If we think of Heaven, we imagine a land of snowcapped mountains, lush green valleys, fresh and tranquil water-bodies, rich and colorful flora and fauna and above all a land of serenity and sheer bliss. That is what India's northern most state of Jammu and Kashmir is a Heaven on Earth. The state of Jammu and Kashmir consists of Jammu, Kashmir valley and Ladakh. The summer capital of the state is Srinagar, while the winter capital is Jammu. Jammu and Kashmir is home to numerous shrines like Amar Nath and Vaishno Devi; several Himalayan glaciers of which the Siachen Glacier at a height of 18,875 ft is the longest (70km); several sprawling valleys like the Kashmir valley, Tawi valley, Chenab valley, Sind Valley, Poonch Valley and Lidder Valley; pristine rivers like the Jhelum River and Indus, Tawi, Chenab and Ravi; and numerous lakes like the Dal lake, Nagin lake and Wular lake of Kashmir and Mansar lake and Surinsar lake of Jammu. With a sharp contrast of altitude from 1000 feet to 28250 feet above sea level, the state of Jammu and Kashmir is truly a land of great diversity. It is an exotic and adventurous tourist destination of India for its people and foreigners.
Situated in the Himalayan Mountains, Jammu and Kashmir is the northernmost state of India, sharing its international boundaries with Pakistan, Afghanistan and China from west to east and the states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh to the south. This â€œTourist Paradise on Earthâ€ is the sixth largest state of India with a total area of 22,22,236 sq. kms including the illegal occupation by Pakistan and China.
Jammu and Kashmir is a favorite holiday destination for the nature lovers from all around the globe. Nurtured in the lap of the magnificent Himalayas with its abundant and spectacular natural beauty, Jammu and Kashmir is a state of rich culture and heritage. Its breathtaking beauty of mountain ranges and glaciers, rivers and lakes, plateaus and plains truly makes it a land of "unity in diversity". Some of the major tourist attractions of the state are the legendary mountain resort of Gulmarg or "The Meadow of Flowers", Sonamarg or "The Meadow of Gold", Pahalgam or "The Valley of Shepherds", Patnitop in Jammu, the cold desert of Leh and Ladakh, Srinagar or the city of beautiful lakes and gardens, Jammu or the city of Temples and the most famous Hindu shrines of Amarnath caves.
Srinagar : Located at the heart of the Kashmir Valley, this beautiful summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir is a tourist hotspot and a city of serene lakes and gardens. The valley resort of Srinagar is famous for the most beautiful lake of India â€“ the Dal Lake with its innumerable houseboats. Other lakes that dot the city are the Nagin Lake and the Wular Lake. Srinagar is also famous for the three picturesque Mughal Gardens of Nishat, Shalimar and Chesmashahi.
Jammu : The winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, the city of Jammu is also known as "Duggar". It is called "the City of Temples" for its famous and holy shrines like Vaishno Devi and the Raghunath Temple. Other tourist attractions include the Mansar Lake situated 62kms from Jammu and the Surinsar Lake, 9km from Mansar; the Bahu Fort, etc
Gulmarg: This is one of the Premier hill resorts, situated 56kms from Srinagar. Gulmarg or "The Meadow of Flowers" is a picture-postcard ski destination of the country.
Sonamarg : Sonamarg is located 84km from Srinagar on the Srinagar-Ladakh road. It is a picturesque meadow at a height of 2730m called the "Meadow of Gold". The meandering Sindh River on the Sindh Valley which passes through Sonamarg is a spectacular facet.
Pahalgam : Pahalgam is rightly called "The Valley of Shepherds" as it was once a humble shepherd village, is Kashmirâ€™s premier resort today. Every year the route of Amarnath Yatra commences from Pahalgam and Baltal.
Patnitop : This hill top tourist spot is located in the Shiawalik belt of the Himalayas in the Udhampur district, 112 km from Jammu. It is in close proximity to the Pir Panjal range.
Leh & Ladakh : At an altitude ranging between 3505 and 2750m, the semi-arctic cold desert of Ladakh is a centre of Tibeto-Buddhist culture, rich fauna and a favorite destination for trekking and river rafting. Ladakh is also popular for its delicious Tibetan food like thukpa and tsampa. Leh, the capital of Ladakh is situated at the eastern part of Jammu and Kashmir.
Amarnath : In the south of the valley, the Amar Nath peak rises to a lofty 17,321 feet and the Kolahoi peak stands 17,800 feet high. The Amarnath cave is a 5000 year old Hindu shrine or the abode of Lord Shiva. The cave is situated 141 km from Srinagar and is at a height of 12,767 ft (3888m).
