Kashmir region is located in the northwestern Indian subcontinent. It is bounded by the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang to the northeast and the Tibet Autonomous Region to the east (both parts of China), by the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab to the south, by Pakistan to the west, and by Afghanistan to the northwest.
The region, with a total area of some 85,800 square miles (222,200 square km), has been the subject of dispute between India and Pakistan since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The northern and western portions are administered by Pakistan and comprise three areas: Azad Kashmir, Gilgit, and Baltistan, the last two being part of a territory called the Northern Areas. The southern and southeastern portions constitute the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian- and Pakistani-administered portions are divided by a “line of control” agreed to in 1972, although neither country recognizes it as an international boundary. In addition, China became active in the eastern area of Kashmir in the 1950s and since 1962 has controlled the northeastern part of Ladakh (the easternmost portion of the region).
The Kashmir region is predominantly mountainous, with deep, narrow valleys and high, barren plateaus. The relatively low-lying Jammu and Punch (Poonch) plains in the southwest are separated by the thickly forested Himalayan foothills and the Pir Panjal Range of the Lesser Himalayas from the larger, more fertile, and more heavily populated Vale of Kashmir to the north. The vale, situated at an elevation of about 5,300 feet (1,600 metres), constitutes the basin of the upper Jhelum River and contains the city of Srinagar. Jammu and the vale lie in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, while the Punch lowlands are largely in Azad Kashmir.
Rising northeast of the vale is the western part of the Great Himalayas, the peaks of which reach elevations of 20,000 feet (6,100 metres) or higher. Farther to the northeast is the high, mountainous plateau region of Ladakh, which is cut by the rugged valley of the northwestward-flowing Indus River. Extending roughly northwestward from the Himalayas are the lofty peaks of the Karakoram Range, including K2 (Mount Godwin Austen), which at 28,251 feet (8,611 metres) is the second highest peak in the world, after Mount Everest.
The region is located along the northernmost extremity of the Indian-Australian tectonic plate. The subduction of that plate beneath the Eurasian Plate—the process that for roughly 50 million years has been creating the Himalayas—has produced heavy seismic activity in Kashmir. One especially powerful earthquake in 2005 devastated Muzaffarabad, which is the administrative centre of Azad Kashmir, and adjacent areas including parts of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state and Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.
The climate of the region ranges from subtropical in the southwestern lowlands to alpine throughout the high mountain areas. Precipitation is variable; it is heavier in areas that can be reached by the monsoonal winds west and south of the great ranges and sparse to the north and east where continental conditions prevail.
The people in the Jammu area are Muslim in the west and Hindu in the east and speak Hindi, Punjabi, and Dogri. The inhabitants of the Vale of Kashmir and the Pakistani areas are mostly Muslim and speak Urdu and Kashmiri. The sparsely inhabited Ladakh region and beyond is home to Tibetan peoples who practice Buddhism and speak Balti and Ladakhi. Source: Encyclopædia Britannica