Englishman’s everlasting love affair with Kashmir

  • UBEER NAQUSHBANDI
  • Publish Date: Jun 24 2019 3:30AM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 24 2019 3:30AM
Englishman’s everlasting love affair with KashmirPhoto: Kashmir Ink

As a funky young  man in 1970 when Gary Weare  set his foot for the first time on the soil of Kashmir to fulfill his trekking passion,  its lush green forests, gushing trout filled streams, flower laden meadows and above all snow capped mountains charmed him.

“I was 22 then. The environment of Kashmir  soothed me. I could see it was a place for me,” said Weare, an English man, while sipping tea at a houseboat here. He is in Kashmir again with a trekking group. 

Now 72, Weare vividly  remembers  his first visit to the Valley. He had trekked Kashmir’s snow capped and treacherous routes, leading to places such as Kolahai glacier and Amarnath.

He came back again in 1973, only to decide  that he would organize proper trekking groups to the region.   

“Once back in England, I decided  to move to Australia. I worked there for two years to save enough money to organize trekking holidays to Kashmir,” said Weare.

 In Australia owners of world renowned ‘Himlayan Expeditions’, now known as ‘World Expeditions’ approached Weare in 1976.

 “From that year onwards I ran expeditions through their company,” he said.

This continued until early 90s when guns and bombs began to rattle Kashmir’s landscape. In 1995 when countries like America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and European countries came up with advisories cautioning their citizens against visiting the region, his expeditions stopped The advisories from the respective countries bar their citizens from claiming any sort of insurance for travel to Kashmir.    

“Where in this world for that matter is  it safe. It’s all about risk. What we can say is that risk can be minismsed because combatants are not attacking tourists. Look at number of domestic tourists thronging Kashmir,” said Weare.   

He believes media has not been “sensitive” in its reporting on Kashmir and that is what was also coming in the way of downgrading or lifting advisories by foreign governments.  

A trekking mogul Weare has written the  book ‘Lonely Planet, Trekking in the Indian Himalayas’ which is considered as ‘trekking Bible’. Besides, his  famed ‘Long Walk in the Himalayas’ acclaimed internationally  is based on a trek from Ganges in Uttarakhand to Kashmir.

Official data shows the number of foreign tourists visiting Kashmir has increased steadily in the past three years—from 24516 in 2016 to 31697 in 2017 and 56029 in 2018.

Weare, whose upcoming book ‘Kashmir, a journey through history’  suggests that the local government  should adopt a new strategy of opening phase wise routes for foreigners in Kashmir.

“Any request to have the advisory relaxed to the whole of the Kashmir Valley (similar to Germany in 2011) has not been successful,” said Weare.

“In  light of this it might be opportune to adopt a new strategy requesting a phase by phase relaxed along the road between Srinagar and Sonamarg –which will then link up with Ladakh (which currently is on a lower advisory level). Monitor and review for a couple of years and if all goes well then exemption of travel advisory to Gulmarg and Sonamarg. Then Pahalgam and other places,” said Weare, adding in this way there is a better chance that the requests will find favour with the representatives of the various foreign countries.

“This will increase the number of foreign tourists.  That will surely benefit so many people in Kashmir,” said Weare.

Nowadays, Weare is busy explaining to foreign groups about frequent internet gag in Kashmir.

“It’s not heard of anywhere in the world. It’s frustrating,” said Weare.