“Houseboat, sir?” The unwary traveller to Delhi is bound to be asked in his first day by a Kashmiri tout with an eye for a sucker. They wave away any talk of war and promise you the holiday of a lifetime.
And once upon a time, Kashmir was really as close to a Himalayan paradise as could be imagined. Unbearable scenic, all the Bollywood love scenes were filmed here and the honeymoon couples all booked their two weeks in Kashmir saffron fields.
Alas, the Muslim Kashmiris demanded the independence that the UN had promised them a shot at in a plebiscite and which India later reneged on. Egged on by Pakistan, militants poured into Kashmir and the Indian army responded fiercely. Slaughter, curfew and check posts are now a daily feature of life in Kashmir and the tourist industry has been choked almost to death. It didn’t help that in 1995 4 backpackers were kidnapped and never seen again.
Still, the Dal Lake in Srinigar remains a dazzling sight and there still are hundreds of houseboats on the river dying for travellers to come and stay. As such you can stay in some amazing boats for a tenth of the price that it used to be and as long as you keep your eyes open, a good time can still be had in Kashmir.
Just don’t let them even try to sell you anything. The Kashmiris are a good people but the hard times have made them quite machivellian and tourists are often duped. We heard of two Swiss girls who were taken on a houseboat and they were taken out into the lake for their own safety – apparently the civil war had broken out again. All the prices of course went up by four times as a result and this state of affairs lasted exactly until their money ran out when, miraculously, the hostilities ended and they were allowed to go home.