Top 15 Tourist Scams in Kashmir- You should know before you visit Kashmir
Among all the places I have visited in India, Kashmir would undoubtedly come in the top 5. Kashmir is undoubtedly one of the places where I would want to go to again.
Ever since we were kids we heard that Kashmir is called the ‘Paradise on Earth.’ This March I traveled to Kashmir. I understood why it is called so and it lives up to the hype. Almost every Indian has this place on their bucket list. Even the foreigners queue up to travel this North Indian Union territory.
Though Kashmir’s beauty amazes us there are some serious problems in Kashmir. No, I am not talking about political conflicts or security concerns. Kashmir is safe for tourists and security is also very tight. I am talking about the tourist scams in Kashmir. I have seen and heard about many tourists falling prey to them.
Here I will be listing the common tourist scams in Kashmir so you don’t get cheated when you visit Kashmir. Also, I will give you some guidance from my experience of traveling to Kashmir on how to save yourself from these scams.
Fake Pashmina Scam
Pashmina shawls are one of the most famous things in Kashmir. Pashmina is also among the costliest things to buy in Kashmir. The price of the original Pashmina can go as high as 6-7 lacs.
Pashmina shawls are so lightweight and comfortable that it is very easy to wear. Yet they are the warmest and most elegant. Nowadays many popular fashion designers make their models wear them.
Pashmina is made of very delicate wool extracted from a goat in the Ladakh region. That material of Pashmina is exclusive. Many people have no idea how to differentiate between original and fake ones. And fraud sellers take advantage of people’s innocence.
They sell fake Pashmina which is a mix of very fine wool and cashmere( wool that makes Pashmina). Usually, they would ask for a very low price which is too good to be true. And tourists fall for that trap.
Or they would highly overcharge you even if the product is original. Charging some absurd price to a customer is also a scam. I can remember a couple who got scammed. They paid 20000/- INR for the same Pashmina shawl which I got for my mother for 6000/- INR.
To be safe, I would recommend you buy from the government. registered shops in Kashmir would give a guarantee of the product. Or, try to know beforehand from your friends and family who had prior experience buying a Pashmina. You can check out here how to identify real Pashmina.
Renting pony scam in Kashmir
Wherever you go in Kashmir, you will find one thing constant. And, that is pony rides. You will find a lot of pony riders waiting in Pahalgam, Gulmarg, or Sonmarg, and as soon as you arrive there they will line up after you. They are quite persistent and will not leave you easily even if you are not interested.
But that’s not the worst part. It’s the scam that happens around these pony rides. First, they would ask some absurd price. In Pahalgam, they asked for 2500/- INR per person which was way more than what we expected for a 3 hours ride.
Initially, we said we won’t do it. When they see you moving away they say “if you don’t do this your trip will be incomplete. Kashmir aye ho paise ki chinta mat karo”. And, people often fall for this trap. We were adamant and did a lot of bargaining to ultimately do it for 1000/- per person. Now you can understand the difference in prices that they quote.
So, to be safe don’t fall for these emotional traps. And, always make sure you bargain hard. It is one of the biggest tourist scams in Kashmir.
Dal Lake Shikara ride scam
Whenever we talk about Kashmir the image that comes into our mind is the picture of a Shikara floating in Dal lake. Srinagar and Shikara make a romantic story. It has been part of many old Bollywood romances. And, nobody wants to miss out on this experience.
And for that reason, the Shikara owners will quote you a very high price. You will have to bargain a lot. Though they have a fixed hourly price they will still ask you for more saying they will show you a random number of viewpoints. These points are just made up randomly.
We also booked a Shikara for an early morning view of sunrise. And that cost us 1700/- for 2 hour’s ride. Though that was worth it. We also get to experience the floating vegetable market in the morning. If you have managed to evade the trap of booking a Shikara then another one awaits.
While enjoying the Shikara ride you will find a lot of small canoes selling flowers, fruits, dry fruits, saffron, and wooden carvings approaching you. I won’t be too skeptical about it as it is their business. But they are very pushy even if you don’t want them and most of the items you would buy from there are fake or not good.
You will find them selling saffron at very rates. Mostly they are fake. I also got conned into buying some flower seeds and roots. I enjoyed the atmosphere in the middle of the lake and felt like a nawab. And in the process burnt my 1500 bucks 😥.
You need to take a local cab in Pahalgam
This was the fact that I felt most irritated. In Pahalgam, you would have to hire a local taxi to visit places like Aru valley, Betaab Valley, and Chandanwari even if you are having your rented car. Here local taxi union would gang up and would not let you go. I found this very annoying. Also, in Gulmarg, the cars do not go up to the gondola.
