Kashmir is a dream destination for many. Beginning this year, I got a god-sent opportunity to visit Kashmir. I witnessed that the state is naturally blessed, enchanting and soul warming. However, I wouldn’t sugar coat my words like the thousands of articles you find on the internet. Kashmir’s beauty is on the decline and only humans are to be blamed for it.
The tourist footfall has witnessed a never-seen-before pace. Although that’s good for economical growth of the state, irresponsible tourism is causing more harm than benefit. Srinagar city was once called the Venice of the East. Now as tourism grows, so does trash.
Here are some travel tips that you need to absolutely keep in mind before planning a trip to Kashmir. I assure you no one told you about these yet. Knowing them before-hand will make your vacation memorable.
Weather of Kashmir : Although Kashmir is a year round destination, choosing the right season to visit is a must. Some people prefer snow, hence, they visit Kashmir in winters which has its own perks but can leave you disappointed if you love greenery.
Winters in Kashmir, even in Srinagar, are colourless, gloomy and harsh. Trees are bare and days are colder. There aren’t any apples in orchards (season starts only in August).
‘Chillai Kalan‘ is the harshest forty days of winter in Kashmir which starts from the winter solstice(21st Dec). This is the time when there’s maximum chance of snowfall. It is followed by twenty days long ‘Chillai Khurd‘ and ten days ‘Chillai bacha‘.
As winter descends, things come to a standstill due to snow. Most Kashmiris travel to other warmer states while the rest can be seen in oversized pherans (a traditional long dress, worn both by men and women), carrying kangris (an earthen pot encased in a wicker basket) and sipping noon chai.
However, on the brighter side, in winters, you will find the landscape of the state transform into a freezing expanse of white. Billions of snowflakes fall in a moment fulfilling your aspiration for falling snow. Frozen Gulmarg is a delight for both local and international skiers.
Avoid any political arguments : After the partition of India in 1947, the state joined India but Pakistan still claims the entirety of Jammu and Kashmir. The article 370 allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy i.e. its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws while foreign affairs, defence and communications came under the central government of India.
On 5th August, 2019, India revoked nearly all of Article 370 in the constitution, putting the state on the same pedestal as rest of India and stripping Jammu and Kashmir of the autonomy it had been granted. The state has to now abide by the Indian constitution much like any other state. However, Kashmiris still live under the constant threat of violence and imprisonment and some in general don’t accept Kashmir’s union with India as final. Hence, it is wise to keep shut on sensitive issues in this highly politicised state which might trigger problems.
Stringent security check at Srinagar airport : Security process at the Srinagar airport is quite stringent. The whole premises is guarded twenty four hours by CRPF & military. Although arrivals are almost smooth, the baggage that you are carrying from Srinagar will be thoroughly checked. While leaving Srinagar reach the airport at least two hours before departure.
There are many layers of security check both for domestic and international flights. The first security check is at least a km ahead of the main airport. Both the luggage and passengers are scanned. The luggage is then reloaded in the vehicle to reach the main airport. Next is the normal airport security check where check-in luggage is screened and deposited and passenger and cabin baggage goes through security. The entire process is time-consuming.
Tip : Landing and the take off from Srinagar airport is spectacular, so do grab a window seat for your flight.
Avoid tourists scam in Kashmir : Although Kashmir is considered as a paradise on earth, overcharging and exploitation of tourists is very common in the state. From hotel tariffs to houseboats and from taxi hiring to shikaras on dal lake, everything is overpriced. As a measure to stop this scam, the government has decided to put up hoardings at every tourist destination with a rate list for different services. Call me ignorant but I didn’t notice any and fell a trap to overbilling at numerous locations.
Shopping for authentic Pashminas and Saffron : Genuineness of pashmina or Kani shawls sold in Kashmir is hard to identify. A pashmina scarf is made out of Cashmere wool which is found on the belly and throat of Changthangi goat of Ladakh. It is this wool that makes the goat survive a harsh -40 degrees temperature. This raw wool is then brought to Kashmir, where it has to roughly pass around 30 stages and through as many as 36 individuals before it’s ready to be sold.
Most of the shops that you walk into Kashmir would claim to be selling authentic pashminas. The greedy vendors will make it impossible to tell genuine from fake leaving you utterly confused. To stop this, look for a pashmina with a GI tag on it. It’s a certificate which measures a number of things like micron conformation, weight, purity, handmade certification, and more. It is issued by Craft Development Institute (CDI) Srinagar.
The other widely sold product of Kashmir is saffron. Saffron is the red stigma of the bluish purple (Crocus sativus) flowers which grows in Kashmir valley. This is plucked, dried and stored properly to maintain the fragrance. However, saffron too is adulterated. Local vendors dye the yellow stamens of the flower and sell it off as saffron in cheaper rates.
