Home to architectural wonders, splendid forts and diverse flora and fauna, the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir has enormous tourism potential, much of which remains untapped. Within Jammu, Katra district is famous for the Vaishno Devi shrine, which attracts millions of devotees every year. However, there is much more to explore in Jammu.
Palaces and forts
Amar Mahal, the 19th century palace situated on the national highway towards Srinagar, is an architectural wonder. Overlooking the Tawi river, this red sandstone marvel was the residential palace of the Dogra king Raja Amar Singh and has now been converted into a museum. The museum houses the king’s golden throne, made of 120 kilograms of gold. It has a gallery of paintings and a library with about 25,000 books on various subjects.
Mubarak Mandi complex, which was the royal residence of Dogras, has a history of more than 150 years. A blend of baroque, Mughal, Rajasthani and European styles, its most distinctive sections are the Sheesh Mahal, the Rani Charak Mahal, the old Army Headquarter, the Foreign Office and the Grey Hall where the Maharaja used to hold his darbar. The complex also houses the famous Dogra Art Gallery, situated in the erstwhile Pink Hall. The museum is a treasure trove of miniature paintings from the traditional Pahari school of art. The collection in the museum includes hundreds of rare pictures, a golden bow and arrow of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and Persian manuscripts of the Shahnama and the Sikandernama .
The Bahu Fort in Jammu, believed to have been first built by Raja Bahu Lochan centuries ago, was refurbished by the Dogra rulers in the 19th century. Inside the fort is a temple dedicated to Kali and near the fort is the terraced Bagh-e-Bahu Garden, laid in the style of Mughal gardens, which offers a panoramic view of Jammu city. The construction of the Akhnoor Fort was probably started in 1762 at the behest of Raja Tegh Singh. His son Alam Singh completed it in 1802. On the eastern side of the fort, there are steps that lead down to the Chenab river. Traces of paintings can be found on the walls of the rooms.
Bhaderwah is a valley of bewitching natural beauty. Situated 205 kilometres from Jammu, it has a history dating back millennia. It offers a charming mix of scenic spots, colourful fairs and festivals and a unique cultural experience.
Sonbain glacier on Ashapati mountain, which remains snow-covered even in summer, is fast becoming a must-visit spot on the itinerary of trekkers. On the eastern side of Bhaderwah city are the meadows of Padri at an elevation of more than 10,500 feet (3,200 metres). The meadows are popular for mountain biking, paragliding, trekking and camping.
Sonbain and Padri are being promoted as perennial skiing destinations for domestic and foreign tourists. Besides, Bhaderwah offers several options for trekkers, mountaineers, campers and explorers.
Gatha Lake, situated in the lap of Bhaderwah, offers a majestic view of the Kailash peaks. The temperature here is pleasant throughout the year. Jai Valley, an eco-health resort, lies about 32 km from Bhaderwah.
Bhimgarh Fort, situated in Reasi town, is associated with General Zorawar Singh, a warrior who conquered and annexed Ladakh and Baltistan with the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir in 1834-42. The fort was initially constructed with clay. One of the heirs of Maharaja Rishipal Rana, the founder of Reasi, later reconstructed it using stone.
Aghar Jitto, located 6 km from Katra, is named after Baba Jitto, a legendary farmer who laid his life fighting oppression by landlords. A temple dedicated to him houses a huge statue of Jitto and his daughter Bua Gori. Every June, a three-day mela is held here.
Baba Dhansar, a naturally formed shivling perennially bathing in the water falling upon it from a spring, is another spot popular among pilgrims. It is located 11 km from Katra, the base camp of the Vaishno Devi shrine. Similarly, Dera Baba Banda Bahadur is a holy shrine situated on the banks of the Chenab, about 28 km from Katra. A saffron flag post (Nishan Sahib), about 50 feet high, hoisted by Baba Banda Bahadur, bears testimony to the bravery of this saint-warrior.
Sihard Baba is another shrine situated on the banks of the Chenab and is around 10 kilometres from Reasi town. Sihard Baba is known for its natural waterfall cascading from a height of around 400 ft. It is also known for the integrated farming system.
