One of the largest states of the India, Jammu and Kashmir covers an area of 2,22,236 sq km. This includes 78,114 sq km under illegal occupation of Pakistan, 5180 sq km handed over by Pakistan to China, and 37,555 sq km under occupation of China. The state lies between 32o 17' to 36o 58' North latitude and 73o 26' to 80o 30' East longitude. From North to South, it extends over 640 km and from East to West, 480 km. It occupies the North-West niche of India, bounded on the South by Himachal Pradesh and the Punjab, on the South West and West by Pakistan, on the North by Chinese Turkistan and a little of Russian Turkistan, and on the East by Chinese Tibet - thus strategically bordering the territories of three countries - Russia, China, and Pakistan. The State ranks 6th in area and 17th in population among the States and Union Territories of India. The State consists of 14 districts, 59 tehsils, 119 blocks, 3 municipalities, 54 towns and notified area committee, 6477 inhabited villages and 281 uninhabited villages. The State of Jammu and Kashmir is the northern most state of India comprising three distinct Climatic regions viz. Arctic cold desert areas of Ladakh, temperate Kashmir valley and sub-tropical region of Jammu. There is a sharp rise of altitude from 1000 feet to 28250 feet above the sea level within State's four degree of latitude. A major portion of J&K State consists of the western Himalayas, which besides many lofty mountain ranges with varying heights of 3000 to 6000 metres and above, also abound in rivers, lakes, passes, glaciers, plateaus and plains. The number of streams, brooks, hill torrents and rivers is also fairly large. The most important rivers are the Indus, Chenab, Jehlum and Ravi.
It has four geographical zones of
Sub-mountain and semi-mountain plain known as kandi or dry belt,
- The Shivalak ranges,
The high mountain zone constituting the Kashmir Valley, Pir Panchal range and its off-shoots including Doda, Poonch and Rajouri districts and part of Rajouri and Udhampur districts
The middle run of the Indus river comprising Leh and Kargil.
The climate varies from tropical in Jammu plains to semi-arctic cold in Ladakh with Kashmir and Jammu mountainous tracts having temperate climatic conditions. The annual rainfall also varies from region to region with 92.6 mm in Leh, 650.5 mm in Srinagar and 1115.9 mm in Jammu. A large part of the State forms part of the Himalayan mountains. The State is geologically constituted of rocks varying from the oldest period of the earth's history to the youngest present day river and lake deposits.
Flora & Fauna
The State is rich in flora and fauna.
In Jammu, the flora ranges from the thorn bush type of the arid plain to the temperate and alpine flora of the higher altitudes. Of the broad leaf trees there are maple, horse chest nuts, silver fir etc. 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 there is a large and varied fauna including leopard, cheetah and deer, wild sheep, bear, brown musk shrew, musk rat. Varieties of snakes, bats, lizards and frogs are also found in the region. The game birds in Jammu include chakor, snow partridge, pheasants, peacock.
Kashmir abounds in rich flora. The Valley which has been described as the 'Paradise' on Earth is full of many hues of wood and game. The most magnificent of the Kashmir trees is the Chinar found throughout the valley. It grows to giant size and girth. The trees presents itself in various enchanting colours through the cycle of the seasons among which its autumnal look is breath-taking. Mountain ranges in the Valley have dense deodar, pine and fir. Walnut, willow, almond and cider also add to the rich flora of Kashmir.
The dense forests of Kashmir are a delight to the sport-lovers and adventures for whom there are Ibex, Snow Leopard, Musk deer, wolf, Markhor, Red bear, Black bear and Leopard. The winged game include ducks, goose, partridge, chakor, pheasant, wagtails, herons, water pigeons, warblers, and doves.In otherwise arid desert of Ladakh some 240 species of local and migratory birds have been identified including black-necked crane.
The Ladakh fauna includes yak, Himalayan Ibex, Tibetan antelope, snow leopard, wild ass, red bear and gazelle.
