Is it safe to travel to Kashmir? Where exactly am I going and is it safe enough to go there? These kind of questions I asked myself only at the airport while waiting to board my flight to Srinagar, the capital of this disputable region. Not that I was really looking for an answer to those questions to be honest, but it did cross my mind while roaming Instagram for the best things to do in Kashmir.
Kashmir Travel Guide
The fact that there are daily flights from Delhi to this region was enough info for me to not be bothered about safety issues. But it is quite obvious that I was not really prepared, but as you know that is how I like it. Of course I did some research about sightseeing in Kashmir, but I did not book anything in advanced. I like to be free and go wherever I want to, without getting stuck to a certain booking. It made my trip to Kashmir even more adventurous, but may be I should have looked at a Kashmir travel guide this time to get at least some basic tips.
Is it safe to travel to Kasmir?
Arriving in Srinagar was a little different than arriving in a random place around the world lets put it that way. Immediately after I collected my suitcase the tourist police came up to me, asking me a couple questions. They assured me that they approached me only to make my arrival as safe as possible. I asked myself why is this necessary? All tourists have to register at the airport with the police and you have to let them know where you are going and where you are staying. Of course I had no idea yet! LOL The only information I had was a phone number from a homestay family and the name of a fellow Aussie traveler. The police did their best to track down the place where I was going to stay. It took them more than an hour and I started to ask myself is Kashmir safe for tourists? Being hold up by the police doesn’t seem nice, but it all seemed really peaceful to me. Finally they escorted me out of the airport and put me in a taxi! I was frozen though, it was 9 degrees in the beginning of November and my suitcase contained only clothes suited for a life on a tropic island.
Another inspiring place to travel in India is Hampi. Check out my Hampi travel guide here.
Best time to visit to Kashmir
Obviously November was not ideal to tick off the best places to visit in Kashmir as temperatures dropped till around freezing level at night time. During the day it was pleasant in the sun, but in the shade it was pretty cold. Good thing was there were hardly any tourists around. If you plan to go skiing in Gulmarg then November is not the best time to go to Kashmir either as there was not enough snow yet when we went up the mountain. November is a perfect season to avoid the tourists and also a great time for hiking.
My trip to Kashmir
A trip to Kashmir is definitely going to be a new experience, at least for the average traveler. I have been around a lot but what I was seeing here is hard to explain. The military was all over the place! That literally meant tanks on the side of the road, military check points, camps, loads of military trucks, heavy armed soldiers roaming the streets and lined up along the so called highway. Wow this was definitely new for me and damn I do love new experiences!
It may sounds pretty scary, but it made me smile, I actually felt a bit of an adrenaline rush! At the same time it gave me a safe feeling too. I was about to put my GoPro out of the window to capture it on camera, but I had no idea what impact that would have on the seemingly focused soldiers.
May be the heavy rainfall made it all look more dramatic and without any doubt the worst floods ever that hit this region just a couple weeks before I arrived had a huge impact. It affected almost 3000 villages and loads of people lost their homes. The water level in the street rose up to 3.7 meters high. Some parts of the city looked deserted and spooky.
A 50-minute cab ride brought me only 25km away from the airport to Dal Lake, one of the best places to see in Kashmir. I was transferred to a local taxi boat, called ‘shikara’, as I was apparently staying on a houseboat in the middle of the lake. I seriously still had no clue where I was going at that time, but since the tourist police arranged everything I assumed it would be ok. Obviously the people that were transporting me did not speak any English at all.
It took me ages but finally I found Mel, an Aussie girl I met in Delhi who told me about some cool places to visit in Kashmir. She booked this trip from Delhi, I decided to just find her and follow her path and she had no clue I was coming! The expression on her face was fabulous when she saw me. How on earth did you find this place she asked me? I had no clue either I told her! I didn’t find you, the police kind of did, I replied! My trip to Kashmir was already one big adventure! :)
Mel booked a massively overprized tour package through a New Delhi based travel agency called Smaak. A homestay for 6 nights with tours and flights included set her back $425. It may seem a very good deal but prices in Kashmir are of course super low and therefore I would definitely not recommend booking a tour, but make it a do it yourself. After Kashmir I traveled down South to see the Dalai Lama in Mc Leod Ganj and then descended into the Valley of Flowers, an incredible place with magnificent hikes.
The political situation of Kashmir
The lake we were living on is an extremely peaceful place and in huge contrast with the nearby bustling city, where the 99% Muslim population share the streets with the non-Muslim Indian army. Somehow I was really interested in what the current status of the conflict was and I ended up asking locals loads of questions. Like in most conflict area’s religion is the main issues. An independent Kashmir is the goal. But as a Muslim minority in India, Kashmiris don’t feel like Indians, neither do they want to be part of the instable Islamic based Pakistan. Independence is no option either, since Kashmir does not have the resources to be self-sufficient. Actually they are kind of stuck in this situation and they take it as it is. A lot has improved in the last years I was told. Not that long ago there was a curfew at 5pm, which means the streets were completely empty after sunset. Something barely comprehendible for me! According to most locals there are hardly any safety issues and every time something happens nowadays it is set up by India to create news according to them.
So is Kashmir safe for tourists? Yep I definitely think so. I ticked off the best things to do in Kashmir without any safety issues at all. I never felt unsafe anywhere. Apart from the presence of heavy armed soldiers in the streets, something I did not get used too, there were no signs that this was a constant conflict area and officially a region that was in war.
