Machine gun toting military and police personnel, barricades and barbed wires dominate Srinagar panorama. I am told this is nothing compared to a few years ago. It is hard for me to imagine!
When I spoke to Kashmiri friends, they would always talk about “India”, a reference I found disconcerting. It was not until I was leaving Srinagar that I truly appreciated the gulf between Kashmir and the rest of India.
Getting to airport was like traveling through no-man’s-land. In 30 years of traveling across several continents, the only time I have experienced something similar is in the Middle East. Getting on to a plane in Srinagar was an amalgam of crossing the border of Syria and Lebanon in a car and trying to persuade Israeli security forces that I and my preteen sons meant no harm to anyone and they should let me get on the plane at Tel Aviv airport.
Here are the hurdles between our hotel in Srinagar and the airport gate:
• About a mile from airport lie security outposts complete with barbed wire and machine gun toting soldiers. Only ticketed passengers and taxi drivers can pass. My bags were screened, I was frisked and the car was screened.
• At the airport the luggage was screened, as were my handbags.
• After checking in and getting my boarding pass, I passed through the usual security check where they screened my handbags and I was frisked once again.
• Then they made me empty out all contents of my handbag and purse. It is pretty embarrassing what one’s purse contains but the security guard couldn’t care less. He did make me turn on my computer and camera to be sure I was not camouflaging some explosives.
• Then I had to go and identify my checked in bag in a mountain of luggage. I am going to sell my black bag and buy a flowery pink bag in case I have to do this again.
• A machine gun toting guard is standing near the door to be sure my hand luggage contains stamped tag, the proof that someone has already gone through my bag.
When boarding began, I thought deliverance was at hand. Wrong, a guard motioned me for a final round of body frisking and handbag tag check. This must be the penalty of leaving paradise. No other reason can explain this level of suspicion “inside” a country!