Read the all inclusive information about travel in Kashmir — Location, How to get there, Things you should bring, Is it safe to travel, Transportation, Communication, Places to stay, Food to eat, Whom to consult, Currency exchange, etc., in Section I of this article. Section II gives more information about the Place, People, History, Culture, Ethnicity, Food, Fashion, Education and Administration.
Section I – Travel Information
Location: Kashmir Valley is located in the extreme north of India, with Pakistan, China and Afghanistan as its neighboring countries. Part of Kashmir valley is covered by the Great Himalayas and Pir Panjal range. From Indian capital Delhi, Kashmir is less than 1000 kms away. By plane, it takes about an hour to reach Kashmir from Delhi.
How to Get Here: Kashmir has an international airport, located in its capital Srinagar. International flights are available but to and from select destinations. Flights from other cities of India are also available. By road, inter-state buses and private cabs can be boarded. It takes about 20 hrs from Delhi in a bus or cab. In winters road transportation is allowed only after confirmation from authorities due to avalanches and landmasses that block the roads.
Stuff You Should Bring: If you are traveling from outside India, make sure your passport and other travel documents are safe. The first important equipment you must carry is the camera. The place is picture-perfect and the shots will remind you for long time some of the most breathtaking moments. You can also hire a camera from Lal Chowk or from photographers on the tourist places. Bag packs and rucksacks are quite useful in Kashmir, especially when you are carrying your gear to far off place in the mountains. For adventure, you can bring angling rods and baits, tough ankle shoes, skiing and snow boarding equipment if you love it, rock climbing gear, compass, maps, etc. If you want to go for camping, sleeping bag and tents are very much required. You can hire them aw well in Srinagar. You can carry mobile phones, batteries, torches or safety lamps and other smaller accessories. At many places you won’t even find the electric lines and extras are very much required. You may also bring energy bars and cigarettes, as big market would definitely miss on your trip.
If you are traveling in winter, do carry warm woolen clothes and jackets as the temperature often drops to zero on the Celsius scale. And do carry your money for you can buy or hire all the things that have been said.
Whom to consult: I would say us but that would be a direct promotion. If you are planning your visit, then the best way is to research on Internet. The state department of tourism provides credible information. Beware of websites and travel agents that are not based in Kashmir. Here is the reason why. Most website owners and travel agents are not based in Kashmir and do not know the place except by reading some articles on Internet. Even if they know they will always charge greater – for instance if the hotel charges 1000 per night the travel agent in Kashmir will add 10 per cent and the travel agent outside Kashmir will add another 20 per cent to make out his profits. Besides touts have been serious problems to travelers.
Once you reach Kashmir, you can easily go to the tourist office in Srinagar and many other places and ask for guidance or assistance.
Where do I Stay: If you want to make it ethereal, try staying in a houseboat. There are plenty of them in Dal Lake and Nigin lake, in Srinagar city. You will have the luxuries of star hotel in a houseboat. If you don’t fancy floating on the water on your trip, then you should perhaps check in at hotels located in Srinagar. You will find three star and four star hotels in Srinagar and selected destinations only. Some of the luxurious hotels are Intercontinental or Grand Hotel, Hotel Broadway, Hotel Centaur, Hotel Silverstar. At tourist destinations you can also spend a night or couple in tourist huts.
Where Can I Eat: In houseboats you will be served food of your choice as there are kitchens and cooks for tourists. In good hotels also, food is not a problem. If you want to eat out you can try the restaurants in Srinagar. Some of the best are located in Lal Chowk area. The food is hygienic and simply delicious. Ethnic food, Chinese, Mughalai, fast food and special treats are served in these restaurants. However, if you are away from the city, food can be a problem. So it is recommended to carry food or to make sure someone will take care of it while traveling to different places in Kashmir.
What about Transportation: In Kashmir you should be staying in Srinagar. For commutation you can use public transport, buses. For private transport there are cabs and if you want to save some bucks you can hire auto rickshaws, but only for small distances say few kilometers. Cabs do not charge by meter, but by distance or disposal. There are many tourist taxi stands in the city and their rates are genuine. For loner distances or destinations there are fixed charges and also for a complete day. Comfortable cabs you can travel in include Innova, Tavera, Xylo, Scorpio, etc.
Is it Secure to come to Kashmir: Many agencies prefer not to take up this issue fearing that they might shoo away the tourists. Kashmir is a conflict zone and it is a fact. And so is this one that traveling in Kashmir is quite secure and safe. In the last 20 years thousands of tourists have traveled and may be there was one incident reported way back in 1990, but that has got nothing to do with present circumstances. In fact more travelers get hurt in road accidents or say snake biting a tourist. It is very much safe to travel in Kashmir and the only reluctances are that few border areas are occupied by forces and no one is permitted to travel there.
What about Communications: The locals speak native language called Kashmiri. They can also converse in Urdu and Hindi. Agencies, hoteliers, transport people, accommodation providers, shop keepers, guides and all those associated with travel industry do understand and speak a bit of English. A good number of people nowadays speak in English very clearly.
