Tourists in a foreign destination like Kashmir naturally have lots of questions. Where is this, what is that, how much is this, and why do they do it that way?!
Sometimes you can find answers to your questions in a guidebook or online forum. However, searching for information and answers by asking the local community offers a more rewarding and interactive experience even if it might draw you out of your comfort zone a little.
Asking a Kashmiri about something you don’t know can be a fun experience that provides you with more than just the answer you were looking for. One of our tour participants once asked a Kashmiri man to explain how a traditional samovar was used and he ended up going to that man’s home to see a samovar and drink chai!
With this in mind, here are a few suggestions to help you get the most out of asking questions when visiting North India and Kashmir.
Ask the same question to more than one person. I think this is a common mistake made by tourists. The problem with asking only one person is you can’t be sure of the answer given to you. From my experience in Kashmir people would rather give you some type of answer than tell you they don’t know. That can lead to some pretty inaccurate answers! Also, some people give more descriptive answers than others so by asking the same thing to a variety of people you can get a more complete picture of the information you’re seeking.
Try rewording the question. If you don’t seem to be getting what you’re looking for then maybe the way you are phrasing the question isn’t being understood. We encourage our groups to ask locals how to say some basic phrases and greetings in Kashmiri. Several groups would ask people, “How do you greet someone in Kashmiri?” Almost all of them were given the answer of “As-Salamu Alaykum” which is the traditional Arabic greeting that Kashmiri Muslims use. They were rarely given the Kashmiri expressions that typically follow the Arabic greeting. So we changed the way they asked the question to how do you ask someone in Kashmiri, “How are you?” Now they almost always get the desired answer.
There may not be a “right” answer. A friend recently asked a group of about ten Kashmiri guys how much he should pay for something. He got ten different answers followed by a debate among the ten guys regarding whose answer was more correct! This might seem like a downside to asking multiple people the same question, but discovering that there are differing views regarding the answer to your question can help you learn more about a place than simply trying to find the one “right” answer. Listening to a group of Kashmiri men debate with each other is also far more entertaining than any guidebook!