chances of protest and terrorist attack, is not something I want during my trips. Then again, I would not travel to any state in India on the election date.
If I am traveling in Kashmir, I would ensure my travel itinerary is flexible, so that I do not end up missing places and losing money due to it.
I would also err on the side of caution and stay at touristy areas in Srinagar.
I would never try to cross a route where protests are taking place, irrespective whether it is Kashmir or elsewhere in India. After all, it means putting your fate and life into the hands of the mob, which is not an intelligent thing to do.
I would also ensure that I do not mingle with the administration or the security forces or stay at their guesthouses since it can put you on the radar of wrongdoers.
Furthermore, I would suggest you stay away from discussing politics or the situation in Kashmir. Not for the fear of antagonizing locals and getting into trouble, rather in order to avoid hearing something you might not wish to hear.
At the end of the day, each one of us has different priorities and risk taking apatite. And even though we take the risk, each time we venture out of the comfort of our home and travel to a different state, traveling to Kashmir does carry more risk, even if it is only a wee bit more.