Kashmir Region

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Houseboats and Shikaras are a common feature in lakes and rivers across the Kashmir valley.

Kashmir (Kashmiri: کٔشِیر, कॅशीर; Urdu: کشمیر) is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Historically the term Kashmir was used to refer to the valley lying between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal range.

Today Kashmir refers to a larger area that includes Jammu and Kashmir administered by India (comprising Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh), the Pakistani administered regions Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir, and the Chinese administered region of Aksai Chin.

Kashmir was originally an important center of Hinduism, and later of Buddhism. Since 1947, when Pakistan separated from India, the region has had a Muslim majority.

In the seventeenth century the Mughal emperor Jahangir set his eyes on the valley of Kashmir, and said that if paradise could be experienced anywhere on the earth, it was there, living in a house boat on the mesmerizing Dal Lake.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, Hindu-dominated Jammu and Buddhist-dominated Ladakh poses a grave danger to the security of the region where mixed populations live in regions such as Doda and Kargil.


Godwin-Austen (K2) as seen from Concordia (Pakistan).

The name “Kashmir” means "a land desiccated from water." According to Hindu mythology, Sage Kashyapa drained a lake to produce the land now known as Kashmir. There is evidence of a former extensive lake in the physical geography. The Kashmir region is bordered by China to the east, India to the south, Pakistan to the west and Afghanistan to the north. Aksai Chin, which is Uyghur for "Chin's desert of white stones" and is referred to as the Soda Plain, is a vast desert of salt at heights of 16,400 feet (5000 meters).

The Kashmir region has a total area of 206,552 square miles (332,413 square kilometers), which is bigger than California but smaller than Texas. Areas of the component territories are: Jammu and Kashmir, 138,091 square miles (222,236 square kilometers) – the Kashmir Valley is 5992 square miles (15,520 square kilometers); Azad Kashmir, 5134 square miles (13,297 square kilometers); Northern Areas, 43,477 square miles (69,971 square kilometers); and Aksai Chin, 19,850 square miles (31,945 square kilometers).

Jammu and Kashmir can be divided into four geographical regions: the Siwalik Hills, the Kashmir valley and the surrounding Himalayas, the Pir Panjal range and the Indus River basin comprising of Leh and Kargil.

Aksai Chin is geographically part of the Tibetan Plateau and the Chang Tang, The region is almost uninhabited and sees little precipitation due to the Himalayan and other mountains to the south soaking up the Indian monsoon.

Landscape in Ladakh

The Kashmir Valley is famous for its beautiful mountainous landscape; Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty. Mountain ranges include the Pir Panjal range, the Himalayas, the Zanskar range, Karakoram range, the Nun Kun range and the Shivalik range. The main Kashmir valley is 62 miles (100km) wide. The Himalayas divide the Kashmir valley from Ladakh. This densely settled and beautiful valley has an average height of 6000 feet (1850 meters) above sea-level but the surrounding Pir Panjal range has an average elevation of 16,400 feet (5000 meters).

Azad Kashmir boasts some of Pakistan's most scenic mountains and river valleys. The region includes a significant part of the Himalayas.

The Northern Area has the Karakoram Range and the western Himalayas. The Pamir Mountains are to the north, and the Hindu Kush lies to the west. Among the highest mountains are Godwin-Austen (K2), the second highest in the world at 28,251 feet (8611 meters) and Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest in the world at 26,656 feet (8125 meters), one of the most feared mountains in the world. Three of the world's seven longest glaciers are in the Northern Areas,—the Biafo Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier, and the Batura Glacier. The Deosai Plains, located above the tree line, are the second-highest plains in the world at 13,500 feet (4115 meters). The Deosai Plains, declared a national park in 1993 and snow-bound for half the year, cover almost 1158 square miles (3000 square kilometers).

Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest peak in the world and one of the most dangerous for climbers, is in the Northern Areas of the Kashmir Region, in Pakistan.

The climate in the region ranges from subtropical in the southwestern lowlands to alpine in the high mountain areas. Precipitation is variable—it is heavier in areas west and south of the great ranges affected by monsoonal winds, and sparse to the north and east.

In the south around Jammu, rainfall averages 1.6 to 2 inches (40mm to 50mm of rain per month between January and March. In the hot season, temperatures in Jammu city can reach up to 104°F (40°C), while in July and August, heavy though erratic rainfall occurs with monthly extremes of up to 25.5 inches (650mm). Srinagar receives as much as 25 inches (635 millimeters) of rain, with the wettest months being March to May with around 3.3 inches (85mm) a month. Across from the main Himalaya Range, even the southwest cloudbanks break up and the climate of Ladakh and Zanskar is extremely dry and cold. Azad Kashmir is cold and mountainous in the North whilst it has a hot and subtropical climate in the southern Mirpur regions. The climate of the Northern Areas varies from region to region.

Satpara Lake, Skardu, in 2002.

The River Jhelum is the only major Himalayan river which flows through the Kashmir valley. River Indus, Tawi, Ravi and Chenab are the major rivers flowing through the state. Jammu and Kashmir is home to several Himalayan glaciers. There are several high altitude lakes in the Northern Areas, including Sheosar Lake in Deosai Plains, and Satpara Lake in Skardu.

