Much of Jammu region remains off the beaten path, and these are some of Jammu’s less-visited destinations. Jammu’s Tourist Reception Centre (Tel: 0191-2548172, 2544527; Website: jktourism.org) is a good resource for information and bookings, especially for trekking routes around Kishtwar.

Ramnagar, Nandini and Jasrota Wildlife Sanctuaries

On the outskirts of Jammu City, the Ramnagar Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses 31 sq km and supports nilgai, barking deer, wild boar, grey langur and rhesus monkeys, among others. It’s a great place for birding: species here include the Indian mynah, blue rock pigeon, peafowl, red jungle fowl, jungle crow, golden oriole and white-cheeked bulbul. The Nandini Wildlife Sanctuary, 28 km from Jammu, is spread over 34 sq km and gets its name from Nandini village nearby. Though hemmed in by highways on both sides, it is a haven for birds and is known for its pheasant population. The Jasrota Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over 10 sq km on the banks of the River Ujh near Jasrota, 63 km south-east of Jammu on NH1A. Jasrota was the capital city of the Jasrotia Rajputs. Their fortified palace still stands and now lies within the sanctuary. The Jasrota sanctuary supports a variety of birds and a handful of mammal species, most notably cheetal deer. The entire area is covered in thick stands of bamboo. The best season for mammal viewing is Sep-Mar, while for birding it is Mar-May. The Ramnagar Sanctuary has a 2-room hut for overnight stays, currently under renovation. All sanctuary visits require permits issued by the Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) or Regional Wildlife Warden, Jammu Region, Jammu (Tel: 0191-2544575, Website: jkwildlife.com).

IP-Black/ Indiapicture
Akhnoor Fort, where the first Dogra king Gulab Singh was crowned
Akhnoor Fort, where the first Dogra king Gulab Singh was crowned

Jhiri

This village is most famous for the weeklong Jhiri Mela that takes place in Oct- Nov each year, attended by thousands of pilgrims. They come to celebrate the sacrifice of Baba Jitoh, aka the farmer Jit Mal who killed himself in protest against the oppressive zamindari system some 500 years ago. Stalls spring up during the mela, and a wrestling (dangal) competition is a big attraction. People also take a dip in the Baba-da-Talab, 4 km from the Baba Jitoh Temple and said to have curative powers, on Karthik Purnima (November 6 in 2014). Nearby are the ancient temples of Sui and Burj, known for their metal idols and murals that show strong influences of Mughal, Pahari and Basohli art.

Location Just off Jammu-Akhnoor highway, 20 km from Jammu Getting There Taxi from Jammu charges  ₹1,000, return. The drive takes 45 mins

Purmandal

Popularly known as ‘Chhota Kashi,’ the temple town of Purmandal lies on the banks of the Devika River. The main temple here is dedicated to Lord Umapati (Lord Shiva). As you enter the temple, you’ll spot quite a few swayambhu Shivalings. The town comes alive for three days during the annual Purmandal Mela, held every year on Shivratri. Thousands come to celebrate the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.

Location Purmandal is 32 km southeast of Jammu Getting There Taxi from Jammu charges ₹1,300-1,600 return fare. The drive takes an hour 

Courtesy J&K Tourism
Bhaderwah Valley, aka Chhota Kashmir
Bhaderwah Valley, aka Chhota Kashmir

Akhnoor and Ambaran

Located on the banks of the River Chenab, Akhnoor is a picturesque town famous as being the place where the great Sikh warrior, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, coronated Raja Gulab Singh in 1822 as the first king of the Dogra dynasty, at Jiapota Ghat next to the fort. Built by Raja Alam Singh in the early 19th century, Akhnoor Fort also contains a two-storied palace at its southern end. Situated along the river, the fort commands expansive views. Most significantly, the fort is believed to have been built on the site of older settlements — remains found here have been dated back to the Indus Valley civilisation and the Kushan period. Nearby, along the river bank is the Pracheen Pandav Gufa, believed to have been discovered by the Pandavas during their exile. It houses a Shivaling and statues of other deities. Close to the cave temple are a Parshuram Temple and a gurudwara.

Location Akhnoor is 32 km north-west of Jammu Getting There Get onto the Canal Road, which leads onto the Jammu-Poonch Road (also known as Akhnoor Road), to reach Akhnoor. Alternatively, take Bantalab Road from Jammu to Akhnoor. Taxi from Jammu charges  ₹ 1,300-1,600 return fare. The drive takes an hour

About 2 km from Akhnoor, Ambaran is an ancient Buddhist site beside the Chenab. Excavations here have revealed a wealth of antiquities dating from the 2nd century BCE to the 7th century CE, when the site was abandoned probably due to flash flooding. A stupa and monastery walls of burnt brick masonry from the 1st-3rd centuries have been uncovered here, as well as a large complex, possibly a monastery, from the 6th-7th centuries. Pottery finds include bowls, jars, vases and stamps. Other antiquities include decorative terracotta figurines, semi-precious stone beads, copper objects and Kushan-era coins. Also significant is the platform of a spoked-wheel brick stupa that has a 4-m radius, similar to the stupa at Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh.

