Location: Jammu and Kashmir is the northern most state of India. It shares borders with the states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab to the south. It has international border with China on its north and east and with Pakistan in its west. Jammu and Kashmir consists of three regions – Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh.
Climate: Kashmir has four distinct Seasons, each with its own peculiar character and distinctive charm. These are spring (March to early May), summer (May to August end), autumn (Late August to early November) and winter (Mid-November to early March). All four present different aspects of Kashmir. While winters have snowfall and chilling temperatures, Spring see showers. In summer Kashmir looks all green with rice fields, meadows, trees and flowering plants in full bloom. In autumn all green turns to gold and then to russet and red.
Jammu region, on the other hand, has more of a tropical climate, with good monsoon during rainy season from July to September. Winter temperatures do fall to sub zero levels in many areas in Jammu. Jammu also gets quite hot in summer season, with day temperature going above 40 degrees quite frequently.
In Ladakh the climate is generally dry and very cold, with temperatures in winter touching quite low, going as low as -20 degrees to -40 degrees in some areas. Even in summer day temperature can be around 20 degrees, while night temperature still falls below 10 degrees. Humidity is quite low all through the year and precipitation is low as well.
Cuisine: Jammu & Kashmir is known for its traditional foods. Each region – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – has its own special and traditional foods which are influenced by the climatic conditions and traditions.
A Wazwan is a multi-course meal in the Kashmiri Muslim tradition which takes hours of preparation. This is often prepared in marriages and ceremonies. The most notable ingredient of the items is mutton. There can be as many as 30 varieties of food items involving mutton. The most famous items are seekh kababs, tabak maz Roganjosh, Yakhni and Gushtaba. The staple diet is rice.
Dum Aloo (steam cooked potato curry) and Chaman (cheese) are also extensively made in Kashmir. Khubani ka halwa is a nice desert made using fresh apricot and dry fruits. But Sheermal, baqerkhani, fireen are also quite popular deserts.
In Ladakh cuisines are different. You can see the Tibetan influence over the food items. Momo is quite popular here. Thupka, with origin in eastern Tibet, is a noodle soup prepared by mixing noodles with chicken or vegetables. This is quite popular among local folks. Thenthuk is another popular noodle soup in Ladakh. Here uneven yak meat is used with noodles.
Paba and Tangtur are the staple diets of Ladakh. Paba is prepared with a mixture of roasted flours of wheat, barley, buckwheat, peas and Ladakhi black beans. It is similar to bread, accompanied with Zathuk and Tangtur (buttermilk with wild vegetables). Jammu is predominantly vegetarian eating a staple diet of rice, wheat and beans.
Things to do: As a tourist there are a number of things which are of interest in whole of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir valley is a paradise for tourists. There are places like Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Pulwama and many more which are absolute fantasies for guests. Lovely gardens, fruit orchards, skiing options during winters, lakes, houseboats, and nice cuisines – Kashmir has so many varieties for tourists. There are grand mosques, temple and even historic ruins to explore as well. Kashmir offers so many trekking opportunities and one can explore rural life as well.
Jammu also offers scenic places, but is also famous for so many temples, with Vaishno Devi temple being the most famous. Ladakh offers yet so many other vistas for tourists. Apart from Buddhist monasteries, Ladakh also has nice panorama to explore – ranging from Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake to Zanskar valley. One can enjoy ride of double hump camels in Ladakh and can also experience some of the coldest and driest winters of India.
River rafting and paragliding can be enjoyed at so many different places all through the state.
Languages: People living in Ladakh speak Ladakhi, whereas people in Jammu mostly speak Dogri. Hindi is mostly spoken by the Kashmiri Pandits and the Gujjar people of the state. It is also understood and spoken by people in Ladakh and Jammu.
Kashmiri is spoken by the Muslim population of Kashmir Valley. Muslims also use Urdu as the second language. English is also spoken and understood by people living in cities, particularly youths.
1) Srinagar: Srinagar is the largest city and the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The city, which lies on the banks of the Jhelum River, is famous for its several gardens, lakes and houseboats. It is also known for traditional Kashmiri handicrafts, dried fruits and saffron.