The Jammu and Kashmir region has loamy soil rich in magnesia, as well as clay, sandy soils, and peat. The area is rich in pines, conifers and medicinal herbs. In Jammu, there are maples, horse chestnuts, and silver fir. At the higher altitudes there are birch, rhododendron, Berbers and a large number of herbal plants. In the hilly regions of Doda, Udhampur, Poonch and Rajouri, fauna includes leopards, cheetahs and deer, wild sheep, bear, brown musk shrews, and muskrats. Varieties of snakes, bats, lizards and frogs are found in the region. The game birds in Jammu include chakor, snow partridge, pheasants, and peacocks.

The most magnificent of trees in Kashmir is the giant Chinar. Mountain ranges have dense deodar, pine, fir, walnut, willow, almond and cider, while the dense forests contain ibex, snow leopards, musk deer, wolf, markhor, red bears, and black bears. There are ducks, goose, partridge, chakor, pheasant, wagtails, herons, water pigeons, warblers, and doves.

In the arid desert of Ladakh some 240 species of local and migratory birds have been identified including black-necked crane. Ladakh has yaks, Himalayan Ibex, Tibetan antelopes, snow leopards, wild ass, red bears and gazelles.

Jammu and Kashmir is an area of high earthquake risk, classified as zone four risk, a high damage risk zone, with areas classified as very high damage risk.

Srinagar, the ancient capital of Jammu and Kashmir, lies alongside Dal Lake] and is famous for its canals and houseboats. Srinagar, with an altitude of 5200 feet (1600 meters) served as a favored summer capital for many foreign conquerors who found the heat of the northern Indian plains in the summer oppressive. Just outside the city are the beautiful Shalimar, Nishat and Chashmashahi gardens created by Mughal emperors. Azad Kashmir’s capital is Muzaffarabad. Gilgit town and Skardu are respectively the capitals of Gilgit and Baltistan. Other important towns include Anantnag, Jammu, and Leh.

Panoramic view of Dal Lake and Srinagar City.
Panoramic view of Dal Lake and Srinagar City.


Rock carvings have been found in many parts of Ladakh, showing that the area has been inhabited from the Neolithic times (c. 8500 B.C.E.). Ladakh's earliest inhabitants consisted of a mixed Indo-Aryan population of Mons and Dards, who find mention in the works of Herodotus, Nearchus, Megasthenes, Pliny, and the geographical lists of the Puranas.

Kashmir was a center for Sanskrit scholars. According to Mahabharata, the Kambojas ruled over Kashmir during the epic period, about the sixth century B.C.E. The capital city of Kashmir (Kamboj) during epic times was Rajapura. Epic Rajapura has been identified with modern Rajauri. Later, the Panchalas established their sway.

Ashoka introduces Buddhism

Ashoka, (304 B.C.E. to 232 B.C.E.) an Indian emperor who ruled the Maurya Empire across the Indian subcontinent, introduced Buddhism to the Kashmir valley and the adjoining regions around Srinagar became a center of Buddhism. Ashoka renounced violence, established welfare as a right for all citizens, promoted religious tolerance, and promoted respect for all life, for parents, for teachers and the importance of spiritual awareness.

In the first century C.E., Kashmir and Ladakh were under the control of Kushans and several rulers of this dynasty strengthened the Buddhist tradition. Buddhism came to western Ladakh from Kashmir in the second century when much of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet was still practicing the Bon religion.

In the late fourth century C.E., the famous Kuchanese monk Kumarajiva, born to an Indian noble family, studied Dirghagama and Madhyāgama in Kashmir under Bandhudatta. He later became a prolific translator who helped take Buddhism to China. His mother Jīva is thought to have retired to Kashmir. Vimalaksa, a Sarvāstivādan Buddhist monk, traveled from Kashmir to Kucha and there instructed Kumārajīva in the Buddhist texts Vinaya.

Vikramaditya (of Ujjain) and his successors probably ruled the region just before Srinagar fell to the control of the Huns in the sixth century, and Mihirkula was the most dreaded ruler of the city and the valley.

Separate Ladakh dynasty

In the eighth century, Ladakh was involved in the clash between Tibetan expansion pressing from the East and Chinese influence exerted from Central Asia through the passes, and control over Ladakh frequently changed hands between China and Tibet. In 842, Nyima-Gon, a Tibetan royal representative annexed Ladakh for himself after the break-up of the Tibetan empire, and founded a separate Ladakh dynasty. During this period Ladakh underwent Tibetanization resulting in a predominantly Tibetan population. The dynasty spearheaded a second spreading of Buddhism, importing religious ideas from north-west India, particularly from Kashmir.

Islam dominates

In the thirteenth century, Islam became the dominant religion in Kashmir. The Muslims and Hindus of Kashmir lived in relative harmony, since the Sufi-Islamic way of life that ordinary Muslims followed in Kashmir complemented the Rishi tradition of Kashmiri Pandits. This led to a syncretic culture where Hindus and Muslims revered the same local saints and prayed at the same shrines. Famous Sufi saint Bulbul Shah was able to persuade the king of the time, Rinchan Shah, who was prince of Kashgar Ladakh, to adopt Islamic way of life and the foundation of Sufiana composite culture was laid when Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were peacefully co-existing.

