John Steinbeck once said “what good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness”. The idea is true to a certain extent. Winter sure does wonders to a writer’s soul. But as someone who’s spent a fair share of time dealing with the national capital’s bitter temperature, in addition to tackling eye- burning smog every year, I unfortunately have a love-hate relationship with the season.
A week before Christmas I found myself en route to Jammu. It didn’t matter that the place I was heading to was colder than Delhi, covered in a blanket of snow and had recently experienced massive landslides.
The destination was about 100 kilometres from Jammu airport. I was headed to what many call ‘poor man’s Gulmarg’—Patnitop, a small hilltop town in the Udhampur district of Jammu. Set atop a charming plateau in the Shivalik belt, it rests at an altitude of 2,024 metres. As per folklore, Patnitop is a distortion of ‘Patan Da Talab’, which loosely translates to ‘Pond of the Princess’.
Legend goes that a pond once existed in the lush meadows of the region, and the princess of the ruling kingdom back then bathed in it. Until recently, this hilltop beauty was devoid of commercialisation, but Skyview Patnitop by Empyrean is set to change all that. A subsidiary of FIL Industries Limited, Empyrean is focussed on the development of mountain tourism, adventure activities and public infrastructure. Touted as the largest tourism project in Jammu and Kashmir, Skyview Patnitop is credited with setting up India’s highest ropeway. It’s a two-hour drive from Jammu, passing through four spectacular tunnels, and is just three kilometres away from the Chenani Nashri tunnel.
The new ropeway connects Sanget, the lower terminal of the project, to Patnitop on the upper terminal. The largest Indo-French collaboration in terms of mountain infrastructure development, it spans over 849 metres between eight towers, with 65 metres of ground clearance. The ropeway aims to transform the region into a world-class adventure destination. Additionally, it covers a distance of almost three kilometres from the lower to the upper terminal in just 10 minutes. Imported entirely from France, the facility has 18 cable cars or ‘gondolas’, each with a capacity to carry eight people. It can transport 6,400 passengers in eight operating hours.
But my journey to the site was quite out of the ordinary. Massive landslides and incessant snowfall had blocked most of the roads to Patnitop, and the ones accessible were packed with vehicles. After enduring hours of motion sickness and making our way through the narrow winding roads, the hot cup of kahwa that awaited us seemed god-sent.
Once fed to my heart’s content, the only thing I was looking forward to was losing my ‘snow virginity’. Living in Delhi all my life with short stints in Kolkata and Chennai, I could barely contain my excitement. As we drifted through the snow covered pine forests, the white landscape left us comfortably numb. I was chilled to the bone and could feel the temperature dropping by the minute.
But as the crisp air hit my face and the deodar trees enveloped in white pearls came into sight, it filled me with a sense of tranquility.
Though the upper terminal had its own charm, the lower terminal at Sanget was no less exciting. Playing host to a number of adventure activities, it features Asia’s longest zig-zag zipline, measuring 580 metres, an all-season tubing sledge of 238 metres, and India’s first ‘magic carpet’.
I wasn’t as good a debutante as Princess Jasmine and took an unceremonious fall here. Operated with international safety standards, the activities offer a unique perspective of the majestic Patnitop hills.
I, for one, have never been much of a ‘thrill-seeker’, but giving ziplining a shot did sound appealing. Starting at 1,371 metres above sea level, it includes nine wires and 10 poles, and provides a riveting rush of adrenaline. The tubing sledge on the other hand was a much tamer affair, much like the magic carpet.
The new hospitality project seems to have struck a jackpot, especially in terms of culinary offerings. The themed food carts offer continental, Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines, thereby catering
to a vast clientele . With the Skyview Café fully operational, and three others in the pipeline (Banana Leaf, The Wok and Pineview ), Patnitop is on the verge of becoming Jammu’s latest tourist destination, replete with thrill, culture and wholesome food.
Domestic carriers like Indigo, Spicejet, Vistara, and Air India have direct flights from NewDelhi and other major cities to Jammu. Patnitop is a two-hour drive from Jammu. A one-way journey on the ropeway at Skyview Patnitop costs Rs 849, while a roundtrip will set you back by Rs 999 (excluding taxes). The zipline experience is priced at Rs 749 (excluding taxes). See skyviewpatnitop.com for more.