Srinagar, Nov 07: Snow clad mountains, art, heritage and waterways are among the attractions that give a delightful experience to international tourists in Kashmir.
Tourists find interest in exploring art and culture and heritage of Valley besides experiencing the landscape and famous Dal Lake in Srinagar and Gondola rides in Gulmarg in north Kashmir.
Markaret Thomas, who lives in a small village Bundanoon in Australia, has visited Kashmir numerous times as a tourist over the last 14 years. She said it was little challenging as things were “less settled” in Valley when she visited Kashmir for the first time. “There was more military presence on the streets then,” she said recalling her first visit to Valley.
During her series of visits to Kashmir, she has visited major tourist places like Sonmarg, Gulmarg, Naranaag, Nigeen Lake and Jammu. Markaret said despite being a woman and a foreigner she never felt unsafe during her stay whenever she visited Valley.
“I have never experienced any threat rather felt very safe. People here are incredibly kind and friendly,” she said.
Her affair with Kashmir started because of her husband. He has lived in Kashmir for 10 years. “My husband has a great passion for Kashmir and its people. This is like his second home; he is pained by the plight of people in Kashmir,” Markaret said.
“Kashmir holds an importance in his heart. As a wife, I got to know about the place of his interest,” she added.
The Australian tourist, who is particularly interested in arts and crafts and cultural history of Kashmir described crafts like shawl weaving, wicker-work and copper-work as very fascinating. She is among the eight women who are on tour to Kashmir. Markaret said tourist colleagues are also fascinated by every aspect of Kashmir. The group visited old city Srinagar. She emphasized on preserving the cultural history of the valley. She said, “So much was crumbling in disarray”.
“Lakes and waterways, ride in Shikaras and Mughal gardens are very special places in Kashmir”, Markaret said.
Citing tourism of Rajasthan, Markaret said the state earns billions of dollars from tourists because of conservation and preservation of their heritage places. “Kashmir needs to do that soon,” she said. The woman tourist said the J&K Tourism Department can promote heritage places like religious places as tourist destinations and can also attract people to see Islamic architecture here.
“The Mosques with wonderful architecture and merchant homes are different from any part of India. It is because of the climate that reflects its difference.” Another Australian tourist Majchar Warwick, who is on his first visit to Kashmir said he was not apprehensive of anything before deciding to visit the Valley.
Despite travel advisory by the government of Australia, limiting the visit of its citizen not beyond Srinagar, he wants to visit all the tourist destinations and countryside of Kashmir.
Majchar, who keep interest in exploring archaeology and religious places, said he would love to visit all the towns and city.
During the past five days, he has busied himself in exploring Srinagar city amid cold weather and described Kashmir as a fascinating place.
“Our experience has been satisfactory so far. Kashmir is picturesque and interestingly people are wonderful and very friendly,” he said.
Like Markaret Thomas, Majchar said he never felt unsafe anywhere and everyone he met was “very responsive.” “I would love to visit Kashmir again in spring or autumn,” he said.
Outstanding explorer and author of travel books, Garry Weare, who is in Kashmir with this group of 15 travellers from Australia, said that this is their fourth group travel to Kashmir.
The group arrived in Srinagar, through World Expeditions Company, on 1st November. He said they are dismayed by the travel advisory. “We cannot go to faraway places from Srinagar because of the advisory of our government.” On the basis of the feedback from the tourists who visited Gulmarg, Pahalgam and many other places Weare said, “I think this advisory is misplaced and it should be reviewed. Many foreigners want to come here but because of these advisories they think Kashmir is a war zone.” Weare said the travel advisory on Kashmir has to be downgraded to boost foreign tourists so that they can visit everywhere as those are equally beautiful places. He said Kashmir offers a rich cultural heritage and unmatched beauty and that foreigners find themselves mesmerized by many an attraction upon arriving here. Weare, an extensive traveller has led over 100 trekking groups to Kashmir mountains since his first travelling group here in 1973. Weare has authored several books –A Long Walk in the Himalaya: A Trek from the Gangotri to Kashmir, Everest: Reflections From The Top, Trekking in the Indian Himalaya and Rethinking Africa’s Globalization: The Intellectual Challenges. The travel author’s upcoming book is inspired by Kashmir’s rich culture, art, craft and landscape. “I hope it will inspire more travellers to come to Kashmir and lead to the lifting of travel advisory on Kashmir,” he said.