Kashmir (Kashmiri: کٔشِیر; 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.
- Aksai Chin
- Anantnag — the second largest city in Kashmir Valley
- Jammu — is the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state
- Srinagar — the summer capital, and the largest city in the Kashmir region
- Gilgit — a mountain town in Gilgit-Baltistan and an important city on the Silk Road
- Muzaffarabad — is the capital of Azad Kashmir and the largest city.
- Mirpur — One of the largest cities, known as "Little England" in Pakistan because a significant portion of the population is settled in Bradford
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 Sikh Maharajah chose India, but Pakistan and many Muslim Kashmiris objected. Pakistan invaded, starting a war with India. Since then, there have been two more wars but not much change; both nations still claim all of Kashmir and the border between the territories they actually control is still where the ceasefires left it.
The region is divided amongst three countries in a territorial dispute: Pakistan controls the northwest portion (Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir (which translates as "Free Kashmir"), India controls the central and southern portion (Jammu and Kashmir) and Ladakh, and the People's Republic of China controls the northeastern portion (Aksai Chin and the 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. Both Pakistan and India 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. The two countries have fought several declared wars over the territory. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 established the rough boundaries of today, with Pakistan holding roughly one-third of Kashmir, and India the rest, with a dividing line of control established by the United Nations. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 resulted in a stalemate and a UN-negotiated ceasefire.
Many languages spoken in the region. In Pakistan's 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 Jammu and Kashmir, the principal spoken languages are Kashmiri, Urdu, Dogri, Pahari, Balti, Ladakhi, Gojri, Shina and Pashto while the principal language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan language. However, Urdu written in the Persian script is the official language of the state. Many speakers of these languages use Hindi as a second language.
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 in the Kashmir Valley 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.
Kehwa (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 girda that is also traditional in Kashmir.