Jammu and Kashmir

The lakes, fertile valleys and remote, snow-covered peaks of Jammu and Kashmir have had a magnetic appeal to rulers, pilgrims and humble travellers, from the Mughals onwards.

Yet tragically, extended and bitter political violence has put the beauty of the Vale of Kashmir either literally or psychologically out of bounds for almost 20 years. Despite the prominent marketing of houseboats, golf courses and ski resorts and the fact that visitors are beginning to return to Srinagar in numbers, there remains a very obvious military presence. While levels of violence have gone down over the years as the insurgency went underground, the Indian army and Kashmiri militants continue their grim battle with each other today. Although the major pilgrimage to Amarnath is open, and conspicuously guarded by the army, trekking elsewhere in the region is limited and should only be undertaken after careful research and with a reliable guide. However, foreigners will find themselves warmly welcomed by the Kashmiris and in Srinagar alone there is plenty to see and do - not to mention to buy and to eat.

However, the state has other fascinating and accessible regions, set in some of the world's most beautiful scenery. The spectacular high-altitude deserts of Ladakh and Zanskar provide the setting for a hardy Buddhist culture, whose villages and monasteries retain strong links with Tibet. Alchi, Hemis and Thikse are just three of the most striking of the many monasteries clinging to mountainsides. Here you can trek to your heart's content among some of the highest-altitude passes in the world, in one of India's least-known regions.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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