Jammu and Kashmir (Dogri: जम्मु और कश्मीर; Urdu: جموں و کشمیر) is a union territory in northern India. It is a mountainous region of great beauty and diversity offering much in the way of outdoor activities and sights for the tourist.
|Jammu Division |
Known for its temples, shrines, palaces and forts.
|Kashmir Valley |
Some say it is the Paradise on Earth, friendly people, beautiful gardens, vast lakes and pristine streams and stunning landscapes.
Here are nine of the most notable cities.
- 1 Jammu — the union territory's winter capital
- 2 Srinagar — the union territory's summer capital, set around famous Dal Lake, with its floating houseboats
- 3 Gulmarg — decent skiing and the world's highest gondola
- 4 Katra — located in the foothills of the Trikuta Mountains and home of the holy Mata Vaishno Devi shrine
- 5 Pahalgam — a calm and serene place offering multiple trekking routes; starting point of Amarnath Yatra
- 6 Patnitop — a small hill station in Jammu
- 7 Sonamarg (Sonmarg) — trekking, fishing and mountain sports
- 1 Dachigam National Park — home to the critically endangered Kashmir stag (hangul). Grasslands, alpine meadows, waterfalls and craggy cliffs provide home for various species of mammals such as the Himalayan black and brown bears, jackal and leopard and birds such as the woodpecker, pygmy owl and cinnamon sparrow.
- 2 Kishtwar National Park — located in the Kishtwar district, this park has rugged and steep terrain, with narrow valleys leading to glaciers. This park provides habitat for the Himalayan Snowcock and the brown bear.
- 3 Salim Ali National Park (City Forest National Park) — located in Srinagar, this former park was converted into a golf course and once featured animals such as leopard, hangul and musk deer; in addition to a large variety of birds
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Jammu and Kashmir during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has a very rich and vibrant history, and is a melting pot of different cultures and religions. The territory has served as a major centre for Buddhism and Hinduism, and it has been a part of numerous empires such as the Sikh Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Durrani Empire, and more recently, the British Empire.
During the 14th century, the spread of Islam rapidly intensified under the Shamiri Dynasty, and as a result, the region has the distinction of being one of the few areas in India with a Muslim-majority population, along with Lakshadweep.
As with all of the princely states that formed India during the partition of India in the late-1940s, Kashmir was given one of three choices - Join India, Join Pakistan, or become independent. This presented a major political issue in Kashmir at the time, and there was no clear consensus on what was the correct choice.
Shortly thereafter, the city of Poonch faced an uprising sponsored by Pakistan, which eventually resulted in Kashmir losing control of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Given the deteriorating situation, the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, requested assistance from India. India agreed to provide military aid under the condition that Kashmir joined India. The maharaja then signed an agreement that made Kashmir a part of India, whereupon Indian troops entered the region and summarily defeated the Pakistani forces. To this date, a large portion of Kashmir is now administered by India, the rest being administered by Pakistan and China.
Since the 1980s, insurgent violence has ravaged the region, and the unrest has adversely affected what was one a thriving tourist industry. Perhaps one of the darkest periods of Kashmiri history was when one of the minority groups, the Kashmiri Pandits, were forcefully expelled from Kashmir. To this day, some 300,000 to 600,000 Kashmiri Pandits remain displaced, internally and externally.
Both India and Pakistan have been accused of committing grave human rights violations in Kashmir, with scholars repeatedly condemning India for refusing to prosecute perpetrators of abuses in the region and Pakistan for sheltering and aiding terror groups which operate in the region.
In August 2019, the Indian government revoked the state's autonomy. While some claim that the move is geared towards integrating the territory into the rest of India, others feel that the Indian government is doing something incredibly risky. The move evoked a strong response from many political parties in the region, and it even prompted Pakistan to downgrade relations and suspend bilateral trade with India.
The irony, however, is that since November 2020, Pakistan has been making moves towards converting Gilgit-Baltistan into a full-fledged province, a move which political experts believe will lead to further tensions and chaos. Some believe the move comes from Pakistan wanting to hit back at India over India revoking Kashmir's autonomy.
While some Kashmiris hope for an independent and unified Kashmir, the majority seem to simply want peace.
The region has an area of 101,473km² (39,179 sq mi).
The official languages of the union territory are Dogri, English, Kashmiri, Hindi and Urdu. However, the main languages spoken are Kashmiri in the Kashmir Valley and Dogri in Jammu. Most people speak at least a little Hindi and you may even hear Punjabi.
As elsewhere in India, English is fairly widely spoken among the educated classes and those involved in the tourist industry.
Jammu and Kashmir have 2 civil airports. The Jammu Airport in Jammu and The Shiekh-ul-Alam International Airport in Srinagar. They receive direct flights from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Try Air India.
The last stop on the railway line north is Udhampur, where you can catch onward buses and hire SUVs/MUVs (Tata Sumo / Toyota Innova/ Mahindra Scorpio). However it is better to get down in Jammu and catch a taxi from there as these are more readily available.
The Kashmir Railway to connect the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country is under construction as of 2021. The project called USBRL (Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Railway Link) will connect the city of Udhampur, 55 km (34 mi) north of Jammu, the city of Baramulla on the northwestern edge of the Kashmir Valley, 290 km (180 mi) away. The route will cross inhospitable terrain, traverse major earthquake zones and be subject to extreme temperatures of cold and heat.
