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 incidents of love and bonhomie which I vividly recall. I am sharing these with my friends in Jammu!
The Journey and the Stay
The most interesting part of our days in Jammu was the journey from Srinagar by bus. There were many bus companies operating on the route and the most famous was the N.D.Radha Krishen and Co. They used to operate bus called the Mail. It was more comfortable and faster as it would carry mail. There were A-Class and B-Class buses. Normal bus journey would take two days with an overnight stop in one of the roadside halting stations. Usually it would be Ramban. Those days the route crossed the Pir Panjal range through the upper tunnel which was almost at 9,000 feet above mean sea level. Though the tunnel was shorter than the present Jawahar Tunnel but being on high altitude it would remain closed in winter. Those days there were no snow clearance machines. There were many stories about crossing Pir Panjal in winter which we would hear from our grannies. It was said that there was some strange spell on the top of the mountain which the foot walkers had to cross in winter. The people crossing on foot would get intoxicated and fall sleep in the severe winter cold and perish due to freezing. To avoid this problem the travellers would wear garlands of garlic to remain awake while crossing the pass! The journey by bus had many interesting sidelights. Firstly, those days we used to carry our beddings with us in those typical canvass holdalls. Then for clothes we used steel trunks. People still continue to use these. There were no Samsonites! For the journey one would carry food along in Tiffin. My mother would always carry a Samovar full of salt tea which we would share with the fellow passengers on the bus.
There were many Dhabas en route but we would prefer own food. Some of the Dhabas would prepare very tasty Parathas and Rajmash. Even the vegetables were good. However, the famous treat was at Peeda, the Rice and Rajmash. This continues to be popular with most of the drivers even now! There were two portions in the journey which were memorable. One was the Khuni Nallah where there is a tunnel now and the present alternative for it is the Panthal slide. The other was the Ramban Bridge. It was a suspension bridge and the buses had to cross it empty. The passengers had to cross it on foot. The last temporary halt was in Nandini across the short tunnel. There still exists a market famous for cheese pakoras on the Jammu side of the tunnel. The Nandini cottage cheese was very famous and continues to be so even now. Nagrota would be the last market one would pass before entering Jammu. As soon as the bus passed Nagrota, one would feel that the destination has been reached.
On arrival we would be met by my father’s colleagues and friends who would have been usually waiting for us from early evening. They would have brought with them our dinner of rice, chapattis, puris, cooked vegetables and a host of other things. For first couple of days there would be no cooking in our house. In fact, these Jammu friends would take care till we were comfortably settled. We would also bring for them gifts from Kashmir including Apples, Walnuts, Almonds, and Shawls etc. We would spend the winter in rented houses. Initially, before 1947, we stayed in a house in Julaka Mohalla. However, later on we stayed in different houses in various localities of Jammu. We have stayed in Ustad Mohalla, Pir Mitha, Dalpatian, Rajinder Bazar, and finally in Jiwan Shah Area. These were all private houses but subsequently we stayed in Government accommodation. The private accommodation was very rudimentary. There were no attached and sanitary fitted bath rooms those days. The toilets used to be on top of the houses. The government accommodation was more modern with a number of new facilities. These were independent houses with lawn and servant quarters etc. Jammu has progressed a lot since those early days. Now there are posh residences in many new housing colonies. However, the best of the times we have had were in the private houses of those good old days where we had locals of Jammu as our neighbours.
Jammu was a great break for us. It was a wonderful escape from the shivering and freezing cold of the valley. We would all be looking forward to our stay in Jammu and months long interaction with our friends here. One of the lovely past times was to sit in the sun on the kotha, the open terrace on top of a house. Other things included eating Jalaibis, Cholay Pathoray, Dahi Balle, and Ras Malai. Watching movies in Uttam and Hari Talkies especially the English shows on Sunday morning was another interesting activity I personally enjoyed. In brief, our sojourn in Jammu was a memorable time which we would be looking forward to every winter. The rustic memories of those good old days still linger on in spite of all the modernisation and tremendous technical advances. This lingering memory is the magnetic attraction which brings us here in spite of a host of choices of going abroad to stay with family members spread all over the world. My mother still prefers Jammu to Washington, London, and Dubai! It is a wonderful nostalgic feeling!