Kashmir, often called as heaven on earth and rightly so, is a stunning Himalayan valley offering a unique travel experience for more than one reason. Some people compare it to Switzerland, some simply find it heavenly, and it is true that it can never be praised enough.
And despite its breathtaking landscape, people have been apprehensive about traveling to the Kashmir Valley. Kashmir has always been a disputed, conflicted zone, there are some elements of notoriety always involved here and the violence in the last few years has made Kashmir the highest militarized zone in the world. This is why traveling to Kashmir is a whole new affair in itself.
When I decided to travel here, my parents were almost furious, and I did not know what to expect from my trip. All of us had only believed what was shown on the TV, but somehow I was curious to see it all, get in touch with the reality.
And I did! It turned out to be an epic adventure, Kashmir really took me by surprise and I came back home with a fulfilled heart brimming with love and admiration. With Kashmir and its loving people, no expectation is too high to be met. They'll always be one step ahead, their generosity and kindness is almost as unparalleled as the valley itself.
I took a train from New Delhi to Jammu Tavi, and then a cab to Pahalgam via Anantnag (known as Islamabad). Through this entire journey there were high security forces on the highway, forests and buildings. I had never seen so many Army personnel at one place, and all always at attention.
I did not know if I were to feel extremely safe or in peril, because why so much security? Well, it was there to ensure a smooth and safe trip for Amarnath yatries.
All along this journey I saw vandalised walls that talked about Azadi, rebels and occupation. It is tough to be open to listening to the other side of the story, especially when it talks against the things you have grown up loving! But I had decided to listen. While few locals were hugely polarized, most educated locals only seemed to be longing for a peaceful life.
People of Kashmir were more modest than one can expect from locals of a troubled land like theirs. Their lives are indeed difficult, given the unpredictable and painfully long curfews, restrictions on mobile network and internet, natural calamities, weather conditions, and terrorism. Despite these challenges I found them going out of their ways to help me on several occasions.
My experience in Srinagar, Dodhpathri and Pahalgam was enjoyable, and cherishing, and I already miss being there, so much. I never felt unsafe for a moment, the locals are either helpful or they don't bother you at all.
The locals and in fact the rebels welcome tourists and pilgrims. Tourism is one of the main revenue generators in Kashmir, and they respect it. So they might try to convince you to take more expensive cabs instead of the local transport, but that is all!
Sometimes, I would tell them that I was traveling on a tight budget and didn't have money, they'd understand and even spare me the tourist scam!
I have spent years traveling to the mountains up in the north, to the remote villages of Spiti and then Ladakh, but Kashmir is one of its kind. It is simply magic, it is unreal, the mountains, the clear water of Jhelum, the gorgeous faces, their language, food and culture, everything is prepared to inspire you and blow your mind.
Kashmir deserves a voice, it deserves a fair unbiased review, it definitely deserves more tourism. The Indian Army too deserves a lot of applaud for the selfless and impossible work they do in the protection of our land and its people.
As I returned from the blossoming Himalayan valley, I realized we all want the same things from life like they do, a happy home, a loving family, unrestricted work and most of all, peace.
The incredible valley is enshrined in my memory forever, it has touched me deeply and I find myself fortunate to have visited there and receive their hospitality.
When are you planning to be mesmerized by Kashmir?