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Kashmir beauty

The beauty of Kashmir, illustrated here by the pastoral serenity of Dal Lake, has been marred by Pakistan's and India's conflict over the region since 1947 and a separatist insurgency raging since 1989. India refuses to let Kashmiris vote on their fate.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Definition: Kashmir, officially referred to as Jammu and Kashmir, is an 86,000-square-mile region (about the size of Idaho) in northwest India and northeast Pakistan so breathtaking in physical beauty that Mugal or Moghul emperors in the 16th and 17th century considered it an earthly paradise.

Kashmir's location along the Silk Road from China to the Middle East, and its mountain passes to Punjab, Afghanistan and the Indian state of Jammu, lifted the region's importance historically and geographically.

If it was a paradise under the Moghuls, it's been nothing of the sort since the middle part of the 20th century. The region has been violently disputed by India and Pakistan since their 1947 partition, which created Pakistan as the Muslim counterpart to Hindu-majority India. The two countries fought a war over Kashmir in August-September 1965 and have clashed in the region periodically before and since. China, too, which borders the region to the north and east, has had designs on Kashmir.

The Indian portion of Kashmir is called Jammu and Kashmir. It is 54,000 sq mi (139,000 sq. km), with its capital at Srinagar. The Pakistani-controlled part of the region, Azad Kashmir, is 32,000 sq mi (82,900 sq km), with Muzaffarabad as capital. The Kashmir Valley is 90 miles long and 20 miles across. It is one of the most fertile lands on the planet, thick with rich pine and cedar forests and covered in rice paddies, hemp and saffron, apple and apricot orchards and walnut trees. "Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashemere," wrote the Irish poet Thomas Moore in 1817, "with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave."

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