Situated in the northern part of India, Jammu & Kashmir is the essence of everything that is Indian-its culture, history, tradition, people, and natural splendor. The state has a long history encompassing around 4,000 years and there are many prehistoric sites, which give indication of human settlement in this region in those times.
The state was integrated as a part of India in 1948, when the then ruler of Jammu & Kashmir agreed to join the Indian federation and the state was given a special status under article 370 of the Indian constitution.
Situated in the northernmost part of India, Jammu and Kashmir is bordered by Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan from West to East. From South to East, the boundary of the state touches Punjab and Himachal. The state extends between the latitudes 32°17¢N to 36°58'N and longitudes 37°26¢E to 80°30¢E.
The state can be divided into four major regions: the sub-mountain and semi-mountain plain known as kandi or dry belt; the Shivalik ranges, the high mountain zone constituting the Kashmir Valley; Pir Panchal range and its off-shoots including Doda, Poonch and Rajouri districts and part of Kathua and Udhampur districts; and the middle run of the Indus River comprising Leh and Kargil.
The history of Jammu & Kashmir is quite old. Kashmir is mentioned in the epic Mahabharata. In 250 BC, Ashoka, the great Mauryan king, established the city of Pandrethan and built many viharas and chaityas. This says much about the strategic importance that this region hadd even in that time. Some sources claim that Buddha also visited this region, though no proof is available to validate this theory. Kanishka, the great Kushana king, called the Third Buddhist Council at Harwan, near Srinagar, in the first century AD. This Council saw the division of Buddhism in two distinct streams called Hinayana and Mahayana.
Kalhana, the first Indian history writer, gave a vivid account of the history of Kashmir before the 10th century AD. Local kingdoms ruled extensively in this region until the 12th century AD when Muslims invaded the region. The greatest Muslim king of early medieval age in Kashmir was Zain-ul-Abidin, who ascended the throne in AD 1420 and ruled up to 1470. His long rule contributed extensively to the spread of art, culture, music, and every other sphere in the life of Kashmir people. He also created a strong army and annexed many regions nearby Kashmir. These were the time of golden rule in Kashmir when peace and harmony prevailed. After the death of King Zain-ul-Abidin, a period of destruction came calling to Kashmir and many raiders from outside looted the state and made the people and local rulers their captive.
In 1587, Akbar annexed Kashmir into his vast empire. Jahangir, son of Akbar and next Mughal ruler, visited Kashmir 13 times and created two beautiful gardens on the bank of Dal Lake, namely, the Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh. After two centuries of peace and development, Kashmir came into the hands of the Pathans in 1752, when the Afghan ruler Abdul Shah Abdali attacked this region on the request of local noblemen. The Pathans established a rule of terror here, no better than that of Aurangzeb, the last important Mughal ruler.
In 1819, the Sikhs under Maharaja Ranjit Singh annexed this region, but their empire remained in place only for 27 years. From 1846 to 1957, the Dogras ruled over this region when British defeated Ranjit Singh and handed over the administration of this region to Maharaja Gulab Singh. The Dogra rule also for the first time put in reality the modern state of Jammu & Kashmir. During India's freedom struggle, people from this state participated extensively under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah and decided to go with India in 1948 after the country became independent.
Fairs & Festivals
The Hemis Festival is held in the month of July when tourists in large numbers converge here from all over the world to watch the famous masked dances. The music is characteristically punctuated with sounds of cymbals, drums and long, unwieldy trumpets. The masked dancers move around slowly, very slowly, and the most vital part of the dance is the masks and not so much the actual movements of the dance. The dances end with Good vanquishing Evil and the evil one is brought into the protective fold of Buddhism.
Like the Hemis festival, monasteries like Lamayuru, Thiksey, Spitook, Likir and many others also have their individual festivals. Since they follow the lunar calendar, the actual dates of the festivals vary from one year to another. Other than these religious celebrations, Ladakh has also been host to a 15-day festival each year to bring forward the many nuances of this rich and exotic culture that is peculiar to this high part of the world. The Jammu and Kashmir tourism department organizes the Ladakh Festival in the month of September bringing forward the region's folk dances, art and craft, sporting events and rituals.
