Kashmir Tourism needs involvement of authorities to regulate things and put a stop of scams which are disturbing for tourists

Tourism Development is a very important aspect in many ways, but doing it right way is equally important. Different regions, states and countries put lot of efforts to develop tourism, which are much needed for overall economy. But many tourist-places remind you about unorganised ways of doing things and somehow our recent Kashmir experience was the worst ever. Before you read further, I want to share that it's a rant along with some useful tips to avoid irritable factors to enjoy your visit well.

Tourism Development is a very important aspect in many ways, but doing it right way is equally important. Different regions, states and countries put lot of efforts to develop tourism, which are much needed for overall economy. But many tourist-places remind you about unorganised ways of doing things and somehow our recent Kashmir experience was the worst ever. Before you read further, I want to share that it's a rant along with some useful tips to avoid irritable factors to enjoy your visit well. 


Kashmir is the place to enjoy nature in best possible setup and with great weather. and this blogpost is an attempt to help you avoid certain experiences through awareness to ensure that your trip to Kashmir is fulfilling without any unnecessary hassle/stress. 


Related Blogpost - Stunning Peer Ki Gali - An Exceptional Himalayan Terrain with high mountains fulls of lush grass meadows, shining snow covered peaks, musical water teams, high trees & a lot more around Old Mughal Road in Jammu & Kashmir of Incredible India


1. Do you really need a taxi for exploring Srinagar and it's beautiful gardens? 


If you can have a good taxi, it will certainly help. Just make sure you know what all you want to explore in Srinagar and ensure that taxi provider is aligned on your plan. 


But if you don't take the taxi for whole day, you can still explore the town and it's gardens well as usually Auto-rickshaws are available at most of the places. Please note that this option is not advisable for elder people or anyone for whom comfort is most important factor. Having a taxi at your disposal certainly helps. 


Can you get a taxi which is not charging your for fixed itinerary and rather on the basis of time & kilometers is always preferable. But somehow this option is hardly available in Srinagar. Most of the taxi operators sell day tours with some itinerary and that takes away your flexibility. 


Many times these taxi drivers will try to take you to emporiums and dry fruit shops, which in my opinion waste your time as you would want to spend more time exploring the place and shopping can happen during evenings when you may go out for your meal. There are dry fruit shops and emporiums in almost all parts of Srinagar, so there is no point of spending time on these during the day when you may rather prefer going to some of the beautiful places of Srinagar. 


Related Blogpost - Kashmir || No Better Place to Experience the Haunting Beauty of Mountains (by Rida Irfan Ahmed)


2. Be clear about your choices and make those clear to your driver and host, so that you are not pestered with things you don't like.    Drivers, guides or anyone who is associated with Tourism will encourage you to opt for commercially important activities instead of enjoying the nature for free :). A typical example is those vendors who are in almost all parks of Srinagar with Kashmiri dresses. Asking is one thing but they tend to impose that everyone should get dressed in those dressed to get clicked. Not sure if they assume that everyone wants to get clicked in those dresses or is it a desperation to make more money. I am not against making money through tourist activities, but it's important to let tourists make their own choices without adding stress for them. There are many examples like this and you will see below.    Related Blogpost - Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir || A Mughal Garden of Ethereal Beauty and stories in every nook and corner


2. Be clear about your choices and make those clear to your driver and host, so that you are not pestered with things you don't like.


Drivers, guides or anyone who is associated with Tourism will encourage you to opt for commercially important activities instead of enjoying the nature for free :). A typical example is those vendors who are in almost all parks of Srinagar with Kashmiri dresses. Asking is one thing but they tend to impose that everyone should get dressed in those dressed to get clicked. Not sure if they assume that everyone wants to get clicked in those dresses or is it a desperation to make more money. I am not against making money through tourist activities, but it's important to let tourists make their own choices without adding stress for them. There are many examples like this and you will see below.


