Jammu and Kashmir: An Overview

Kashmir Valley: Geography, Topography, Demography

Jammu and Kashmir map
Jammu and Kashmir explainer series
Kashmir Valley: Geography, Topography, Demography

The Valley of Kashmir is a unique oval plain, approximately 134 Km in length and 32 to 40 Km in breadth, at an average height of 1,800 m above the sea level, and nestled securely among the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas. Nowhere else in the world can one find such an amphitheatre of snow-capped mountains, surrounding such a large plain, traversed throughout its length by a navigable river, the Jhelum.,

The mountains which surround the Valley are varied in from, height and colour , to the east stands hoary-headed Harmukh (5, 150 m), the formidable mountain guarding the valley of the Sindh. Further south is Mahadev and the lofty ranges of Gwasha Brari (5,425 m). The Peak of Amarnath (5, 280 m) also lies in this area. On the south-west is the Pir Panjal range with peaks 4,500 m high and to the north are ranges of the Karakorams and the Himalayas, dominated by the majestic Nanga Parbat (7,980 m), also called by the poetic name of Diyamir. Covered with snow all the year round and rising glistening white, it is the fifth highest mountain in the world. Latitude wise, Kashmir corresponds to Damascus in Syria, Fez in Morocco and South Carolina in the USA.

The legend that the Kashmir Valley was a vast lake, Satisar, in prehistoric times, corresponds with the results of geological observations. The sandstone rock at the western corner of the basin was most probably rent by volcanic action. The lake was drained by the deepening of the Baramulla gorge-the result of the slow process of erosion spread over geological years. Tradition has it that the drainer of the lake was Kashyap, after whom the Valley was called Kashyap-mar, which, with the passage of them, became Kashmir. Accordign to an interpretation, Kashmir is a Prakrit compound with its components Kas meaning ‘a channel’ and mir, ‘a mountain’-the compound world adding to a ‘rock trough’. In the Puranas, Kashmir is called gerek (hill) because of its overwhelming hilly features. The world Kashmri has been shortened by Kashmiris into Kashir. The Kashmiri calls his language Koshur or Kashur.

The shape of the Valley is that of an elliptical saucer. The floor of the vast Valley is built of small consolidated lake beds and alluvial soils. Numerous plateaus, locally known as kerewas, stand up isolated in the middle of the Valley. The green cultivated fields of these terraces contrast sharply with the bleak mountains.

Kashmri is a land of lakes and rivers. The deep and clear waters of the laks reflect the height peaks of snowcapped mountains. The river Jhelum (ancient name, Vitasta transformed into Veth, in Kashmiri parlance) meanders through the Valley in artistic zigzags, which have furnished the motifs tot eh deft Kashmiri artisans. Nestled among hills in the north-east of the Valley is the Wular (20 Km by 8 Km), the largest fresh-water lake in India. The Dal lake, well-known for the Mughal gardens flanking it, in the vicinity of Srinagar, is about 6 Km long and about 3 Km broad. Other well-known lakes are the Manasbal (the deepest in Kashmir), the Kaunsar Nag (3,901.44 m) and the Gangabal and other mountain tarns, at an elevation of over 3,300 m. in the lidder valley, there are huge glaciers like Kolahai which is about 8 Km long and comes down as low as 3,300 m. the mountains and lakes are complemented by luxuriant orchards dotted with majestic chinar trees, providing so many breathtaking spectacles. No wonder, the French physician, Dr Francois Bernier, wrote in the mid-seventeenth century, about the Vale: “In truth, the land surpassed in beauty all that my warmest imagination had anticipated, and it is probably unequalled by any country of the same extent.”

The Kashmir Valley enjoys an enchanting climate for the major part of the year. A unique feature of the climate is the four clear-cut seasons-spring, summer, autumn and winter. Till the end of May, the climate of Kashmir is comparable with that of Switzerland. In spring, the Valley wears blankets of emerald green grass and is decked with flowers of various hues and fresh leaves-a phenomenon of rejuvenation from the rigours of a long winter. It is then the world’s most wonderful of natural gardens. In summer, the sleepy blue mountains with snow-capped peaks, clear streams, cool bubbling springs, noisy torrents, beautiful lakes, shady chinar groves, silvery poplars, drooping willows and pine forests make Kashmir the ‘playground of Asia’. In autumn, the trees and forests turn into bronze and copper colours, and the foliage becomes a riot of golden yellow and green. A walk over fallen chinar leavers makes a rustling, musical sound. In winter, the giant-size trees wear a bare look when the landscape dons a mantle of snow.

Srinagar (the city of Saraswati-the goddess of learning) is an ancient city. Founded by Asoka (272-232 B.C.), it was then called Pravarapura, after King Pravarsena. Srinagar was a great seat of learning in those days, throbbing with life a bristling with commerce. It was also called Shrinagri-the city of wealth and beauty. Situated in the centre of the Valley, Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, is the most populous city, covering an area of about 28.5 sq Km. The river Jhelum, flanked by the Dal lake and intersected by canals, runs through the city and lends and idyllic charm to it. Hence, the city has been called the ‘Venice of the East’.

Anantnag (also called Islamabad) is another ancient town of Kashmir, about 64 Km to the north of Srinagar. It si an exotic town full of springs, and streams run in every other compound. Some of these are sulphurous springs which have curative qualities.

Other major towns are Baramulla and Sopore, both situated on the Jhelum after the river enters the Wular lake andemerges from it. It is at Baramulla that the Jhelum after running a calm and navigable course of 166 km in the Valley escapes in turbulent torrents over mountain gorges.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Jammu and Kashmir economy. Nearly 82 percent of the state’s population living in rural areas is dependent on agriculture and allied activities. About 37 percent income of the Jammu and Kashmri sate is from the agriculture sector.

Being hilly terrains, complex machinery cannot be deployed in agriculture operations. The agricultural holdings are small and most areas sow a single crop. The  state has registered an impressive advance in the agriculture sector, specially in recent years. About 7,24,000 hectares of land are under cultivation and more areas are being brought under the high-yielding variety crops.

Rice, wheat, barley, bajra and jowar and various fruits are grown here. With improvement in irrigation, suitable crop rotation, use of fertilizers and machinery, there is a possibility of increasing the cultivable land and raising greater agricultural yields, Raising livestock is another source of income to the farmers. New breeds have been introduced to improve the quality and strength of the livestock.


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Kashmir Valley: Geography, Topography, Demography