To make the proper loop around the north of India, you pass through Kashmir (actually the state is Jammu Kashmir). A place with a rich history, a beautiful landscape and a warning in the Lonely Planet to check the situation before traveling through.
India and Pakistan have been fighting over this land for centuries. Once a popular tourism destination, Kashmir fell into fighting and the tourists stopped coming. It was definitely not a war zone but a few details hinted to an unrestful past. One of the most obvious difference was the incredible amount of armed soldiers placed everywhere and who appeared much more serious than those seen in other parts. Another odd detail we noticed as we were approaching Srinagar, were the large, dilapidated summer houses spread over the hilly landscape. Left behind for squatters and cows since the last conflict.
The morning market. Apparently, the market has been going for several generations and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were here a few months ago. Instead of celebrities, we witnessed a curious way of selling vegetables which seemed to involve much yelling and boat banging. Some men got so worked up they splashed others!
Kashmir is in a calm period and the two countries in a ceasefire. Tourism is on the increase again. The state is predominately Muslim and the locals a tad full-on. In Srinagar, we had never been hassled so much and they are good, if a little pushy salesmen. Most famous Indian products including, Pashmina shawls, paper machie boxes and animals, intricately embroidered cloth, wooden boxes and carvings, suede leather bags and clothing amongst many other products originate and are made in Kashmir. When tourists stopped visiting Kashmir, the traders spread out all over India taking these products with them.
We were surprised at how much we enjoyed Srinagar, the states summer capital (the winter capital is Jammu). Spread along the edges of the large Dal Lake, Srinagar is a water city with an incredible number and range of houseboats as well as gondolas. A rich Mughal history has also left behind some beautiful gardens.