Related Blogpost - Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir || A Mughal Garden of Ethereal Beauty and stories in every nook and corner


3. Be careful about choosing right taxi/driver when you want to go out of Srinagar for day tours : 


If you are traveling outside of Srinagar and going to any typical touristy place, the driver has contacts at those places and driver influences you to go with a particular vendor and if you don't do the unhappiness is visible. Certainly you don't want to go back with a driver in bad mood but at the same time you don't want to do an activity to make your driver happy. 


Related Blogpost - Indians don't need to plan Holland's Keukenhof Gardens, as we have our own splendid Tulip Garden in Kashmir, surrounded by Grand Himalayan Mountain Ranges


4. Gandola is not the only thing to experience in Gulmarg.     The moment you land in Srinagar, you will be made to believe that Gandola is the thing to experience in Gulmarg, but why? That's the question you always need to ask yourself about every marketed place in Kashmir and go beyond these obvious options. These are marketed well and then tourism are exploited through different scams.     If you go to Gulmarg, you will be dropped in front of a shop to get jackets and boots for snow, even in a season when there is hardly any snow in first phase of Gandola ride. It makes sense if you have ticket for 2nd phase in advance, otherwise you will carry more weight on your body with no benefit of it.     Let me share some details about Gulmarg scams along with it's remedy :    A. Gandola ride tickets are sold in black if you reach Gulmarg without ticket. So make sure you buy tickets online. Note that number of ticket issued for phase-2 are half of the number sold for phase-1 in a day. So please do ticket booking in much advance.     B. Even if you don't get ticket, don't worry. Gandola is not the only thing in Gulmarg. If you like walking and little bit of hiking, you can reach phase-1 but why you need to chase specific place. Gulmarg is rich with natural beauty, so walk anywhere and don't get in FOMO of seeing those things which world tells you, especially Kashmiris tell you. If you are big fan of snow activities, then other option is to take a pony and reach snow points. You can certainly hike, if you like it and have stamina.


4. Gandola is not the only thing to experience in Gulmarg. 


The moment you land in Srinagar, you will be made to believe that Gandola is the thing to experience in Gulmarg, but why? That's the question you always need to ask yourself about every marketed place in Kashmir and go beyond these obvious options. These are marketed well and then tourism are exploited through different scams. 


If you go to Gulmarg, you will be dropped in front of a shop to get jackets and boots for snow, even in a season when there is hardly any snow in first phase of Gandola ride. It makes sense if you have ticket for 2nd phase in advance, otherwise you will carry more weight on your body with no benefit of it. 


Let me share some details about Gulmarg scams along with it's remedy :


A. Gandola ride tickets are sold in black if you reach Gulmarg without ticket. So make sure you buy tickets online. Note that number of ticket issued for phase-2 are half of the number sold for phase-1 in a day. So please do ticket booking in much advance. 


B. Even if you don't get ticket, don't worry. Gandola is not the only thing in Gulmarg. If you like walking and little bit of hiking, you can reach phase-1 but why you need to chase specific place. Gulmarg is rich with natural beauty, so walk anywhere and don't get in FOMO of seeing those things which world tells you, especially Kashmiris tell you. If you are big fan of snow activities, then other option is to take a pony and reach snow points. You can certainly hike, if you like it and have stamina. 


C. All taxis drop a km behind the Gandola station. By the time you reach Gulmarg, an aim will be imprinted in your mind that you have to do Gandola ride. You will ignore a huge beautiful meadow. Suddenly lot of pony owners will come to you for dropping you at Gandola station. This is another example of how car operators and these vendors do things with tourists. Anyways, if you are ok walking for 1 km, ignore these vendors unless you like pony rides. Please also remember to ask your taxi to drop you near gate from where road goes to Gandola station.      D. If you are these in season, I will simply suggest to avoid this Gandola thing as you may spend 1.5-2 hours in queue and that's not worth when you are visiting Gulmarg for few hours in a day. So why not hike yourself in those 2 hrs or take pony, although I don't even recommend this pony thing as Pony master decides everything for you and at times pushes to come down sooner as he may want to take another customer.     E. There is another scam in Gulmarg which is about guides. It's not all wrong. There are some good guides but it's very hard to find them. Administration has done nothing to normalise this. So everyone can be guide and will show you some random places around Gulmarg. We didn't have any guide and checked with folks who had one. Most of them were disappointed expect a few who were happy that they saw some places which they may have missed otherwise.     Bottomline - Think how you want to spend your time in Gulmarg and also think about the crowd you need to deal with when you go with obvious options. Also be aware of the scams like pony rides which are forced upon you because you are new to the place. Don't get the jacket/boots when you are there in summers and pick when you are sure you are going to indulge in snow activities. Even then it's worth when there is lot of snow. Phase-1 doesn't have that much snow, so save your money and energy to carry this unnecessary stuff with you.     Related Blogpost - Sinthan top - Snow covered Mountain Pass, Popular Tourist destination between South Kashmir's beautiful Breng Valley in Anantnag district & Kishtwar in the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir


C. All taxis drop a km behind the Gandola station. By the time you reach Gulmarg, an aim will be imprinted in your mind that you have to do Gandola ride. You will ignore a huge beautiful meadow. Suddenly lot of pony owners will come to you for dropping you at Gandola station. This is another example of how car operators and these vendors do things with tourists. Anyways, if you are ok walking for 1 km, ignore these vendors unless you like pony rides. Please also remember to ask your taxi to drop you near gate from where road goes to Gandola station.  


D. If you are these in season, I will simply suggest to avoid this Gandola thing as you may spend 1.5-2 hours in queue and that's not worth when you are visiting Gulmarg for few hours in a day. So why not hike yourself in those 2 hrs or take pony, although I don't even recommend this pony thing as Pony master decides everything for you and at times pushes to come down sooner as he may want to take another customer. 


E. There is another scam in Gulmarg which is about guides. It's not all wrong. There are some good guides but it's very hard to find them. Administration has done nothing to normalise this. So everyone can be guide and will show you some random places around Gulmarg. We didn't have any guide and checked with folks who had one. Most of them were disappointed expect a few who were happy that they saw some places which they may have missed otherwise. 


Bottomline - Think how you want to spend your time in Gulmarg and also think about the crowd you need to deal with when you go with obvious options. Also be aware of the scams like pony rides which are forced upon you because you are new to the place. Don't get the jacket/boots when you are there in summers and pick when you are sure you are going to indulge in snow activities. Even then it's worth when there is lot of snow. Phase-1 doesn't have that much snow, so save your money and energy to carry this unnecessary stuff with you. 


Related Blogpost - Sinthan top - Snow covered Mountain Pass, Popular Tourist destination between South Kashmir's beautiful Breng Valley in Anantnag district & Kishtwar in the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir


5. Don't get into the trap of those 7 Sight-seeing points shown at Taxi stand of Pahalgam, avoid ponies and prefer enjoyable hike through deodar forest to the meadows.     So here is the typical setup - Your taxi drops at the stand and there is high probability that his person is mainly waiting for your taxi. Your taxi driver has already made his person aware about the location. Driver has also influenced you that 6000 for 2 ponies is fine, so you feel good that the person has agreed for 6k instead of 10K. Soon after you realise that others got the same deal for 3.5-4K :). There is very good profiling of tourists done by taxi drivers and info shared with pony owners here.


5. Don't get into the trap of those 7 Sight-seeing points shown at Taxi stand of Pahalgam, avoid ponies and prefer enjoyable hike through deodar forest to the meadows. 


So here is the typical setup - Your taxi drops at the stand and there is high probability that his person is mainly waiting for your taxi. Your taxi driver has already made his person aware about the location. Driver has also influenced you that 6000 for 2 ponies is fine, so you feel good that the person has agreed for 6k instead of 10K. Soon after you realise that others got the same deal for 3.5-4K :). There is very good profiling of tourists done by taxi drivers and info shared with pony owners here. 