Buses are operated by J&K SRTC to most points around the union territory. They offer package tours to Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Yusmarg, Wular Lake, Iity tour, etc. There are tourist information centres, which offer tickets and information.
4WD jeeps are quicker, a little more expensive and reach more locations. Private hire jeeps are also available.
- Amarnath. One of the Hindu trinity, Shiva is considered by Hindus to be a living god. Legend has it that Shiva recounted to his consort Parvati the secret of creation in a cave in Amarnath. Unknown to them, a pair of doves, who are said to have eavesdropped on this conversation and learnt the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode.
- Bahu Fort. Bahu fort was built by the Raja Bahulochan and modified and improved by the Dogra rulers of Jammu. This fort is around 5km from the main city and perhaps is the oldest edifice in the Jammu. This fort is facing the Tawi River. There is a temple of the goddess Kali in the fort.
- Dal Lake. Located in the heart of Srinagar, this beautiful lake is fed by natural springs.
- Gulmarg (the meadow of flowers). Gulmarg is a small hill station 52 km from Srinagar. While trekking, horse riding and picnics can be fun in summer, in winter it has some of the best powder snow and slopes for skiers. Besides all this, the world's highest cable car is also in Gulmarg.
- Mata Vaishno Devi. A pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji (the Hindu Mother Goddess) is considered to be one of the holiest for Hindus. Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is believed to reside in a holy cave 1,560 m up in the folds of the three peaked mountain named Trikuta (pronounced as Trikoot). The holy cave attracts over one crore (10 million) devotees every year. The Yatris have to undertake a trek of nearly 12 km from the base camp at Katra. At the culmination of their pilgrimage, they view three natural rock formations called pindis which are considered to be darshans (images or manifestations) of the Mother Goddess inside the holy cave. There are no statues or idols inside the cave.
- Mubarak Mandi Palace. Mubarak Palace was built with the touch of three different styles, Rajasthani, Mughal and Gothic. Most famous part of this Palace is the Sheesh Mahal segment. There is a Dogra Art Museum, which is a treasure house of miniature paintings from various hill schools.
- Mughal Gardens. These beautiful gardens line the periphery of the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar. Decorated with colourful flowers, fountains and mighty Chinars, strolling in these gardens gives one a royal feeling.
- Peer Baba. This is of the holy places for Muslim saints. People from various religions come in large number to pray on Thursdays.
- Raghunath Temple. Raghunath Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Rama. All the inner walls of this temple are covered with gold, on three sides. Galleries of this temple are covered with Saligrams (fossilised shells used as icons). The other surrounding temples are related to other gods from the Ramayana. This temple is in the centre, the heart, of Jammu.
- Sri Amarnath Ji Temple (Holy Amarnath Cave). This temple is 144 km east to Srinagar. Amarnath is represented in the form of an ice Shiva-lingam. On the full moon day the lingam is approx 1.8 m high.
Trekking in Kashmir Valley
Srinagar serves as a base for many trekking expeditions which lead to Himalayan alpine high altitude lakes of Kashmir valley which has a great scope for adventure tourism. These high altitude alpine lakes have no access by any transport, they include Vishansar Lake, Nundkol Lake, Tarsar Lake, Gadsar Lake, Satsar Lake and so on. Many trekking units organise and operate trekking packages to these mountain lakes.
Shikaras are the limousines of the Dal lake. Lay comfortably in soft cushions and while the shikara cruises around the lake while vendors come along in their boats selling handicrafts. Also look for a jetski ride in summers.
- Kashmiri wazwan famous cuisine here (Rista, Goshtaba, Kabab, Yakhani, Rogan Josh,), don't miss this cuisine.
- Harisa and tuj at Khayam Chowk.
- Mughal darbar and Jan bakery are most famous confectioneries in Srinagar at Lalchowk.
- Kashmir valley famous for Kashmiri Kahwa, beverage made from saffron.
- Kashmir famous for dry fruits and apples.
- Kaladi (special milk product like paneer) Kulcha in Moti Bazaar.
- Phahalwan di hatti famous Sweet shop in Gandhi Nagar.
- Eat kachalu at girdhari shop near pacca danga.
- Good Non-Veg at Pape de hatti and pape the great- residency road, Paras raam de hatti at panjthirthi.
Two local specialities are kehwa, which is a special beverage prepared with saffron and dry fruits, and nun chai, which is a pink, salty tea.
Due to militant and insurgent activities, the situation in the union territory is far from stable. Outbursts of politically motivated violence and civil disobedience are possible, especially around Srinagar. Demonstrations and rallies can rapidly turn violent. It is vital for visitors to maintain good situational awareness.
Some parts of Azad Kashmir are off-limits to tourists, particularly the Line of Control that separates the union territory from the neighbouring Pakistani-administered territory of Azad Kashmir. Clashes across the LoC between India and Pakistan are also not uncommon. Check on current conditions before you go. Don't take photographs of military installations around the Line of Control or you'll be in very serious trouble.
As with many people in Kashmir, people are divided into three opposing camps - Some who advocate for full independence, some who advocate for integration with Pakistan, and some who advocate for integration with India. Given the sensitive situation in the region, the main thing to avoid is pontificating about the situation. Such discussions could make many feel uncomfortable.
Some may voice their support for certain Kashmiri militant groups and may react with anger if you call them terrorist organisations.
- Himachal Pradesh — A mountainous state of India to the southeast of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Ladakh — Union territory administered by India to the east of Jammu and Kashmir.