Jammu and Kashmir falls into three regions. Jammu is on the plains, populated by Dogras and Punjabis, who are primarily Hindu and Sikh Punjabi, Dogri, Kashmiri, Urdu and Hindi are all spoken here.
The Kashmir Valley, the second region, only became easily accessible with the construction of the Jawahar Tunnel in 1958. Before that the Pir Panjal range, daunting even in summer, ensured Kashmir's winter isolation. Even now the road may be blocked for weeks by snow and landslides. Kashmir includes the valley and surrounding mountains that stretch from Banihal northwards into Pakistan.
A large part of northern Kashmir is controlled by Pakistan. The present border between the two countries (known as the Line of Control) is the ceasefire line from the 1948-49 war. At Independence it was still undecided which country Kashmir was to enter. The Hindu ruler took his majority Muslim population into the Indian Union in 1948, under circumstances that are still heavily disputed, particularly by Pakistan. The referendum on the issue of accession, promised by Nehru, has never been allowed to take place and, with intransigence on both sides, there seems little hope of any imminent settlement.
The third region, Ladakh, was formerly a kingdom of Western Tibet, but following invasions by the Dogras in the 19th century it was annexed by India. Geographically and culturally it has more in common with Tibet than with India. Ladakhi is closely allied to Tibetan, and Buddhism is the predominant religion, although there are many Muslim Ladakhis.
Jammu Tawi is the only railhead in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but 'there are plans to construct a line north to Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley. Situated amid the Shivalik hills, Jammu is the Kashmiris' winter escape from the cold of the mountains. Its low elevation (300 metres/984 ft) makes it hot and humid in summer. Traditionally it is a stopover on the way to the Kashmir Valley or for pilgrims visiting the Vaishnodevi Temple, 60 km (37 miles) northwest.
Two temples of note in Jammu town are the Ranbireshwar Temple, dedicated to Lord Siva, which is known for its crystal Siva lingams, and the Raghunath Temple, dedicated to Rama, eighth incarnation of Lord Visnu. Both temples were constructed in the 19th century under Dogra rajas. Dogra kings were patrons of the arts, and there is a collection of miniature paintings from the Basholi, Jammu and Kangra schools in the Dogra Art Gallery.
About 4 km (2 miles) from the town centre is the Bahu Fort, perched on a hill across the Tawi River. within is a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. At the northern edge of town sits Amar Mahal Palace, which has an excellent view of the surrounding countryside and city. A French-style château, once the pride of Raja Amar Singh, it is now a museum, which includes Pahari minatures in its collection. Kashmir Tour packages from Delhi / Kashmir Holiday packages ….
The road between Jammu and Srinagar is very scenic as it dips up and down along the Chenab and Jhelum rivers. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir travelled this route from Agra in the 17th century and was so enchanted that he and his queen, Nurjahan, built many marble terraces adjoining lakes and springs where they could relax en route.
A large Mughal sarai is located beyond Akhnoor, 32 km (20 miles) northwest of Jammu, at Thana Mandi near Poonch, on the original medieval road. Katra 48 km (30 miles) north of Jammu, has a very important Hindu shrine,Vaishnodevi, a cave temple with a narrow passage through which pilgrims must walk in the course of their devotions. The Jawahar Tunnel , 200 km (124 miles) north of Jammu, marks the entry to Kashmir. It is at an altitude of 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) and more than 1.5 km (1 mile) long.
Spread out across the valley are fertile fields of rice bordered by poplar trees, and orchards of fruit for which Kashmir is famous. The road from Jammu winds through saffron fields and past Verinag, 80 km (50 miles) south of Srinagar, a Mughal garden built by Nurjahan. A turn-off from Anantnag leads east to Pahalgam, from where pilgnms — amid tight security — make a four-day trek to a Hindu shrine held sacred to the god Siva, the Amarnath Cave 15. Off the road from Anantnag to Pahalgam at Mattan are the ruins of the Martand Temple complex and a sacred spring. Three kilometres (2 miles) south of Anantnag is Achabal, site of elaborate Mughal gardens. About 27 km (17 miles) from Anantnag towards Srinagar there are more temple ruins at Avantipur. Kashmir Tour packages from Delhi / Kashmir Holiday packages ….
