Noted Australian travel planner Margia Thomas Sunday slammed the "negative publicity" of the Kashmir situation, saying a section of media was projecting the Valley as a "war zone".
"Kashmir is safe for tourists. Unfortunately, sections of domestic and international media project it as a war zone when, in fact, nothing could be further from truth. As a tourist I would be more concerned about going to London, Paris or Bangkok," Margia, who has been frequently visiting Kashmir for the past 15 years, told Greater Kashmir.
Margia's first visit to Kashmir was with her husband Garry Weare, an internationally-acclaimed adventurer and author in 2004 when, she says, the situation in the Valley was "by no means stable".
"The warmth, curiosity, hospitality and kindness of the Kashmiri people have never failed to impress me. We have brought groups of friends here from time to time and Kashmir has created a lasting favorable impression on them," she said.
Elaborating, she said: "I have experienced nothing but kindness and support here and have been made to feel very welcome."
"Personally, I haven't experienced any problems and have always felt safe. As a woman I have felt comfortable being out. Obviously as a tourist it helps to respect local customs and traditions."
Kashmir's rich culture mesmerised me, she said.
"Kashmir has a fascinating, complex, and sometimes sad history. Nonetheless you can appreciate the influence of Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic religion, making it one of the most culturally-diverse regions of India."
"I have also become very interested in the history of the arts and crafts of Kashmir. Generations of master craftsmen and women continue to produce, by hand, the finest shawls, papier-mâché, metalwork and wood carving," she said.
Margia has widely travelled across Kashmir with her tourist groups.
"One only has to visit a village like Dara and see fruit trees laden with apricots, cherries, apples and walnuts to get excited about the food. Kashmir is famous for its wazwan but I love the abundance of fruit and vegetable delicacies offered too. Then there is Kashmiri beverage which is best on the planet, with its combination of saffron, cardamom, cinnamon and almonds".
But, Margia said, she is surprised over the travel advisories to Kashmir by different countries including her native country Australia.
"While respecting government advisories, they can also be a cause for concern. For instance the Australian advisory on Kashmir mentions militant attacks on tourist buses as well as a risk of foreigners being kidnapped. This is blatantly misleading as there is no record of tourist buses being attacked by militants, while the last incident of foreigners being kidnapped was back in 1995," she said.
"Regarding our friends who have visited Kashmir with us, their experience here has exceeded all expectations and many of them plan to return to the Valley soon," she added.
Margia and she and her husband Weare are trying to dispel negative perception about Kashmir.
"We believe travel advisors against Kashmir by various countries must be revoked in a phased manner. Kashmir is as safe as any other place," she said.