For anyone planning to visit Ladakh anytime soon, either going or returning via Srinagar, here is a little information on how the situation currently is for tourists. I had actually been receiving this question so often ever since the unrest in Kashmir started last month so I decided to post an article on this for everyone’s sake. Some of the questions I received were like is it safe to travel to Srinagar right now? Can we go to Ladakh from Srinagar? Are people going to or coming from Ladakh allowed to pass through Srinagar? What is the current situation in Srinagar for tourists? I hope the information below will help answer these questions. Thanks my friend Gaurav Bhatia for this information who just came back from Ladakh last week and travelled through Srinagar.
Currently, the army is escorting the tourists in and out of Srinagar and no one is allowed to stay. There is a convoy that starts from Sonamarg and Jammu that tourists travel with and it will leave you somewhere near the outskirts of Srinagar. For information’s sake, let us assume that you are travelling from Leh to Srinagar. Once you reach Sonamarg, there are check posts beyond which you will not be allowed to go. You will have to stay in Sonamarg for the next convoy to begin the journey which will be at midnight. Yes, you read it right. The convoy will start from Sonamarg at midnight and will travel non-stop until Srinagar. All the vehicles, which will be a lot many, waiting at Sonamarg will be travelling with the army convoy. As I mentioned, this convoy doesn’t stop anywhere and will keep driving until they have reached Srinagar, except for small washroom breaks on the way. The total time of the journey will be approximately 9 hours and they will drop you near Dal lake in Srinagar from where you will be on your own towards Jammu.
If you are doing the journey other way around, that is going to Leh from Srinagar side, this convoy will start at either from Jammu or Patnitop. Once again, there will be barricades at either of these cities on the highway beyond which tourists will not be allowed to go. You will have to wait until midnight and travel with the convoy which again starts at midnight from this side as well. Rules are again the same, they will drive non-stop with a few washroom breaks. The first convoy will leave you at Srinagar and the other one will escort you from Srinagar to Sonamarg.
The only exception is vehicles with registration numbers of JK01 and JK02 (Jammu and Srinagar). Rest all other vehicles will be stopped. Another thing I would like to add here is that this convoy travels at quit a speed and that too in the night so please be careful while driving with them.What baffles me is that for people coming from Sonamarg, they will only escort until Srinagar and let them travel alone until Jammu but won’t let people come from Jammu alone. Do not ask me, I have no idea what the logic behind this arrangement is.
For anyone flying to Srinagar, I really do not have an advice. Best thing I can suggest is to wait at the airport and go straight to Srinagar bus stand and take the next bus out of the city to Srinagar or have an arrangement made in advance for a private cab to pick you from the airport and drop out of the city, at least until Sonamarg. There could be an arrangement to have tourists escorted from the airport as well but I am not too sure about that.
Let me end this by saying that I totally love Kashmir and it breaks my heart every time the violence erupts in the valley and threatens to destroy what is popularly known as a paradise to everyone. What will be the outcome of all this hatred and violence, where and when will all this end is something I so often wonder. I still remember that during my 2009 trip to Ladakh, we were returning via Srinagar and a curfew was imposed right on the day we were schedule to arrive in Srinagar. We entered the city, totally unaware of the curfew, and it was only after we saw a few damaged and burnt vehicles and other signs of violence that we realized that something was wrong. The silent streets is what eventually made us realize that we were riding our motorcycles through a city that was under a curfew. Surprisingly, we came across a few locals but none bothered us. They just looked at us and did not bother. The police and the army guys too, after seeing the Delhi numbers on our motorcycles and the luggage, just lifted the barriers and let us pass with a word of warning that we should not stay in the city and only stop once we are out of Srinagar. Next year, when I again did the same route, we stopped in Srinagar and I enquired the locals about what had happened last year. Almost everyone gave us the same answer, that they never bother or hurt tourists because that is their primary source of income. Having said that, please do not in any way assume that I am telling you to go to Srinagar and feel safe thinking that you are a tourist. Violence doesn’t care if you are a local or a tourist so it is always better to stay safe and not go to a place where there is a high chance of getting hurt. For now, my best advice would be that you go via Manali and return the same rout. Better be safe than sorry.
Planning a trip to Srinagar anytime soon? Read Tourist Attractions in Srinagar City and its Vicinity for a list of must visit places in Srinagar and nearby areas.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any further question, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I would b glad to answer.