Foreign visitors keep date with turbulent Kashmir

Australia has advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Kashmir. But Australian Gary Weare has been visiting the Valley intermittently since 1970. He explains why.

“Kashmir,” Weare said, “is no less safe than any part of India for tourists to come.” He believes the media, both domestic and foreign, have “not been very kind to Kashmir.” Kashmir tourism players have time and again rued that negative portrayal of Kashmir in the national media was especially keeping foreign tourists away. Having witnessed Kashmir for nearly five decades now, Weare has a nuanced understanding of the developments.

“If we look at the present circumstances, the (Pulwama) suicide bombing was militants attacking security forces. They were not attacking tourists, they weren’t attacking Kashmiri people,” Weare said.

“I love Kashmir because I certainly believe it needs support that the advisories are misplaced,” he said.

Weare, author of an acclaimed travelogue ‘A Long Walk in the Himalaya’ is one of many tourists who are visiting Kashmir despite their governments’ advisories. In case of any eventuality, such ‘rebel’ tourists cannot claim insurance cover.

Like Weare, Ru is currently on his first-ever visit to Kashmir despite the advisory by his home country, England. He doesn’t regret coming here.

 “Definitely I did the right thing by coming to Kashmir. There is a certain element of mysticism in Kashmir. It certainly looks something different. Something you get a thaw from fast style of living. I mean American style of living,” said Ru.

“It is projected as a quite dangerous place. I found it quite contrary. I was told there are check posts at every point. It’s not the reality,” Ru said and plans to bring his wife next time.

“Media has a lot of role to play to clear negative conception about Kashmir,” said Ru.

Despite an uncertain political situation, a total of 20,258 foreign tourists have visited the Valley till March this year, many of them, like Weare and Ru, ignoring the travel advisories.

Official data show the number of foreign tourists visiting Kashmir has increased steadily in the past three years—from 24516 in 2016 to 31697 in 2017 and 56029 in 2018.

The majority of the foreign tourists this year hail from Malaysia (2945) and Indonesia (1010) followed by those from the tourism paradise Thailand (691).

The highest number of foreign tourists (67762) visited Kashmir in 1989, a year before the insurgency erupted.