If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this

"Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast"

Kashmir is known all over the world for its beauty  and charm. The Kashmir valley is situated about 300 km. from Jammu  across forested ravines and steep mountain passes. The emerald valley of  Kashmir is cradled in the Himalayas, under the crystal blue skies,  against the background of snow-capped mountains. It is a magic land of  silvery streams, rivers, fresh water lakes, pine, deodar and chinar  forests, snow clad mountains, sparkling waterfalls, shikaras, green  meadows and grassy slopes full of flowers of vibrant colours. It is an  oval plateau over 5000 feet high and framed by three Himalayan ranges –  the Karakorum, Zanskar and Pir Panjal. Kashmir covers an area of 222,236  square kms and is often referred as the 'Switzerland of the East'. It  is the land of bewitching beauty with exotic fruits, flora and flowers.  Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir is nestled amidst the huge lakes,  meadows and unique floating gardens in the valley. The state of Kashmir  is mainly dominated by the Muslims and Kashmiris. Pandit Jawahar Lal  Nehru also said about Kashmir that is there is a paradise on the earth,  it is this, it is this. Kashmiri, Dogri and Urdu are the main languages  which are spoken here. The best time to visit Kashmir is during summers. 

Kashmir  formed part of the empire of Emperor Ashoka, about three centuries  before Christ. He spread Buddhism in Kashmir, Tibet, China and Central  Asian Republics. In the 7th and 8th centuries, there was a succession of  Hindu kings who gave Kashmir its first impressive monuments. Then  followed a dark era in which power passes from one ruthless commander to  another till a Tibetan Muslim prince took over. He died in 1338 and  Commander Shah Mir usurped the kingdom and stated a Sultan dynasty. The  eighth Sultan of this dynasty was Zainul-Abdin,  also known as Badshah or the Great king. He patronized art, music and  encouraged studies in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. The king was very  popular with the local people as they considered him their patron saint  who introduced such arts like shawl making, embroidery, carpet-weaving,  paper-mache, silver and wood carvings. He invited guilds of craftsmen  from Persia and Samarkand to settle down in the Kashmir valley. When  Mughal Emperor Akbar conquered Kashmir in 1587, he lost his heart to the  valley. He declared Kashmir as his private gardens and indulged himself  in boating, water fowling and watch the saffron being harvested in the  fields. Various Mughal kings made Kashmir their home to avoid the heat  and dust of summer. Akbar's son Jehangir also found the natural paradise  of Kashmir captivating and built various gardens in Srinagar. While,  one day on his way to Kashmir, he become ill and when he was asked to  express his last wish, he said, “Kashmir… and nothing else.” The Mughal  kings created elaborate pleasure gardens, marble pavilion and intricate  irrigation systems in the valley. They also succeeded in converting the  majority of local Hindus into Islam. As the Mughal power decline,  Afghans captured the valley till they were ousted by the Sikh Maharaja  Ranjit Singh. Kashmir became part of the Sikh   empire. When the Sikhs  lost their war against the British in 1846, the British demanded an  indemnity of 500,000 pounds. Since they could not meet this demand, the  Sikhs offered Kashmir to the British. The Dogra Maharaja of Jammu  offered the British twice the indemnity amount and thus became the  Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. His descendants ruled over the State till  1947 and became part of the Indian Republic. The state also became the  battleground between India and Pakistan during 1948, 1965 and in 1971  wars when Pakistan lost. Pakistan is still trying to grab Kashmir by  aiding and abetting terrorism in Kashmir. Since 1997, when elections  were held in the state, Jammu and Kashmir is under an elected  government. Law and order situation is better now and foreign as well as  Indian tourists are visiting Kashmir in large numbers.

The state of Jammu & Kashmir is a region of  widely varying people and geography. In the south, Jammu is a transition  zone from the Indian plains to the Himalaya . Nature has lavishly  endowed Kashmir with certain distinctive favors which hardly find a  parallel in any alpine land of the world. It is the land of snow clad  mountains that shares a common boundary with Afghanistan, China and  Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir is the northernmost state of the Indian  Union. Known for its extravagant natural beauty this land formed a major  caravan route in the ancient times.Trade relations through these routes  between China and Central Asia made it a land inhabited by various  religious and cultural groups. It was during the reign of Kashyapa that  the various wandering groups led a settled life Buddhism influenced  Kashmir during the rule of Ashoka and the present town of Srinagar was  founded by him. This place was earlier called 'Srinagari' or  Purandhisthan. The Brahmins who inhabited these areas admired and  adorned Buddhism too. From the regions of Kashmir Buddhism spread of  Ladakh, Tibet, Central Asia and China. Various traditions co-existed  till the advent of the Muslims.The Mughal had a deep influence on this  land and introduced various reforms in the revenue industry and other  areas that added to the progress of Kashmir. In 1820 Maharaj Gulab Singh  got the Jagir of Jammu from Maharaj Ranjit Sigh. He is said to have  laid the foundation of the Dogra dynasty. In 1846 Kashmir was sold to  Maharaj Gulab Singh. Thus the two areas of Kashmir and Jammu were  integrated into a single political unit. A few chieftains who formed  part of the administration were of the Hunza, Kishtwar, Gilgit Ladakh. 

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Culture of Jammu and Kashmir has the distinctiveness of having  multi hued, motley of unique blend, differentiating it from the rest of  the country. Jammu & Kashmir culture is not only different in forms  and heritage but also different in geographical, demographically,  ethical and social entities from other parts of the country. The state  is accurately shaped into a spectrum of variance and variation Clearly  visible in the distinct parts - Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh,  all yielding diverse religion, language and culture, but constantly  inter fusing, making it sparkling specimens of Indian unity in diversity.  The various cultural forms like art & architecture, fairs &  festivals, rites & rituals, seers & sagas, languages and  landscapes, mounted on the ageless era of history, speaks aloud of  uniformity and diversity with matchless cultural symmetry & service. 

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