Un­tapped po­ten­tial

FrontLine - - TOURISM IN JAMMU - BY A SPE­CIAL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

A land of breath­tak­ing forts, pil­grim­age spots and nat­u­ral splen­dour, Jammu has some­thing for ev­ery­one.

HOME TO AR­CHI­TEC­TURAL WON­DERS,

splen­did forts and di­verse flora and fauna, the Jammu re­gion of Jammu and Kash­mir has enor­mous tourism po­ten­tial, much of which re­mains un­tapped. Within Jammu, Ka­tra dis­trict is fa­mous for the Vaishno Devi shrine, which at­tracts mil­lions of devo­tees every year. How­ever, there is much more to ex­plore in Jammu.

PALACES AND FORTS

Amar Ma­hal, the 19th cen­tury palace si­t­u­ated on the na­tional high­way to­wards Srinagar, is an ar­chi­tec­tural won­der. Over­look­ing the Tawi river, this red sand­stone mar­vel was the res­i­den­tial palace of the Do­gra king Raja Amar Singh and has now been con­verted into a mu­seum. The mu­seum houses the king’s golden throne, made of 120 kilo­grams of gold. It has a gallery of paint­ings and a li­brary with about 25,000 books on var­i­ous sub­jects.

Mubarak Mandi com­plex, which was the royal resid­ ence of Do­gras, has a his­tory of more than 150 years. A blend of baroque, Mughal, Ra­jasthani and Euro­pean styles, its most dis­tinc­tive sec­tions are the Sheesh Ma­hal, the Rani Charak Ma­hal, the old Army Head­quar­ter, the For­eign Of­fice and the Grey Hall where the Ma­haraja used to hold his dar­bar. The com­plex also houses the fa­mous Do­gra Art Gallery, si­t­u­ated in the erst­while Pink Hall. The mu­seum is a trea­sure trove of minia­ture paint­ings from the tra­di­tional Pa­hari school of art. The col­lec­tion in the mu­seum in­cludes hun­dreds of rare pic­tures, a golden bow and ar­row of the Mughal em­peror Shah Ja­han and Per­sian manuscripts of the Shah­nama and the Sikan­der­nama.

The Bahu Fort in Jammu, be­lieved to have been first built by Raja Bahu Lochan cen­turies ago, was re­fur­bished by the Do­gra rulers in the 19th cen­tury. In­side the fort is a tem­ple ded­i­cated to Kali and near the fort is the ter­raced Bagh­e­bahu Gar­den, laid in the style of Mughal gar­dens,

which of­fers a panoramic view of Jammu city. The con­struc­tion of the Akhnoor Fort was prob­a­bly started in 1762 at the be­hest of Raja Tegh Singh. His son Alam Singh com­pleted it in 1802. On the eastern side of the fort, there are steps that lead down to the Chenab river. Traces of paint­ings can be found on the walls of the rooms.

BEWITCHING BHADERWAH

Bhaderwah is a val­ley of bewitching nat­u­ral beauty. Si­t­u­ated 205 kilo­me­tres from Jammu, it has a his­tory dat­ing back mil­len­nia. It of­fers a charm­ing mix of scenic spots, colour­ful fairs and fes­ti­vals and a unique cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence.

Son­bain glacier on Asha­p­ati moun­tain, which re­mains snow­cov­ered even in sum­mer, is fast be­com­ing a must­visit spot on the itin­er­ary of trekkers. On the east­ ern side of Bhaderwah city are the mead­ows of Padri at an el­e­va­tion of more than 10,500 feet (3,200 me­tres). The mead­ows are pop­u­lar for moun­tain bik­ing, paraglid­ing, trekking and camp­ing.

Son­bain and Padri are be­ing pro­moted as peren­nial ski­ing des­ti­na­tions for do­mes­tic and for­eign tourists. Be­sides, Bhaderwah of­fers sev­eral op­tions for trekkers, moun­taineers, campers and ex­plor­ers.