Though the cab charges are fixed and different sizes of cars are available for rent. I am not sure what happens during peak seasons. But this was a kind of exploitation that I cannot support. It is one of the most common tourist traps in Kashmir.
Gulmarg Gondola ride scam
One of the most enjoyable things in Gulmarg is the Gondola ride. Gulmarg Gondola is the highest ropeway in Asia and the second highest in the world. The two-staged ropeway takes you to the top of Apharwat peak and the views from the Gondola are amazing.
But there are some serious problems. The queue at Gulmarg Gondola is very long all the time. If you arrive late you would have to wait for a long time. We had to wait 1 hour in the long queue. Things are very mismanaged. Also, the guides cut the line to get their clients ahead in the line. And, in the process, regular people get back in the line. That makes the wait longer.
Also, you will find people who will get you tickets at a higher rate. But don’t fall for this. As ticket rates are fixed and you should not overpay.
You need to rent a guide
In Kashmir, you would hardly ever need a local guide. The best you can have is to take your driver as your guide. But, you will find everywhere people asking you to take a guide. They will say you cannot visit these places alone. Believe me, you don’t need to rent a guide.
Also, the Kashmir Tourism authority has set a fixed rate for the guides. But some fraud guides will ask you even more. They will say that they would buy you tickets but ultimately you will have to stand in a long queue.
Though in some cases having a guide helps. In Gulmarg, while skiing the guide can help you bargain for skiing equipment and a trainer. Also, he can keep an eye on your belongings. But, think first do you even need a guide?
You must take a sledge scam in Gulmarg
The very moment you will be dropping in Gulmarg you will see a lot of people asking you for a sledge ride. Don’t think this to be the sledges that you picturized Santa Claus coming on Christmas eve. These sledges are made of wooden planks which are drawn by riders while you sit on them. They are very uncomfortable, to say the least.
Now, understand the scam. They will tell you that place is too far. You will not be able to walk in the snow. The distance to the skiing slope is not even a km. And they asked 1500/- per person. And, during most of the part, you will be walking because sledges cannot be dragged everywhere. That price is absurd and cannot be justified. So, we did not go for it and walked down the snow. After all, I was there to enjoy the snow.
Also, remember that tickets for Gondola rides are both ways. So, you don’t need a sledge to come down from Apharwat mountain. Please don’t waste your money. As it will be very tiring for your back and hips.
If you are interested wait till sunset when not many tourists are there. You can get to ride the sledge for as cheap as 50 bucks.
Saffron, dry fruit scam in Kashmir
Saffron is one of the costliest spices in the whole world. Not only as a spice but also as a medicine saffron is also very effective. Kashmir is the largest producer of saffron. People tend to buy saffron from Kashmir a lot. When there is demand there is a chance of scams.
You will find almost every shop in Kashmir sells saffron. But you would be hardly able to differentiate. Some sellers would lure you to buy saffron at a very cheap rate. Or some would ask for a very high price.
What is the ideal cost of saffron? Roughly it is around 250-300 INR/gm. The wholesale price varies around 150-200 INR/gm. So, be rest assured if someone is selling @100/gm, they are fake. So, do check the prices before buying.
Now the bigger problem is that you don’t know how to differentiate between real and fake saffron.
How to identify real Saffron?
- Colour– Though it goes by the name of saffron, it is not saffron or red. It is dark red or maroon.
- Time to release color– Real saffron does not release its color quickly. It takes at least 10-15 minutes. It starts from pale yellow to deep yellow though the saffron strands retain their color. And also original saffron doesn’t dissolve in water. Fake saffrons release color much more quickly as they are mostly colored artificially.
- Smell– Original saffron has a very sweet floral smell. Indeed it has an earthy smell. You will be able to know that when you smell some strands of saffron.
- Taste– Original saffron smells sweet but doesn’t taste sweet. It has a little bitterness when you chew it. So, don’t think any floral strands that look like saffron and smell very sweet are at all saffron.
- Price– I have already explained earlier what should be the price of saffron. Per gm of original saffron should cost you around 250-300 INR.
Also, the same problem happens while buying dry fruits. People got cheated because they don’t know how to judge the quality or actual price of exotic dry fruits like walnut, apricot, berries, and almonds.
Recommended place to buy– Kissan Kesar, Lethpora, Pampore Pampore Jammu and Kashmir, 192122
Baisaran Valley scam
This has happened with many people who visited Baisaran valley in Pahalgam. From Pahalgam market, you would have to rent a pony to visit Baisaran. The road is not the easiest to trek and is at places full of muddles. Now let me tell you how they would scam you.
First, they would ask for a very high price for the ride. They would make a fool of you by saying this is a long journey that would take 4-5 hours. Which is not true at all.
