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4th July '2009
Jammu Nostalgia-X

I have spent almost half of my life in Jammu right from the very birth, the reason being the durbar move. My late father who served in various capacities in the state government had to move in winter to Jammu. The recollection of the most of the events of those early days has gone blank with my fading memory but there are certain memories of my early days and recent times which I vividly recall and cherish. I am sharing these with my friends in Jammu!

Memorable Journeys in Jammu

During my 11 year tenure as the Director Tourism and Director General Tourism, J & K, I had many opportunities for travel in different parts of the state including Jammu province. I always recall these journeys of both discovery and adventure. One of the enchanting journeys was in the Mantalai Valley. This is a long valley stretching from Chennani to Duddo. First time I was taken there by Dharindra Bramchari who was building a resort in Mantalai. He had very elaborate plans to set up a health resort for which the location is ideal. In fact, we held an all India Art Camp in his premises. Those days he had small guest house and was constructing a massive 5-star hotel. There was an air strip and a long cave for meditation. The cave was like a nuclear shelter under a huge mound. He had intended to set up more than dozen facilities like a casino, sauna, and so on. He had also planned a shorter route from Chennani across the river which the forest department did not allow. That route would take one from Chennani to Mantali in half an hour. Unfortunately, all his plans came to an abrupt end due to his demise in an air crash on the strip. I got the news in London where I had gone for some tourism promotion. After having been introduced to Mantalai by Dharindra Bramchari, I made a number of trips even beyond this point.

After Mantalai comes Latti and at the end of the valley is Duddo. One day three of us, me, S S Bhalla, and Zafar Kotey decided to drive right up to Duddo. We started very early and took some pack lunch. The road beyond Mantalai was quite rough and the valley was narrow. There are pine trees on both sides of the valley. However, as one nears Duddo, the valley somewhat widens and there are pine trees in the middle of the river. We were reminded of Pahalgam in Kashmir valley even though Duddo is much narrower compared to Lidder valley. The tourism department had constructed a beautiful wooden hut in Duddo but it was occupied by paramilitary forces. It was a pity that the owners of the hut could not use it! We descended to the river and had our lunch on a small island. The rustling of the pines and the roar of the stream mentally transported us beyond Jammu to some lovely spot in Kashmir valley. We very much enjoyed our trip. It is a pity not many people know about these lovely spots of Jammu. Unfortunately, people outside cannot differentiate between Jammu City and the Jammu province which is a vast region of varied landscapes. This area has a tremendous potential for tourism development. In the entire valley I had also seen in the spring time blossoms as are seen in different parts of Kashmir valley. The ideal situation would be to invite some private developers for setting up joint ventures with the local people.

The other interesting journey I undertook in the vicinity of Udhampur is to Panchari and Lander. This time we did not take any pack lunch. The road takes off short of Udhampur and the first spot reached is Krimchi Temples. These are probably the only fully standing ancient temples. The Archaeological Survey of India had done a good job in restoring these. However, the approach to the temples from the main road is very tedious. This could be a very interesting day trip for tourists. During our trip we had tried to convince the local people to give some land for improving the approach to the temples but they seemed to be quite reluctant. After this the road winds up a hill which has lot of pines at the top. Near the top one crosses a pass and drives on the right side to reach the village of Panchari. It did not impress me so much but ahead of Panchari is Lander which is more scenic. From Lander one can trek to Sanasar and thence to Patni top. In fact, the range goes from an earlier spot behind Vaishnovdevi Shrine called Bhamag right up to Duddo. This is an excellent range for light trekking of Alpine style. I could not make a trip to Bhamag in spite of repeated requests by Mr.Kohistani who was very keen to have this area developed as a tourist resort. I had the opportunity of seeing the area from air while flying in a chopper with the then Advisor to Governor General Saklani. But I am sure with the constitution of over a couple of dozen tourism development authorities for different regions of the state, this area will receive due attention. During this trip we could not get any lunch anywhere and had to return hungry!

A short trek in the same range is from Padora in Patni Top to Shiv Garh top. I used to see this top regularly from Patni Top on my numerous visits. One day while staying in a tourist hut in Padora, I decided to trek to this top. The trail leaves behind the huts and traverses a long dense forest. Then it climbs steeply towards the top of the mountain. The top is a large clearing from which one can have a panoramic view on all sides. It is a very lovely day long trek if one takes some pack lunch and lingers on the top for some time. However, one must go on a clear day as in case of rain the path can be very slippery and dangerous. This whole area has many other possibilities of trekking. One can even go right up to Sudh Mahadev but people mostly prefer to stick round Patni top or at the most drive up to Sanasar. Recently, the Youth Hostels Association of India had started some trekking programme in the range. However, these treks need to be popularised for back packers who can go on their own.

(…………….. to be continued)

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