Kashmir (Kashmiri: کٔشیٖر; Urdu: کشمیر) is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term Kashmir geographically denoted only the valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range. Then the name was used for the larger area of a princely state centered on the valley. Today, that area is divided between India, Pakistan, and China. Kashmir's total land area is 225,000 km2 (87,000 mi2), larger than 87 member countries of the United Nations and all but ten states in the US; it is only slightly smaller than the UK (243,000 km2).
In the first half of the first millennium, the Kashmir region became an important centre of Hinduism and later of Buddhism. Nature has lavishly endowed Kashmir with certain distinctive features that are paralleled by few alpine regions in the world. It is a land of snow clad mountains known for its extravagant natural beauty and contained major caravan routes in ancient times.
While Kashmir is disputed, each region is described as part of the country which has de facto control. This should not be seen as a political endorsement of any claim.
|India (Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh)|
|Pakistan (Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan)|
|China (Aksai Chin, Trans-Karakoram Tract)|
- 1 Gilgit — a mountain town in Gilgit-Baltistan and an important city on the Silk Road
- 2 Gulmarg — decent skiing and the world's highest gondola
- 3 Jammu — the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir
- 4 Kargil — key for access to Zanskar area, and a necessary stop on the way from Leh to Srinagar
- 5 Leh — very picturesque, an excellent base for exploring Ladakh, good guest houses and restaurants
- 6 Mirpur — one of the largest cities, known as "Little England" in Pakistan because a significant portion of the population is settled in Bradford
- 7 Muzaffarabad — the capital of Azad Kashmir and the largest city
- 8 Skardu — home to some of the world's highest mountain peaks, glaciers, forts, museums and resorts
- 9 Srinagar — the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, and the largest city in the Kashmir region
- 1 Aksai Chin Lake — a salt lake in the Chinese-administered territory of Aksai Chin
- 2 Dal Lake — one of the most attractive lakes in Indian-administered Kashmir
- 3 Hemis National Park — a national park near Leh
- 4 K2 — the second highest mountain on Earth
- 5 Nanga Parbat — the ninth highest mountain on Earth
- 6 Pangong Tso — the highest salt lake in Asia, straddling the Sino-Indian border
The Buddhist Mauryan emperor Ashoka is often credited with having founded the old capital of Kashmir, Shrinagari, now ruins on the outskirts of modern Srinagar.
In 1349, Shah Mir became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, inaugurating the Salatin-i-Kashmir or Swati dynasty. For the next five centuries, Muslim monarchs ruled Kashmir, including the Mughals, who ruled from 1526 until 1751, and the Afghan Durrani Empire, which ruled from 1747 until 1820. That year, the Sikhs, under Ranjit Singh, annexed Kashmir. In 1846, after the Sikh defeat in the First Anglo-Sikh War, and upon the purchase of the region from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, the Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh, became the new ruler of Kashmir. The rule of his descendants, under the paramountcy (or tutelage) of the British Crown, lasted until 1947, when the former princely state became a disputed territory.
In 1947 the Indian Independence Act was passed dividing British India into two independent states, Pakistan and India. According to the Act, each of the princely states in British India would be free to join India or Pakistan or to remain independent. The Maharaja of Kashmir chose India, but Pakistan and many Muslim Kashmiris objected. Pakistan invaded, starting a war with India. The war established the rough boundaries of today, with Pakistan holding roughly one-third of Kashmir, and India the rest, with the Line of Control (LoC) established by the United Nations.
Since then, there have been several more wars but little to no change; both nations still claim all of Kashmir and the border between the territories they actually control is still where the ceasefires left it. India and China fought a war in 1962 in which China gained control of Aksai Chin. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 resulted in a stalemate and a UN-negotiated ceasefire. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 brought Turtuk and some Balti areas under the administration of India.
Kashmir is bordered to the northeast by China (Xinjiang and Tibet), to the northwest by Afghanistan (Wakhan Corridor), to the west by Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab) and to the south by India (Himachal Pradesh and Punjab).
Although Kashmir is mostly mountainous, the geographical features of the region differ considerably from one part to another, with the plains at the south and the high mountains at the north.
The region is divided amongst three countries in a territorial dispute: Pakistan controls the northwest portion (Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir ("Free Kashmir")), India controls the southern portion (Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh), and the People's Republic of China controls the northeastern portion (Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract). India controls the majority of the Siachen Glacier area, including the Saltoro Ridge passes, whilst Pakistan controls the lower territory just southwest of the Saltoro Ridge. Pakistan, India and China keep military forces in the area, and squabbles sometimes flare up.
Though these regions are in practice administered by their respective claimants, neither India nor Pakistan has formally recognised the accession of the areas claimed by the other. India claims those areas, including the area "ceded" to China by Pakistan in the Trans-Karakoram Tract in 1963, are a part of its territory, while Pakistan claims the entire region excluding Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract.