There is a board at the pony stand, which shows 6-7 points that pony guy is going to show you. All that is simply crap and the only thing worth seeing is last point which is a nice meadow surrounded. So keep it in your mind that you getting that pony, if you are, for that meadow. Now let me ask if you are in good health and like hiking? If answer is yes, do that and I promise you that you will have lot more fun unless you want to do a pony ride. I was super scared of that pony ride and I didn't enjoy that ride through tricky trails and the pony decides the path :).     Related Blogpost - Aparna Mohindra sharing Travel Photographs from the pristine valleys of Kashmir (India)


There is a board at the pony stand, which shows 6-7 points that pony guy is going to show you. All that is simply crap and the only thing worth seeing is last point which is a nice meadow surrounded. So keep it in your mind that you getting that pony, if you are, for that meadow. Now let me ask if you are in good health and like hiking? If answer is yes, do that and I promise you that you will have lot more fun unless you want to do a pony ride. I was super scared of that pony ride and I didn't enjoy that ride through tricky trails and the pony decides the path :). 


Related Blogpost - Aparna Mohindra sharing Travel Photographs from the pristine valleys of Kashmir (India)


6. Sonmarg follows the same pattern as Pahalgam, so will not repeat it.     Am I saying that don't go to these places or these are not worth visiting? No. Mainly I am recommending to not get influenced by locals, do your own research, make your own plan and enjoy your trip instead of let these tourism vendors decide what you want to see and how. Kashmir is beautiful and probably I would recommend taking your own car if possible. That will cut lot of chaos for you.     Related Blogpost - A short Pilgrimage Tour to Jammu and it's surrounding - by Shankar Rajaram


6. Sonmarg follows the same pattern as Pahalgam, so will not repeat it. 


Am I saying that don't go to these places or these are not worth visiting? No. Mainly I am recommending to not get influenced by locals, do your own research, make your own plan and enjoy your trip instead of let these tourism vendors decide what you want to see and how. Kashmir is beautiful and probably I would recommend taking your own car if possible. That will cut lot of chaos for you. 


Related Blogpost - A short Pilgrimage Tour to Jammu and it's surrounding - by Shankar Rajaram


6. Cancellation of your Houseboat stay during season is common phenomenon.     Everyone who goes to Srinagar, wants to experience a stay in Houseboats. There are different kinds of houseboats in Dal lake as well as Nageen Lake and their fares vary accordingly. I will recommend to not go for low tariff houseboats and ensure you read reviews. If your budget is low, it's better to book a homestay or guesthouse. Even if you book decent houseboat in the range of 4k-7k, you can face last minute cancellation so have your plan-B ready. There are little more expensive houseboats and can't comment on their integrity in this aspect as I don't have enough data-points.     Related Blogpost - Nigeen Lake - A stunning lake connected to famous Dal lake and surrounded by Baghwanpura, Lal Bazar, Hari Parbat & Hazratbal locality of Srinagar city in Kashmir valley of India    This was my second trip to Kashmir and during first trip, I went to completely different and little offbeat places. Advantage of that is you don't need to deal with these desperate tourism vendors. and I wish Kahsmir Tourism put some regulations in place so that Tourists visiting Kahshmir don't feel exploited at the end of the trip.


6. Cancellation of your Houseboat stay during season is common phenomenon. 


Everyone who goes to Srinagar, wants to experience a stay in Houseboats. There are different kinds of houseboats in Dal lake as well as Nageen Lake and their fares vary accordingly. I will recommend to not go for low tariff houseboats and ensure you read reviews. If your budget is low, it's better to book a homestay or guesthouse. Even if you book decent houseboat in the range of 4k-7k, you can face last minute cancellation so have your plan-B ready. There are little more expensive houseboats and can't comment on their integrity in this aspect as I don't have enough data-points. 


Related Blogpost - Nigeen Lake - A stunning lake connected to famous Dal lake and surrounded by Baghwanpura, Lal Bazar, Hari Parbat & Hazratbal locality of Srinagar city in Kashmir valley of India


This was my second trip to Kashmir and during first trip, I went to completely different and little offbeat places. Advantage of that is you don't need to deal with these desperate tourism vendors. and I wish Kahsmir Tourism put some regulations in place so that Tourists visiting Kahshmir don't feel exploited at the end of the trip. 

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