Some Kashmiri rulers, such as Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, were tolerant of all religions. However, several Muslim rulers of Kashmir were intolerant. Sultan Sikandar Butshikan of Kashmir (1389-1413) is often considered the worst of these. The Tarikh-i-Firishta records that Sikandar persecuted the Hindus and issued orders proscribing the residence of any other than Muslims in Kashmir. He also ordered the breaking of all "golden and silver images."

But faced with Islamic conquest in the thirteenth century, Ladakh chose to seek and accept guidance in religious matters from Tibet. Lhachen Bhagan was a Basgo king who united Ladakh in 1470 by overthrowing the king of Leh. He took on the surname Namgyal (meaning victorious) and founded a new dynasty, which survives into the twenty-first century. For nearly two centuries, until about 1600, Ladakh was subject to raids and invasions from neighboring Muslim states, which led to weakening and fracturing of Ladakh, and partial conversion of Ladakhis to Islam.

Mughal and Durrani rule

Mughal ruler Jalal-ud-Din Akbar.

Mughal ruler Jalal-ud-Din Akbar (1556 to 1605) conquered Kashmir between 1586 and 1592. Mughal is the Persian word for Mongol and was used to refer to Central Asian nomads who claimed descent from the Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan. Mughal rule lasted until 1751. As elsewhere, the Mughals adopted the local religion, which is Kashmir at the time was Islam. Ladakh was defeated by the Mughals but it retained its independence.

In the late seventeenth century, Ladakh sided with Bhutan in a dispute with Tibet, which resulted in an invasion by Tibet. Kashmiri help restored Ladakhi rule on the condition of that a mosque be built in Leh and that the Ladakhi king convert to Islam. The Treaty of Temisgam in 1684 settled the dispute between Tibet and Ladakh, but its independence was severely restricted.

When the Mughal Empire started to disintegrate after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, infiltrations to the Kashmir valley from the Pathan tribes increased, and they ruled the Srinagar for several decades.

Ahmad Shah of the Afghan Durrani Empire consolidated control over the Punjab and Kashmir regions in 1756. The Durrani Empire was a state that included modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of eastern Iran and western India. Ahmed Shah Durrani and his descendants ruled Kashmir from 1756 until 1819.

Sikh rule

Maharaja Ranjit Singh

In 1752, the Sikhs under Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), who ruled from his capital in Lahore, annexed the Kashmir valley in 1819, and held it until in 1846. Although he was of the Sikh religion, his empire was effectively secular, as it did not discriminate against Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus or even atheists.

In 1780, after the death of Ranjit Deo, the Raja of Jammu, the Hindu kingdom of Jammu (to the south of the Kashmir valley was captured by the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Deo's grand-nephew, Gulab Singh Dogra, sought service at the court of Ranjit Singh, distinguished himself in later campaigns, especially the annexation of the Kashmir valley, and, for his services, was created Raja of Jammu in 1820. With the help of General Zorawar Singh, Gulab Singh soon captured Ladakh and Baltistan, regions to the east and north-east of Jammu.

A Ladakhi rebellion in 1842 was crushed. The Ladakh Namgyal family was given the “jagir” (a small territory granted by the ruler to an army chieftain) of Stok, which it nominally retained to the twenty-first century. Starting from the 1850s, European influence increased in Ladakh—geologists, sportsmen and tourists started exploring Ladakh. In 1885, Leh became the headquarters of a mission of the Moravian Church.

Dogras annex Kashmir

The Dogras were an Indo-Aryan ethnic group, spoke their own language, and were mostly Hindu. The First Anglo-Sikh War, that broke out in 1845, led to the treaties of Amritsar and Lahore in 1846, whereby Gulab Singh Dogra, of Jammu, was created maharaja (a ruling prince) of an extensive Himalayan kingdom between the rivers Indus to the west and Ravi to the east. This created a buffer state for the British between their Indian empire, and the empires of Russia and China.

After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, in which Kashmir sided with the British, and the subsequent assumption of direct rule by Great Britain, the princely state of Kashmir came under the paramontcy of the British Crown. Soon after Gulab Singh's death in 1857, his son Ranbir Singh added the emirates of Hunza, Gilgit and Nagar to the kingdom. The Dogra Rule (under the paramontcy, or tutelage, of the British Crown) lasted until 1947.


Ranbir Singh's grandson Sir Hari Singh, a Hindu who had ascended the throne of Kashmir in 1925, was the reigning monarch in 1947 at the partition of the British Indian Empire into the newly independent Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. Both countries had agreed that the rulers of princely states would be given the right to opt for either Pakistan or India or remain independent.

A section of the Muslim population of Kashmir demanded accession to Pakistan. Sir Hari Singh, resisted, Pakistan launched a guerrilla onslaught, the maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession to the Indian Union, and Indian soldiers entered Kashmir and drove out the Pakistani-sponsored guerrillas. The United Nations mediated a ceasefire agreement between the two nations in January 1949.

However, since a plebiscite demanded by the UN was never conducted, relations between India and Pakistan soured, and eventually led to the Indo-Pakistani War, of 1965, and the Kargil War, in 1999. A “line of control” formed the boundary between the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled sections of Kashmir. India has control of about half the area of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir; Pakistan controls a third of the region, the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir.