Shiv Khori, some 78 km from Katra, a 100-metre-long cave in the shape of Siva’s dumroo , houses a four-foot-tall “swayambhulingam” (naturally formed lingam). A three-day festival is held here on the eve of Mahashivaratri during which thousands of pilgrims from all over the country visit the shrine.
Akhnoor town is famous for the folklore associated with Sohni and Mahiwal. The Akhnoor fort is on an ancient site, locally known as Manda. Archaeological excavation here led to the discovery of pottery dating back to the Harappan civilisation.
Mansar and Surinsar Lakes
The twin lakes of Mansar and Surinsar, which are a couple of hours from Jammu, are excellent getaways from the city. Situated in the lower Shivaliks, they are popular and have religious significance. Legend has it that Arjuna, a Pandava prince in the Mahabharata, shot an arrow into the ground at Mansar, which pierced the earth and came out through a spot in Surinsar. The two lakes are together known as Dwigrit (two pits). It is also believed that there is an underground link between the two lakes.
Mansar is situated 64 km from Jammu, off the Jammu-Pathankot highway. The scenic lake surrounded by pine forests has crystal clear water and is popular for boating. The lake is home to a large number of turtles. Besides being a popular holiday spot in Jammu, it is a holy site. Several temples dot the shores of the lake. On the eastern shore is a shrine dedicated to Sheshnaag, considerded the king of serpents in Hindu mythology. This shrine is popular among newly-wed couples who consider it auspicious to perform three circumambulations around the lake to seek the blessings of Sheshnaag.
Two ancient temples dedicated to Mahadeva and Narasimha and a temple dedicated to Durga situated in the lake's vicinity also attract a large number of devotees. People take a dip in the lake’s waters on festive occasions and members of some communities perform the “mundan” ceremony, or first haircut, of their male children, on its banks.
Boating facilities are available at Mansar lake, which is growing in popularity. The lake has a cemented path all around it, is well lit and has view decks for people to observe seasonal birds, tortoises and fishes of different species. There is a wildlife sanctuary nearby. It is home to spotted deer, nilgai and waterbirds such as cranes and ducks.
Surinsar lake, which is about 9 km from Mansar, is bordered by hills and dense forests. It is a smaller lake but as picturesque as Mansar lake with an island situated in the middle. Owing to religious taboos, swimming or boating in the lake are not permitted. It is a wetland and has a bird sanctuary. Waterbirds of several species make this lake a birdwatcher’s paradise. In summer, the lake’s surface is covered with innumerable lotuses. The Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department provides excellent accommodation units with all facilities near the lake.
Patnitop is one of the most popular hilltop tourist destinations in Jammu. Located in Udhampur district, 112 km from Jammu, it is perched in the Shivalik belt of the Himalaya at an altitude of 6,640 feet, close to the Chenab. The peak season is during the winter in the January-February period, when the meadows become ideal for skiing.
Jammu Tawi Golf Course is one of the landmark tourist spots of Jammu. Located in Sidhra on the outskirts of the city, the project was developed at a total cost of Rs.60 crore.
The golf course was commissioned and developed with the intention of boosting tourism and attracting high-spending tourists to Jammu, apart from grooming youngsters to become professional golfers. This 18-hole golf course with fairways of 275 m has two big and three small waterbodies. It has underground sprinkle irrigation system and comfort stations/rain shelters. It has a full-fledged maintenance complex, a club house and about 6,500 m of pathway. The entire course is spread over 81 hectares.
Balidan Stambh, a memorial pillar built to honour the State’s soldiers who served the nation, was conceived by the Indian Army as a unique war memorial at Bahu Wali Rakh near the Bahu Fort.
Gharana wetland, a paradise of migratory birds, is another spot with tremendous tourim potential. Tens of thousands of migratory birds from Siberia nest here between November and April every year, making it the perfect place for birdwatching and ornithology. The wetland is close to the India-Pakistan border and has been notified as a protected water body and declared an important bird area.