Srinagar located on Dal Lake and adjacent to the Jhelum River, is the centre of activity in the Kashmir Valley. Ringed by high mountains, its lush greenery, watered by the lake and canals, and avenues of majestic poplars and chinar trees contrast with the winding lanes of the medieval city.
The most popular place to stay used to be the houseboats on Dal Lake, a long-standing residence of Kashmiris. Dal Lake is also the location of a daily floating vegetable market and home to many varieties of birds. Sadly, the lakes of Srinagar are dying, polluted by the city's sewage. The political situation has hampered preventative measures and, sadly, it is likely that the lakes will be gone in a few decades.
Several Mughal gardens are located on The Boule-vard that skirts Dal Lake. The first is Chashma Shahi, built by Shah Jahan and commanding a splendid view of the lake, but it is now closed for security reasons. The waters of Chashma Shahi spring are said to have healing powers. Further along The Boulevard are two extraordinary gardens, Nishat and Shalimar, with fountains, marble terraces and latticed marble pavilions. Shalimar was built by Jahangir for his wife, Nur Jahan, and Nishat was built by his brother-in-law Asaf Khan. Beyond is the smaller garden of Harwan.
Near Harwan are the ruins of a Buddhist college. Although Kashmir had a number of Buddhist monasteries, Islam later supplanted both Hinduism and Buddhism to become the majority religion. Shrines to Sufi saints are found in city and countryside Hindus and Muslims alike worship at these tombs, called dargahs. Islam and Hinduism co-existed for centuries sharing many customs and ways of worship, and Sufi saints are often revered as rishis by Hindus, and vice-versa. Kashmir Tour packages from Delhi / Kashmir Holiday packages ….
There are several important mosques and dargahs in Srinagar. The huge Jami Miasjid (1402) has been reconstructed twice following fires. The present mosque was built in the late 17th century. The Shah Hamadan Mosque(1395) on the banks of the Jhelum was also destroyed by fire. The current structure was built in the mid-18th century and is famous for the papier-mâché work on its walls and ceiling, and for its construction without nails or screws. Across the river is the stone Pather Masjid (1623), another gift of the Mughals. In Nagin is the jewel-like, lakeside Hazratbal shrine, which is said to preserve a hair of the Prophet Muhammad.
Around Srinagar are the resort of Gulmarg 17, 30 km (19 miles) to the west, immortalised as a backdrop for old Hindi films, and Sonamarg 18. 65 km (40 miles) north along the road to Ladakh. With its alpine meadows, Sonamarg was a popular stopping place for Ladakh-bound travellers before the military took over the route to Leh. Kashmir Tour packages from Delhi / Kashmir Holiday packages ….
The far-northern region of Ladakh provides travellers with an insight into the cultures of Tibet. The best time to visit is June to mid-September, when you can travel by road. Today, most road trips are made via Manali in Himachal Pradesh, over a series of four high passes. The landscape changes from lush to stark as you emerge onto the Tibetan Plateau. Such mineral-streaked mountains against a brilliant blue sky can only be seen in the high Himalayas. It is 475 km (295 miles) from Manali to Leh 19. the Ladakhi capital, a two-day journey.
Flights to Delhi, Chandigarh and Srinagar operate all year at Leh however, winter flights can be suspended for days on end without warring owing to bad weather conditions, and summer flights are often heavily overbooked. The view of the snowy Himalayas from the air is truly spectacular.
The traditional staples of the Ladakhi diet are tsampa (roasted barley flour), yoghurt, salt tea and meat. Tibetan dishes are widely available, particularly momos (dumplings) and thukpa (noodle soup). The most useful word of Ladakhi for travellers is "Jullay!", which can mean "hello", "goodbye", "please" or "thank you".
