The mountain retreat of Mughals and Buddhist lamas; the Alps of India; Jehangir’s Valley of Paradise. All these terms have been used to describe Kashmir, one of India’s wildest and most controversial tourist destinations. After 20 years of isolation, travellers are slowly drifting back to this legendary backwater, returning to Srinagar’s famous houseboats and walking the trekking routes north of Pahalgam. Kashmir boasts some of the highest and most rugged landscapes on earth in mountainous Ladakh, and one of the most sublime in serene Dal Lake.
Many people panic at the idea of travelling to Kashmir, so it’s important to dispel some myths. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is actually three separate regions: Hindu Jammu, Buddhist Ladakh and the Muslim Kashmir Valley. Ladakh to the northeast is almost untouched by the Kashmiri conflict, while Jammu and the Kashmir Valley are safer than they have been for decades. However, the Kashmiri insurgency is ongoing and it is essential to check the security situation before travelling to either Jammu or the area around Srinagar. Remember that the dispute over Kashmir has been the cause of three wars between India and Pakistan.
If Jammu and Srinagar seem like too much of a gamble, don’t overlook Ladakh and Zanskar. These rugged Buddhist regions are a little slice of Tibet, transplanted to India and wedged in by roaring rivers and snow-capped mountains. A series of mountain passes, the highest in the world, connect Ladakh, Zanskar, Kashmir, Lahaul, Spiti and Manali, opening up a fabulous circuit from Srinagar all the way to Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh.