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8th August '2009
Jammu Nostalgia-XII

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 memories of my early days and recent times which I vividly recall and cherish. I am sharing these with my friends in Jammu!

Memorable Journeys in Jammu-III

A memorable journey which I must have undertaken dozens of times is to the twin lakes of Mansar and Surinsar. Jammu has many lakes both at low altitude and at high altitude. The high altitude lakes are in Pir Panjal range near Poonch/Rajouri. These have been extensively explored by Mr. Sudhir Bloeria, the former Chief Secretary who had also prepared some videos about these. The twin lakes of Mansar and Surinsar are the nearest ones to Jammu city and are easily accessible. There was one more lake accessible by road which we tried to develop as a tourist spot. That is the lake of Salal dam but the work remained incomplete. These days two more lakes have been added. One is the Ranjit Sagar Lake near Basholi and the other is the upcoming lake of Baglihar dam. Mansar had been quite well known and its first development had been started from the time of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. He had ordered the building of a walkway round the lake and a number of viewing decks. The lake is much more developed now and is a popular picnic spot. The normal approach to Mansar has been along the National Highway up to a point short of Samba wherefrom a left side road takes off. In early nineties when I went first time to Mansar as the then Director Tourism, the road was in a bad shape. There were plenty of ditches and pot holes. From the take off point of National Highway one would get a bumpy ride to Mansar. The road goes almost flat till the start of a geological fault and after that it winds uphill through solid rock. Further on it traverses the mountainside overlooking a beautiful valley and reaches Mansar. Near the fault it is quite sandy in some spots. The road between Mansar and Surinsar used to be a rough fair weather stretch of about 15 kilometres. Mansar has another connection with the Dhar-Udhampur road. Subsequently, the road from National Highway to Mansar was very much improved and black topped thanks to Border Roads Organisation (at their cost). The whole project materialised due to the efforts of General Saklani the then Advisor to Governor handling the Tourism portfolio. In fact, the whole thing materialised in one of the fastest moves of administration I have ever seen. General Saklani took me along to the headquarter of Border Roads Organisation in New Delhi. He convinced the Director General that the road from the National Highway take off point to Jammu via Mansar and Surinsar was of Defence importance and it should be taken over by them. The requisite orders transferring the entire stretch were taken in a matter of days and the BRO started work on it immediately. The portion up to Mansar was completed in a couple of months and we had excellent approach to the Lake. However, the other portion between Mansar and Surinsar and thence to Jammu got shelved after the departure of the General. That portion was subsequently handed back to the State Public Works Department and is still being worked upon. They have however, improved the approach from Jammu to Surinsar and the same is being widened at present. The round trip from Jammu to Mansar and Surinsar is an excellent day’s excursion. Mansar is an ideal spot for holding various camps such as an artist camp, a music festival, and so on. A number of these events were held there. In early nineties Mansar Mela was also started which was very colourful with the participation of local Gurjar population. However, the Mela was subsequently shifted to Jammu. The Lake is ideally suited for flat water kayaking and rowing. Some years back the National Kayaking Championship was held here and it was a great success but it has not been repeated so far. In fact, it could be a permanent venue for such a meet during winter or early spring. In spite of cold and bleak weather in Jammu, both Mansar and Surinsar have clear sunshine and a very pleasant atmosphere. A couple of years back when Jammu was shivering in January; I visited Surinsar with some friends to spend the day. It had excellent sunshine and we enjoyed our daylong sojourn. The Tourist Bungalow at Surinsar has been renovated and in fact, a conference facility has been developed there. However, there is still confusion about its management. Normally, one would have expected such facilities being out sourced to reputed chains but in our case the government against Margaret Thatcher’s valuable advice(Government has no business to be in business!) wants to be in business itself. The greatest handicap in developing these tourist resorts apart from good access roads is the absence of a regular luxury bus service for tourists. Unless we provide reasonably priced comfortable buses to day tourists from Jammu, it is very difficult to put these spots on a regular tourist itinerary.

I have excellent memories of my umpteen trips to these twin lakes. In fact, I had come to remember every turn in the road. Just short of Mansar lake there is a valley down on the left of the road. It gives a fantastic view of lush green fields with nomadic huts (Gurjar Kothas). Similarly, on the road from Surinsar to Jammu just ahead of the lake, there is a dramatic aerial view of the valley below and the distant mountains. From any point on the roadside it appears as the bird’s eye view of the fields, houses, railway track and so on. If this road is fully developed, the two lakes would be the best tourist spots hardly an hour’s drive from Jammu. Then there would be no need to go along the Jammu-Pathankot national highway. Both lakes have some religious significance and there are also certain myths associated with these. The other lake which I visited once only on the invitation of Fisheries Department is the Salal dam reservoir. The Fisheries people had built a hut on its banks. This too is a good picnic spot but it could not be developed because of security reasons. Ranjit Sagar is a huge body of water and its banks are being developed for various tourist facilities. However, among all these lakes, the twin lakes of Mansar and Surinsar are really enjoyable being easily accessible. One hopes with a number of Tourism Development Authorities constituted for accelerated development of tourist spots, these lakes would one day become a very sought after destination. Anyhow, I will continue to cherish my memory of trips to these lakes!

(To be continued….)

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