November 30, 2022

Olympia Travel

Olympia Travel Tips

Is it safe to go to Kashmir?

How safe is Kashmir for tourists?

Is it safe to go to Kashmir?

Is it safe to travel to Srinagar?

These are the most commonly asked questions that almost every tourist comes across before making a travel plan to Kashmir. These are also the kind of queries that are very common when one searches on the internet before planning to visit Kashmir.

There is an understood sense of apprehension, combined with many myths, and doubts about traveling to Kashmir. 

To seek answers to all these questions, my wife and I decided to set out on a sojourn to Kashmir which is also called The Heaven On Earth. We stayed in Kashmir for 10 days and explored various places which I will include in a separate blog but through this write-up I would like to highlight the experience of staying with local families for a couple of days in Kashmir.

The hospitality that was dished out by my local friends and their families has made a place in my heart and I can say I belong to that place. The experience was impeccable to say the least and with a promise to visit again and again I bid adieu to the most humble, loving and caring hosts and friends.

I told my friends, I found an abode in Kashmir for myself and now I don’t have to worry where I have to stay in Kashmir, I now have an address.

Also Read: A Tale of Gurez Valley

I was contemplating a trip to Kashmir with a lot of questions in my mind I was discussing with my local friends (Sabzaar Ali Sheikh and Amir Wani) who also happen to be volunteers for NomadLawyer and work very closely with our team in Delhi.

I had a lot of questions including safety and these two friends were trying to convince me “Don’t worry about safety”, “Kashmir is safe for tourists and we are locals and we are with you” but still there was apprehension in my mind. 

Next day morning I received an email from Access Kashmir Tour and Travel(https://www.facebook.com/accesskashmir), inviting us for a 10-day stay in Kashmir.

It also included the itinerary, hotels to stay in a very detailed way. Next time you are looking for a travel agency in Kashmir, you now know where to rely upon. My close friend from Kashmir Sabzaar is closely associated with this agency and you can contact him directly at- 6005875163.

I received a call from Sabzaar, “bhai, hope you have received the invitation and we are ready to host you”, “just book your flight tickets and rest leave everything upon us”. He also instructed me to stay a couple of days at his house in Kashmir. I was baffled at the same time there was sheer excitement with the prospect of staying with locals in Kashmir.

Next up-  we booked the tickets for srinagar, there was a lot of excitement in my mind also at the same time the fear of the unknown. The fear that is instilled or engraved in our minds by various mediums including media. Not everything is untrue though but post my visit I can say with conviction that not everything is true either.

It was November 22, we boarded our morning flight to Srinagar from Delhi. Within one and a half hours we landed at Srinagar airport. As we were approaching the Srinagar airport we were welcomed by the ever imposing snow clad Himalayan ranges-  as if we were being transported to some fairyland. 

Welcome to KashmirThe mind, which wanders around in the chaos of urban life, is suddenly at “Peace” when it engages with “Nature”. We all seek inner peace and “Kashmir” is one such place, which offers us with just so much more than that“.

As we checked out from the airport we were received by Mir Tanveer, my friend and also our driver. He said, “Salam bhai, welcome to the Jannat called Kashmir and I will be your guide throughout your stay in Kashmir”.

About the itinerary and best places to visit, I will write a separate blog.

For travel stories, visit

For two days we stayed with local hosts arranged by Sabzaar bhai in Srinagar and also one day, we stayed at Sabzarr bhai’s house in Safipora, a place near Pahalgam in Anantnag district.

Experience of staying with the locals 

To set the context right Kashmiris are extremely hospitable people, very loving and ever- welcoming. Their cuisine is out of the world but contrary to the popular or so called notion that they eat only non vegetarian which is not all correct, they have a plethora of vegetarian dishes specially ‘xaakh’.

To my utter disbelief, the striking similarity is in Assamese, my native language, wherein we  also call “xaakh”. What is xaakh-  it is a leafy vegetable, check the link: http://www.taradeshpande.in/kashmiri-haak/.

Also if you wish to stay at the local house in Kashmir please do a research on their culture, their habits and  their ways of greetings. It may help to break the ice.

As soon as we reached the house, the entire family was waiting for our welcome. First thing after the exchange of normal Salam, we were offered “Kahwa”, once I had the first sip of the drink, I was taken aback by the kick and also by the warmth it provided to the body. 

We were also served delicious home made “Rotis”, please note in Kashmir everything including but not limited to cookies, bread, authentic Kashmiri biscuits are called “Rotis”, so don’t get surprised if they tell roti and serve you cookies.

Now coming to their traditional Kashmiri home, it was a beautifully maintained authentic Kashmiri house. Every nook and corner of the house was carpeted, wooden floors and walls. Every decorative piece was antique, some of the paintings and wall hangings- gave the impression that they  have run the hereditary lineage, and had stories to narrate.

One thing to note, mostly the kashmiri family would all sit together in the evening in the hall to discuss the day and everyone would have food together unlike the city dwellers where we don’t even have time to sit, mingle and share experiences. 

Just before the dinner, it is a tradition in Kashmir the host would help you wash your hands with a traditional utensil. By this gesture they show their respect to the guests and also reflect their hospitality.

During dinner, we were served Wazwan, a Kamhiri local delicacy.

Now what is an authentic Wazwan, not the ones we generally find in hotels in our cities

WAZWAN – KASHMIRI FOOD AND CUISINE

Picturesque greens, hill-stations, lakes and traditional art forms are undoubtedly the greatest attractions in Jammu and Kashmir. But the mouth-watering WAZWAN delicacies and exotic recipes also play a vital role in keeping the tourists bound here.

The Jammu and Kashmir cuisine is influenced by various communities that have settled in the state. You will observe a unique aroma and awesome flavor in the vast variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food.