The best quality saffron is found in Pampore. We got it from Zaffronie growers who sell their own produce. Their shop although on the main road is not quite visible as the popular Noor Mohd Bhat but we were quite happy with the quality of the products they sold us. You can contact them on this number 9469321375. If you show them this article they might remember me and give you an additional discount 🙂
Prepaid sim does not work in Jammu and Kashmir : If travelling with a prepaid sim to Kashmir remember only postpaid connections will have mobile connectivity in the state. Airtel and Jio connections work best, however you might only get connectivity using Vodafone sims in the main cities of the state.
If you purchase a local prepaid sim, it will work in Kashmir but not in any other state. For purchasing a prepaid sim in Kashmir, you must carry your Aadhar Card and other identifications. However, my suggestion is to come prepared with a postpaid sim for easy connectivity.
(Use of prepaid sim cards have been banned for security reasons, given the slip-ups in customer verification by the service providers and vendors. This is done to ensure safety of people and avoid any sort of disturbance from the neighbouring countries).
Rental Cars in Kashmir : While touring Kashmir, if you rent a car from Srinagar (or travel in your own car), you can reach the entry point (or your hotel) of Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg etc. but for visiting any sightseeing points there, you must hire the the union cabs at the respective locations. It’s a hassle since you will be paying both for the rented car as well as the union cab you hire.
However, if you hire a cab which belongs to the Gulmarg taxi union, then you can visit all the sightseeing points in Gulmarg as well as Srinagar without switching cars or paying extra. The catch here is since you will be renting a cab in Gulmarg, it will only work in Gulmarg and Srinagar. You still have to rent union cabs in tourist locations like Pahalgam, Sonmarg etc.
Gulmarg (Union Cab) -> All of Gulmarg + Srinagar
Pahalgam (Union Cab) -> All of Pahalgam + Srinagar
Sonamarg (Union Cab) -> All of Sonamarg + Srinagar
This is my understanding of rental cars in Kashmir from my trip this year. However, I suggest, you confirm it from the cab you hire, for smooth travel. We hired a car from Asif who’s reliable and runs a travel agency in Kashmir. He provides all sorts of cars as per your needs. Feel free to contact him on this number 9682620774.
Photography in Kashmir : Photography is strictly prohibited in Kashmir airspace and announcements are made for the same when the plane lands in the Kashmir region. It is also forbidden to photograph army personnel on the streets of Kashmir. There are many armed security personnel on the roads of Kashmir with approximately an army officer standing guard every three metres. According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) effective since 1990, the army has all the power. The law allows army to pick up civilians or militant on account of any suspicious activity.
I strongly suggest not to take pictures of army or military convoy for both yours as well as the safety of the nation. You will get many opportunities to capture the beauty of Kashmir in your lens. Use your skills wisely.
Drop in oxygen at higher altitudes : While travelling to higher altitudes (or with elderly) in Kashmir, it’s advisable to carry the fingertip oximeter (pulse preferably) to monitor the oxygen saturation of the blood. The air high up in the Himalayas is a bit thin. Altitude sickness in Gulmarg is a common health concern.
The Gulmarg village is situated at only about 2,700 metres elevation, but the two-stage ropeway of Gulmarg gondola travels to a height of 4,200m. The first phase takes a person to Kongdori at a height of 8,530-ft costing Rs 740 per person, and the second phase soars to Apharwat at a height of 12,293-ft and costs Rs 950 per person and provides you an opportunity to adore the magnificent sight of Nanda Devi, Pir Panjal, and LOC. At almost 13,000 feet, this is the Highest Gondola Ride in the world. This may lead to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). It’s best to skip the gondola , if oxygen saturation is anything below 90.
Avoid contacts with Monkey/Dogs in Gulmarg : Try to avoid dogs and monkeys in Gulmarg since they mostly loiter around trash sites and definitely try not to get bitten. A few travellers sometimes suffer from “Gulmarg Guts” which is the equivalent of “Delhi Belly”. I had a first-hand experience of this since my dad too fell sick after coming in contact with a monkey in Gulmarg. Pack the Lomotil (or Immodium) and Stemetil tablets with you just in case.
Mosque Etiquettes : Mosques and shrines are considered holy by the locals. Mosques especially are very sacred to Muslims and make for an appealing tourist attraction. Hence, please adhere to the strict rules if visiting a holy place. Women must cover their head, arms and legs. Carrying a scarf at all times is a good idea in Kashmir. Don’t use mobile phones or eat and drink in the mosques. Also, don’t raise your voice when inside. Often, women are asked to sit in different sections than the men in mosques. Show respect and maintain peace.
If you are reading this article chances are that you are heading to Kashmir soon. My plea to you is that Kashmir is an integral part of India, let’s responsibly travel and keep its beauty intact because we care.
**This is not a promotional post. All the people and contact numbers that have been mentioned in the article are out of love and a way to show gratitude for the excellent service they provided us with. **