Gatha Lake, si­t­u­ated in the lap of Bhaderwah, of­fers a ma­jes­tic view of the Kailash peaks. The tem­per­a­ture here is pleas­ant through­out the year. Jai Val­ley, an eco­health re­sort, lies about 32 km from Bhaderwah.

BE­YOND KA­TRA

Bhimgarh Fort, si­t­u­ated in Reasi town, is as­so­ci­ated with Gen­eral Zo­rawar Singh, a war­rior who con­quered and an­nexed Ladakh and Baltistan with the king­dom of Jammu and Kash­mir in 1834­42. The fort was ini­tially con­structed with clay. One of the heirs of Ma­haraja Ri­shipal Rana, the founder of Reasi, later re­con­structed it us­ing stone.

Aghar Jitto, lo­cated 6 km from Ka­tra, is named after Baba Jitto, a leg­endary farmer who laid his life fight­ing op­pres­sion by land­lords. A tem­ple ded­i­cated to him houses a huge statue of Jitto and his daugh­ter Bua Gori. Every June, a three­day mela is held here.

Baba Dhansar, a nat­u­rally formed shiv­ling peren­ni­ally bathing in the wa­ter fall­ing upon it from a spring, is an­other spot pop­u­lar among pil­grims. It is lo­cated 11 km from Ka­tra, the base camp of the Vaishno Devi shrine. Sim­i­larly, Dera Baba Banda Ba­hadur is a holy shrine

si­t­u­ated on the banks of the Chenab, about 28 km from Ka­tra. A saf­fron flag post (Nis­han Sahib), about 50 feet high, hoisted by Baba Banda Ba­hadur, bears tes­ti­mony to the brav­ery of this saint­war­rior.

Si­hard Baba is an­other shrine si­t­u­ated on the banks of the Chenab and is around 10 kilo­me­tres from Reasi town. Si­hard Baba is known for its nat­u­ral water­fall cas­cad­ing from a height of around 400 ft. It is also known for the in­te­grated farm­ing sys­tem.

Shiv Khori, some 78 km from Ka­tra, a 100­me­tre­long cave in the shape of Siva’s dum­roo, houses a four­foot­tall “swayamb­hulingam” (nat­u­rally formed lingam). A three­day fes­ti­val is held here on the eve of Ma­hashiv­ara­tri dur­ing which thou­sands of pil­grims from all over the coun­try visit the shrine.

Akhnoor town is fa­mous for the folk­lore as­so­ci­ated with Sohni and Mahi­wal. The Akhnoor fort is on an an­cient site, lo­cally known as Manda. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion here led to the dis­cov­ery of pot­tery dat­ing back to the Harap­pan civil­i­sa­tion.

MANSAR AND SURINSAR LAKES

The twin lakes of Mansar and Surinsar, which are a cou­ple of hours from Jammu, are ex­cel­lent get­aways from the city. Si­t­u­ated in the lower Shiva­liks, they are pop­u­lar and have re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance. Leg­end has it that Ar­juna, a Pan­dava prince in the Ma­hab­harata, shot an ar­row into the ground at Mansar, which pierced the earth and came out through a spot in Surinsar. The two lakes are to­gether known as Dwigrit (two pits). It is also be­lieved that there is an un­der­ground link be­tween the two lakes.

Mansar is si­t­u­ated 64 km from Jammu, off the Jammu­pathankot high­way. The scenic lake sur­rounded by pine forests has crys­tal clear wa­ter and is pop­u­lar for boat­ing. The lake is home to a large num­ber of tur­tles. Be­sides be­ing a pop­u­lar hol­i­day spot in Jammu, it is a holy site. Sev­eral tem­ples dot the shores of the lake. On the eastern shore is a shrine ded­i­cated to Shesh­naag, con­sid­erded the king of ser­pents in Hindu mythol­ogy. This shrine is pop­u­lar among newly­wed cou­ples who con­sider it aus­pi­cious to per­form three cir­cum­am­bu­la­tions around the lake to seek the bless­ings of Shesh­naag.

