"I'm not going to Kashmir," said my brother defiantly. We were in the ticket line at the New Delhi airport about to board a flight to Srinigar, the capital of Kashmir. "I just don't have a good feeling about going to this place, it's just too dangerous." When I looked at the fear in his eyes, I realized there was no way he would board the plane.
It was January 2008, and I was working in New Delhi. My brother was visiting me and I'd planned a trip to Kashmir. I'd heard some of the world's best snowboarding and skiing was in a place called Gulmarg, a ski resort in the Himalaya. Avid snowboarders, my brother and I have been boarding since we were teenagers and I thought a jaunt in some of Asia's highest mountains would make for unparalleled adventure. Man I sure missed that one. To my family Kashmir was still very much a war-zone, a place they thought every bit as dangerous as Afghanistan or Iraq. Dubbed the "most dangerous place on earth" by former President Bill Clinton in 1998, in recent years the security situation in Kashmir has improved. However, people rarely see any positive news come out of the region.
Extensive travel to other unstable regions has taught me that the reputation a place has and the reality on the ground are often different. Some of the most amazing traveling experiences I've had were in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Palestine. But traveling to these areas does not go without responsibility. I would never want to put someone else in a situation they were not comfortable with. Hence instead of going to Kashmir with my brother, I spent a week on the beach in Goa, a tropical state in southern India.
A few weeks later, (after my brother left), I headed to Kashmir. To my surprise I felt anxious about the trip. Kashmir is one of the most militarized states in the world, and I was concerned about the security situation I would face once I got there. Those fears quickly ebbed. I still cannot explain the inner transformation that occurred when I arrived, but a deep love for the region and people was almost instantly formed. Two years later, I'm reporting from Kashmir full-time. Though I'm very concerned about the precarious political and environmental situation in Kashmir, I have never been afraid.
The Kashmiri people have accepted me into their homes and allowed me to be part of their lives. My relationship with some of these families may have started as a contact for a story, but they have now become family. Two years since my first failed trip to Kashmir, the region has become a second home.