My Solo Travel in Kashmir: Somewhere Among Kashmiriyat, Curfew and Kahwa, I left my Heart Behind

My Solo Trek to Annapurna Base Camp: If I Can Do It, So Can You! (Part 1)
April 25, 2017
My Story of How I Failed On the Easiest Trek in Kashmir
July 23, 2017

kashmir solo travel

Kashmir, they say, is a “troubled paradise.” We hear stories, dangerous ones, the ones that gives it a bad name. Tourists flinch and travellers worry about their safety. I am one of those many travellers who had her doubts. Solo travel in Kashmir when the state is erupting with violence, it is a death wish they warned me. A part of me, however, was set on visiting this mysterious land. I told myself that if push came to shove, I’ll take the next flight out or hole myself into the home of my CouchSurfing host. But nothing I did prepared me for the experience I had in Kashmir.

Dal lake srinagar kashmir

Dal Lake scenes

My arrival in Srinagar was completely uneventful. I saw more roses in full bloom than I saw military vehicles, I met helpful locals right outside the airport and not the angry stone pelting mob that I was warned about. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. Not that I want to throw myself in harm’s way, but what is adventure minus the risk? and so far, it looked pretty mundane to me.

srinagar

My backyard!

I reached my host’s hotel, Mount Inn, at Dal Lake by 8.30 AM where he was already there to greet me. I crossed the first barrier without any instance and was feeling more confident about my supposed “rash” decision.

And Then Sabzar Bhat Happened

Srinagar is pleasant with the makings of urban facilities and countryside values. I arrived on 24th, just 3 days before Ramzan and the city was buzzing with raw energy. There were tourists every where and Kashmir was ready to receive its guests after Burhan Wani upheaval. The locals seemed to have moved on and there is no reason for us to stay hung up.

This city has served as a gateway for Leh for far too long but there is so much more to it than Dal Lake and Srinagar-Leh highway. There are old shrines, heritage walks, humdrum of downtown, beautiful mosques, the ever unpredictable Lal Chowk, the delicious local cuisine and what not. I did the quintessential thing of cruising Dal Lake but did so differently. I met two awesome solo traveling women and we together went boating in the lake at night. We caught some fresh fish, cooked it on board, enjoyed a hearty meal and drank our load of beer while we were at it!

boating dal lake srinagar kashmir

Cooking our catch

Who would have thought that three women could walk fearlessly on the streets of Srinagar way past midnight?

dal lake boating shikara

Bad pictures are a sign of good times!

My purpose of solo traveling in Kashmir was to bust the myth about safety issues. Media hype has pretty much destroyed tourism in Kashmir. It is hard to say if it is entirely safe or unsafe, but believe me when I say this, it is no riskier than any other part of the country! In fact, the locals of Kashmir overcompensate for media’s reckless reporting by being helpful, welcoming and courteous. If by some misfortune, you do find yourself stuck somewhere, you can almost always count on some help from the locals. Not that this is an ideal vacation situation, but should shit happen, you will get the support you need to reach safely back into your haven.

As a blogger, it is my duty to acquaint you with the treasures of a land and also its risks. Consider yourself warned! 😀

By this time I had gained more confidence about traveling alone and going deeper into the valley without fear. One woman I met had done it already while I was busy calculating my risks! Day 1 was rather exciting and I started Day 2 with planning a trek. The logistics are underway and we are all set to go to Gangabal lake the coming Sunday. I cant stop posting about Srinagar on social media about how much fun I am having and how incredibly safe it is. The other solo traveler and I are gearing up for our trek when my host at the hotel came running to us with some bad news. Burhan Wani successor, Sabzar Bhat, has been gunned down in Tral.

This news is a game changer. I became nervous about the prospects of my trip being affected by this sudden change of events. Srinagar that seemed peaceful just 2 days ago now became unstable. We were asked to avoid the downtown and Lal Chowk area and minutes later the internet services were suspended. The next time I heard the news update, Hurriyat imposed a statewide strike and military imposed a curfew. The city’s pulsating energy came to a screeching halt. Just like that, the businesses that barely started picking up after months of ordeal hit rock bottom, right at the beginning of the season.