Wikivoyage takes no sides in any of these disputes, but merely acknowledges whichever country has effective control of the area is question and how it relates to practical issues of travel.
Many languages spoken in the region. In Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, Urdu is the lingua franca and understood by most inhabitants; however, due to the area's diverse cultural blend, many languages are spoken by different populations, including Kashmiri, Pahari-Potwari, Hindko, Gojri, and Punjabi and Pashto in Azad Kashmir. In Gilgit-Baltistan, the Shina language (with several dialects such as Asturjaa, Kharuchaa, and Chilasi) is the majority language of the population, spoken mainly in Gilgit, Astore, throughout Diamir, and in some parts of Ghizer and in the Baltistan region. The Balti dialect, a sub-dialect of Ladakhi and part of the Tibetan language group, is spoken by the entire population of Baltistan. Minor languages spoken in the region include Wakhi, spoken in upper Hunza, and in some villages in Ghizer, while Khowar is the principal language of Ghizer. Burushaski is an isolated language spoken in Hunza, Nagar, Yasin (where Khowar is also spoken), in some parts of Gilgit, and in some villages of Punial. Another interesting language is Domaaki, spoken by musician clans in the region. A small minority of people also speak Pashto. Gilgit–Baltistan has very few speakers of Kashmiri. However, speakers of other Dardic languages such as Shina and Khowar are present in the region.
In Indian-administered Kashmir, the principal spoken languages are Kashmiri, Urdu, Dogri, Pahari, Balti, Ladakhi, Gojri, Shina and Pashto; however, Urdu is also widely spoken. The principal language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan language. Many speakers of these languages use Hindi as a second language, and educated people are also usually able to speak English.
Uyghur and Mandarin are the main languages spoken in the Chinese-controlled areas, with parts of the Trans-Karakoram Tract being home to speakers of the Sarikoli language (called Tajik in China, though it is distinct from the Tajik language of Tajikistan).
Most cities and towns in Kashmir can be reached by road, and some by train or plane, though some of the more rural areas require trekking and some of the trekking is quite difficult.
Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract are administered by China, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are administered by India, and Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are administered by Pakistan. Those parts are reached via respective countries.
Kashmir is a picturesque location featuring snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes, evergreen forests and high river valleys. In India and Pakistan it's known as heaven on earth.
If you are touring the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, you may want to choose Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir with its beautiful Dal Lake and snow-peaked mountains all around, as your base. The state also contains the city of Jammu, the winter capital, which is a major place of Hindu pilgrimage also known as the City of Temples, and Leh, the small and extremely picturesque capital of Ladakh, with fantastic hiking opportunities all around and numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries within a day's hike or less.
In Azad Kashmir in the Pakistani-administered part, Muzaffarabad, which is in a river valley with beautiful mountains quite close by, is the largest city. Gilgit, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, is a historic mountain city, featuring striking vistas, the 1st-century Balti Fort and the Kargah Buddha, a 7th-century carving into a rock face that is still in good condition today.
Wazwan is traditional Kashmiri multi-course meal, mostly of chicken or lamb dishes. Try it if you have the chance.
Kehweh (also kahwah, qehwa) is the traditional green tea of Kashmir. It is made by brewing of herbs and saffron. It is often taken in the morning and especially at weddings. It is usually taken with a bread called girdeh that is also traditional in Kashmir.
The situation in Kashmir is far from stable. Outbursts of politically motivated violence are possible, especially around Srinagar. Demonstrations and rallies can rapidly turn violent. Stay up to date with the news, and be willing to change your plans, when going to Kashmir.
Sometimes, temperatures go below freezing, especially in the winter; dress accordingly.
Some parts of Kashmir are off-limits to tourists, particularly the 25-km-wide (15-mile) buffer zone or 16 km along the Line of Control that separates Pakistan-administered Kashmir from Indian-administered Kashmir. Clashes across the line between India and Pakistan are also not uncommon, and hostilities between India and China are unlikely but did occur in the past, so 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.
Altitude sickness is a worry, with the height of Kashmir vary considerably from place to place. Srinagar is above 1,500 m (5,200 feet), while Leh is above 3,500 m (over 11,000 feet). Increase your elevation as slowly as possible, avoid flying from a low elevation to a high one, limit your physical activity; and drink lots of liquids after gaining altitude. Altitude sickness is unpredictable, and may strike people who haven't had problems before. Give yourself lots of flexibility in your plans, to avoid pushing yourself higher when you need to rest.
The people of Kashmir are divided into three groups. Some support the complete unification of Kashmir with India or Pakistan while others advocate independence for Kashmir. The issue is quite sensitive, so it is best to never bring it up when talking to Kashmiris.
- Himachal Pradesh — a pleasant, laid-back, predominantly Hindu state of India, with a Tibetan refugee population
- Northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) — primarily Pashtun, the region is very rugged and mountainous yet considered very hospitable