Kashmir: is it safe?

 “… I saw your blog regarding your trip to Kashmir and its very beautiful. I had a friend from Kashmir but unfortunately he died due to some injury caused in protests this year. I wanted to know from you that is Kashmir peaceful right now because i wanted to visit. Also is there a separate process to apply visa or from Indian embassy. Also if you can tell me what is the problem there? Is Kashmir a part of India or is it Occupied. I never asked my friend about this but after his death i want to go there coz he was a really good person…”

I received this email from a random reader arriving to my Travelogue, and recalling that I had actually wanted to write about this long ago after the Kashmir trip (which remained undone thanks to 2011 blogging hiatus), so I thought of writing this here now. First of all, I feel sorry for the Kashmiri friend’s death. When I bought ticket to India in late 2010 (for trip in April 2011), I had not actually thought of visiting Kashmir. All I wanted to see was Taj Mahal and common cities in India. I am not sure what was the reason Az suggesting it either, as eventually I knew that he didnt actually know much about it =.= and it was me who did the research before our trip, places to visit, transports, etc. And it turned out to be our main destination (we spent one week in Kashmir out of 2 weeks total in India) and our best decision ever to go there.

Like many others, I grew up knowing Kashmir as a “not a safe place”. Back in 1999 in Masjidil Haram in Makkah, the Imam repeatedly included Kashmir (and Chechnya) in the mass du’a every night during prayers, and it promptly made me imagine they were having war. Although not actually following its updates until few years back and I havent really came across any proper news about Kashmir, it still somehow remained as unsafe place to me.

During UIA, I met many students from Kashmir and India. When Ummatic Week comes (the university’s annual inter-cultural feast), one would see Kashmir has its own booth and India has its own booth. When I asked, the Kashmiri students simply said their culture is totally different than India’s, regardless, now we’re talking about foreign students in (Islamic) international university in Malaysia, and everyone is Muslim.

I didnt bother about Kashmir that much until the moment Az suggested to visit there. After a little research, you’ll know that Kashmir is visitable.  While the more conflicting it sounds, the more curious I became about this region! And it became more exciting when I learned that this region offers really beautiful places that you cant wait to see for real.

Okay, back to the email’s questions…..

1) Is Kashmir peaceful right now?

I’m afraid I’ll answer from my own perspective only, which could not be fact. When we visited there in April 2011, it was all calm (okay, there was actually an incident in a mosque during Juma prayer when an Imam was killed, which was beyond our sight and didnt affect the trip so let’s keep that aside for now). It was worse when our friend Manu had been there earlier, I think in 2010. He and his friends went at the time when there was curfew for days that they had to remain staying in hotel without going out to places.

I can say it can always be safe for tourists.  I have come to know that tourism is the main economy contributor to this region. There are alot of tourists from other states in India as well as foreign coutries visiting Kashmir every year. You can always refer to forums like IndiaMike – Jammu & Kashmir and I remember there’s a thread somehow giving updates about safety in Srinagar (if there was riot, curfew, etc) before you decide to go. But in case you already have tickets, it wont matter that much :) Only it’s best to remain as tourist when you’re there – avoid discussing about the political situation in Kashmir, and never express your opinion or side regarding that. Another thing, we’re advised to not to go out at night. You will get to see Indian and J&K army on the street in many places but they give no harm. We even feel it safer with their existence, anyhow.

2) Is there a separate process to apply visa or from Indian Embassy?

If India’s region of Kashmir is concerned (Srinagar as capital), of course you’ll need Indian visa. As for April 2011, double entry visa (valid for 6 months) costs RM170 for Malaysian. Although not being mentioned in anywhere as far as I check online, I somehow prefer not mentioning Kashmir as “places to visit” under the application. We just put Delhi, Agra and Punjab instead.

3) What is the problem there? Is Kashmir part of India or is it Occupied?

From my little understanding from random readings and class discussion in uni, I learned that India and Pakistan used to be one nation in the past, and the British came, then later gave them independence. Kashmir being a region in the middle of two, has been in conflict ever since. Politically, the region has been divided partially to India and another to Pakistan. Although, again concerning India’s Kashmir, the people there don’t feel belong to India by culture (and possibly religion) hence the urge to gain its own independent state. But so far, it’s still officially, part of India.

Back to UIA days, once in our Leadership class, there were 2 Kashmiri students, and our lecturer happens to be an Indian from Kerala. I remember we ended up having a thoughtful discussion about this, when one Kashmiri student gave a public speech about his home place. They raised the concern of they prefer to have independent from India, because Kashmiri is a Muslim region. Imagine what our Indian lecturer’s response. Smiling, he said something like, “I’m also Muslim but we dont have to get indepenence from India because of that”. And another Kashmiri argue “Our culture is just different”. Oh well. If you’re talking about culture differences of India from North to South, there’s heaps. Anyway, I learned something, without really having my own opinion.

 

So, when we were really in Kashmir, we got to see things right before our own eyes. We came across many locals in Kashmir, and at times when he thinks appropriate, Az would repeat the same ice-breaking talk by first cheerfully claiming that this place is far more peaceful than we thought or said from media, and shortly we would somehow, manage to make them express their thoughts, and hope for an independent Kashmir. In streets, there’s sight of their hearts voiced out into verbal expression. Longing for freedom.

Although, NOT all Kashmiri wants independence. From our little “survey”, it can be concluded that majority of Kashmiri people (at least who talked to us) who live in Kashmir and make a living here, they want an independence state. On the other hand, we also met Kashmiri who live in Kashmir but has family actively running business and studying in Delhi, they prefer to be in India.

As our Kashmiri-origin CouchSurfer host in Delhi says, this thing can be a never ending issue.

Read Our Travelogue for Jammu & Kashmir, India.

Last day in Kashmir

From Clermont Houseboat to JKT Bus stand: Got ride by Mr Bashir
Shuttle bus to Srinagar airport: Rs.45

Our last night at Clermont Houseboat was in this small cottage in the corner. We had to move out from the big houseboat because there will be some VIP guest going to check-in, but it’s more than okay, coz this cottage is very cozy! In fact, I’m not sure if it’s floating on water like houseboats as well but it’s surely located the same rows with them along the lake bank.

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Meeting Saba

Way back from Saba’s house to Dal Gate: shared Sumo taxi, Rs.20
Auto-rickshaw Dal Gate to Clermont: Rs.150

Walking out from Tulip Gardens, we walked for a kilometer towards the direction we believe that would bring us to Brein district, and there were big houses sitting along the road and from their house signboard at their gate, we were convinced that we’re going the right direction. We passed by some group of army monitoring some area nearby at the road, and hoping that they would know, we asked them while showing the address written by Mr Showkat at our small booklet. The army officer doesnt seem to know it, and gave a sign to another officer to come to help us. Now we noticed from their uniforms that they are different group of army – Indian army and another is J&K (Jammu & Kashmir) enforcement people. The J&K officer seems to know his place better, and showed us to walked further to a direction.

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Srinagar: Tulip Garden

How to get there: Auto-rickshaw from Nishat Bagh, Rs.50. It would be nearer if you’re from Dal Gate.
Entrance: Rs.50 (10 times more expensive than Mughal garden!)
Toilet: Rs.5 (foreigners)

From Nishat Bagh we took another auto-rickshaw to Tulip Garden. This time it’s not one of the Mughal Gardens, but simply new place where they plant alot of tulips and they are expected to bloom pretty during Spring. As of today, 9 April, it still seems early as the tulips are not yet fully bloomed.

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