W H A T ‘ S I T L I K E ? –
Srinagar is a bustling yet laid back city in Northern India. The locals are genuine, hospitable, and interested in getting to know you. They want more visitors so they treat the ones they do have with the upmost respect and kindness in hopes that you will spread positive word to other travelers.
The city is made mostly of cement and metal. You will hear constant beeping and see men and women dressed in traditional loose-fitting kaftans and pants. Most locals are Muslim. You will see some women draped from head (including veils over the eyes) to ankles in black shawls. There are also women who expose their hair, but legs and shoulders are always concealed with loose-fitting clothing.
Around the city, you will see mostly men going about their business as women primarily stay inside the house cooking, taking care of the family, and working hard. Still, women are free to roam the streets alone.
Locals remain close to their traditions and, as a result, you feel its authenticity and old-world charm.
S A F E T Y –
Srinagar is near the Pakistani border. There has been a history of political turmoil between India and Pakistan. From time to time, this creates disruptions of peace and safety. A travel warning has been put in place deterring foreign travelers from visiting. When I visited, it felt peaceful and safe. The locals that I spoke with explained to me that foreign travelers are safe as the locals value business from tourism more than anything. The turmoil that has taken place is only between the Indian military and the freedom fighters and has nothing to do with outside people. You can make your own judgments. Personally, I never felt tension or afraid.
There is a very strong military presence in and around the city. You will see military personnel with large guns, vests, and gear stationed every hundred meters. They are present alongside the highway, at tourist attractions, and most street corners. You will even see them standing at the edge of the rice fields while the farmers go about their business. They do not approach or harass anyone and are there to “keep everyone safe.”
To enter Shankaracharya Temple (sacred Hindu temple), I was brought to a room, patted down, and felt up to make sure that I did not have any cameras, mobile devices, or weapons as the temple overlooked the entire city of Srinagar. This is one example of the precautions that are taken to protect the people. Not once did I feel that my safety was at stake.
E X P L O R I N G –
There are many local attractions to enjoy like visiting the many elaborate and flower-filled gardens, taking a Shikara boat tour around Dal Lake, and enjoying the mosques in the Old City. You can see it all in 2 days. My guesthouse arranged all private tours for me. I was connected with trusted rikshaw drivers, taxi drivers, and guides. All I had to do was sit back, listen, learn, and enjoy myself. You can easily find taxis or rikshaws and find your own way around, but it will be more relaxing for you to have your hotel or guesthouse sort everything out for you as they are most-likely knowledgeable and well-connected.
You can also stay on a houseboat on Dal Lake. The lake has floating vendors and markets. I did not stay in a houseboat, but is a unique experience to have while visiting Srinagar.
L O C A L F O O D –
Kashmiri food is delicious. It consists of rice, dal (lentils), veggies, potatoes, cheese. You will have different dishes to mix all together with rice or bread (called Rotti). You can easily eat vegan or vegetarian here and feel like you are getting all the proper nutrients. In the mornings, I would usually have an omelette, grilled tomatoes and toast. For lunch, usually rice and veggies. My guesthouse provided me with all home-cooked meals and it was convenient and delicious. There are small fast-food restaurants and numerous convenience stores for snacks all around. There are local markets to get fresh fruit and vegetables. You can even find some street food as well.
Kashmir is famous for Saffron. Twice a day I would indulge in Saffron tea. This herb is red petals from beautiful purple flowers that bloom once a year. You can only harvest three petals per flower. Saffron is a healing herb and is especially good for glowing, clear skin. I ended up buying 10 grams of Saffron from my guesthouse at 230 Rupees per gram. They were kind enough to add an extra gram for free.
N A T U R E –
One of the best parts of Srinagar is the nature and trekking that surrounds it. You can arrange trekking tours from one day to 4 days long. You will mostly likely require a guide to get there and take you on the hike. The city is surrounded by the beautiful Himalayas and is rich in greenery. There are rushing rivers, valleys, tall trees, mountains, lakes and waterfalls.
I went on a short trek via horseback in Pahalgam. It was a 2 hour drive from Srinagar to this mountainous area. When I arrived, there were about 100 guides with their horses waiting to sweep up the tourists. I felt overwhelmed at first, but my guide had already been arranged for me. Imran (my guide) guided my horse and I up a hill (about 5 km) and we arrived to a beautiful, open valley nick-named Mini Switzerland. There, we had lunch and relaxed. I would have rather walked as I felt that I was hurting the horse. It turns out the excursion is mostly for Indian tourists as Indians prefer not to walk.
On the way, there was also a small scam. An old woman came out of the forest and handed me a bunny. My guide took photos of me on the horse, while holding the bunny. After, the woman demanded a tip from me and I gave her 20 rupees. I was caught off guard, but it was not a completely terrible experience. Personally, I would not do this again. I rather walk and enjoy the nature in a less-touristy way. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience.
Inside the city, natural preservation and human connection with nature is promoted with inspiring signs and messages. Srinagar is putting forth a strong effort to keep its landscapes clean and educating its people on how important it is to keep the earth green. You will still see littering and some industrialization, but I was impressed to see how much is still naturally preserved. Dal Lake is especially precious to the locals. Many houseboats and shops reside here floating in the water. Yet, you can fish, admire the grass beneath the water, and enjoy the bright yellow water lilies.
S H O U L D I V I S I T ? –
Many foreign travelers avoid Srinagar as it has a reputation for not being so safe. It is true that the city has a history of riots and uproars, but I did not experience any of this. I was only in Srinagar for 4 days and this is what I am basing my experience on. I chose to go to Srinagar because it was easy to access Leh Ladakh by bus. I ended up staying here longer than expected and enjoying myself.
My guesthouse explained to me many times that Srinagar is safe and that nothing would happen to me. Nothing did happen to me. Even strangers on the street were kind and respectful. I would recommend visiting as it is a very unique place in India. If you are still weary, but feel a pull a visit, just go for it!