2) Sonmarg: Sonamarg, which literally means ‘Meadow of Gold’, is a popular tourist place in Ganderbal district, north-east of Srinagar. It is situated on the banks of Nallah Sindh, the largest tributary of the Jehlum River in Kashmir Valley. Kashmir glaciers Kolhoi Glacier and Machoi Glacier lie in Sonmarg. Scenic route from Srinagar to Leh passes through Sonmarg. Sonamarg has no permanent settlement and is inaccessible during winters due to heavy snowfall and avalanches.
3) Pahalgam: Pahalgam, a town in Anantnag district, is a popular tourist destination in Kashmir. Located on the banks of Lidder River at an altitude of 7,200 feet, Pahalgam is the starting point for the tour to the revered Amarnath caves.
4) Gulmarg: Gulmarg is a popular hill station situated in Baramula district. It is quite popular as a skiing destination. Situated in the Pirpanjal range of the Himalayas, Gulmarg is home to the highest golf course and theighest gondola ride in the world. It is a green oasis during summer and large varieties of flowers can be found here.
5) Kupwara: Kupwara is yet another popular tourist place in Jammu & Kashmir. It is quite popular with the tourists for its meadows, mountains, gushing waters, and fresh air. Lolab Valley and Bungas Valley are particularly more popular areas.
6) Anantnag: Anantnag, which literally means numerous springs, is headquarter of Ananatnag district. It is a large business and trading centre of Kashmir Valley. It is also quite popular with the tourists. It is home to the ruins of Martand Sun Temple and Awantipura. Near Ananthnag exists the confluence of three streams – Arapath, Brengi and Sandran. The confluence of these three rivers forms what we know as Vyeth or Jhelum River. Ananatnag is famous for handicrafts, particularly weaving of woolen shawls and dress materials, and woodcarving.
7) Baramullah: Baramulla is located on the bank of the Jhelum River downstream from Srinagar. Largest grower of apples in India. Famous Gulmarg lies in Baramulla district only.
8) Jammu: Jammu, situated on the banks of River Tawi, is the winter capital of state and it is famous for its several temples. The most famous of the temples is Vaishno Devi Temple in Katra. Vaishno Devi is situated on the top of the Trikuta Hills at a height of 1700m.
9) Patnitop: Patnitop is a hilltop tourist location based on a plateau in the Shiwalik hills in Udhampur district. It is at an altitude of 2024m. There are many pleasant walks around this popular hill station.
10) Leh: Leh is the capital of Ladakh province. It is one of the largest districts of India. The town, situated at an altitude of 3524 metres, is dominated by the ruined Leh Palace, the former mansion of the royal family of Ladakh. This is a popular tourist place with several attractions. Apart from the Ladakh Palace, there are monasteries at Shey, Hemis, Alchi, Thikse and Lamayuru. There are places like Khardongla and several lakes and museums to explore. Leh also provides for a number of adventure activities including mountaineering, white-water rafting and trekking along the Markha Valley.
11) Hemis: Hemis is a village in the Leh district, 40km southeast of the Leh town. Hemis is well known for the Hemis monastery that was established in 1672 by king Senge Nampar Gyalva. A colorful festival is held in the village every year in July. Hemis is close to the Hemis National Park, the only high altitude park in the country. The Park, created in 1981, is home to the endangered snow leopard.
12) Zanskar: Zanskar is a subdistrict or tehsil of the Kargil district, situated at around 105km from Leh. Padum, the headquarters of Zanskar valley, is around 250 km away from Kargil town. Zanskar is popular with adventure lovers as it is a hot spot for trekking, paragliding and river rafting. Zanskar has some Buddhist monasteries, also loved by tourists. Stongdey monastery is one of the popular ones among tourists. Drang-Drung Glacier is another attraction. This is one of the biggest glaciers of the country and offers picturesque views of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks.
13) Nubra Valley: Nubra Valley lies about 150 km north of Leh. Shyok River meets Siachan River here to form a large valley. Diskit is the capital of Nubra and home to 14th century monastery, the largest and oldest monastery in Nubra valley. Nubra valley separates Ladakh from the Karakoram Ranges. The famous Siachen Glacier lies to the north of the valley.
The common way to access this valley is to travel over the Khardung La pass from Leh town. Samstanling monastery between Kyagar and Sumur villages is also a tourist attraction and so is Panamik for its hot springs. One can enjoy ride of double humped Bactrian camels.