By Kamlesh Tripathi
I recently covered Jammu-Patnitop-Sanasar circuit as a vying tourist with my family. It was an electrifying experience. I had not known what I was missing in life, till I actually got to see this paradise that remains unruffled from the poison of planet erosion even now. Let me take you through this interesting journey that may motivate you too, to visit these fizzy tourist spots that remain huddled in scenic landscapes and keeps lazing around in idyllic settings.
The hilly region of Jammu spreads across the middle Himalayas and the Shvaliks in the Jammu & Kashmir state. It presents a variety of attractive features and is home to several tourist resorts and pilgrimage centres. These include the Holy Cave Shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi (so famous that I dare not discuss in the passage) nestling in the folds of the Trikuta hills which is one of the most venerated Hindu Pilgrimage destinations of northern India, visited by millions every year. Also hidden away amongst the surrounding mountains are a number of hill resorts, the most famous among these being the beautiful meadows of Patnitop & Sanasar towards northeast of Vaishnodevi. These present an opportunity to recoup, after the strenuous pilgrimage, amidst an enchantingly beautiful and salubrious environment, with a variety of other tourist attractions/pilgrim centres to see en route before returning to Jammu, the City of Temples, on way home.
As one embarks towards Patnitop, 12 kms from Katra, is Chidai Muttal, famous for its wells and well side sculptures. An ancient temple stands beside a small garden here, shaded by Chinar trees normally associated with Kashmir. A brief stopover at this place refreshes one’s soul and mind.
After travelling a further 25 km towards Patnitop, a short detour of 8 km from the National Highway near Udhampur, leads to Krimchi, the site of one of the oldest temple complexes of Jammu. Believed to have been constructed between 11th-12th century AD. This group of temples, is locally known as the Pandava Temples, has some interesting architectural features, which resemble the Orissan style of temple architecture.
An important town in the hilly areas of Jammu region, Udhampur is the farthest rail head of Northern India so far. The ancient Raghunath Temple located next to the sacred underground river, Devak is one of the oldest temples of the region. Accommodation is available in the PWD Dak Bungalow and several private hotels. The ancient temple of Jallandri Mata at Ladden Kotli is believed to have been abode of the Pandavas for some time during their exile. The hidden chambers in its roof, sculptures on its walls and the nearby springs tell a unique story. Mini Hydel Project Chenani, is at a short distance, and an ancient fort provides the backdrop of the temple. 10 kms from Udhampur towards Patnitop, at the way side station of Samroli, one can enjoy Kaladi Sandwhich (a local cottage cheese produced in the interiors of hilly areas) with a hot cup of tea.
The first hill resort on this circuit, Kud (1738 meters), is a picturesque town located just 9 kms short of Patnitop. This resort commands a panoramic view of the terraced valley downwards and the mountains beyond, specially, from the Mall Road, presently under construction. Besides enjoying a cool climate in summers, it is also famous for Patisa a speciality sweet preparation and waters of a spring. A number of hotels and guesthouses besides the Tourist Bungalows of the JKTDC here provide decent accommodation for a comfortable stay in the hills.
By far the most populous of Jammu’s hill resorts, 87 kms from Katra, Patnitop (2024 meters) is perched on a beautiful plateau across which the Jammu-Srinagar highway passes. It comprises of several meadows enveloped by thick forests of Deodar & Kail trees and affords peaceful walks amidst pine groves, beautiful spots for enjoyable picnics and breathtaking views of the Chenab basin and the Pir Panjal range beyond. For solace one can visit the beautifully located Nag Mandir. Other activities include horse rides and short treks into the surrounding hills. One can also drive through thick forests 12 kms downhill to Batote, an old hill station also known for apple orchards, Amar Cheshma and other springs. From here one can also visit the Dam site of the Bagliar Hydro-Electric Project 10 kms away, with permission of the authorities.
In winters (January-February) the snow covered slopes of Patnitop provide opportunities for various snow games including amateur skiing and sledging. Visitor facilities at Patnitop include good quality accommodation in hotels, guesthouses, the JKTDC’s tourist bungalows, and recreational facilities in the Patnitop Club. Accommodation for youth and students is available in the Youth Hostel. The JKTDC’s luxury huts-self contained timber cottages tucked away amidst pine trees- provide an idyllic ambience for a quiet and memorable stay surrounded by sights and sounds of nature.
The most exciting feature of the beautiful resort of Sanasar (2079 meters), 19 km west of Patnitop, is a sprawling cup shaped meadow, 1 surrounded by gigantic conifers, which has been developed into a 9-hole golf course. Besides enjoying exciting pony rides amongst the groves and the other smaller meadows, one can also take treks up the surrounding hills from here. Sanasar is also ideal for paragliding, while Natha Top on way to Sanasar affords scenic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. For those desirious of experiencing a quiet stay surrounded by the tranquillity of nature, there are self-contained huts and a Tourist Bungalow managed by JKTDC at Sanasar.
At an altitude of 10,000 ft, 10 kms from Sanasar, the misty meadow of Sankhpal offers the most exciting trek from Sanasar. It takes about two and a half hours of exciting trekking through scenic mountain slopes to reach here. One can also hire ponies upto Sankhpal. Food etc., should be carried from Sanasar. At one side of the meadow is the small old temple of Sankhpal Devta. On a clear day trekkers can be rewarded with breathtaking views of the mountain peaks.
This highly revered Shiva temple (1225 mtrs) is located at a distance of 42 kms from Patnitop and 112 kms from Jammu. Legend has it that after bathing at a spring called Gauri Kund, just short of Sudh Mahadev, the Goddess Parvati would worship the Shivling here that is believed to be at least 3000 years old. The temple also houses a black marble statue of Lord Shiva and Parvati. A trishul (trident) of Lord Shiva is also preserved here. Pilgrims in large number visit the Shrine on the full moon night of Sawan (July-August) to participate in the festival to worship Lord Shiva. The mystical underground stream, Devak believed to be as sacred as the Ganges originates at Sudh Mahadev and disappears among the rocks some distance downstream. Also of interest are wooden sculptures, crafted locally. Accommodation is available in Tourist Sarai managed by J&K Tourism Development Corporation and Dharmshala managed by the Dharmarth Trust.
A few kilometres further ahead of Sudh Mahadev is Mantalai (1450 meters) surrounded by lush Deodar forests. As per legend, it is a place where Lord Shiva got married to Goddess Parvati. Besides the Shiv temple here, one can also visit the complex created by Swami Dhirendra Brahmchari which includes a tree shaped house, an air strip, a hostel and a number of other unfinished projects. An excursion through the woods to Naina Devi 5 kms from Mantalai provides excellent views of the mountains landscape all round.
Kali Mata Mandir
While returning to Jammu one can visit the Kali Mata Mandir, located next to a waterfall near Manthal, 40 kms from Jammu. A highly revered location for travellers driving on the National Highways, it provides a cool and refreshing stopover point for the traveller especially during the summer season.
Further ahead, 35 kms short of Jammu on the National Highway is the Jhajjar Kotli, Tourist Complex, built on the banks of the Jhajjar rivulet. The crystal clear, cool waters of Jhajjar attract picnickers in large numbers especially during summers. A Tourist Cafetaria, a Bar and a small Tourist Bungalow are provided here by JKTDC. Moving further towards Jammu, one can also stop at the ancient Rani ka Talab.
Kol Kandoli (Nagrota)
The ancient temple of Kol Kandoli located, 9 kms from Jammu is considered to be the first darshan of the Holy Goddess of Mata Vaishnidevi was performed entirely on foot, the first of the 6 nights, halts after Jammu used to be at this temple.