Ramazan and a Visit to Hazratbal amid Curfew

It has now been 7 days that we are stuck in Srinagar, thanks to the curfew. Luckily the people at our hotel were fun kind. With no where to go and nothing to do, we bonded with the locals fairly well. It is so endearing to see them accept this disturbance as a way of life and find optimism within uncertainty. It almost makes you feel guilty about your secure life back home.

Me and the other travellers too bonded really well by this time. We joked about the whole mess and spent an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen, cooking and laughing at just about everything. We pretty much claimed the hotel that I was CouchSurfing in. Since we were the only guests, we had the place to ourselves, open for exploitation.

hazratbal mosque old city srinagar kashmir

Hazratbal Mosque

No matter how comfortable and homely the stay was, how long can you sit around? So me and Charu (the traveler from Mumbai) decided to go inside the city. Ramzan was in full swing and the city was steeped in spirituality. It was a good time to go to Hazratbal. The mosque is beautiful, nestled amongst the mountains right on the lake. It was amazing to see how faith drives people who risk the curfew to be at its gates. We took a walk around the complex, marvelling at the structure.

FullSizeRender 75

Old city and Azaan.. Perfect combination

I especially enjoyed my conversations with the little boys, aged between 10 and 14, who were also fasting in full fervour. They were holding on to their glasses like dear life, waiting patiently for the loudspeakers to announce the hour of Iftiyari.

hazratbal mosque ramzan children iftiyar

They rushed to the nearest water outlet as soon as they announced iftiyar!

hazratbal mosque fasting children

Happy in the choices they make, however hard they may be!

I was curious about how these young boys were able to stay hungry and thirsty all day and if it was by choice. Their collective nods and enthusiasm about the whole process of cleansing their minds, body and soul through fasting dispelled all doubts. Just then the announcement came and within seconds the contents of the glass were finished.

That was also when we realized it was time to head back. As we exited the mosque, it hit us that the city is still under curfew and that we are in a volatile area. We walked out on the main road to find it absolutely empty with not a soul around. It was getting dark and I was getting nervous.

old city srinagar

Decked up stalls outside Hazratbal

curfew srinagar hazratbal kashmir

Empty streets of Old Town in Srinagar

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Downtown never looked like this before!

Just then a local came cycling by, angry at us for being stupid enough to come here. He first scolded us for 10 minutes and then started looking around for someone to take us back. We were lucky to find an auto at that time that drove us to Dal Lake. The auto guy wasnt happy about our decision either. He warned us to be more careful in the future because the things in downtown can get real heated, real quick. As we safely reached the lake area, we realized our stupidity and walked back in silence, thinking about what ifs.

Gulshan Coffee Shop and Kahwa by the Lake

This one came recommended to me by someone on my Instagram account. He insisted that I visit Gulshan Coffee shop if I love books, which I do. What makes it interesting is not just jaw-dropping views from its outside seating, but the thick cover of books on its shelves and the warm smell of coffee. Located right in the middle of the lake, you can actually sit here for hours and look at the mountains change color as the sun goes down. Me and Shanthi (the other traveller from Chennai) made a coffee date at this place, and we were glad we did.

gulshan coffee shop srinagar dal lake kashmir

The outside seating in Gulshan Coffee Shop

To gain access to the coffee shop, you need to look for a shikara at Nehru Park. While there are many boatwallahs, search for the one that says Gulshan. This one is owned by the coffee shop for its customers and will ferry you to the other side for free. As we stood there looking for a shikara, we saw an old man with a simple boat offering to take us there and bring us back for Rs. 20. We chose him instantly.

dal lake boating srinagar kashmir

The man himself!!

As I entered the book shop, i gasped in disbelief and went camera crazy on it. I was excited like a little girl to see all those books. This is where I belong, every single day, I thought! As we settled in, me and Shanthi entered a discussion about feminism and choices women make. Just then a lady walks towards us and says that we need more women like us in this world who can stand up for what they believe in. Her nonchalance, gracefulness, eloquence and beauty caught our attention and we invited her to join us for coffee.

