One hazard of a world tour is that your route turns into a war zone. Guess what: that’s happened to me.
Kashmir was always the one part of India that I really, desperately wanted to see. However, it’s also been the least stable part, right back to the partition of India and Pakistan: see This video from The Economist or This article on CNN for an explanation why. As of now, the conflict has kicked off again: there have been bombs, shells, planes shot down, civilians killed and all the local airports closed.
I’d been going to (try to) ride up as far as the Kashmiri capital Srinagar before flying back to New Delhi, from which I have a flight booked to Dushanbe. That doesn’t look feasible anymore, so I’m left with a few options.
1) Give up and fly straight from Delhi to Dushanbe
I’d rather not. I don’t mind air-hopping over Pakistan and Afghanistan because crossing them overland just isn’t possible for me. Flying from Delhi starts to leave a rather large gap in my route, and I’ve got enough of those that I don’t want to add any more.
2) Fly Delhi to Almaty, ride through Kazakhstan and join my route in the Uzbek desert
Feasible. I actually planned to use this route before I decided to come to India and do the whole Kashmir/Dushanbe thing. However, it means I miss all the fun mountains, I don’t get to visit Tajikistan and I don’t get to visit Samarkand.
3) Fly to Almaty, ride to Dushanbe through Kyrgyzstan and the Pamir Highway
From too few mountains to too many! There’s a lot of ground I’d like to ride her e(especially after missing out on the Pamirs last time) but spring is meant to be a miserable time to ride this route. It’s also a long way and slow going, which means I’d then get roasted as I hit the desert at the start of summer, and then miss most of the British summer one I got home.
None of these is perfect, hmmm? Fortunately there’s a fourth option
4) Ride north from Delhi, see how far I get, then return to Delhi overland
Having talked to some local contacts, I’m told that while Srinagar would be a bad idea, the going should be fine as far as Jammu – a city which has the added benefit of a direct train link to Delhi so I can get back even if the airports are still closed. This is my working plan for now: make for Jammu, but keep watching the news bulletins between now and then and be prepared to abort if they don’t look good.
For a final bit of perspective, half a million people died in the partition of India back in 1947. A lot of the blame for that can be laid at the door of the British – figures such as Winston Churchill. We held onto empire for too long, when most of it hadn’t been making a profit since the 1920s, and had we quit India just a few years earlier, before the nationalist leaders’ positions had hardened on both the Hindu and Muslim sides, there may well have been a better outcome all round. Thanks Winston.
[Postscript: the military situation continued to develop as I rode north through India, so in the end I took Option 1: Cut and run at Delhi and fly straight to Dushanbe. Oh well.]