ABOUT WAZWAN

WAZWAN is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is considered an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity. Almost all the dishes are meat-based using lamb or chicken with few vegetarian dishes. It is popular throughout Kashmir.

Moreover, Wazwan is also served internationally at Kashmiri food festivals and reunions.

Also Read about Memphis

Traditional Wazwan would generally consist of some dishes from the below list of not all.

  • Rista (meatballs in a fiery red gravy)
  • Lahabi Kabab or Moachi Kabab (flattened mutton kebabs cooked in yogurt)
  • Waza Kokur (two halves or two full chicken cooked whole)
  • Daeni Phoul (mutton dish)
  • Doudha Ras (mutton cooked in sweet milk gravy)
  • Rogan Josh (tender lamb cooked with Kashmiri spices)
  • Tafseer-e-Gushtaba (A soft meatball with apricot inside cooked with yogurt)
  • Tabak Maaz (ribs of lamb simmered in yogurt till tender, then fried)
  • Dhaniwal Korma (a mutton curry with coriander)
  • Waza Palak (green spinach cooked with small mutton balls known as paliki riste)
  • Aab Gosh (lamb cooked in milk curry)
  • Marchwangan Korma (an extremely spicy lamb dish)
  • Kabab (minced meat roasted on skewers over hot coals)
  • Gushtaba (a velvety textured meatball in white yogurt gravy)
  • Yakh’n (delicately spiced yogurt curry)
  • Ruwangan chhaman (cheese (paneer) squares with tomato gravy)
  • Dum Aelva (potatoes cooked in yogurt gravy)
  • Gand Aanchaar (chopped onions mixed with chilies, salt, yogurt and spices)
  • Muji chetin or Mooli Akhrot Chutney (radish and walnut chutney)
  • Phirni (a milk pudding thickened with semolina or ground rice, flavored with cardamom and optionally saffron, set in individual bowls with slivered nuts and silver leaf).

Subsequently, after having a scrumptious dinner (I wish I could have this dinner at least once a week). After a short stroll in the garden, we came back to our wooden room and  retired to our cozy bed for the night (please note in traditional kashmiri houses, they may not have a bed on the contrary they make a warm bed on the floor). 

I must confess it is for the food that I can travel to Kashmir again and again. A pure gastronomical delight.

Early in the morning my slumber was broken by the chirping of birds, I got up from the bed and ventured out for a morning walk on a cold morning. The view was mesmerizing to say the least. Autumn had set in and the entire valley wore hues of red, brown and orange color. Autumn is indeed Kashmir’s golden season and the sights are a pleasure for the discerning eyes!

I was lost deep in my thoughts as if the time had come to a stand still. The silence was broken by a voice,”bhai, let me show you my vegetable gardens and the apple orchard”. It was Sabzaar bhai calling me from a distance. 

Sabzaar bhai had grown all the vegetables organically and had an apple orchard, he served me fresh apples from the tree, those were the best quality apples I had in my life. 

Some of his friends had also come to meet me. We discussed extensively about Kashmir, current situation, prospect of tourism, drug addiction in the valley, education, politics and the list goes on.

We had some productive discussion and I, on behalf of team NomadLawyer promised that we will work on many projects together for the development of the children and people of Kashmir in whatever small way we can.

The team believes – let’s not crib about what is at hand on the contrary let us sail through and make lives better for the people of Kashmir.

In the lap of nature- Shikara

With that positive note, after breakfast, we left Sabzar bhai’s house and next we were in Dal lake for the night. As I lay in the  Shikara traversing through the length and breadth of the beautiful Dal lake, lot of thoughts flashed before my eyes.

From tales of horror shown in the media, to the stone pelting to the most sweet and cordial people I met in Kashmir. I was perturbed by the thought- how is the actual  “Kashmir”?  Is it like the one that is generally shown in the media? Or is it like the one that I have experienced just now? 

I will not delve into it, rather will  live with my sweet memories of Kashmir.  Amir wani’ family, Sabzar’s family, young lawyer Faizan and the budding photographer, Aazib Khan, have all made a place in my heart.

I came to the conclusion that we don’t want a “Lost Shikara ” rather we wish the Shikara to sail through eternity, telling tales of this beautiful land to our future generation also.

Listen to the song “Lost Shikara”, truly depicting the picture of Kashmir by Junaid Ahmad(Qafilah).

Know about the work of Amir Wani:

Know about work of Tariq bhai

Know about Mooj Kasheer

Bye Bye Kashmir,

Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast”

If there is heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here!

The etymology of these beautiful words is evident in the beauty spread across the length and breadth of Kashmir.

Sharing the experiences of our stay with local families in kashmir though the photo gallery

Local house

Sabzaar’s mom  and niece with Priyanka 

Local organic eggplant

She is really a genius child- In third standard she knows the complete periodic table, aspires to be a doctor.

Loved driving the gypsy- a bit of off roading

Amir Wani and his team

Mooj Kasheer office 

A beautiful Local house

Traditional utensil to wash hands of the guests

All rotis

Wazwan 

Wazwan

Wazwan

Wazwan

Wazwan

Xaakh

Served in traditional utensil

Direct from the apple orchard

Green apple 

Freshest apple that I tasted 

The famous traditional Kahwa

With Sabzaar’s nieces

Direct from the farm

Eat organic 

The traditional bedroom- it was so warm

The carpet work 

The carpet work

It keeps you warm and beat the cold

Kashmiri Apple 

Sabzaar’s beautiful abode- which I now call my home

Amma doesn’t understand or speak Hindi or English but we spoke through sign language and she is such a lovely and humble lady. 

Thanks for all the love, care and hospitality. We bid adieu with a promise to meet soon.

Travel And Don’t Stop!