She turned out to be the only woman in the world of Golf Courses in Kashmir, holding a position of power in the office. She had the airs and graces of someone who slogged her way to the top and be proud of it. She had self-deprecating humor that only self-assured people can have and she had the aura of a strong woman who knows what she is talking about. She could stand tall in a room full of men and make them nervous. She became my idol in that very instant. In 15-years, this is what I would like to grow up to be.

dal lake nehru park srinagar kashmir

Shanthi, me and Nuzhat (the fiery one)

Our coffee date became so much more enjoyable, thanks to her company. Just then it was time to leave, Chacha (the old man) must be waiting at the lake side, and sure enough he was. We came across and helped ourselves to a generous glass of Kahwa that we enjoyed by the lake as sun was setting, befitting end to our day.

Dal lake Srinagar

It is ironical how I found peace in a place that is supposedly torn due to ongoing battle between the locals and the Indian administration. The sound of Azaan wafting through the air, locals sharing their meals selflessly at iftiyari even though they have been fasting all day, the way they treat their guests and staying happy in the face of unpleasant political situations are just some of the things that make Kashmir what it is. Its natural beauty is not just of its lands but also of its people. Being largely Islamic, they were more secular than rest of the country combined. Their Kashmiriyat is what makes them so special for me and the reason why I left a part of me behind!

Kanika Gupta
Kanika Gupta
I find beauty in all things natural, mountains are my soul and adventure is my passion. I hate being stagnant and my mind feeds on problems. I travel because I believe that change is the only constant in this universe. So embrace it, love it and celebrate it!

73 Comments

  1. Oliur Rahman says:

    Very brave , I had some similar story about srinagar. Well I am bit more excited to see your story of Aru and Gurez .

  2. Natasha says:

    Nicely written Kanu! I have read it ALL 🙂

    Truly a Reader’s and Traveller’s Delight! #PROUDBFF

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Aah nats!! This is an achievement to get you to read my blog :* haha thank you so much.. means the world to me *starts crying* #LoveHerToTheMoonAndBack 😀

  3. Nitin says:

    Hi Kanika​ really nice blog.i m visiting Srinagar, pahlgam, Gulmarg & Sonmarg from 13 July.can I have some more idea abt staying & places for visit.

  4. Nitin says:

    4 days. Can u pls share some local frds or guides contact number in my mail.i m traveling solo.

  5. Vinod Nandan says:

    Gutsy…..
    “It is ironical how I found peace in a place that is supposedly torn”
    Admired your views and pics.
    I wonder how you generated that vigour to reach out there and be one among them.
    Keep rocking…..kudos

  6. Sonia mehta says:

    Hi read ur blog, had been through this experience of traveling solo 3 years ago..and my feelings were same , ” ironically found piece ” exactly the same words I used years ago to express my feeling s. Just wanted to know the details of exploring border areas that iam also planning in near future , so could you help me out on this , all the important information , permissions and all.??

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Hi Sonia,

      This is incredible! I can imagine you must have had a similar experience.. Border areas are sensitive but can be accessed by travellers. You will be required Army’s permission right at the checkpoint. No permits are required. Let me know what other information you need.

      P.S. I will be writing a blog about Gurez and Tulel soon. You can subscribe to my newsletter and get notified in your email when it is out 🙂

  7. Sonia mehta says:

    Loved ur blog

  8. AAAAAASDDFG says:

    Nicely written.I was in Kashmir in April this year.Kashmir is not only beautiful but also much safer than many other tourist destinations .you have a very optimistic vision and deserve to be congratulated for this blog

  9. shivani garg says:

    Did you go to the silk factory?

  10. RRa says:

    Hi Kanika,
    Please suggest visiting places of Srinagar during 12th to 15th August. Hope to have an idea from you. Is gulmarg can be visited or there is some difficulty?
    Rashmi

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Dear Rashmi,

      I think independence weekend is not a very good time to be in Kashmir. It will most certainly be under curfew and you will not be able to move around freely. However, if you wish to travel anyway, then it is better to stay in Pahalgam/Gulmarg area where it is relatively quieter and avoid the highways as well as Srinagar. I can connect you with some local tour operators who will be happy to guide you. Let me know if you need the details.

