The word Kashmir brings to mind two totally unrelated thoughts, one being the famous song by Led Zepplin and the other being a horrifically dangerous militarized border between India and Pakistan. Neither are wrong, except for the fact that the song ‘Kashmir’ was written about Morocco and this year things are pretty peaceful in the region.
This has been one of the more confusing parts of India. Huge swaths of barbed wire cover buildings where sandbag barriers and men with machine guns stand at attention as you walk past. Graffiti in the old town shouts “Go India, Go Home!” and oddly, “Pakistan!” (Oddly because Kashmir wants autonomy, not to be part of Pakistan.)
While trying to judge the security situation, we were also confronted with the most stunningly tranquil scene in all of India. Dal Lake is the center of tourist activity where intricately carved house boats line the shore and families pile into smaller shakira boats for a relaxing afternoon floating along enjoying a little shopping, a shave or a meal all from their bed on board.
Kashmir is heavily reliant on tourist dollars and with the recent unrest those dollars have dried up. Kashmiris are clearly trying to rebuild the image of Srinagar as a summer capital where wealthy Indians can come to relax. But even while trying to put on a positive face animosity lingers behind the smile.
People were very quick to tell you about their troubles with the Indian government, about the number of Kashmiris killed in last year’s unrest and how oppressive the military presence is in their daily life. Then in the next breath they will present a huge smile and ask when you’re planning to return.
Kashmir felt like one big emotional contradiction: safe and peaceful on one hand, simmering animosity and violence on the other. In a situation so tense and straight up confusing the only thing I can say is that after just a few days I was ready to leave and sad to go.