Preconceived notions, propaganda, police and a whole lot of other - pardon our French- crap, gets in the way of travellers heading to Kashmir.
Most of the things we hold on to about Kashmir exist solely as myths now. What Kashmir is in reality is a stunning destination filled with kind hearted people. Dilshad Master, MHE's head of Operations and Business Development, has been travelling to Kashmir with her family for the past 10 years now. Here she tells you why Kashmir should be on everyone's travel list.
Why is Kashmir your favourite destination in the whole world?
I think it's a past life connection. The first time I ever landed in Kashmir I felt I had come home! I remember stepping out of the airport and driving to Tanmarg, all the while thinking "Oh my goodness, there's not a book, no article, no blog that does this place justice!"
I felt like Alice in wonderland! Kashmir is special. The people are amazingly warm and as long as you don't discuss politics (which can get sticky sometimes), they will open up their heart and homes to you!
What would you say those people who want to visit Kashmir but keep away because of safety concerns?
I think they're missing out on something so precious. There are areas of Kashmiri that are totally safe. We've been going there for over 10 years now. We went there when there was military forces every 50 meters of the way from the airport to Tanmarg. Over the years we've seen that decrease to a massive extent. Earlier, you could see an AK47 pointed your way while on the Shikara ride to your houseboat. No longer. If you're not going to Kashmir because you're afraid that is a totally baseless rationale. We went just this January with our two-year old who had a super time in the snow! People should read a little bit more and hear less of the silly rumors.
An offbeat destination in Kashmir?
There are so many! Gulmarg , though it’s not off beat is special, because of the world standard skiing infrastructure there. It's equally gorgeous in the summers making it an all-year destination. Also, people tend to forget that Leh-Ladakh is also part of Jammu and Kashmir.
Your favourite memory of Kashmir?
The drive up to Tanmarg with the car windows rolled down even in the depths of winter ... the icy cold winds are like a whiplash but so totally invigorating! The reflection of the houseboats in the still lake waters; the family of ducks floating past; the red leaves of the Chinar trees; swimming at the baths in Nagin lake; the floating vegetable and flower markets – gosh, those colourful flowers pouring out of evry shikara are a sight to behold! The crazy drive from Tanmarg to Gulmarg in the winters when the road is snow bound and the taxi driver refuses to slow down; the ride to the top most part of the Gondola where, at almost 14000 feet, the quiet and stillness is so overpowering; the early morning dash to the windows to see if it snowed the previous night – only to see Gulmarg buried in snow when you draw the curtains. And the food. Gosh I could go on about the Kashmiri wazvaan forever!
What sort of traveller in your opinion is best suited to Kashmir?
See that's the thing about this fantastic place - it's made for every kind of traveller. From hyper honeymooners to the adventurers, there's something for everybody.
What can lovers of adventure do in Kashmir?
The drive from Srinagar to Leh is one of the best drives in the world! I've done the Pacific Coast Highway - PCH 1, in the US considered to be one of the best drives in the world. I think whoever wrote that has never done this drive! It's a drive that everyone must do at least once in their life! Trekking - especially the Great Lakes of Kashmir trek is a fantastic trek, but not for beginners. There are several shorter more doable treks for the entire family. Skiing in Gulmarg is now getting popular and I'm happy to see Indians hit the bunny slopes in larger numbers every year.
MYTH NUMBER 2: IT’S REALLY DIFFICULT
Actually, trekking is just walking, but for longer periods than most of us do on a daily basis. If you can put one foot in front of the other, repeatedly, and preferably without tripping over (something some of us are frequently guilty of ) then you can trek. The ‘difficulty’ is usually brought up because instead of walking on nice flat pavements, you might be walking on forest trails that have skiddy leaves and sticks on them, or mountain trails that consist of dirt, gravel and stones. Sometimes there may even be a water crossing of some sort. Trekking is just a matter of paying more attention to your surroundings, without being distracted by messaging on your phone or shuffling your iPod. You may think that walking for up to 6 hours a day is hard work, but because you aren’t rushing anywhere, just keeping a steady rhythm with lots of breaks for water, a rest, and of course some photos, you’d be surprised at how quickly the time passes.
MYTH NUMBER 3: TREKKING IS ONLY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
I have seen 80 year olds trekking in the Himalaya. Sure, they were slow, but do you know what? They noticed things that many other people simply walked past, they still made it to camp or lodge every day in time for tea, and the joy on their faces was a delight to behold.
I have also seen people with their 5 year olds in tow, and the kids had such fun playing with locals and exploring that most of the time they didn’t even realise they had been walking all day.
If you can walk, have a sense of adventure, a desire to see places that aren’t polluted by cars and horns, a love of the outdoors and all that nature has given us, then trekking probably IS for you!
In the spirit of our Everest Base Camp Trek in May we're busting some serious Hiking Myths that prevail. Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll be breaking these myths one by one! Got any hiking myths you'd like to bust? Let us know in the comments section!
Myth Number 1: YOU NEED TO BE SUPER FIT
Obviously you need to be able to walk for longer than most of us are used to on a daily basis, but this doesn't mean you have to be a super athlete. Slow and steady is the key here – rest for a few minutes when you feel tired, take a drink of water and you’re ready to go again. Besides, the less you rush the more you will enjoy the trip, and the better your stamina will be throughout the trek. Of course, the fitter you are before you start the easier you will find the whole experience, but after a few days on the trail you might be amazed at the difference you feel. You should aim for regular walks for an hour or so during the week, and then a longer walk of up to 6 hours on the weekend in preparation. If you can find some hills, or a place with lots of steps, spend time going up and down to build up strength in your thighs. You’ll be glad you did when you get to your first Himalayan hill!
This post is a part of MHE's ongoing Inspiration Series. The topic this fortnight is Solo Travel
SOLO TRAVEL MYTH:
Solo Travel is lonely and boring.
Far from it. It rarely happens that Solo Travellers end up actually travelling solo. Friends are made easily when you're on the road and before you know it you've got a whole new group of buddies. Even if you're not the most social person, as a solo traveller on the road you will notice that you'll reach out to others for a chat a lot more often than you usually do.
There is also a lot of fun in travelling solo: you can do what you want to, when you want to and where you want to. Want to spend the whole day lounging in a hammock and reading? No problem. There's one to nag you to accompany them to places you don't want to go to.
Sure there are moments when you'll miss a loved one but then when you're travelling with loved ones aren't there moments where you wish you were solo? The more you travel solo chances are the more you'll start to enjoy all that it offers.
So next time a friend backs out of a trip last minute, don't cancel it, just go solo and make new friends on the road! Try it out, if you don't enjoy it put it down to experience and move on. No matter whether you love solo travel or hate it, after a solo trip you'll definitely know yourself better.
All we're saying is don't knock it down till you've tried it. What do you love or dislike about Solo Travel? Share your thoughts with us!
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