      Thanks
      Kanika

  11. khalid says:

    It’s feels good , that you had awesome experience in vale. Disputed nature of this place makes it volatile; but values with we grow remian intact , state tries to demonise , but have our values intact.
    Thankyou for sharing these beautiful stories lucidly.
    More power to you and your fingertips.
    Allah Bless.

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Hi Khalid,

      Such a pleasure to hear your powerful words! I fully agree that Kashmir is suffering at the hands of irresponsible media reporting and bureaucratic mess. But no matter how much they try to suppress it, I think they will never be able to kill a Kashmiri’s raw spirit and optimism. More power to you as well! I have deep respect for you people. Maybe someday I will be able to lend voice to it!

      Kanika

  12. munis says:

    Such a delightful read Kanika.. like a therapy..far from opionated 24×7 , there’s life waiting to happen.. happy travels and happy writing.. best

  13. Farzana Ahmed says:

    Nicely written! Wish I had the same courage as yours to go on a solo travel like yours.

  14. So proud to see your blog updates! Keep slaying my girl :*

  15. Sauumye says:

    I remember going to Kashmir back in 2015. It was such a memorable experience. The place is so beautiful & I hope all the tensions in the state are bought to a rest so that we can experience this paradise in peace.

  16. you did a great dare. Sadly, in India, our media hypes things so much and adds masala to every news and story and due to which local people have to suffer. Kashmir is on the top of my list. Will visit soon. 🙂

  17. Shahid says:

    You’re right!
    The part you went for so called travelling is not much affected. You should come to pulwama side?, and you will realise the havoc and mayhem happening in kashmir…

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Shahid, I think every part of this world is bleeding one way or another. You can choose to look for things that are not right or revel in the ones that our. I think i am glass-half-full kind of a person and try to see the good in the bad. You dont have to agree with me because these are purely my views, you are entitled to your own 🙂

  18. Vishal sharma says:

    Such a wonderful article no place can take over the beauty of Kashmir and ofcourse Kashmiriyat.I have many friends from there and they always tell me to visit Kashmir once as they
    Say that it is totally different what our media portrayed.Travelling solo is another act of bravery you have done Kudos..✌️
    #keeptravelling #keepsharing

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Thank you Vishal. My idea behind traveling to Kashmir was never to uncover the truth or show anything outside of what media shows because I didnt even know there was any other truth than the one we have all seen. But once I was there, I changed my mind and made a conscious decision to report my experience, as is. Thank you for reading and appreciating it 🙂

  19. MOHAMMED IQBAL GANAI says:

    Life is over politician’s game yet not ended India n pakistan two brothers, who are we……….. who understands……ohh

  20. Abu Sattadir Hossain says:

    Hello Konika, Your writing will not only inspire travellers to visit the beautiful land Kashmir, also provide a positive mind about the people of kashmir, local cuIture. I found many more descriptions about the beauty of kashmir from severel sources and always interested to visit kashmir but everyone of family, friends even office coligue’s discourage me to visit kashmir for safety and security issues but recently i have planned to visit Kashmir with my wife and my 4 years son on comming September. All travellers who visited kashmir say its most safe place and everything is perfect for visitors but media always shows negetive news. Still feeling tention about my coming tour but i am determined to go with my family and hope there everything will be fine and peaceful

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Hi Abu,

      My recommendation is to definitely visit Kashmir and only take your updates from JK Tourism personnel. They are the best people to guide you on things to do and do so safely. Let me know if you need their numbers.

      Thanks

      • Abu Sattadir Hossain says:

        Thank you for again for your advise and i have already booked air ticket myself also booked my trip with local tour operator in Kashmir KASHMIR TRAVEL BAZAR (KTB), thaugh i will be with my family with kids so i think KTB will provide me the best guideline and support for whole trip. We got lots of information from your blog and If i feel any other support/guideline required from you then let you inform

  21. Lyne says:

    I was part of those people that has some kind of apprehensions when it comes to travel in “troubled” places such as Kashmir but after reading your post I feel like some people worries too much, of course you need to be careful but that shouldn’t prevent you from visiting,
    Your post is really inspiring . Also the scenery looks amazing !