Chinese occupy Ladakh

China began military maneuvers in the eastern Kashmir border areas in the 1950s. By 1956–1957, China had completed a military road through the Aksai Chin area to provide better communication between Xinjiang and western Tibet. India's belated discovery of this road led to border clashes between the two countries that culminated in the Sino-Indian war of October 1962. China has occupied Aksai Chin since 1962 and, an adjoining region, the Trans-Karakoram Tract, that was ceded by Pakistan to China in 1965.

Muslim separatists attack

From 1989, Muslim Kashmiri separatist guerrilla attacks prompted India to deploy more troops. The Indian government imposed direct rule in Kashmir in July 1990. Talks between India and Pakistan in January 1994 were inconsequential. Violence and boycotts marred elections in 1998. Talks resumed between India and Pakistan in early 1998, but any progress was halted by a series of nuclear tests carried out by both countries.

The two countries came close to war in the Kargil Crisis, in May 1999, when Pakistan-backed Islamic guerrillas entered the Indian-controlled area of the territory. India responded with air strikes, and for two months Indian and Pakistani troops, and Pakistan-backed militants fought in a campaign that cost numerous lives, until Pakistan agreed to secure the withdrawal of the Islamic insurgents from Indian Territory.

In late 2000, India declared a unilateral ceasefire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The ceasefire was extended, and Pakistan offered an approach of “maximum restraint” along the Line of Control. The Agra Summit, in July 2001, was the first face-to-face meeting between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to discuss the region. The talks were inconclusive and India's unilateral ceasefire ended. Fighting escalated and in October, 38 people were killed in an attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar. Military exchanges continued until January 2002, when Musharraf pledged that terrorist groups would not be allowed to operate out of Pakistan.


An earthquake that registered 7.6 on the Richter scale struck Pakistan-administered Kashmir on October 8, 2005. The Pakistani government's official death toll was 73,276, while officials say nearly 1400 people died in Indian-occupied Kashmir and 14 people in Afghanistan.

Government and Politics

Shown in green are the regions Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir, under Pakistani administration. The buff-colored region is Jammu and Kashmir (including Ladakh) under Indian administration, while the beige-and-khaki striped region is Aksai Chin, under Chinese administration.
The Kargil-Leh highway, one of the two highways connecting Ladakh with Jammu and the Kashmir valley.

The region is divided among three countries in a territorial dispute: Pakistan controls the northwest portion (Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir), India controls the central and southern portion (Jammu and Kashmir) and Ladakh, and China controls the northeastern portion (Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract). India controls the majority of the Siachen Glacier (higher peaks), whereas Pakistan controls the lower peaks. India controls 39,145 square miles (101,387 square kilometers of the disputed territory, Pakistan 33,145 square miles (85,846 km²) and China, the remaining 14,500 square miles (37,555 km²).

Like all the states of India, Jammu and Kashmir has a unicameral legislature with 87 seats and sends 10 members to the Indian national parliament—four to the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and six to the Lok Sabha (lower house). The main political parties include the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, the Indian National Congress and the Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party. The Constitution of India grants Jammu and Kashmir special autonomous status as a temporary provision. However, some Kashmiri political parties demand greater autonomy and sovereignty, while others would like to see the state fully integrated into India.

Pakistan administered Kashmir is nominally autonomous, with its own elected president, prime minister, legislature, and high court. The state is divided into two administrative divisions, which in turn are composed of eight districts.

The Northern Areas is divided into six districts in three divisions: the two Baltistan districts of Skardu and Ghanche, two Gilgit districts of Gilgit and Ghizer and two Diamir districts, districts of Astore and Diamir. The main political centers are the towns of Gilgit, Skardu, and Chilas.

Aksai Chin was, in 2007, under the administration of the People's Republic of China, with the majority of it as a part of Hotan County, in the primarily Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, to which it was transferred by China from Tibet.

Though these regions are in practice administered by their respective claimants, India has never formally recognized the accession of the areas claimed by Pakistan and China. 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 region, excluding Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract.

Pakistan argues that Kashmir is culturally and religiously aligned with Pakistan (Kashmir is a Muslim region), while India bases its claim to Kashmir off Maharaja Hari Singh's decision to give Kashmir to India during the India-Pakistan split. Kashmir is considered one of the world's most dangerous territorial disputes due to the nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan.

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 two-thirds. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 began with a Pakistani attempt to seize the rest of Kashmir, erroneously banking on support from then-ally the United States. Both resulted in stalemates and UN-negotiated ceasefires.

More recent conflicts have resulted in success for India; it gained control of the Siachen glacier after a low-intensity conflict that began in 1984, and Indian forces repulsed a Pakistani/Kashmiri guerrilla attempt to seize positions during the Kargil War of 1999. This led to the coup d'etat bringing Pervez Musharraf to power in Pakistan.


The famous Dal Lake in Srinagar.
A Kashmiri man sells an original pashmina shawl from Kashmir in a Delhi market.

Kashmir's economy is centered on agriculture. Traditionally the staple crop of the valley is rice. Indian corn comes next, while wheat, barley and oats are also grown. Blessed with a temperate climate unlike much of the Indian subcontinent, it is suited to crops such as asparagus, artichoke, seakale, broad beans, scarlet runners, beetroot, cauliflower and cabbage. Fruit trees are common in the valley, and the cultivated orchards yield pears, apples, peaches, and cherries fine quality. The chief trees are deodar, firs and pines, chenar or plane, maple, birch and walnut.

