I won't lie, there are some dangers in Kashmir. I try not to pay attention to all the hype and hearsay regarding Kashmir because as explorer Simon Reeve once said, risk is relative. But it did not help reading the headlines on a local paper the very day I was to arrive in Srinagar that a 5 kilogram bomb planted near a wine store had been defused by the bomb squad on the touristy boulevard road just a day ago. It got me a little antsy I must confess. But then again almost as many people have died due to terrorism in the last 10 years in Maharashtra (Bombay) as in Kashmir. And about 10 people die on the local train tracks in Bombay everyday even today.
No media is telling you to stop going to Bombay. So we tend to fear more of what is not in our hand than what is more probable to happen. I reminded myself that and tried to keep it together.
So please, please, please, I humbly request you get the latest news before you go but don't let rumors from people who have never been there themselves cancel your plans. It is truly a gem of a city. To not experience the loving, respectful and thoughtful culture of Kashmiri muslims would be a real void in anyone's list of memorable experiences.
Because of the cold winter, sometimes the water on the lake and other places can freeze if the temperature drops below zero degrees celsius for sometime. The ice that is formed can be very thin so it is best not to step onto the ice or else you may fall into the icy water.
Srinagar can get very cold during winter so you need to be prepared, especially if you are staying at the traditional boathouses at Dal Lake. Usually, the rooms of the boathouses will have heating system via the traditional buring of wood (see photos). Also, the boathouses may provide you with hot water bags for you to put beneath when you go to bed, not to mention thick blankets.
During some cold winters, the Dal Lake can actually freeze and this has happened a few times during the last fifty years or so.
One of the biggest question people ask is should one visit Srinagar and the rest of Kashmir due to the political situation?
As you might know, the situation in Kashmir can be volatile due to the on-going desputes between India and Pakistan. The presence of the Indian military is very strong at Srinagar and nearby places. You will see soldiers, army trucks etc along the streets and in fact the airport at Srinagar is actually a huge military base cum airport.
The answer is that if you plan to go, it is best to check out the situation first and get advice from various sources. During my trip in late 2007 to early 2008, the situation was OK. You do not need to worry about the Indian soldiers there because they are friendly towards tourists as they also hoped that tourism can help boost the economy of Kashmir (in fact, I found them very helpful and friendly, especially at the airport). They had a job to do, that is why they are there to ensure protection of the people.
Be prepared to have yoru baggage checked while departing from the Srinagar airport, at 5 places.
The first check is at the gate of the airport where you will have to get your baggage screened by getting out of your vehicle and your vehicle would be checked separately, then after reaching the airport the baggage is screened 4 times and you are also frisked 3 times before you get on the plane.
Be sure to identify your check in baggage, before you board the aircraft.
NO HAND BAGGAGE IS ALLOWED on the flights except cameras and laptops, so be ready to check in everything else.
So do reach the airport well in advance to avoid any last minute delays and traffic jams.
I travelled in Mar 2006. Kashmir and Srinagar are a very safe place now. In Srinagar and in the interiors of Kashmir I encountered extremely hospitable people except those associated with the tourist trade who like most places in India, are always a nuisance.
The Indian government has withdrawn the military from Srinagar for a year now. Paramilitary forces are posted to give a measure of security to visitors although they are practically redundant. Someone told me about bomb-blasts in Srinagar. We looked up the statistics and in the past 3 years there have been as many blasts in Srinagar as in an average city around the world (1 per year).
I talked to a native who is part of the security and anti-hijacking wing in Kashmir. He noted that apart from the fact that terrorists outfits no longer exist or operate, there has also been a complete change in mind-set of the population itself. They are now poised to partake of the economic progress in India. Partisanship over the Kashmir issue as even a topic of discussion is far from their minds.