For making home calls or messaging your friends, there are public telephones that offer international dialing. Also you can find a good number of Internet cafés in Kashmir. Mobile phone services further connect you to your dear ones.
Where Can I Get Directions, Maps, Buy Stuff, Guides: To buy accessories and other stuff the best place to look for is the Lal Chowk market in Srinagar. Maps and guides are best provided by tourism offices. They also recommend some expert local guides, otherwise your accommodation provider; hotelier or houseboat owner provides one. Srinagar is almost the centre and the reference point for your directions. From Srinagar you would be traveling in all directions to see the tourist places.
Money Exchange and Currency: While traveling to India, you will have to exchange currency to Indian Rupees (INR). One US dollar, as of now, is exchanged to 47 INR. You will need the Indian currency to buy any stuff or pay for accommodation, food, etc. Some houseboat owners and hotels also take dollars or pound bills and later on exchange them. There is Western Union and some other private agencies that exchange currencies but for a lower price to those fixed by the government.
Would There Be Any Health Issues or Such Problems in Kashmir: Kashmir is one of the best health resorts and you will feel freshness as soon as you get in the valley. Unlike other places in India, there is no fear for epidemics, diseases like Malaria, Cholera, Dengue; they are non existent. There is no nose bleeding or anything because you are at a very high altitude. The cool breeze and fresh air of Kashmir almost starts its effect from Airport and there is no doubt about that. It is never too humid to make you feel tired or anything like that. However, care should be taken while drinking water at some destinations and the most if that happens is a brief digestion problem.
When is Snowfall or Rainy Season in Kashmir: Snowfall is not the most romantic season – it is the spring. In winters snow starts falling generally from the first or second week of December. It is peaceful as the white wrap that surrounds every place, every tree, every road and every bough. It is quiet and charming. Spring starts from mid March; trees bear new leaves, blossoms and buds and an aura of romance seizes you everywhere. There are frequent rains and it all gets better. Summer is at its peak in July. From mid September autumn or the fall starts. It is also one of the best times to be here.
Foreign Offices for International Travelers: Almost all foreign offices, embassies and consulates are located in the national capital of India, New Delhi. For any matter regarding travel or any other related issues you need to contact the office there. In Kashmir there are no foreign offices and that is why the State tourism department is more proactive and looks after the travelers.
Section II – General Information
Kashmir Valley: Kashmir valley is situated between Pir Panjal range and Greater Himalayas; sharing borders with three countries – China in the east, Pakistan in the west and Afghanistan at it northern tip. The mountains surrounding the valley are in fact among some of the highest mountain Peaks in the world. The snow capped mountains, glaciers, springs, meadows, pine forests and beautiful lakes make the valley the travelers’ paradise. The valley forms major part of the northernmost state of India, Jammu and Kashmir. A considerable territory of Kashmir has been occupied in the north west and north east by Pakistan and China.
Districts: For administrative and political purposes Kashmir, which makes up one of the three provinces of the state (the other two being Jammu and Ladakh) is divided in 10 districts – Srinagar, Budgam, Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian, Baramulla, Bandipora, Ganderbal and Kupwara. Srinagar is the capital of Kashmir, located a little towards the north. Only two districts, Baramulla and Kupwara lies further north and the rest lie south of Srinagar.
Politics: Kashmir valley forms a smaller part of the total region demarcated on the international
maps. Major part of Kashmir is administered by India. In 1989, violence erupted in the valley with a large number of people supporting the cause for independent Kashmir. The reason mainly responsible was the disputed status of Kashmir since Indian independence. An armed struggle to liberate Kashmir followed soon after the said year and turned the valley into a dangerous conflict zone. For almost a decade, last decade of the century, there were serious clashes between rebels and Indian military forces, resulting in loss of lives and damage to property. However such incidents have lowered to an insignificant result as the local leaders have resorted to unarmed protests.
From 1990 to 1997 Kashmir was one of the dangerous conflict zones. However, in recent years it is very much safe to travel and enjoy the beauty of Kashmir.
History: Kashmir’s history is quite enigmatic, with foreign rulers administering the place from time to time. It is believed that the indigenous population of Kashmir constituted of Hindus, who got converted after the Muslim saint visited and stayed here. Ancient remains, built mostly from stone have survived as evidences of the fact. Kashmir has been ruled by Hindu rulers, Afghans, Muslims and at last by Sikh rulers. One of the most famous kings, Zain-ul-Abideen, is very much revered by the locals owing to the great accomplishments of the king during his time.
For most period of its history, Kashmir’s population accepted the rulers with some dissension. At the time of Indian independence, Kashmir was a princely state ruled by Dogras. However, with the abolishment of titular kings after 1947, the state fell into jeopardy as majority of the people were Muslims. At that time Pakistan wanted Kashmir to be its part and thought the Muslim majority won’t hesitate acceding to it. Without consulting anyone they sent their troops, which were drawn out by Indian army and thus the state was annexed by India. The Mughals, during their time, built lovely terraced gardens on the banks of Dal Lake, which even today have not lost their charm. The rest of the history is much like the rest – tales, battles, kings, memoirs, fancy stuff, etc.
