For most tourists, a trip to the mountain state of Jammu-Kashmir is incomplete without a visit to Srinagar and Gulmarg. But what about Jammu? For most it is the base for getting to Vaishno Devi. So what can this step-child do to get some attention? Well, Jammu Tourism sure has the right ideas. Here’s what they’ve set on the table to catch your eye.
Scaling new heights: Jammu tourism has launched a state of the art aero sport facility in Jammu. The lofty heights and the crisp mountain air make it the perfect place for para-sailing, hot-air ballooning and hand gliding under the careful guidance of professional instructors.
Avoiding the Srinagar crowds: If you think boating on Dal Lake is a serene experience, think again. With the chattering crowds, clamoring vendors and pollution levels of the lake, you are better off turning to one of Jammu’s lakes like Mansar, where but for a few self absorbed honeymooners, there are no throngs of tourists.
Like wise with the bazaars: Unlike the tourist traps in Srinagar, where you will find everything from dancing Natarajas from Tamil Nadu, to the ubiquitous wooden carvings of Rajasthan, in Jammu, the markets still have a very regional flavor. Vir Marg, Raghunath Bazaar and Hari market not only have the famous Kashmiri handicrafts and Dogra jewelry, you will also find locals stocking up on walnuts and apricots. And lest you think this town too provincial, rubbing shoulders with the almond and saffron sellers are designer boutiques selling the latest trends to up-market Kashmiris who winter in Jammu.
Finding religion: There is something about the mountains that turns even the philistines amongst us to introspection. Jammu, rightly named Town of Temples, is the perfect place for spirituality. Not only the starting point for the trek to Vaishno Devi, the patron goddess of Jammu, but also for its many temples and dargahs. The Raghunath Mandir complex, the largest in north India, the Ranbireshwar temple with its 12 crystal Shiva Lingams, the Mahamaya temple and many more make the town a pilgrim magnet. And if Vaishno Devi protects the city against even WWII pilots, then the Dargah of Peer Budhan Ali Shah protects the people of this city from mishaps and evil spirits.
All this and heaven too: Indeed, all the attractions of Kashmir exist here too. Glorious summer time trekking, winter skiing, alpine streams and ancient forts, Jammu is slowly stepping out from Srinagar’s shadow.
Will Jammu ever break free of being second best? Can it compete with the overblown charms of Srinagar or will it always be the ‘other’ city?