Jammu and Kashmir is a popular state among local and international tourists for its cultural, historical and natural abundance. Most of the state is nestled within the exquisite Himalaya Mountains and is characterised by stunning valleys, imposing mountains and remoteness from the influence of the outside world. It is the northernmost part of the subcontinent and is surrounded by Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, China and the Pakistani territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Because of this unique positioning, there have been several disputes regarding to whom this area rightly belongs. The state is officially divided into 1) Jammu, 2) the gorgeous Kashmir Valley (also known as “Paradise on Earth”) and 3) Ladakh. Within Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, there are 22 sub-divisions. Jammu is the winter capital and Srinagar is the state’s summer capital. Jammu receives countless Muslim and Hindu pilgrims every year, who have travelled from all over India, and even the world, to visit the many shrines in this area.

Before the 19th century, the area now known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir was ruled as a Mughal Empire and then by the Sikhs. However, when the English discovered India and its ample supply of spices and other resources, they sought to occupy it as their own. In 1845, the first Anglo-Sikh war erupted. In 1846, Gulab Singh acted as a mediator in the Battle of Sobraon, advising Sir Henry Lawrence. This resulted in the agreement upon two treaties, which dictated that the State of Lahore (West Punjab) and the area between the Beas and Indus rivers be given to the British, while Singh would own the Vale of Kashmir area between the Indus and Ravi rivers. Later, Singh’s son (Ranbir, who took over when his father died) added Hunza, Gilgit and Nagar to his portion of the land. Ranbir Singh then continued to rule as king over the area until India achieved independence in 1947.

Kashmir Valley is the main valley of the area, and is breath-taking in its natural wonder. However, there are many other valleys in this mountainous state, each uniquely beautiful and abundant. Kashmir Valley is an astounding 100 kilometres wide and over 15 500 square kilometres in total area. The valley is densely vegetated with a gorgeous range of plants and is home to many different kinds of birds and animals.

The vegetation of the state as a whole is varied because of its very different levels of elevation above sea level. It ranges from lush scrub- and subtropical forests to subalpine conifer forests, alpine scrub and meadows. The tops of the mountains are covered in luminous blankets of white snow. Snow, glaciers and many rivers provide water to this state.

The economy of Jammu and Kashmir depends largely on tourism and agriculture. Exports include corn, apples, millet, oranges, plums, almonds, walnuts, rice, peaches, saffron, sorghum, vegetables and wheat. In addition, Kashmir wood has been a valuable commodity for the manufacture of specialised cricket bats called Kashmir Willow. The local people also produce handmade rugs and shawls for export. In addition, excellent-quality sapphires are found in the district of Doda and are used for jewellery production around the world. The tourism industry is boosted by the fact that this state is home to many shrines that are important to the worship and pilgrimages of both Hindu and Muslim followers. Apart from these holy attractions and the breath-taking Kashmir Valley, Gulmarg is a popular ski resort and golfing retreat.

Other recommended tourist attractions include:

• The Ranbireshwar Temple (Jammu)
• The Bahu Fort & Gardens (Jammu)
• Peer Baba (Jammu)
• The Amar Mahal Palace (Jammu)
• Mansar Lake (Jammu)
• The shrine of the Goddess Vaishnodevi (Jammu)
• The Mughal Gardens (Kashmir)
• Chashma Shahi (Kashmir)
• The Hazratbal Mosque (Kashmir)
• Shankaracharya Temple(Kashmir)
• Leh Palace (Ladakh)

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