Kashmir came into the economic limelight when the world famous Cashmere wool was exported to other regions and nations (exports have ceased due to decreased abundance of the cashmere goat and increased competition from China).

Kashmiris are adept at knitting and making fine quality cashmere wool shawls, silk carpets, rugs, kurtas (a loose shirt falling either just above or somewhere below the knees of the wearer, and worn by both men and women), and pottery. Kashmir is home to the finest saffron in the world. Efforts are on to export the naturally grown fruits and vegetables as organic foods mainly to the Middle East. Srinagar is also celebrated for its silver-work, paper mache and wood-carving, while silk weaving continues to this day. The Kashmir Valley is a fertile area that is the economic backbone for Indian-controlled Kashmir.

The area is famous for cold-water fisheries. The Department of Fisheries has made it possible to make trout available to common people through its Trout Production and Marketing Program. Many private entrepreneurs have adopted fish farming as a profitable venture. The area is known for its sericulture as well as other agricultural produce like apples, pears and many temperate fruits as well as nuts. Aside from being a pilgrimage site for centuries, around the turn of the twentieth century it also became a favorite tourist spot until the increase in tensions in the 1990s.

Wood from Kashmir is also used to make high-quality cricket bats, popularly known as Kashmir Willow. Only one S&P CNX 500 conglomerate, the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, has its head office in the state. It reported a gross income of Rs. 18,394 million for 2005.

Jammu and Kashmir has reaped the benefits of a surge in India's economy. In 2006, the state's gross domestic product (GDP) rose to $12-billion.


Amarnath is one of the holy shrines of the Hindus. Every year thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all over the world visit.

Tourism forms an integral part of the Kashmiri economy. Often dubbed "paradise on Earth," Kashmir's mountainous landscape has attracted tourists for centuries. The Vaishno Devi cave shrine, important for Shakti Hindus, is nestled in the Trikuta Mountain. In 2004, more than six million Hindu pilgrims visited Vaishno Devi, making it one of the most visited religious sites in the world. There are numerous mosques, such as the Hazratbal Mosque, situated on the banks of the Dal Lake. The sacred hair of the Prophet Mohammad, is said to have been brought there by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, lies in the Hazratbal shrine.

Srinagar City, which attracts millions of tourists, has numerous gardens along the banks of Dal Lake. Nishat, Cheshma-i-Shahi, Shalimar and Harven gardens, built by the Mughuls, feature the maple-like graceful chinar trees. Dal Lake was renowned for its size, which stretched for more than 50 square miles, but has shrunk to less than 10 square kilometers.

Pahalgam, at the junction of streams flowing from Sheshnag Lake and the Lidder River, and once was a humble shepherd's village with astounding views, is Kashmir's prime tourist resort, which is cool even during the height of summer.


According to the 2011 Census of India, the total population of the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir was 12,541,302. Jammu had a population of 1,529,958, Ladakh had a population of 133,487. The population of Azad Kashmir was approximately four million. China-administered Kashmir (Aksai Chin) has fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.


Approximately 67 percent of the population of Jammu is Dogra, a Northern Indo-Aryan ethnic group. MostHindus are either Dogras or people who migrated from Kotli, Mirpur, and the Kashmir Valley. Jammu is well connected with the rest of India by rail road and air, making it by far the least remote part of the state.

The Kashmiri people' are a Dardic ethnic group. Originally, the Kashmiris were Buddhist and Hindu, however, after the conquest of Kashmir and much of India by Central Asian invaders, the majority of Kashmiri people became Muslim. While there are Sikhs who live in the Kashmir region, they are not Kashmiri but usually Dogri or Punjabi instead. The population living in the Valley of Kashmir is primarily homogeneous, despite the religious divide between Muslims and Hindus. They share common culture, language, customs and history, which is no doubt the basis of 'Kashmiriyat.'

Azad Kashmir has a 99 percent ethnic Punjabi population, consisting of variants such as Sudhans, Rajputs, Gujjars and Mirpuris who are the closest geographical and cultural relatives of the Potohari Punjabis. While the Azad Kashmiris, just like the Ladakhis and Jammuites, are considered Kashmiri as citizens of the Kashmir state, they are however not ethnically Kashmiri and do not have any linguistic, cultural or genetic affinity to the Ethnic Kashmiris who are of Dardic origin.

Ladakh has a blend of many different races, predominantly the Tibetans, Mons and the Dards. People of pure Dard descent predominate in Dras and Dha-Hanu valleys. The residents of Dha-Hanu, known as Brokpa, are followers of Tibetan Buddhism and have preserved much of their original Dardic traditions and customs. The Dards around Dras, however, have converted to Islam and have been strongly influenced by their Kashmiri neighbors. The Mons are descendants of earlier Indian settlers in Ladakh. They work as musicians, blacksmiths and carpenters.

