The quintessential winter capital of Jammu & Kashmir, from the eyes of a native…
The city of temples, no not Benaras, not Rishikesh, not even Bhubaneshwar or Madurai… but Jammu. I grew up watching hoardings in the city that portrayed Jammu as the ‘City of Temples’, but with time I realized there are many contenders for the title.
J&K is a state with Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh being the three important pillars. Jammu and Kashmir both serve as the administrative capitals of the state for 6 months each. Jammu, other than being the gateway to heaven on earth – Kashmir, is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains. While the winters here are freezing cold, it gets really hot in the summer. The official language of this state that is home to people from different ethnicities is Dogri. It would be interesting to note that the melody queen Lata Mangeshkar sang many a Dogri song, one of which equates the language and the people of Jammu as sweet and kind.
Until 1947, the state was under the rule of the Rajputs of the Dogra dynasty that left behind an air of royalty in the region; they were known for their élan. Many also relate the city to the revered Vaishno Devi shrine and the age-old Bagh-e-Bahu fort. But there is more to the city than one would find on Google.
The charm of this city dwells with its residents, like it is in most cases. If one does manage to escape the touts selling first copies of kashmiri pashminas and grade-two dry fruits at Raghunath bazaar, you would find the genuine shop keepers very helpful and honest. The narrow by-lanes of the old Jammu city are full of surprises. Most of the hole-in-the-wall eateries may leave you with an unmatched taste that the outer world is oblivious to. Sardarji’s kulcha shop in the third lane next to Raghunath Mandir will serve you an incredible fill of any type of a kulcha one can imagine, soya kulcha being the top favorite.
A revolving restaurant called Falak at the top floor of KC Plaza next to the famous Raghunath Bazar is a must go-to. By the time you are served with the main course you would be satiated with the breath taking views of the entire city and the Tawi River flowing below. The KC plaza lane is house to sumptuous eateries serving Punjabi, Jammu as well as Kashmiri delicacies and the bars such as Baron at KC plaza would leave you searching for a comparable hospitality anywhere else in the world.
Bollywood has had a huge impact on the life of an average Jammu teenager. Since the kids are blessed with good looks and talent comes in handy, you would come across many success stories in Bollywood as well as the booming saas-bahu series during prime time. I recently came across and inquisitive airport security officer, who was curious to know if actor Vidyut Jamwal is my cousin, blame it on the identical surname.
Maharaja Hari Singh – the last ruler of Jammu was a man of great taste. His gift to the society could not have been better than the Maharaja Hari Singh Niwas Palace which is now a heritage luxury resort in the city. The open air restaurant overlooking the Tawi River lets you gaze at the scenic hill range while you wine and dine. Luxury cannot be more reasonable at Jammu when you can own a part of this historical palace for a couple of nights without a dent on your pocket. Any trip to Jammu for me is incomplete without an evening spent at the museum palace with my college buddies.
For all the countryside fans, Jammu’s rustic charm shows up as soon as you move out of the by lanes of the old Jammu city and cross the bungalows at Gandhi Nagar, Trikuta Nagar, Chhanni Himmat, Sainik Colony and Greater Kailash.
Since Jammu also borders Pakistan at one side, our border villages house daredevil families who mostly appear on news channels as soon as there is an infiltration or shelling from across the border. Having grown up listening to the army shooting exercises as a routine affair, the noise does not intimidate the residents anymore. Jammu has diverse demographics yet there has never been a single religious mishap in the history of the city. In fact, everyone comes together and supports any cause of national importance.
Next time you are in Jammu, befriend a local and it is in our blood to be courteous and hospitable.