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Jammu & Kashmir

Population:    7.7 million
Languages:   Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Pahari, Balti, Ladakhi, Punjabi, Gujri, Dadri
Capitol:          Srinagar (summer), Jammu (winter)

Jammu and KashmirJammu and Kashmir's history since Independence has been a troubled one.  Periodic Indo-Pak conflicts along the line of control, most recently the 1999 Kargil war, have cost lives, used up scarce resources, disrupted the lives of residents of the area and accomplished very little.

Spectacular mountain ranges run across the state from northwest to south east.  Just north of the low-lying Jammu area on the state's southern border with Pakistan, is the Pir Panjal Range which continues into Himachal Pradesh.  In the valley on the other side of this range is Srinagar, summer capitol of the state.  This area has been a popular retreat from the heat of the plains since the time of the Moghuls.  Srinagar is a colourful and lively city of just under a million people built on beautiful Dal Lake, which is famous for its house boats, rentable by tourists.  There are now hundreds of these houseboats, the originals having been built by the British to circumvent the restrictions placed by the Moghuls on their owning land.

In the mountains around Srinagar, hill stations such as Gulmarg are also pleasant places to stay.  North out of Srinagar, on the road that eventually turns east towards Ladakh you first pass through the Sindh Valley, a lush scenic area with a wildlife preserve and several lakes, including Lake Anchar (a bird watcher's paradise), Manasbal Lake with its Moghul Garden designed by Nur Jahan, as well as the very large Wular Lake.

This road then bends east and begins to climb, and from the Zoji La pass that cuts through the Himalayas, you look ahead to the barrenness of Ladakh and behind at the lush green of Kashmir.  There are other higher passes, but it is the rain shadow cast by this range that deprives areas to the east of precipitation.

Heading east you come to Kargil, the second largest town in Ladakh and focal point of India's recent war with Pakistan.  This predominantly orthodox Muslim town is at the point where a road cuts south and east to the remote but increasingly accessible Saskar mountain range and valley, first passing through the scenic Suru Valley .

Continuing east on the main road through Kargil, however, will take you further into the high plateaus of Ladakh and finally to Leh.  (Most travelers to Leh have been arriving there from Manali in Himachal Pradesh, to avoid the Srinagar-Kargil road.  Anyone planning to visit the state should obtain up-to-date information about restrictions in effect in the various areas.) Ladakh in its culture and tradition is very Tibetan, and many Tibetan refugees have taken up residence there.  They are followers of Mahayana Buddhism, and the area particularly around Leh is dotted with monasteries from the medieval era, many of them housing ancient manuscripts and exquisite antique works of art.  The lack of precipitation leaves Ladakh as almost a moonscape, only the few areas supplied with melting glacier water being able to carry on any significant cultivation.  Until only a few decades ago this area had been almost completely isolated from the outside world and here, as in the Saskar area, tourism is having an impact on the culture and economy, with some monasteries being renovated primarily for the sake of tourism.

History

At Independence both India and Pakistan claimed this region as their own.  While predominantly Muslim, it had been ruled up until Independence by a raja whose prerogative it became to decide which way the state would go.  His indecision led to an aggressive advance by Pakistan, which prompted him to seek assistance from India, leading to the first conflict between the two new countries.  No lasting resolution was achieved then and till now none has been found.  A 'line of control' divides India's two thirds from Pakistan's one third.

In 1962 China invaded from the east, carving off a chunk of Ladakh which India also still claims as its own.

Ladakh was inhabited in ancient times by tribes who lived a nomadic herding lifestyle until in around the fifth century Aryans moved into the area from the west and began irrigating and cultivating the land.  Controlled for centuries by Tibet, a period of instability in that country in the ninth century weakened it and provided an opportunity for the establishment of an independent kingdom in Ladakh.  Meanwhile, Buddhism spread north from India leading to the founding of many monasteries in the 10th and 11th centuries.  By the 14th century Ladakh had shifted from Indian Buddhism to the 'Yellow Hat' Tibetan type of Buddhism.  Defeat by the Moghul army in the 17th century signaled the decline of a kingdom that had by that time risen to be a major power in the region.  Heavy financial contributions were demanded by the triumphant Moghuls, and this, combined with fiscal extravagance and a three year war with Tibet, depleted and weakened the kingdom.  Aurangzeb, who had intervened on Ladakh's behalf to defeat Tibet, demanded in exchange that an even larger tribute be given to him every year, as well as that the king of Ladakh convert to Islam.  Never regaining its former strength, Ladakh was finally invaded and taken over by the Maharaja of Kashmir in the early 1800s.

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