Leh's bazaar was once an important trading post on the route between India, China and Central Asia. When the Chinese border closed in the 1950s its importance soon declined, but it is still a pleasant place to wander. The shopping is nothing great — many of the items can be bought more cheaply in places like Delhi, but there is a variety of Tibetan goods, from jewellery to statues, and good Tibetan food is available in the restaurants. The most ambitious walk in town is up to the imposing and partially ruined 16th-century Leh Palace (Open 7-9.30am, entrance fee), once home to the kings of Ladakh. If you are fit and energetic, you can visit Leh Gornpa (Tibetan, "monastery") (open 7-9am), Perched on Namgyal hill, above the palace. The narrow street of Old Leh below the palace evoke the medieval town it once was.
An interesting place to visit is the Ecology Centre (open Mon—Sat, 10am-5pm), run by the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG). The group aims to promote ecological awareness and sustainability through traditional methods. The centre has a library, a small exhibition of ways to save energy and shows an interesting video on the environmental impact of development in Ladakh.Kashmir Tour packages from Delhi / Kashmir Holiday packages ….
A few important gompas are within a two-hour drive from Leh. Mornings are the best time to visit monasteries, so start early and rent a jeep or taxi. About 60 km (40 miles) on the road from Leh to Srinagar is Alchi, a small jewel-like monastery adorned with fine examples of wall paintings and carved statues. Between Leh and Alchi is Saspul, known for its apricots. Spitok and Phyang monasteries are also along this route.
The road leading south from Leh along the Indus River to Hemis Gompa passes a number of monasteries of importance, including the small but interesting Sankar monastery on the way out of town. Along this road is Shey, the 17th-century summer palace of Ladakhi kings, which houses the largest Buddha in Ladakh. The 600-year old Shey Gompa is here, too. Hundreds of chortens — whitewashed reliquaries — can be seen scattered around the barren plains. Tikse is a large hilltop monastery noted for its giant statue of Maitreya Buddha.
Prayer halls in all monasteries are decorated with silk hangings in auspicious colours and sacred paintings, called thankas. Walls are lined with stacks of Buddhist texts swathed in silk. Shrines dedicated to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas — beings close to Buddhahood — are dimly lit with smoky, pungent butter lamps and heaped with offerings of incense, water, tea, food or money. Kashmir Tour packages from Delhi / Kashmir Holiday packages ….
To reach Hemis 20. from Tikse (45 km/28 miles from Leh) the road crosses the Indus River. Nearly 400 years old, Hemis is known for its religious festival, celebrated in June, which features traditional masked dances by the monks. Tourism has turned monks here, as elsewhere, into souvenir salesmen, and theft has caused the monasteries to lock away treasures. Most of these sites charge entrance fees towards upkeep.
The road back to Leh on the Hemis side of the Indus travels past Stagna, noted for its images of Bodhisattvas, and Matho. Just before the bridge that crosses the Indus is a turnoff to the 18th-century Stok Palace (open 7am-7pm, entrance fee), the more recent home of the kings of Ladakh and of the present Gyalmo. The palace houses a display of some of the royal family's most precious ritual and ceremonial objects.
Kashmir Tour packages from Delhi / Kashmir Holiday packages, can be customized according to your specific requirements , by Swan Tours - One of the leading travel agents in India.
Kashmir Tour Packages - The state of Jammu & Kashmir is indeed extremely beautiful, which has over the years emerged as one of the most popular tourist destination. In fact Kashmir is known as the Switzerland of the East because of its snowcapped peaks and beautiful sun-drenched valleys. Geographically, the state can be segregated into three divisions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Kashmir is undoubtedly known for its beautiful valleys, lakes, rolling hills and opportunities to simply soak in the natural beauty and enjoy the local hospitality. The capital Srinagar enchants with its famous Dal Lake where one can enjoy a shikara ride while Gulmarg doubles up as a ski valley during the winter months. It turns into a white wonderland where one can enjoy skiing and a host of other winter sports. In the summer months, Gulmarg is a beautiful valley flaunting its immense natural beauty.