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 and some recent memories of Jammu with my friends!
Temples and Shrines of Jammu
Jammu has always been known as the City of Temples. There is a temple almost after every hundred meters or so. In my childhood I did not have much opportunity of visiting many temples and shrines. I only had the occasion of visiting some temples purely out of curiosity to see what is inside. Most extensive and elaborate system of temples is inside Raghunath Mandir complex. However, during my tenure as the Head of the State Tourism Department I had the opportunity of visiting many temples and shrines for development of Pilgrim Tourism throughout the state. Jammu also has a number of Muslim shrines which are revered by all irrespective of their religion. These too were an object of curiosity for me and I used to visit these in my school days with my parents and other relatives who would be visiting us during winter. There are two shrines which I remember from my childhood. One is the Peer Roshan Wali at Gumutt and the other is the Baba Jeevan Shah. The shrine of Peer Raoshan Wali has a 9 yard long grave. I was always surprised to see such a long tomb and we used to be told that the Peer was a very tall person. We used to pass by the shrine many times while walking down towards the canal side. There were stone steps which have now virtually disappeared due to congestion of shops.
The steps are still there but these are not visible from a distance as in the old times. Walking up these steps towards the shrine was an experience! Similarly, the shrine of Baba Jeevan Shah used to be visited by me often even with my school friends as it was in the vicinity of our Jammu residence. The shrine which I did not have the opportunity of visiting but have been watching regularly from the air is the Pir Baba. The shrine of Pir Budhan Shah Sahib has an interesting history. It is probably the only shrine situated in the middle of an airport. It is said that while constructing the runway of the Jammu airport the authorities tried to demolish the shrine as it was an obstruction to flying. However, even before it could be removed, there were a number of air crashes. This forced the authorities to leave the shrine as it is in the middle of the airport. Only the route has recently been made more circuitous and takes longer to reach the shrine. It is revered by followers of all religions and sometimes one sees more non-Muslims than Muslims paying their respects at the shrine. After all the spiritual people have no particular religion and are basically humanists!
There are two other shrines which I have visited quite often in recent years. First is the shrine of Baba Ghulam Shah in Shadara Sharief, Rajouri and the other is the shrine of Sain Ganji Padshah on the road to Darhal. The shrine at Shadara Sharief is very popular and is visited by thousands of devotees from within the state and outside. There is now a full fledged university in the name of the saint in Rajouri. Incidentally, the University was started in the tourist complex which had been built during my tenure as Director General Tourism, J & K! The other shrine though not very well known has a spiritual aura. It is situated above the Rajouri-Darhal road. The other side of the road has a very deep ravine. The care taker of the shrine Sain Rashid related to us about a miraculous escape he had sometime back. He had been coming in a car when it slipped and slid towards the ravine. However, miraculously it just stopped near the edge and he was saved. There are some other smaller shrines I have visited in Poonch especially in Mandi-Loran area. I remember two things very distinctly about my visit to shrines in Rajouri and Poonch. These bring a wave of nostalgia. One is the sweetest curds I have had anywhere in the whole J & K which the care taker of the Sain Ganji Padshah shrine offered us. The other is the sweetest corn of Loran.
I have yet to eat sweeter corn than this in spite of my extensive travels in entire J & K. I still get the corn flour from Loran for making sattu and rotis! Two more shrines I have visited a couple of decades back in Jammu are the shrines of Asrar Sahib and Baba Fareed in Kishtwar. In fact, there are numerous other shrines in different parts of Jammu both of Muslim and Hindu origin but revered by all. The first shrine I visited after taking over as Director Tourism was the famous Vaishnov Devi cave shrine. Mr.Ajay Khajuria who used to be a colleague in the tourism department was those days the deputy chief executive officer. He invited me to pay a visit there. We entered the cave through the original traditional opening. One has to virtually crawl to reach inside. It was an experience. These days they made a number of tunnels for entry and exit. I had a similar experience in visiting Shivkhori shrine. It appeared to me more impressive. In early nineties when I visited the shrine there was no light inside. We had to wriggle in the dark up and down to reach a big hall like space. The walls had a soapy touch and appeared wet. Inside the large opening there is a natural Shivling with the udders of a cow on the ceiling from which milky water drips on to Shivling. On the walls there are rock formations resembling “Nags”.
Once outside I found my clothes were absolutely dry in spite of the feeling of wetness while crossing the walls. A geologist friend subsequently told me that it may be soap stone which gives a feel of wetness but is not actually wet! Among the temples, the most impressive has been the Shiva Temple in Purmandal. It is almost two thousand years old and belongs to the time of the Kashmiri King Avantivarman. The interesting part of the temple is a Shivling in a bowl shaped opening in the centre filled with water which never fills up. Everyone pours tumblers of water into the opening but it remains at a constant level without overflowing. There is a subterranean river outside. Just a foot or so below the sand is water. Same is the case in Utter Behani where one can find water just a foot below the ground level. This river flows north in contrast to all other rivers which flow south. Among the ancient temples those at Kirmchi are in perfect shape. However, the approach to these temples is not there. We had tried to convince the local Gurjar nomads to sell us some of their land to allow us to make a straight approach but they did not agree.
I do not know the present status? Other interesting pilgrim spots I have visited in Jammu are the Nangali Sahib Gurdwara in Poonch and Dera Baba Banda in Reasi; Baba Dansar spring and Ma Deva Mai in Katra; Sukhrala Devi Temple in Billawar; Sudh Mahadev and Naina Devi in Mantali area. Location wise Dera Baba Banda has a beautiful setting on the banks of River Chenab. We had also started some rafting trips from here to Akhnoor. My visit to all these holy places convinces me that Jammu has excellent potential for a week long Pilgrim Tour. May be sometime in future the state tourism department works out such a package. In the meantime, I nostalgically recall my visit to these centres of spiritualism and reminisce about these often!