On the Panchal range, there are a few remarkable peaks viz., the three peaks round the Konsar Nag (12, 800 ft.), Tratakoti (15,524 ft), the highest on this range, and Romesh thong also named as Sun-set peak by Dr. Arthur Neve when he climbed it. A feature of this mountain range is the luxuriant growth of wild flowers. Also an alpine plant called Saussurea Sacra grows here in abundance. From Pir Panchal range further North, the open grassy highlands of Tosa Maidan (14,000 ft. high) catch the eye. The Pastures of this vast highland are the regular haunts of the cheerful, homely shepherds who bring up their flocks for grazing. Further Northwest is the Kazi Nag range - the home of the Markhor. It stands 12,125 feet high and is snow-covered with slopes coated with dense forests. The towering peak of Nanga Parbat (26, 620 ft. high) stands as a sentinel guarding, as it were, the Valley on this side. It is an imposing sight. Far away from here are seen the Karakoram ranges also known as Mustagh, with some of its peaks rising over 25,000 ft and among them the World-famous K2 (over 28,000 ft.), the second highest in the world, stands out boldly in its mountain glory. To the east of the valley stands the noble, snow-clad peak of Haramukh (16,903 ft.) overlooking it.
The famous Gangabal lake of Haramukh is regarded as sacred by Kashmiri Hindus to the same extent as Haridwar is held in India. Here also Saussurea Sacra grows in plenty. Another remarkable peak in the east seen all over the city is Mahadev (13,000 ft.). in Summer pilgrims climb this peak. On the lower sides of this mountain, one comes across a herb Macrotomia Benthami in wild profusion. This herb is well known as Kah zaban or Gaw Zaban. It is frequently prescribed by the local physicians to ailing persons.
On the South of the Valley, the peaks of Amar Nath and Kolahoi springing from the same massif are found prominent. Amar Nath stands 17, 321 feet high and Kolahoi 17,800 feet.
Kolahoi is also known as Gwash Brari. At dawn the radiant rays of the sun fall on this cone-like peak and the lurid glare of the dazzling snows is a sight. Here and there on this range, one is attracted by wild graceful flowers, wild roses, poppies, anemones and hosts of other unknown floral varieties. Shri Amar Nath is a famous ancient shrine.
Lakes and Glaciers
For its fresh-water lakes and tarns, Kashmir is known all the world over. Those lying in the valley against the charming mountain background are : the Wular Lake, the Dal Lake and the Manasbal lake. The Wular is the largest fresh-water lake in India and according to some, perhaps in Asia too. It is 121 miles long and 5 miles broad. It lies to the north-cast of the valley with mountains overlooking it. The Dal Lake lies on the suburbs of Srinagar in the east. It is at the foot of the mountain range. The lake is 4 miles long and 11 miles broad. Against the mountain background which is reflected in its calm expanse and enclosed by trees the lake looks superb. In summer, it is a paradise for visitors who glide over its waters in shikaras and houseboats. The Manasbal lake is the deepest lake in the country. Its greenish-blue waters are wondrous and beautiful.