Two an­cient tem­ples ded­i­cated to Ma­hadeva and Narasimha and a tem­ple ded­i­cated to Durga si­t­u­ated in the lake's vicin­ity also at­tract a large num­ber of devo­tees. Peo­ple take a dip in the lake’s wa­ters on fes­tive oc­ca­sions and mem­bers of some com­mu­ni­ties per­form the “mun­dan” cer­e­mony, or first hair­cut, of their male chil­dren, on its banks.

Boat­ing fa­cil­i­ties are avail­able at Mansar lake, which is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. The lake has a ce­mented path all around it, is well lit and has view decks for peo­ple to ob­serve sea­sonal birds, tor­toises and fishes of dif­fer­ent species. There is a wildlife sanc­tu­ary nearby. It is home to spot­ted deer, nil­gai and wa­ter­birds such as cranes and ducks.

Surinsar lake, which is about 9 km from Mansar, is bor­dered by hills and dense forests. It is a smaller lake but as pic­turesque as Mansar lake with an is­land si­t­u­ated in the mid­dle. Ow­ing to re­li­gious taboos, swim­ming or boat­ing in the lake are not per­mit­ted. It is a wet­land and has a bird sanc­tu­ary. Wa­ter­birds of sev­eral species make this lake a bird­watcher’s par­adise. In sum­mer, the lake’s

sur­face is cov­ered with in­nu­mer­able lo­tuses. The Jammu and Kash­mir Tourism De­part­ment pro­vides ex­cel­lent ac­com­mo­da­tion units with all fa­cil­i­ties near the lake.

OTHER LAND­MARKS

Patnitop is one of the most pop­u­lar hill­top tourist des­ti­na­tions in Jammu. Lo­cated in Ud­ham­pur dis­trict, 112 km from Jammu, it is perched in the Shiva­lik belt of the Hi­malaya at an al­ti­tude of 6,640 feet, close to the Chenab. The peak sea­son is dur­ing the win­ter in the Jan­uaryFe­bru­ary pe­riod, when the mead­ows be­come ideal for ski­ing.

Jammu Tawi Golf Course is one of the land­mark tourist spots of Jammu. Lo­cated in Sidhra on the out­skirts of the city, the project was de­vel­oped at a to­tal cost of Rs.60 crore.

The golf course was com­mis­sioned and de­vel­oped with the in­ten­tion of boost­ing tourism and at­tract­ing high­spend­ing tourists to Jammu, apart from groom­ing young­sters to be­come pro­fes­sional golfers. This 18­hole golf course with fair­ways of 275 m has two big and three small wa­ter­bod­ies. It has un­der­ground sprin­kle ir­ri­gation sys­tem and com­fort sta­tions/rain shel­ters. It has a full­fledged main­te­nance com­plex, a club house and about 6,500 m of path­way. The en­tire course is spread over 81 hectares.

Bal­i­dan Stambh, a me­mo­rial pil­lar built to hon­our the State’s sol­diers who served the na­tion, was con­ceived by the In­dian Army as a unique war me­mo­rial at Bahu Wali Rakh near the Bahu Fort.

Gharana wet­land, a par­adise of mi­gra­tory birds, is an­other spot with tremen­dous tourim po­ten­tial. Tens of thou­sands of mi­gra­tory birds from Siberia nest here be­tween Novem­ber and April every year, mak­ing it the per­fect place for bird­watch­ing and or­nithol­ogy. The wet­land is close to the In­dia­pak­istan bor­der and has been no­ti­fied as a pro­tected wa­ter body and de­clared an im­por­tant bird area.

BHIMGARH FORT.

AKHNOOR FORT.

PADRI.

GHARANA WET­LAND.

PATNITOP.

JAI VAL­LEY, BHADERWAH.

JAMMU TAWI GOLF COURSE.

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