As I was waiting for my metro to arrive in Delhi, a kind gentleman saw me with me lugging my bags and asked me, ”kaha ja rahi ho beti?” (Where are you headed to, child?) I responded with a smile, “Jammu”. “To visit Vaishno Devi?”, he asked and I just shook my head no, still smiling. My journey to Jammu City started in a train coach filled with members of one large family who brought cartons of home-cooked meals from pakodas to rotis to even jalebis for desert! As they caught us eyeing their platefuls of jalebis, they kindly offered us some, and so our conversations began. It wasn’t long before we found out that they were headed to the last stop of this train, Katra, to visit the popular Hindu pilgrimage shrine of Vaishno Devi. They then proceeded to inquire if we too were headed to pay our respects to the goddess and yet again, we responded in a negative.
At Jammu Tawi, as I stepped out of the railway station, several posters hung on this pillar or that wall welcoming me to ‘The City of Temples’. And that was when I realized. This is one city that was going to surprise me since I had no idea of the secrets it kept, apart from the usual this temple and that temple.
We have all either seen of, heard of, or have even visited Kashmir. We know about Srinagar, Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Dal Lake and the various shades Kashmir puts on as months pass by year after year. If we start beyond Kashmir, we have definitely seen the Pangong Tso in 3 Idiots, and know of our uncle’s brother’s son who went on a bike ride to the magical Ladakh. But what you and I most often tend to forget is that this state is made of three parts, instead of two. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. (If you haven’t already heard, Jammu and Kashmir is now officially Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.) And just as I had expected, I was pleasantly surprised by the sights Jammu had to offer. Thanks to the folks who made this trip happen, I explored parts of Jammu that perhaps even locals wouldn’t have heard of, I ate dishes you only find in Jammu and not beyond, and I had the time of my life.
What's In Here
How to Reach Jammu
Located about 590 kilometres away, Jammu is well connected to Delhi by road, rail and air. There are numerous buses, flights and trains that depart from Delhi to Jammu on a daily basis. The train journey can range anywhere between 9 to 13 hours.
What to Eat in Jammu
While a quick google search will land you numerous suggestions ranging from wazwan to butter tea, these are not traditionally from Jammu, but from Kashmir and Ladakh. Follow this comprehensive food guide of all things Jammu, and thank me later!
If you visit Jammu and do not taste their authentic rajma (kidney beans) did you even go to Jammu? It is a well-known fact that some of the best rajma in India is grown in the Jammu district and is the comfort food of people across North India. So if you ever find yourself in the region, make sure you go bonkers trying out the different varieties of rajma like katha rajma and thool rajma served with steaming rice! The best plate of rajma rice I had was at this big dhaba at Vikram Chowk called Balgrota Vaishno Dhaba. The food was so cheap and so yummy, I’d go visit Jammu again just for this dhaba!
Kaladi is an indigenous Jammu cheese that is fried like a patty until molten, and stuffed in buns and eaten. This popular snack is native to the Udhampur region of Jammu but is also widely found in Jammu City and other parts of the district. Served with green chutneys and onions, Kaladi Kulcha is to Jammu what momos are to Delhi, and if you know me and my love for momos, you know what I’m talking about!
A fruit from the citrus family, locally grown in the Jammu District, Kimb is eaten in a very unique manner. The skin of the fruit is first peeled off and the juice is completely squeezed out. It is then cut into small pieces and mixed with a paste of green chillies, salt, coriander and some other spices. The end result is an intense flavour with equal portions of spicy and sour. It’ll make your taste buds pop but is also fun to eat at the same time!
The only place I saw these burfis on sale were at the Bahu Fort Market where local shopkeepers made their own batches and stored them in massive circular tin molds. It is a very sweet preparation, perfect for those who have a sweet tooth. You can also ask the shopkeepers to let you taste a bit if you’re not sure about how sweet you can go!
Pawan Ice Cream
Ask anyone from Jammu City about ice cream, and they will be sure to direct you towards Pawan Ice Cream near the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine. With a host of different homemade flavours, this shop is always crowded, and rightfully so. Their flavours are not only unique, but the ice cream has an intensely creamy texture making it irresistible. My favourite remains the Chocolate Crunch and Jammu Special. With only 50 rupees a scoop, Pawan can give the likes of Baskin Robbins a run for their money!
Places to Visit in Jammu
Apart from Vaishno Devi, Raghunath Mandir and Mubarak Mandi, there are a number of places in Jammu District that are a must visit, if you ever plan a trip to this beautiful city.
Amar Mahal Palace
Although this is still a fairly common place to visit in Jammu, Amar Mahal Palace is worth a visit. This palace was the last official residence of the Dogra Dynasty and was built by Raja Amar Singh, in the nineteenth century. Built on the lines of French architecture, the palace is a mesmerizing building, with the queen’s room still intact as it is, featuring a bedroom, tea area by the window, a massive balcony and a beautiful bathroom complete with a royal bathtub.
The view of the entire Jammu City and the River Tawi are astounding, especially during the sunset.
Gharana is a small village near R S Pura, close to the Indo- Pakistan Border. Located about 35 kilometers from the city, Gharana also houses a wetland area, which is home to a number of migratory birds species. Ghar-ana, literally meaning homecoming, sees numerous species of birds during the winter months migrate from colder regions to feed and breed here. Species like Indian Pond Heron, Northern Shoveler, Great Egret, Red-watted Lapwing and Grey Heron can be easily spotted here. This area is a heaven for birds and nature lover, especially during the early morning.