The Changpa nomads who live in the Rupshu plateau are pure Tibetans, and it was probably herders like them who first settled in Ladakh and Baltistan. Since the early 1960s their numbers have increased as Chang Tang nomads from across the border flee Chinese-ruled Tibet. There are about 3500 refugees in Leh alone. Muslim Arghons, descendants of Kashmiri or Central Asian merchants and Ladakhi women mainly live in Leh. The appearance and lifestyle of both central & Eastern Ladakhis and Zanskaris reflect a strong influence from Central Tibet, which diminishes westwards, being replaced by that of Dards. The Baltis of Kargil, Nubra, Suru Valley, and Baltistan, however, show strong Tibetan links in their appearance, and language and were Bonpa and Buddhists until recent times.

The Northern Areas of Pakistan are also inhabited by Dardic people, but they do not refer to themselves as Kashmiris. And those living in the Northern Areas (Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan), which are theoretically a part of Jammu and Kashmir, are not Kashmiris per se and do not share much, except in religion with the Muslims of Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Azad Kashmir. They are culturally and ethnically different.


Muslims form 66.97 percent of the population in Kashmir Valley. Shown here is the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar.

Jammu is the only region in Kashmir that has a Hindu majority population (in the east). About 67 percent of Jammu's population practices Hinduism while 24 percent practices Islam and four percent Sikhism. The people living in Jammu are different from those living in the valley in terms of language, genetics and culture. The Muslims living in Jammu, who are in a minority, share their religious identity with the Muslims of the valley but are culturally different than them. Kashmir Valley inhabitants are mostly Muslim. The practice of Islam in Kashmir has heavy Sufi influences, which makes it unique from orthodox Sunni and Shiite Islam in the rest of South Asia.

A Muslim shawl making family shown in an 1867 chromolith.

In Pakistan-administered Kashmir (containing Gilgit, Baltistan and Azad Kashmir) 99 percent of the population is Muslim. Minority groups like the Kalash practice pagan rituals. Baltistan is mainly Shia, with a few Buddhist households, while Gilgit is Ismaili. Azad, Jammu and Kashmir is majority Sunni. Many merchants in Poonch are Pathans; however, these individuals are not legally considered to be Kashmiris.

Most Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhist, with those around Kargil and the lower Suru Valley being Shia Muslims. There are some Sunni Muslims of Kashmiri descent around Leh and Padum in Zanskar. There are small numbers of followers of the Bon religion, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity. Most Buddhists follow the tantric form of Buddhism known as Vajrayana Buddhism. Shias are mostly found among the Balti and Burig people.

Ongoing violence has internally displaced about 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits from Jammu and Kashmir since 1990, according to an estimate by the United States CIA World Factbook. A Pandit (or Pundit) is a scholar, a teacher, particularly one skilled in Sanskrit and Hindu law, religion and philosophy. A pundit is almost always a Brahmin, who has memorized a substantial portion of the Vedas, along with the corresponding rhythms and melodies for chanting or singing them. Pundits or pujaris are hired to chant Vedic verses at yagyas (pouring oblations into a sacrificial fire) and other events, both public and private.

Lost tribe of Israel theory

Some consider the Kashmiri people descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. According to Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, the Kashmiri people have many Jewish cultural traits, including feasts, appearance, business practices, and other customs. He also asserts that a significant number of Kashmiri names and words derive from Hebrew. Furthermore, sidelocks, although never worn by Muslims, are very commonly worn by the Kashmiris. The Ahmadiyya movements also support an Israelite origin for Kashmiri people.

A Kashmiri Muslim wedding

Mehndi on a hand

A Kashmiri Muslim wedding starts with a thap. The boy and girl meet in a public place, often at a mosque or the Mogul gardens. When the couple accepts each other, jewelry is given to the bride by the groom's family, and sometimes rings and flowers are exchanged, and the boy and the girl become engaged. In the next few days, the girl's family sends vazvan, an exclusive meal consisting of 50- 60 dishes, to the boy's house. This signifies the announcement of the engagement of the boy.

There are two types of engagements—the nikaah ceremony after which the bride and the groom are considered married, and the mabadh ceremony. The engagement period can be for a couple of months or a couple of years. When the boy's parents decide to bring the bride home, a wedding function, which takes the form of a three-day get-together of the two families, is organized.

Activities over those three days include the bride plaiting her hair, which is unplaited by the married women of the family, the bride's hands and feet being decorated with mehendi, a temporary skin decoration of henna, a dinner, an elaborate wedding procession with its own musical band and dancers, the bride being bathed by her mother and aunts, and the bride being dressed in the traditional salwar kameez, a traditional dress worn by both women and men.

When the wedding procession arrives at the girl's house, the women sing traditional wedding songs, the groom is showered with coins and almonds, the groom is served dinner.

The amount of the meher, a sum of money which the husband must give his wife anytime after marriage and in case there is a divorce the amount has to be given immediately, is fixed.

The next seven days see a plethora of guests bearing gifts and dried fruits, visiting the respective homes of the boy and the girl. On the third or the fourth day after the wedding the bride and the groom visit the girl's home, where they are served an elaborate dinner. On the seventh day the bride's aunts visit her, have a small party, then take the bride with them for a few days. At this time the formal part of the wedding is over.


The people in the Jammu area speak Hindi, Punjabi, and Dogri (which is close to Punjabi). The inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley and the Pakistani areas speak Urdu and Kashmiri. The Kashmiris speak the Kashmiri language known as koshur.

