Jetlagged backpackers fall for Kashmiris' con-trick

Every night you can find them outside Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi. Their insistent quality would make a timeshare salesman seem bashful and hesitant. Even seasoned travellers have succumbed. Warnings do not seem to work. These people's lies are intricate - and apparently more convincing to travellers than current Foreign Office notices. The results can be disastrous.

Dozens of visitors to New Delhi are duped every night during the hours of pre-dawn purgatory after their planes touch down. While the travellers try to find a taxi and check into a hotel in the Indian capital, the Kashmiri touts move in - to dramatic effect.

Most guidebooks note that the woods, hot springs and mountain trails near Srinagar, although beautiful, remain no-go areas for casual tourists because of tension between militant Muslim separatists and Indian troops. Foreigners who have strayed into the violence have been abducted and murdered; so have Indian tourists. These books do not caution against unsolicited sales pitches from strangers after dark - it would seem to be commonsense to avoid such characters the world over. But tourists keep taking the bait and booking sudden trips to Kashmir.

Resistance is reckoned to be lowest between midnight and 4am and jetlagged tourists arriving in the middle of the night are particularly vulnerable. Or perhaps the pollution in the city, rated fourth in the world for contaminated air, eats away at the brains of those unused to it.

The Vale of Kashmir, a high Himalayan valley surrounded by snowy peaks and laced with waterways, has been racked by insurgency for seven years. Tourism, long the economic mainstay, is now limited to the uninformed or foolhardy.

Security checks, curfews and strikes in Srinagar make the atmosphere grim, despite the beauty of the landscape.Tourism used to be promoted by officials as a sign of normality. Now, however, even the state tourist office suggests "visitors should trek only where there is security."

Simon Grant, a Cambridge gap-year student, fell for an elaborate sales technique when he arrived in Delhi. His taxi-driver, Farid, cruised the capital, going from one guesthouse to the next, and, when unable to find a vacancy, pulled up at an office to ask for help.

A sign read "Tourist Desk. Official." Behind the counter was a sleepy Kashmiri, who told Mr Grant: "Delhi is so crowded there are no rooms. Go some place else. South too hot. East is too dangerous. West also." Mr Grant took this advice eagerly.

He cashed some travellers' cheques and bought a one-way flight to Srinagar which would depart within hours, plus a pre-paid houseboat stay on Dal Lake and a bus ticket to Agra. "The tourist desk told me that Kashmir's now is safe," Mr Grant said as he stuffed his rucksack into the locker on a plane heading for Jammu and Srinagar.

Sometimes the touts' advice has catastrophic effects. Almost two years ago Catherine Moseley and her boyfriend, Paul Wells, from Nottingham, flew to India on holiday. Like most discounted flights, theirs reached Delhi after midnight but the young couple felt prepared. "We hired an official taxi and reserved a room at the Imperial Hotel," Ms Moseley said.

"But the driver said JanPath Lane was dangerous so late at night. We were sure to get robbed. We ended up in Kashmir almost exactly the same way."

She was now returning for her third visit - hoping to find some trace of Mr Wells, whose adventure went tragically awry.

Kidnapped at gunpoint on a popular trekking trail, he was one of six tourists captured by members of the Al Faran group, who at first intended to exchange them for jailed comrades. A fifth backpacker was beheaded and the sixth escaped. The rest are still missing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map