However, in the recent times the Gharana Wetland Reserve is under threat due to lack of conservation. The number of species is dwindling and the area is being rapidly captured by villagers for farming. On the other hand, farmers try their best to scare away the birds as they harm the crops. Lack of funds has apparently kept the government away from conservationist steps being taken. What once used to be a massive bird sanctuary, is now only left with a small pond for birds to come feed, lined with massive farms of mustard and other crops.
Twin Lakes- Mansar and Surinsar
The twin lakes of Mansar-Surinsar are a part of the Sunrinsar Mansar Wildlife Sanctuary. The larger of these, Mansar, is located about 60 kilometers from Jammu City. Mansar Lake has a temple dedicated to Lord Sheshnag, the god of serpents. Newlyweds find it auspicious to perform three circumambulations
of the lake to seek blessings of Lord Sheshnag. Apart from the religious beliefs, the lake is also a common family picnic spot and home to a lot of birds and fishes.
Surinsar Lake is nearer to Jammu City, and also smaller in size. Flanked by forest covered hills, it also holds mythological importance, and is home to different species living in the mangroves by the lake.
What is now a small town in the Kathua District of Jammu, once used to be a small independent state rich in culture and heritage. Basohli had magnificent palaces and it is also the birthplace of the seventeenth-century art, Basohli Paintings. These paintings are known to be the first school of the Pahari Paintings and have now evolved into the very popular Kangra Paintings. Basohli lies at the junction of Jammu, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. It can be reached via Jammu City (150 kilometres away), Pathankot in Punjab (60 kilometres away) or Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh (50 kilometres away).
If I were to be honest, I don’t really want to write about Basohli on the world wide web and let it be open for people to read about. Writing about it would mean letting in on people I do not know about this beautiful secret I just discovered. That would ultimately mean more people visiting this magical land and lesser opportunities for me to gloat about this ‘hidden’ side of Jammu. But then I have to remind myself to not be selfish and let other people enjoy the bounties of Mother Nature, too. Just promise me one thing, if you ever do visit Basohli, don’t leave your trash behind and don’t upset the locals and the animals. Let them be. Learn to live harmoniously. I am trusting you with this.
Atal Setu Bridge
Located at the banks of the Ravi River, Basohli is at the junction of Punjab, Jammu and Himachal Pradesh, connected by the Atal Setu Bridge. The Atal Setu is one of the four cable-stayed bridges of India and the first of its kind in North India. The Bridge is also home to a host of tourist activities like boating, which can take you to the Chamunda Devi Temple located on an island within the Ravi River. The view of the mountains from here is as beautiful as it gets, and the absolute tranquility of this temple makes it worth a visit.
Chanchlo Mata Temple
The Chamunda Devi island is also visible from the Chanchlo Devi Temple, one of the most popular temples in Basohli. Located about 3 kilometers from the main town, this temples is built atop a small hill and overlooks the mesmerizing Ravi River. The small temple of Chamunda Devi located on an island is also visible from this shrine. Mata Chanchlo is not only worshiped by the natives of Basohli, but by the people of Jammu, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh alike. Newlyweds especially visit this shrine to seek the blessings of the goddess, and a huge festival takes pace here during the Navratras.
The remnants of the Basohli Fort are tucked away right on the edge of the hill, behind the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. Since very less literature about Basohli exists, and even fewer people come to visit this place, the fort is now in ruins without any government intervention for its conservation. But the half standing buildings and unkempt grassy lawns have a charm of their own. With children running up and down the fort, engaged in a game of playing kites, and a bird’s eye view of the entire Basohli Town right in front of you, I found the fort to be worth the visit. With the Pir Panjals peaking in from one side and the emerald green waters of River Ravi glistening like a million diamonds under the sun, Basohli can become a tourist hot spot, given its pristine beauty!
Purthu Beach (Mini Goa)
The Ranjit Sagar Dam is one of the biggest hydro projects of India, and the biggest dam of Punjab. The construction of this dam has given birth to a massive fresh water lake known as the Ranjit Sagar Lake that goes well beyond Punjab, and through Basohli, where it flows into the Ravi River. The lake area in Basohli is called Purthu Beach, also rightfully known as Mini Goa. With lush green pastures as far as the eye can see, flanked by snow clad mountains, the pristine blue waters of the lake make it for the perfect camping spot.
I saw bakarwals grazing their sheep and local tourists napping on the grass, and a few Great Egrets sitting by the lake, and feel in love with the vibe of the place! This was one of the very few times where I felt at absolute peace, with no need to talk to communicate. Each of us went on to explore separate parts of the area, connected by the oneness we felt to nature at that moment.
Looking back, I wonder how these beautiful places remain obscured for so long. I can promise you this, if you ever find yourself at Purthu, you will forget all about Dal in a jiffy. With camping and dining facilities available at the beach, I am waiting to go back soon and spend a night here in this heaven.
Have you ever visited Jammu, or belong to this beautiful land? Let me know in the comments if I missed out on any other hidden beauties around the region and I’ll make sure to go visit them soon!
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A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.