In August 2018 we did a motorbike trip through the very north of India: Kashmir. The area is truly stunning with the himlalays and high altitude. Read more about my whole trip in India here.
During the time we visited Kashmir the political conflicts were pretty critical and there had been several riots, shootings and deaths during this period. For those of you who don't know, Kashmir has pretty much always been a border territory between the two enemies Pakistan and India. Due to a new law change that would strengthen the Indian influence and power in the Kashmir area, many locals were upset and the atmosphere was tense. "Beware of stone pelting in the villages", locals warned us. "Stay away from any crowds or demonstrations". We felt slightly worried at first, not knowing how safe it was to travel through the area or walk around the streets in Srinagar, but as always, media tend to exaggerate the risks and locals are just caring - during the days we spent in Kashmir, we didn't feel unsafe at all. We were on the contrary met by very friendly and helpful locals.
The military was patrolling everywhere with heavy guns. But although the area felt like a country in war, even the military treated us well (they even wanted to take selfies with us, like every other Indian). Sometimes they asked us to turn around if we were entering an area where we weren't allowed to drive in, but always in a rather kind way than threatening way. "And always keep a distance of at least 10 kilometers from the Pakistani border, or you will get shot". Was another good thing to keep in mind. Other than that, things went well.
During our trip we spent many days driving through the beautiful mountain areas of Kashmir, with a first stop in a small mountain village called Gulmarg. While driving there, the rain started pouring down and we got completely soaked. Another good advice if you are going to drive a bike (anywhere) in India during the monsoon season is to buy a raincoat. Luckily we did buy raincoats and were well prepared, but unluckily we bought cheap low quality ones, and got pretty soaked anyway. When we arrived in Gulmarg we were cold and wet and in need of a hot cup of chai. Immediately when we arrived in the village we got greeted by many friendly villagers who invited us into a small street kitchen for a (very much needed) hot cup of kashmiri chai (the kashmiri chai is even better than the normal tea - with a strong taste of cardamom).
After visiting Gulmarg we were driving towards the village called Sonamarg. On the way there we stopped by another small rural village that we happened to pass by. These villagers were clearly not used to see western tourists (don't think they'd ever seen a foreigner before...), and all the villagers came out to the streets to see us looking both surprised and curious. I wanted to talk to them, but the language barrier was a bit of a problem. Somehow we managed to communicate with gestures and sounds, and we understood that some of the men in the village wanted to take us to the nearby lake. We followed them and they offered us a ride in their home built wooden boat. They took us around on the lake and showed us around. It was nice and interesting to experience their local way of transporting things on the lake, fishing and picking some kind of edible sea cucumbers (we assumed).
Back in the small village again, we got offered chai (of course) and cookies in one of the huts. The whole village squeezed together in the small hut to get a glimpse of us. They all still seemed endlessly curious to look at us. It was obvious how poor these families were, but still they offered us chai and showed a great hospitality and generosity. The people who have the least, usually turn out to be the most warm-hearted. I still wish I would have had something to offer them back, but with such limited luggage there wasn't much we could give them. I think I gave a hairbrush to a small girl who got super happy but can't remember for sure. Our passports were also interesting them a lot, and our camera. They were all very excited to pose in front of the camera when Sam took photos of them, and they wanted to look at them on the camera afterwards.
The trip continued to one of the other must-to visit village in Kashmir besides Gulmarg; Sonamarg. The place is even more stunning than Gulmarg, with many nice hiking trails to explore. The first day we did a long hike through the mountains until we had a view over the famous glacier. Due to the high altitude the air was thin and the hike felt more exhausting because of it. By the time we finally got back to the village my legs were shaking.
Read more about my trip in Kashmir and other trips in india here.
For any questions or recommendations please don't hesitate to get in touch with me!