The dominant language of Azad Kashmir is Northern Hindko. The Hindko dialects spoken in Azad Kashmir are both distantly related to Punjabi. Pashto is spoken by sizable minority, brought by the sizable migrant Afghan community in the Mirpur area.

The principal language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan dialect that is different enough from Tibetan that Ladakhis and Tibetans often speak Hindi or English when they need to communicate. Urban Ladakhis usually know Hindi/Urdu and often English. Within Ladakh, there is a range of dialects, so that the language of the Chang-pa people may differ markedly from that of the Purig-pa in Kargil, or the Zanskaris, but they are all mutually comprehensible. Ladakhi has had no written form distinct from classical Tibetan, but a number of Ladakhi scholars have started using the Tibetan script to write the colloquial tongue. Administrative work is carried out in Urdu and, increasingly, English.

Urdu is the lingua franca of the Northern Areas, understood by most inhabitants. The Shina language (with several dialects) is the language of 40 percent of the population, spoken mainly in Gilgit, throughout Diamer, and some parts of Ghizer. The Balti language, a sub-dialect of Ladakhi and part of Tibetan language group is spoken by the population of Baltistan. Minor languages spoken include Wakhi language spoken in upper Hunza, and some villages in Ghizer, while Khowar is the major language of Ghizer. Burushaski is an isolated language spoken in Hunza, Nagar, Yasin (where Khowar is also spoken), some parts of Gilgit and some villages of Punyal. Another interesting language is Domaaki, spoken by the musician clans of the region. A sizable minority speaks Pashto.


Kashmiri home life c.1890.

In 1970, the State Government of Jammu and Kashmir established its own education board and university. Education in the state is divided into primary, middle, high secondary, college and university level. Jammu and Kashmir follows 10+2 pattern for education of children. Various private and public schools are recognized by the board to impart education to students. Board examinations are conducted for students in class VIII, X and XII. In addition there are various Kendriya Vidyalayas (run by the Government of India) and Indian Army schools that also impart secondary school education. These schools follow the Central Board of Secondary Education pattern. Notable higher education or research institutes in Jammu and Kashmir include College of Engineering and Technology, National Institute of Technology Srinagar and the Medical College of Jammu. University-level education is provided by University of Jammu and University of Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir had an average literacy rate of 54.46 percent in 2007. Male literacy was 65.75 percent, and female literacy was 41.82 percent.


Women from the Muslim town of Kargil, northern Ladakh, in local costumes

Kashmiri lifestyle is essentially slow paced, irrespective of the differing religious beliefs. Generally peace-loving people, the culture has been rich enough to reflect the religious diversity as tribes celebrate festivities that divert them from their otherwise monotonous way of life. However, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, Hindu-dominated Jammu and Buddhist-dominated Ladakh poses a grave danger to the security of the region where mixed populations live in regions such as Doda and Kargil.


Salwar kameez is a traditional dress worn by both women and men in the Kashmir region, as well as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. It is sometimes known as Punjabi suit due to its popularity in the Punjab region, and the Pathani suit, due to the fact that the Pathans of Kabul introduced the dress to the rest of South Asia. Salwars (or shalwars) are loose pajama-like trousers. The legs are wide at the top, and narrow at the bottom. The kameez is a long shirt or tunic. The side seams (known as the chaak) are left open below the waist-line, which gives the wearer greater freedom of movement. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is the preferred garment of both sexes.


A vegetarian korma

The cuisine of Kashmir is famous for its delectable vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian dishes. The style of cooking is different for Hindus and Muslims. Traditional Kashmiri food includes dum aloo (boiled potatoes with heavy amounts of spice), tzaman (a solid cottage cheese), rogan josh (lamb cooked in heavy spices), zaam dod (curd), yakhayn (lamb cooked in mild spices), hakh (a spinach-like leaf), rista-gushtava (minced meat balls in tomato and curd curry) and of course rice, the staple food of Asian cultures.

The first main influence on the cuisine was the food of the Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmiri Pandit cuisine usually uses yoghurt and turmeric, and does not use onion and garlic. The cuisine was then influenced by the people who invaded with Timur from the area of modern Uzbekistan, as well as by Persian, and Afghan cultures.

The traditional 36-course wazwan is considered the height of Kashmiri cuisine. Probably no other cuisine in the world has so many courses. The preparation is considered an art and is traditionally done by a vasta waza, or head chef, with the assistance of a court of wazas, or chefs. The wazwan is most often prepared for a big event, especially marriages. One concern about wazwans is that much of the food has to be thrown out.

Guests are grouped into fours for the serving of the wazwan. The meal begins with a ritual washing of hands as a jug and basin called the Tash-t-Nari are passed among the guests. A large serving dish piled high with heaps of rice, decorated and quartered by four seekh kababs (kebabs), four pieces of methi korma (a mild curry made with yoghurt), two tabak maaz, sides of barbecued ribs, one safed murg, one zafrani murg, along with other foods. The meal ends with the gushtaba.


Muslim papier maché ornament painters in Kashmir in 1895.

Kashmiri literature has a history of at least 2,500 years, going back to its glory days of Sanskrit. Early names include Patanjali, the author of the Mahabhashya commentary on Panini grammar, suggested by some to have been the same to write the Hindu treatise known as the Yogasutra, and Dridhbala.