Best Time to Visit
Although a small state, the climate of this state varies from one region to another. The climate of Jammu region is tropical while it is semi-arctic in Ladakh and temperate in Srinagar region. Accordingly, rainfall also varies from region to region and while there is almost no rainfall in Ladakh, Jammu receives a rainfall of above 1,100 mm and Srinagar around 650 mm.
How to Reach
BY AIR -The state has three major civil airports at Srinagar, Jammu, and Ladakh connected to Delhi and other places in the country. Indian Airlines and its subsidiary Alliance Air operate in the Delhi-Chandigarh-Ladakh and Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar routes.
BY RAIL -Jammu Tawi is the main railhead of Jammu & Kashmir. It is connected to most of the important towns and cities of the country. Moreover, the longest rail route that stretches from Jammu Tawi to Kanyakumari and touches almost all the main cities and towns of the country originates from here.
BY ROAD -One can easily reach Jammu by the National Highway 1A that goes from Punjab and runs through this city, connecting it to the rest of the state, including the capital Srinagar. The state transport corporation runs several buses to most of the big towns and cities in north India. Ladakh is connected to Srinagar and Manali by some of the most difficult road networks in the world. The Manali-Leh road is considered as the highest motorable road in the world.
Srinagar, the state capital, is the most famous tourist destination in the state. An ancient city, there are many attractions that can attract even the most unwilling of tourists to this magical land. Dal Lake, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, and Chashme Shahi are some of the best-known tourist spot in Srinagar.
Jammu is the winter capital of the state and next in importance after Srinagar. Most of the tourists who come to the Jammu region have the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine as their destination, which is quite close by. However, the spirit of holiness permeates through the entire city, so much so that Jammu is also known as the 'City of Temples'. If Bahu Mata is the presiding deity of Jammu, the dargah of Peer Budhan Ali Shah is the other shrine that is believed to protect the local people. The other major tourist attraction is the Raghunath Temple Complex, which is the largest temple in North India devoted to Lord Rama. The construction of this temple was begun by Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1851 and completed by his son Ranbir Singh six years later.
The temple of Maha Kali (better known as Bahu or Bawey Wali Mata), located in the Bahu Fort, is considered second only to Mata Vaishno Devi in terms of mystical power. The temple was built shortly after the coronation of Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1822.
Other temples in the city include the Gauri Kund Temple, Shudh Mahadev Temple, Shiva Temple, Peer Khoh Cave Temple, Ranbireshwar Temple, and the Parmandal Temple Complex.
The most stunning site in Jammu is the Sheesh Mahal. The Pink Hall of the palace now houses the Dogra Art Museum, which has miniature paintings of the various hill schools. The museum also has the handwritten Persian manuscripts of the Shahnama and Sikandernama. The palace was once the royal residence of the Dogra kings. Built as a group of buildings around a courtyard, the palace has a commanding view of river Tawi on one side and the city on the other.
The Amar Mahal Palace Museum is a beautiful palace of red sandstone, which stands amidst the most picturesque environs of Jammu. It offers a beautiful view of the Shivaliks in the north and the river Tawi in the south. This was once the residential palace of Raja Amar Singh, but now it has been converted into a museum. The museum has a golden throne made of 120 kg of pure gold.
A treat for those interested in history is the town of Akhnoor, 32 km southwest of Jammu. Standing on the banks of the mighty river Chenab, the town tells the tragic tale of the lovers Sohni and Mahiwal. Along the riverbank are the majestic ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization that are of great historical importance.
Patnitop, near the Vaishno Devi Temple, is fast becoming a busy hill station and a good place to enjoy the nature in its eternity.
Ladakh is home to the minority Buddhist community in the state. They have preserved their unique culture for the past hundreds of years. Leh is the headquarters of this region. The major points of attraction are the Leh Palace, Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, Sankar Gompa, Shanti Stupa, and Soma Gompa.