Besides these lakes, which are fed by the melting snows from the mountains, there are hosts of mountain tarns form-glared by the glacial action and other phenomenal activities of range nature. There are several glaciers on Haramoukh. On the South side they only descend to about 13,500 ft., but alter the North 1,500 ft lower. They are fed by the large snow fields on the summit, which are of great thickness. The snow cliffs on the middle peak show a vertical thickness of nearly 200 feet. In there seen all the surrounding valleys. There are lakelets varying in size from mere ponds to sheets of water a mile or so in length and quarter a mile broad., most of these occur at a height of 11,500 feet. There can be no doubt that they are all due in some way to glacial action , and that they are not of very remote age. Tydall points out that a glacier 900 feet deep would produce a vertical pressure of 486, 000 lbs. upon every square inch of its bed. But the small glacier on the shoulders gone, of such mountains as Haramoukh or Tutakuthi would not exceed 200 feet in thickness, and would not be capable of excavating hard rocks beneath. So the numerous tarns and lakes may be own regarded as due chiefly to the formation of embankments across line of drainage. Sometimes such embankments may have been caused by the deposit of avalanche debris from a slideslope or by the advance of a side glacier with its lateral moraines. The lakes and lakelets found in upper valleys around Haramukh mountain are Gangabal, Lool Gool and Sarbal. They are at an elevation of nearly12,000 feet above sea level. The shimmering waters lend glory to the Gangabal Lake, which stands at an elevation of 11,800 feet. To the South cast of the Pir Panchal range lies the lake Konsar Nag (12,800 feet) surrounded by three peaks. Its is fed by glaciers. It is said to be a source of the Jhelum. In the spring and summer, the water is some 40-ft higher than in winter. In the spring, its surface is said to be covered with icebergs, which are driven about by the wind. In the Liddar Valley, large glaciers are observed. On the mountain range of this Valley, the glaciers are found in Kolahoi. From here to the cast on the way to Amar Nath cave lies the famous Shesh Nag at an elevation of 14,000 feet. Glaciers are prominent in this area.
Coming into the Valley proper, we find the frozen lake of Alapathar or Apharwat, well over Khilanmarg. Flowers of rainbow colors are found in wild profusion here. The mountain tarn stands at the height of about 12,500 feet. It is said to be 500 yards long and 150 yards wide. The surroundings are austere and wild. It is popular haunt of tourists.
The nearest tarn to the city is that of Harwan on the slopes of Mahadev Mountain about a mile and a half further away from the Moghul garden -Shalimar. The source of its fresh water is Tarsar, a lake on the Amar Nath Mountain. Harwan looks beautiful in its sylvan surroundings. This tarn is the chief source of water supply to the city.
Besides the above enumerated lakes and lakelets, there are scores of tarns and glaciers found in the mountain ranges around the Gurais valley, Ladakh and Karakorams.
Heli-Skiing & Rafting
The introduction of new adventure sport, called Heli-skiing, in 1987-88, added a new dimension to the winter tourism of the state. Heli-skiing consists of being dropped by a helicopter on the summit of a high, snow- covered peak and then skiing down the slopes. The helicopter transports skiers from the base (Gulmarg) to heights of over 4,500 m landing on a different peak every day, whether it is Apharwat, Yusmarg or the Kolahai glacier. In Kashmir there is already a well - organised central Gulmarg Ski institute conducting ski courses and competitions - became the second place in the world, after Canada, to offer large scale heli- skiing. The construction of a 7.5Km long gondola cable car ropeway from Gulmarg to Apharwat, which began in April 1988, has also contributed to Kashmir becoming a year-round destination.
The Zanskar and the Indus rivers in the Ladakh region offers rafting expeditions for the experienced rafters as well as the novice. Zanskar river expeditions in summer is the ultimate for a rafter which takes one through the one of the most breathtaking gorges in Asia.
Indus river is one of the most scenic white water runs anywhere in the Himalayas. The view is breathtaking which takes one through the Canyons in the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges with various monasteries or Gompas along the river bank. The icy cold and clear river have rapids generally of I and II grades and at some places, has grade III rapids.
How to reach
The state has three major civil airports at Srinagar, Jammu, and Ladakh connected to Delhi and other places in the country. Indian Airlines and its subsidiary Alliance Air operate in the Delhi-Chandigarh-Ladakh and Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar routes.
Jammu Tawi is the main railhead of Jammu & Kashmir. It is connected to most of the important towns and cities of the country. Moreover, the longest rail route that stretches from Jammu Tawi to Kanyakumari and touches almost all the main cities and towns of the country originates from here.
One can easily reach Jammu by the National Highway 1A that goes from Punjab and runs through this city, connecting it to the rest of the state, including the capital Srinagar. The state transport corporation runs several buses to most of the big towns and cities in north India.