Best things to do in Kashmir
If you consider to come and see the best places to visit in Kashmir then definitely decide which season you want to come as there is a huge difference. Since this region is developing more and more there are plenty cool things to do in Kashmir that are worth taking the trip. What about a skiing trip? Or multi day hiking? Horse riding trips? Living on a houseboat and many more awesome tourist places in Kashmir.
Take in mind that traffic is horrific and travelling around takes time. Affordable private jeeps can be arranged through local travel agencies and there is no need to book a tour in advance. Definitely not if you are the adventurous type. There are many cool places to visit in Kashmir that are completely off the beaten track.
1. Stay in a houseboat on the Dal Lake
Spending some nights on the majestic Dal Lake should definitely be on your list of places to see in Kashmir. There are innumerable houseboats, literally hundreds to choose from so I am sure there is always a room available and your bargaining position is really strong. This is a truly local experience as staying on a houseboat means you eat the local food cooked by the family and you all eat together, share stories and drink tea together.
Take a local boat and spend some time on the lake. Let someone peddle you through the little canals on the side of the lake and discover complete villages on stilts.
2. Watersports on Dal Lake
There are several options to rent kayaks, jet skis or go wake boarding with snowcapped mountains in the background. Prices are very affordable!
3. Visit Nishat Bagh Mughal Gardens
A peaceful park on the side of the Dal Lake that makes up for a lovely afternoon stroll or wven watch the sunset. Flanked by the Dal Lake on one side and the majestic mountains on the other side this park is one of those unique places to see in Kashmir.
4. Go hiking around Pahalgam
Make your way up to this little village tucked away at the end of a valley. This lovely town offers spectacular mountain views and amazing hikes around the town. There are plenty of accommodation options here. Hike to Baisaran, only a 5km hike uphill through the forest where a huge meadow surrounded by pine forest gives you fabulous views of lofty snowcapped mountains. You can can also experience zorbing here.
5. Horseback riding or multi day trekking
The Kashmir Valley is around the corner from Pahalgam and so is the spectacular Sheshnag Lake, to me one of the best things to do in Kashmir. If you are here in summer this is also your gateway to continue your trip to the spectacular next door region Ladakh.
6. Hiking in Sonamarg
One of those places you see on Instagram photos and you ask yourself where is this. Sonamarg is a sleepy town in the mountains with eexceptional mountain views. One of the best tourist places in Kashmir for die-hard hikers. Bring a tent and you will never want to leave again!
7. Visit the agriculture
Kashmir is known for its many fruit, flower, nuts and saffron plantations. If you are questioning what to buy in Kashmir than these products should definitely be on your list, although flowers are hard to bring home. LOL! This is where saffron is produced and therefore way cheaper here than anywhere else in the world.
8. Go rafting at Lidder River
Although I would not recommend you to go in November rafting in the Lidder River is good fun. It is way too cold in the beginning of the winter season so may be not worth it for normal people, but I bet in summer it is a refreshing activity. The rafting is among those things to do in Kashmir when you have plenty of time, but the coolest thing ever. It is suitable for all levels but the surrounding is simply spectacular!
9. Climb a mountain in Gulmarg
Gulmarg definitely became one of the most popular places to visit after they finished the construction of the world’s highest gondola that takes you up almost 4,500 meters. From up top you will have fabulous views from to Himalaya range in the East to the mountains in Pakistan in the West. There are plenty of hiking opportunities around. I climbed a peak in the surrounding area to catch a glimpse of Pakistan. In winter skiing is one of the best things to do in Kashmir and Gulmarg becomes a busy ski village. A lift ticket will cost you $25 per day. There are endless backcountry possibilities and heli-skiing is an option too. According to some local ski guides a 42km powder run is possible. Are you kidding me? I want that!!!!
10. Go shopping
Everyone knows about the Kashmiri hand hoven carpets and visiting a place where to make them is already interesting itself. It is hard to deny to beautiful colors of the pashminas and 100% Kashmiri pullovers, but I managed. I am not the souvenir tourist. Why? Read my blog How I Afford To Travel.
Travel to Kashmir
If you ever consider to go off the beaten path, then a trip to Kashmir should be high on your list. I hit all the tourist places in Kashmir but did hardly see any tourists not at all any Western people. Staying with a Kashmiri family is an interesting way to get in touch with these people, to find out the locals view upon the political situation and to learn about this fabulous and yet mostly undiscovered region. The people are super welcoming and curious why you are visiting their 'country'. I met so many warm people and everyone was super nice and smiley. I loved hanging around in the streets and trying their local street food.
Best places to visit in Kashmir
Have you been to this ‘warzone’? Did you have the same experience as I had while visiting the best places to see in Kashmir? A unique experience and a place where there was an adventure around every corner. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I will be more than happy to answer them!
I traveled through India two times and it is hard to describe this experience. Crazy, fun, wild, extraordinary are just a couple words that pop up in my mind. I also stayed in the biggest palace in India: Umaid Bhawan, check out the video by clicking on the link! Want some tips for 1 day sightseeing in Delhi? Click here!
After ticking off all the cool things to do in Kashmir I traveled down South, one the most horrendous trips from Srinagar to McLeod - Gansj to attend a teaching of the Dalai Lama and went hiking in McLeod Gansj. Want to know more about this amazing laid back mountain village McLeod, click on the link.
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