People and Ethnicity: The valley of Kashmir (not the state of Jammu and Kashmir) has a majority of Muslim population, more than 80 per cent. The rest are Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. The locals are called Kashmiris and they bear striking resemblances with Persians and people from Middle East.
It may be argued, on good premises that Kashmiri Muslims are unlike those residing in the rest of India. Kashmiris are more conscious of their ethnicity, are strict followers, an active lot which have excelled in different spheres of life. Due to strict adherence to religion, Kashmiris do not quite like the idea of being Aryan descendents or fancy such thoughts, though they are intelligent and very enthusiastic.
The youth, which has witnessed conflict and political turmoil for more than two decades now, are prone to revolutionary ideas. Kashmiris love food, especially rice, which is the staple diet, and mutton. Kashmiris do smoke tobacco but liquor is considered as taboo with serious consequences for those who approve it. They are good natured and courteous as long as you treat them the same way; and they are a fighting lot if you happen to play otherwise. They are good climbers, energetic and quite athletic in build.
Culture: One of the hardest tasks has often been to describe the culture as there are no definite parameters to consider as what forms the culture and what not. Talking about Kashmiris, you can surely classify them as those adhering to the old indigenous culture and the new generations which follow a cultural blend.
So far as old culture goes, Kashmiris like their traditional salt tea and Kahwa, like to wear loose pajamas and Phiran, long woolen cloak to keep themselves warm in winters. They also use Kangri (fire pot) in winters. They like traditional sufi music. Girls and women perform Rouf, a dance with a group of women in single line on either side. Every year they celebrate the two Eids with great joy. Girls play hopscotch and boys used to play a traditional game called “Lathkij Loth”.
So far as new generation and contemporary culture is considered, the youth and even adults have been very much influenced by Western and Indian treats. They like Indipop, Western music, Rock and Arabian music, love Hollywood and Indian movies. Television and cinema has had a tremendous effect on the life style of people. People wear denim, Khakis and Jackets. Younger generations have started developing taste for fast food, Chinese and other culinary treats. They love soccer and cricket, adventure sports and indulge in anything that is exciting.
Kashmiris, since they are strict followers do not approve of dating or courtship – it is marriage straightway or engagement. Again, new generations like to break the rules and get a bit of an experience.
Food: The staple diet in Kashmir is boiled rice with cooked vegetables or mutton. Kashmiris are meat-lovers and they consume a lot of it. Popular recipes prepared in Wazwan are everyone’s favourite. Six of these dishes are Rista, Kebab, Roghan Josh, Korma, Dhaniphul and Gushtaba. People also like Harisa prepared from minced meat, rice and pulses. The locals also enjoy steaks, which are often made by small vendors on pavements and small kiosks and carts. Most of the dishes prepared are deep fried with a lot of gravy. In beverages, people like tea with sugar, salt tea and Kahwa. Kahwa is a special tea prepared from tea leaves and saffron, without milk. All kinds of fruits are relished by people – with the exception of Guava and Papaya. Apples, cherries, plums and apricots are grown here and readily available. Dry fruits are also quite popular in Kashmir. Walnuts and almonds grown in Kashmir are supplied to the rest of India and even exported. They are also used to garner various dishes. In sweet dishes people like to prepare Halwa and Phirni.
Education: As per census the literacy rate in Kashmir was recorded about 55 per cent with male
population comprising about 65 per cent. Education system followed in Kashmir is 10 years of primary and secondary education, 2 years of senior secondary or high school followed by 3 years of college for securing bachelors degree in arts and humanities and 5 years in medicine and engineering. Higher education is primarily looked after by the state university, University of Kashmir. Masters’ programmes and doctorates’ are also awarded in different streams of arts, humanities and science. Medical College, Dental College, National Institute of Technology, are some of the premier institutions in the valley. Besides them, there are many elite colleges such as Amar Singh College, Govt. College for Women, S.P. College, Islamia College, etc.
Couture: Although many people believe the traditional dress of Kashmir is Pheran and Karakul, but that does not sound too convincing as no one wears Pheran in summer season, not at least for four months. Kashmiris in old days were way behind in giving a serious thought to earthly pleasure. They used to wear coarse garments to survive the chill of the winters and Pheran perhaps was the best they had.
Kashmiris like to wear loose pajamas and long shirt, the dress popularly known as “Khan Dress”. Women wear long long sleeved shirts called Kamiz and loose pajamas called salwar. In winters both men and women wear Pherans, woolen pullovers, cardigans and warm jackets.
People also wear trousers, denim and khakis, which make up the contemporary fashion. In recent years, people, especially teens, have become aware of the brands and popular fashion.