By Air: The state of Jammu and Kashmir has regular Indian Airways, Jet Airways and Kingfisher flights operating to the three airports of the state: Srinagar, Jammu and Leh.
By Rail: The North Indian Railways connects Jammu and Kashmir with almost all parts of India. The most famous rail station is Jammu Tawi.
By Road: Jammu is well connected to all parts of the country through road by National Highway 1-A. Regular bus services are available from J&K State Road Transport Corporation to its neighboring states.
Shikara Boating: The shikara boat ride on the Dal and Nagin Lakes in Srinagar is a splendid experience for the tourists. The charming scenery of the Zarbarwan hills accompanied by the rippling sound of the waves makes the shikara or houseboat ride on the Dal Lake an unforgettable experience.
Skiing: Jammu and Kashmir boasts of some of the most adventurous and premier ski destinations of India. Gulmarg in Kashmir and Patnitop, Kud and Sanasar in Jammu offer some fabulous ski slopes to the amateurs and experts.
Trekking: The varied terrain of the state is ideal for trekking amidst lofty peaks, beautiful lakes and magnificent glaciers from the month of May to October. The Ladakh trek routes are rugged and tougher promising more adventure and excitement. In winter, the frozen Zanskar River becomes one of the best trekking destinations called Chadar â€“ The Frozen River Trek. Other popular trek routes are:
Sonamarg-Vishansar-Gadsar-Krishansar-Satsaran-Naranag-Sgr (7 days)
Pahalgam-Chandarwar-Sheshnag-Amarnath Cave-Sonamarg-Sgr (4 days)
Pahalgam-Aru-Lidderwat-Kolahoi Glacier-Khemsar-Sonamrg-Sgr (4 days)
Sgr-Aharbal-Kungwattan-Mahinag-Kounsarnag (4 Days)
Mountaineering: The mighty Himalayan ranges of Pir Panjal, Ladakh & Karakoram, Great Himalayas, Zanskar and the lesser peaks Kolahoi, Harmukh, Tattakutti and Sunset offer mountaineering options to the adventurous tourists of Jammu and Kashmir.
Mountain Cycling: This is like trekking on wheels. The long and winding roads over notable passes like Zojila Pass, Banihal Pass, Margan Pass and Smithan Pass are excellent for cycling and biking. Mountain cycling and biking are adventurous ways to explore the exotic sights of the state.
Water Rafting: The beautiful waterways of the state attract tourists for water sports. The adventurous water sports take place in Pahalgam and Sonmarg, Ladakh and Zanskar (Kargil) and some stretches on Indus River. River rafting during the National and International Level Championship is a memorable experience. The Water Sport Centre of the state is located at Nigeen.
Paragliding: This adventure sport is held in Sonamarg, Gulmarg, Harwan (Srinagar) and Baderwah (Jammu). Para-gliders can glide over the mountains, valleys and lakes of Jammu and Kashmir and experience thrill and pleasure through this aero sport, especially during the Pahalgam Festival at Pahalgam and the Kashmir International Rafting Championship at Sonamarg.
Bird Watching: The twenty-four wetlands of the state are ideal for bird watching. The rare species to look for are the black necked crane, the bar headed geese, Falcon, Ibis bill, the yellow billed Magpie and the European blue whistling Thrush Vulture.
The best time to book your tickets for Jammu and Kashmir is the summer season (from March to May) or the autumn (from September to November). However the winter season from December to March is ideal for winter sports in the state when the snow envelopes the mountains and valleys like a carpet.
The history of this "Paradise on Earth" dates back to the Mughal Empire when Emperor Akbar invaded Kashmir in 1586. The state of Jammu and Kashmir as a political and geographical entity came into being with the Treaty of Amritsar between the British Government and Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1846. In 1925 Maharaja Hari Singh inherited the throne of Kashmir and was the reigning king during the Indian Independence in 1947. He signed the paper of accession with India.
The climate of Jammu and Kashmir varies due to its varied topography. From hot plains of Jammu to the coldest dry desert of Ladakh, the state experiences extreme temperatures throughout the year. The climate in the spring season (March to early May) is pleasant with light showers. The summers (from May to August) are hot in Jammu city (upto 40 degrees Celsius) and warm in Srinagar (25 to 35 degrees Celsius). Autumn is the loveliest season of Kashmir (end of September) with temperatures varying between 23 degrees and 10 degrees), which further drops in October and November. The winter climate (December to March) is freezing (-20 to -40 degrees Celsius) in Ladakh. Rainfall is highest during July and September.