skiers’ safety in kashmir
Ski vacations in the Himalaya Mountains, especially at the ski resort of Gulmarg in Kashmir are gaining popularity and therefore more and more people are looking for useful information on safety issues in this region. Good sources of information are usually the online versions of the daily newspapers or websites like „Kashmir Watch“ which gives an overview on the present conflict status. Individual travelers are advised to also consult the Kashmir travel advisory of the state department/foreign office of their country of residence. Read our update of November 3, 2013 here: Gulmarg Safety Considerations
As organizers of ski and freeriding programs in Gulmarg we are not only responsible for the safety of our guests on the mountains but must also assure their well being during the whole duration of their ski vacation in Kashmir. Before interested skiers book with us we are often confronted with the following question „Is it true that the ski resort of Gulmarg is located in a disputed area and regularly targeted with acts of violence?”. As organizer and manager of our ski programs in Gulmarg I am committed to answer these questions and to inform interested parties regularly on the security situation in Gulmarg and in Kashmir, and also to share with them my personal assessment of the conflict potential in the area. Any changes in the conflict situation that could give reason for safety concerns will be communicated with my blog and through our website.
Violence in the Gulmarg Ski Resort?
First a few words on the violence potential in the ski area – the rumor of Gulmarg being a violence prone ski resort is totally baseless and proved to be false. However, it needs to be said that Gulmarg is located in the proximity of the so called „Line of Control“ (line of demarcation between the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir) and that a strong military presence can be observed in this area. On the other hand visitors need also to know that Gulmarg is a small remote and in the winter difficult to reach settlement at 2‘700m with roughly 100 permanent residents and therefore has a low potential for significant, locally triggered acts of violence, especially when all nonresident tourist industry workers have to descend to their villages in the valley at the end of the day. Other non negligible facts that speak for the improved safety situation in the area are the termination of the territorial disputes between India and Kashmir in 2003 and the encouraging results of the 2004 launched appeasement process between these two countries.
How dangerous is it to travel in Kashmir?
„Safety“ is always an issue when potential participants in our ski programs start to plan their trip to Kashmir in more detail. Due to the fact that all „foreign offices“ warn of potential demonstrations and clashes between the army/police and Kashmir’s population the travelers’ concerns about their safety are certainly justified. It can’t be denied that Kashmir is regularly suffering from acts of violence that are triggered by different reasons and it is a fact that during these clashes people are injured and sometimes even killed. However, people need also to be made aware of the fact that so far no foreign tourists have become victims of these acts of violence – if this would have been the case the world would definitely have been informed about it! The travel advisories for Kashmir published by the state department/foreign office should of course be consulted and then complemented with some independent assessments of the security situation when skiers plan their ski trip to Gulmarg. As in other parts of this region a trip to Kashmir entails a number of non negligible but manageable risks – risks that can be considerably minimized by traveling in organized groups and by joining programs of established tour operators.
My Personal Experience in Conflict Regions in the Himalayas
Since 2001 I have been guiding groups in different conflict regions of Nepal and India (Kashmir). In all these years I have never been confronted with any critical or threatening situations that could have given reason for concern. I run my ski and freeriding programs in Gulmarg since the winter season 2005/2006 without seeing any acts of violence or other harmful activities towards foreigners. Up to last year I used to take my guests immediately from the airport to Gulmarg in order to avoid the highlighted potential risks of Kashmir’s capital city Srinagar. Last winter, however, I decided to explore this “dangerous” city on my own and later took also groups there. During our stay in the city neither I nor my guests have experienced any situation that could have given rise to concern. As organizer of ski programs in Gulmarg I am regularly in touch with important sources of information in and around the ski area and have, therefore, an efficient early warning system in place which allows me to take the necessary precautions to assure the safety of our program participants should a critical situation arise.
In addition to the extremely cautious travel advisories also certain tour operators in my part of the world have started to play a dubious role when it comes to questions on “Ski Trips to Gulmarg” and the related “Safety Issues”, despite the fact that they propose their own trips to Gulmarg, too. I fail to see the motivation behind their disturbing and often destabilizing comments, it may be that they are seriously concerned for the safety of their customers (however, if they considered the risks too high they should never have proposed Gulmarg as a ski destination in the first place as the Kashmir Conflict has begun way back in 1948), but it may also be that they just take advantage of Gulmarg’s popularity to catch customers for their ski trips to other destinations in Asia (Japan, China, Heli Ski, etc.). Most probably it is just an ill-advised argument to hide their inability to justify the significant price mark ups on their programs or the failure to sell the added value of their expensive guiding services.
Based on the actual conflict situation in Kashmir a ski trip to Gulmarg presents not more risks than a trip to any other destination in this part of the world, especially if one takes the recommendations of the state department/foreign office into account, applies appropriate caution during the visit in the region and makes use of the services of experienced and locally established international program operators.
Personally I regret that some organizations and certain individuals are trying to wretch Gulmarg’s reputation as an outstanding powder ski area by spreading unqualified and disturbing rumors concerning the safety situation in the Kashmiri Mountains. My advice to all deep snow addicts, don’t let yourself be discouraged, take a chance and make your ski trip to the Himalayas – you won’t regret it! Participants of our previous programs will be pleased to confirm it.