Next, they will tell you that I will show you 5 points/ 7 points or some random number of points. In reality, there are not so many points. They will take you to a random place and would tell a story behind it. The worthwhile place is the Baisaran valley, the Mini Switzerland of India. Some people even got conned as they never reached Baisaran.
Though in the middle of the hike a few policemen stopped us and asked what are they charging us. and strictly instructed that until we get a ticket at Baisaran we shall not pay them a penny. That was the only good thing I found.
But the beauty of Baisaran is worth the praise. And you must visit there despite these hurdles and enjoy the thrilling experience of riding a pony to the top.
Excessive prices for local taxis and, Shikara ride
There is a reason why Kashmir is jokingly called Cash-more that means more money. Local taxis or Shikaras can get your pockets empty. Local taxis would charge very high prices during tourist seasons. During that time they would charge you even higher than the regular rates. And the rule that outside cars are not allowed in some places is abysmal.
Shikaras would also overcharge you. It’s always better to check the government’s decided prices at the ghats of Dal lake. And, you would have to bargain as much as possible.
Though I cannot be too hard on them for asking more. Due to political reasons, terrorist incidents, and communal unrest Kashmir has suffered a lot. And, tourism is their main source of income. Though the hard-working people don’t get their due credit.
I will show you the snow scam
This is one of the weirdest scams. In the past, there have been incidents when people would take money from tourists to guide them to see the snow. And, ultimately they would show a space where a little bit of snow is stacked up.
Please do not fall for these. If you are going during Jan-Mar you will see an ample amount of snow and you won’t need someone just to show you snow.
Rent winter garments/ equipments
You will find many shops in Gulmarg or Pahalgam renting snow boots or winter jackets. For boots, they would charge around 200 Rs/ day. Neither they are comfortable nor do they fit properly. So, to save your money you should go prepared. You can check out the list of things needed to visit Kashmir.
Gulmarg Skiing scam
Gulmarg is one of the most popular skiing destinations in India. Gulmarg has one of the best and largest slopes in the whole of Asia. Professional skiers flock to this region during Jan-Mar. Tourists also want to experience skiing here.
Governments have decided on a standard rate for trainers and skiing equipment. They asked us for 2500 INR/ person. We had to bargain a lot and then we did it for 1500 INR/person. You know what? They only trained us for a mere 1 hour.
I had prior experience skiing in Auli where I did it for 1000 INR and also the trainer was quite good. But honestly, my experience of skiing in Gulmarg was a bit underwhelming. People may have different views about it. Let me know in the comments if you have a similar experience in Gulmarg.
Srinagar airport Taxi/ guide scam
This is also another bizarre scam that has happened previously. Though I have not faced it directly. If you are arriving at the Srinagar airport and haven’t booked your cab previously then you might find yourself in trouble.
Drivers will line up after you as soon as you exit. Then they will suggest random places to stay. And, don’t fall for this ploy. If you have a pre-decided hotel or Shikara, they will even say that hotel got burnt a few days back, etc. I have seen famous YouTuber Karl Rock talking about it.
So to be safe, it’s better to book a cab previously for your complete stay. It makes your traveling easy in Kashmir.
High price at Meena Bazar
Meena Bazar is the floating market on the back side of Dal lake. Stopping there is a part of your Shikara ride. You will find various shops selling various items like shawls, carpets, paper-mache handicrafts, wooden carvings, dry fruits, etc. But I found that the price is quite high at Meena Bazar.
I liked a paper mache item at Meena Bazar. That was being sold for 300. I bought the same item at 60 from another shop in Srinagar. Also, I checked the prices of carpets and shawls which were too costly as well.
So, I would recommend you to visit this market and check out the items. Have a look at the floating market. But don’t buy costly products there. You will get it cheaper outside.
Now I have talked about all the scams and cheats that happen with tourists in Kashmir, I should also clarify that I am not at all demeaning Kashmir. I have fallen in love with this place. Neither everyone is cheating. But these incidents have happened before. And. For that, I can’t blame everyone. I also met some amazing people during this trip who were very polite and helpful.
Also, Kashmir has suffered a lot in its lifetime. Education is yet to fully arrive here. The horse trainer who took us to Baisaran mentioned that he earns a meager 7000 INR/ month. And you won’t believe he goes up and down that hilly road 3-4 times a day for only that much wage. And, these people will never get the benefits even if you pay much more. Somewhere these stories go unheard.
Every coin has two sides. Try to help these hard-working people if possible. Also, be cautious of the frauds that have happened before, and if you are not vigilant it can happen to you too. So, if you are traveling to Kashmir soon, you are going to have the experience of your lifetime.