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      I totally agree Lyne. While the threat is real, it is not fatal. It all depends on how much risk one is willing to take. Thanks for reading, appreciate your views 🙂

  22. This story is truly incredible! I would’ve been extremely nervous in such turmoil, but your attitude is amazing. Kudos to you and thank you for sharing!!

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Thank you Megan. Kashmir is so much more than just disturbed.. I hope people can take find it in their hearts to look past the media hype and visit this beautiful place.

  23. Wow, I have been to Kashmir and Srinagar exactly 20 yrs back. So much has changed in the past years and still somehow it looks just the same!

  24. Wow! It really looks like you had the experience of a lifetime in Kashmir. It seems like you met many kind and helpful individuals, and the area is stunning too!

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Thank you Ania. Kashmir was really one of kind experience for me. I have learnt so much from their humility. Hope you can travel to that part of the world someday.

      Kanika

  25. Ressa says:

    It’s so interesting to hear your travels in Kashmir! I never thought about visiting there, but after your post I am definitely considering it! The coffee shop you mentioned in your post sounds delightful! -@ressamazing

  26. Thanks for sharing your story and doing your part to invalidate some of the nonsense that the media spreads about this country. I’m happy you had a good time!

  27. Wow what a cool story! I love that you chose here to visit. Your pictures are beautiful too! Sounds like a great experience

  28. Reading your post is like being there…totally mesmerised!!

  29. Aamir says:

    Thanks for clearing up bad waves that media is always propagating, its great to see outsiders here , Peace !!

  30. What an incredible journey! Thanks so much for sharing your solo travel story. Made me feel like I was there!

  31. Hema Hazarika says:

    Hello Kanika,
    I came upon your blog when you posted about it on FB travel group.
    I am planning to go to Srinagar in a couple of days. I will be doing it solo.
    If you know any then can you suggest me cheap budget hotels/houseboat in Srinagar under 300-400. I am not looking for anything fancy. All I want is a clean bed and a clean washroom. And also safe for a solo female traveller.
    Thank you!
    Happy travelling!

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Hi Hema,

      You can contact Shafiji in Srinagar. I stay at his hotel when I am in Kashmir. It is incredibly safe, reasonable and well located. His nbr is 9906728273. You can take my reference and rest assured you will be treated the best 🙂

  32. Rajat Baijal says:

    Very well written and the photos have been woven into the travelogue beautifully. Keep your luggage packed for another trip.

  33. Pranjala Roy says:

    Hi kanika
    Loved your travel story and picutres as well. It kind of motivated me to do what i have been planning from a long time. Anyway i am all geared up now and a big thanks to you. Please tell me a more about places where it will be safe to stay as i will be travelling alone. Please reply me on my mail id if you have time.

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Thank you so much Pranjala. I am glad i could inspire you in some way to take the plunge! Please send me an email about your itinerary. i can suggest some good places and local contacts. Safe travels!

  34. […] the face that I am yet to explore my own city! I have travelled far and wide (read my Kashmir story here), almost to a point where I can proudly say that I have seen more than 60% of my country and seen […]

  35. Shipra Singh says:

    Pictures are very Beautiful! I loved your explanation and thank you so much for sharing this post with us.

    Regards
    http://getzdestinations.com/

  36. Alba says:

    Loved to read this, thank you♥

  37. Sangeeta says:

    Hi Kanika. Hope you are doing well. I am planning to go to Kashmir in late September, much against the will of my family. For the sake of ease and safety, I thought of booking a tour package. But after reading your blog, I now feel like going on my own. Please suggest a 4 to 5 days itinerary for me. And although you have already described everything about your journey, I would still like to ask you to suggest some tips for solo travelling.

    • Kanika Gupta says:

      Hi Sangeeta,

      So happy to know that you are travelling to Kashmir. The best places to see in 4-5 days will be Pahalgam and Sringar. They are both very extensive in terms of things to see and do. But you can also do Doodhpathri and Yousmarg that are much quieter and completely offbeat. Kashmir is incredibly safe in terms of solo female travel. Just avoid any controversial debates with the locals, more out of respect since you are guest. I strongly recommend that you try this on your own and experience the place for its hospitality that cannot happen in a tour. Let me know if you need any help with local contacts that I know can be trusted implicitly. Let me know if you need anymore help 🙂

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