Well, as many of my friends and relatives shared their reels and pictures of their recent visit to the violence-ridden state of Jammu & Kashmir (not now, though) and the hype surrounding the tourism in the State post abrogation of Article 370, I, being an inquisitive journalist, decided to visit the place with other of friends and find out of the reality.
So we booked the flight to Kashmir, which had a brief stop-over at Delhi and after a 4 and half-hour journey, we finally landed at the Srinagar airport.
As soon as we got out of the Boeing 777 aircraft, we first realised that the temperature was around 27 degrees and the weather quite similar to that of Goa in rains; there was no rain in Kashmir, though. The clear blue skies welcomed us.
As they say, the taxi guys set a first impression of any place; and our taxi driver from teh airport was the vice-president of the Taxi operators association yet was driving a private car as a taxi due to a shortage of vehicles.
He told us that since the abrogation of Article 370, many delegations have arrived, and conferences have been happening, including the G20 summit. Hence, there has been a shortage of taxis.
He said this was why he was forced to operate his private car. He himself had given around 200 cars for judges’ delegations a couple of days back.
Speaking further, he enquired where we were from and when we said Goa, he said all Kashmiris are thankful to Goa.
“During the turmoil from 1988 to 2015-16, Goa saved Kashmiris. Thousands of Kashmiris were in Goa conducting business, and that is how our families survived,” he said, asking not to be named.
He said now after the situation has normalised and the people have started to come in, Kashmiris are slowly returning.
“We went out as there were no jobs, but now we are facing a shortfall of manpower as there is so much work with the increase in the tourism and hospitality sector,” he said.
His only regret was that despite the Centre ruling J&K, no development works were taken up in downtown Srinagar.
“The roads and infrastructure has been decade old, and we expect much more,” he said.
As we travelled, the roads looked deserted as it was a Holiday for Eid. Despite this, heavy security with sophisticated arms and ammunition was seen everywhere to avoid untoward incidents.
However, the driver said there was nothing to fear as there was no violence now, and there had never been an incident of tourists being targeted, barring a few many decades ago.
The Dal Lake
After check-in, lunch and some rest, we decided to explore the Dal Lake and the Shikara (boat ride).
As we left the hotel, I remembered my friend Sanjeev Gadkar, who had been promoted to IAS and was posted in Srinagar as the Chief Executive Officer of Atmanirbhar Bharat.
I just called him, and luckily, he picked up the phone despite it being an unknown number (I had to take a new postpaid sim as prepaid sims do not work here).
Gadkar was surprised when he heard I was in Srinagar; he asked me to wait near Dal Lake and would be there in 10 mins. After about 20 minutes (delayed due to traffic), he arrived, and god, he was too happy to see me and, more importantly, a Goan. He said he missed speaking to Konkani there.
After a brief meeting, he left as he had to visit the Governor’s office, but not before making a few arrangements for us, like a Shikara ride etc.
As we sat in the Shikara, it was late evening, around 8.30, and the 30-40 minute ride took us through the Dal Lake.
A Shikhara is a traditional Gondola type light rowing boat which is mostly seen on the pristine Dal Lake, apart from other lakes. It is one of the most incredible and relaxing aspects of a holiday in Kashmir. It should be included in your itinerary if you want to experience the surreal beauty of this region to the fullest.
Along with the houseboats, it is also considered to be a cultural symbol. But even apart from leisure and tourism, the locals also use the shikhara for seaweed harvesting, fishing and transportation. To watch these beautifully decorated boats glide serenely on the lake is a treat to the eyes, and you should definitely take advantage of this experience during your holidays in Jammu and Kashmir. Along the route you will shops of Kashmiri shawls, Kashmiri silk sarees, dry fruits and many more.
Do not forget to have the Kashmiri Kahwa tea. The Kashmiri Kahwa is a fragrant, warming, mild green tea made with whole spices, saffron, and nuts like almonds or walnuts. Using whole aromatic spices and saffron makes Kahwa Tea warming for the body – perfect for the cold climate of Kashmir.
The Shikara Operator was also happy when he heard We are Goans and thanked us for helping them in troubled times.
“98 per cent of people from Dal Lake were in Goa during troubled days, and we thank you for giving us business and jobs,” he said.
Pollution in Dal Lake
Dal Lake contributes significantly to Kashmir’s economy through tourism, agriculture and fisheries. In addition, it has been a major source of food and water for the area’s residents. But pollution plays a spoilsport at Dal Lake.
This unpleasant condition, the people say, has affected the aesthetic value and has reduced the number of tourists visiting the lake.
Pollutants and contaminants from sources such as sewage, waste from houseboats, animal waste, commercial establishments, and agricultural run-off have deeply impacted the water quality, making it unfit for domestic and reuse purposes. Urgent and innovative lake cleaning and restoration solutions are needed to preserve Dal Lake.
The situation in Dal Lake in some places is very, very bad, and I would caution everyone not to put their hand in the water, even by mistake.
Nonetheless, the ride was quite memorable, and the Kahwa tea tasted great despite the smell in the area.
There are quite good restaurants and hotels and street shopping around Dal Lake, and in the evening, it is a very crowded place amidst heavily armed security.
In the next series, I will take you through the visits to Gulmarg, the historic Lal Chowk and the Shankaracharya temple in Srinagar.
Do’s & Dont’s for Srinagar Trip…
Carry a postpaid sim, as prepaid sims do not work here
Carry body warmers as climate changes very fast. Carry an umbrella, as the weather across the valley is unpredictable and it may rain anytime.
Avoid putting your hands in Dal Lake Water.
Carry your original identity cards to avoid hassles at the security checks placed at various places.
Book your hotel in advance, especially during the peak season from April to June.
Refrain from booking a taxi for local travelling. Hire a rickshaw and negotiate to save some money.
Avoid paying Shikara rates (Dal Lake) displayed on the board. Negotiate to save some money.
Avoid discussing Kashmir-related or local issues with the locals or with anyone for that matter. Behave as responsible tourists and avoid getting into arguments. Remember, you are a tourist and a visitor to the region. So, behave accordingly to enjoy without any hassles.