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Victoria Schofield
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Beauty beyond the barbed wire [Kashmir]

Daily Telegraph, 1 October 2005
www.telegraph.co.uk

Excerpt:

All calm now, the boatman said, as my husband and I  and our three teenage children clambered on board his bobbing shikara to go across Dal Lake, Srinagar, in the valley of Kashmir. He was not referring to the storms that had confined us to our houseboat for a day, but to what all Kashmiris call “the troubles” – the militant insurgency against the Indian government’s control of the state, which has raged in the valley for years and virtually destroyed the tourist industry….

Although there are signs all over the valley informing locals and visitors alike that the police are “with U. for U. ever and always”, the sight of so many police officers and soldiers in public places still makes Srinagar look like a city under siege. The airport remains heavily guarded, with body searches and luggage X-rays surpassing any at Heathrow. Sandbags on street corners are menacingly surrounded by barbed wire, and soldiers stand with guns at the ready at intervals along the roadside. There are checkpoints as you enter and leave the city, with armed police peering into the car, asking abruptly, “Where are you from?” and demanding to see passports. On arrival in the Kashmir valley, visitors are warned by a sign on the roadside that they are entering a “high-security zone”. …

The continuing militancy and the dominant military presence explain why the British government has been reluctant to lift its travel advisory against visiting Jammu and Kashmir. As one Indian government official reminded us: “Although things are better now in Kashmir, you are still holidaying in a war zone.”

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