In medieval times the great Hindu school of Kashmir Shaivism arose. Its great masters include Vasugupta (c. 800), Utpala (c. 925), Abhinavagupta and Kshemaraja. In the theory of aesthetics one can list the Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta.

The use of the Kashmiri language began with the poet Lalleshvari or Lal Ded (fourteenth century), who wrote mystical verses. Another mystic of the time, equally revered in Kashmir and popularly known as Nunda Reshi, wrote powerful poetry like his senior Lal Ded. Later came Habba Khatun (sixteenth century) with her lol style. Other major names are Rupa Bhavani (1621-1721), Arnimal (d. 1800), Mahmud Gami (1765-1855), Rasul Mir (d. 1870), Paramananda(1791-1864), Maqbool Shah Kralawari (1820-1976). Also the Sufi poets like Shamas Fakir, Wahab Khar, Soch Kral, Samad Mir, and Ahad Zargar. Among modern poets are Ghulam Ahmad Mahjur (1885-1952), Abdul Ahad Azad (1903-1948), and Zinda Kaul (1884-1965).

During 1950s, a number of well-educated youth turned to Kashmiri writing, both poetry and prose, and enriched modern Kashmiri writing by leaps and bounds. Among these writers are Dinanath Nadim (1916-1988), Rahman Rahi, Muzaffar Aazim, Ghulam Nabi Firaq, Amin Kamil (1923- ), Ali Mohd Lone, Akhtar Mohiuddin and Sarvanand Kaul 'Premi'. Some later day writers are Hari Krishan Kaul, Rattanlal Shant, Hirdhey Kaul Bharti, Moti Lal Kemmu (1933- ), a playwright.

Music and dance

Kashmiris are known to enjoy their music in its various local forms, and the dress of both sexes is quite colorful. The dumhal is a famous dance in Kashmir, performed by men of the Wattal region. The women perform the rouff, another folk dance. Kashmir has been noted for its fine arts for centuries, including poetry and handicrafts.

Kashmiri music is closer to Central Asian music, using traditional Central Asian instruments and musical scales. Kashmiri music uses a wide variety of musical scales, everything from musical scales which are very similar to the Byzantine scale]], and harmonic minor scale, to the more melodic sounding major and minor scales. In some Kashmiri music, vocals are given the central role, but in many other varieties, the instruments lead. Traditional Kashmiri vocals are harmonized.

Sufiana Kalam is popular in Kashmir, where the practice of Islam has heavy Sufi influences. This form of music is accompanied by a 70-stringed instrument called the santoor, a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer often made of walnut, along with the Kashmiri saz, a long-necked lute. Sufiana Kalam has been popular in Kashmir since arriving from Iran in the fifteenth century, and has been the music of choice for Kashmiri Sufi mystics. The dance based on the sufiyiana kalam is the hafiz nagma.

The Kashmiri saz.

Music in Kashmir performed by Hindus is mainly influenced by Indian classical music, using instruments such as the sitar. Sarangadeva who wrote the famous Sangeet Ratnakara was a Kashmiri. Music and musical instruments where-mentioned in the earliest texts like the Nilmatapurana and Rajatarangini. The most popular folk instrument is santoor linked to the Goddess Sharada, the Goddess of learning and art in ancient Kashmir. Henzae is a music form sung by Kashmiri Pandits on religious and cultural festivals.

Popular dances in Ladakh include the khatok chenmo (only when headed by an aristocratic family member), kompa tsum-tsak (meaning three successive steps), jabro (dance steps from Western Ladakh), chaams (a sacred dance by Lamas), chabs-skyan tses (a dance carrying a pot), raldi tses (a sword dance), and alley yaato (a Zanskari dance and song sequence). A feature of a Ladakh marriage is the recitation of lengthy narratives by singers in unusual costumes.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Blank, Jonah. 1999. "Kashmir–Fundamentalism Takes Root," Foreign Affairs, 78(6): 36-42.
  • Drew, Frederic. 1971. The northern barrier of India; a popular account of the Jammoo and Kashmir territories. Jammu: Light & Life Publishers. OCLC 3555251
  • Evans, Alexander. 2001. "Why Peace Won’t Come to Kashmir," Current History 100(645): 170-175.
  • Hussain, Ijaz. 1998. Kashmir dispute: an international law perspective. Islamabad: Quaid-i Azam Chair, National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i- Azam University, Islamabad. ISBN 969832903X
  • Irfani, Suroosh. Fifty Years of the Kashmir Dispute : based on the proceedings of the International Seminar held at Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir August 24-25, 1997. Muzaffarabad University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 1997. OCLC 42719994
  • Joshi, Manoj. 1999. The Lost Rebellion. New Delhi: Penguin Books. ISBN 014027846X
  • Khan, L. Ali. 1994. "The Kashmir Dispute: A Plan for Regional Cooperation," Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, 31: 495.
  • Rai, Mridu. 2004. Hindu Ruler, Muslim Subjects: Islam and the History of Kashmir. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691116881
  • Schofield, Victoria. 1996. Kashmir in the Crossfire. London: I B Tauris. OCLC 44431180
  • Stein, Burton. 1998. A History of India. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195654463

External links

All links retrieved October 5, 2022.


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