Timings Sunrise to sunset Contact Conservation Assistant, ASI, Akhnoor Fort or Superintending Archaeologist, ASI Jammu Tel 0191-2434354/ 26

Courtesy J&K Tourism
Beautiful Salal Dam, a favourite excursion for Jammu’s residents
Beautiful Salal Dam, a favourite excursion for Jammu’s residents

Dera Baba Banda

This historic gurudwara houses the samadhi of Baba Banda Bahadur, a prominent disciple of Guru Gobind Singh who gave up his life resisting the Mughals’ attempts at forcible religious conversion. An arrow gifted by Guru Gobind Singh and a huge sword are some of the artefacts kept here. The gurudwara is also the site of a three-day annual mela organised on the eve of Baisakhi.

Location Dera Baba Banda is 75 km north of Jammu Getting There Drive along NH1A till Domel, via Nagrota and take NH1C towards Katra. Keep on going along NH1C past Reasi and take the bridge across the Chenab. Turn right on Talwara Road and the gurudwara will be on your right, along the river. Taxi from Jammu charges ₹2,800-3,300, return. The drive takes 2½ hrs

Salal Dam

From Katra, take the Reasi Station Road and then the Chenab Bridge Road past Talwara to reach Salal Dam, India’s first dam built on a rock pedestal. The 33-km long lake formed behind the dam is a popular excursion for tourists. A visit to the dam can also be arranged with prior permission from the project authorities.

Location Salal Dam is 110 km north of Jammu, about 30 km ahead of Dera Baba Banda Getting There Taxi from Jammu charges ₹3,500-4,200, return fare. The drive takes 3 hrs.

Migrant graziers of Kashmir with their cattle
Migrant graziers of Kashmir with their cattle

Bhaderwah Valley

Popularly known as Chhota Kashmir, Bhaderwah is a bowl-shaped valley that abuts Himachal Pradesh. The valley is an area of immense beauty, with deodar forests and meadows carpeted in flowers in summer. It encompasses Kailash Peak, said to be the abode of Vasuki Nag Devta. At 13,067 ft, the icy Kailash Kund lake is the source of the River Neeru, which drains the valley. An annual pilgrimage to Kailash Kund takes place in August. Named after a local deity, Bhaderkali, Bhaderwah town is the base camp for the yatra. There’s plenty to see and do from here — the Subernaag, Vasuki Naag and Gupt Ganga temples, Bhaderwah Fort, horse riding to the high-altitude meadows at Seoj, camping at Guldanda or by the Hanga River, treks in Padri or to Sonbain Glacier. The valley is also gaining popularity as an adventure tourism destination, especially for paragliding and skiing. Khani Top and Thuba are ideal for paragliding, offering clear descents into the valley. Other scenic spots include Chinta and Jai valleys, with their thick coniferous forests, and the deodar-clad Khellani Plateau.

Location Bhaderwah is 210 km north-east of Jammu Getting There Head north on NH1A to Batote via Nagrota, Domel, Jhajjar Kotli, Udhampur and Patnitop. From Batote, turn right on to NH1B, towards Doda. As you approach Doda, keep an eye out and don’t head towards the bridge across the Chenab; instead take the right on to Bhaderwah Road on to Bhaderwah. Taxi from Jammu charges  ₹ 4,500-5,000 for a drop and  ₹ 6,200-7,000 return fare for a 2-day trip. The drive takes 6 hrs

Kishtwar

Kishtwar District is a mountain climbers’ paradise, with several renowned peaks including Brahma I and II. The climbing season is from early June to mid October. All foreign expeditions have to pay a fee and obtain permission through the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (Delhi Tel: 011-24111211; Website: indmount.org). Kishtwar Town and nearby Athuli are start points for several trekking routes through the Pir Panjal and Greater Himalayas. One challenging route leads all the way to Padum in Zanskar, passing through Machail village at 10,000 ft, the end point of the annual Machail Yatra to the Chandi Mata Shrine. A 31 km trek leads from Athuli to Machail with night halts at Massu and Chishoti. Kishtwar town also has a Pracheen Mandir dedicated to Durga, known here as Mata Astha Dash Bhuja (the 10-armed goddess).

Location Kishtwar is 227 km north-east of Jammu Getting There Taxi from Jammu charges ₹ 4,000 for a drop. The drive takes 7-8 hrs

Bakarwal Migration

The Bakarwals, or the migrant graziers of Kashmir, move every summer with their cattle from Jammu towards the meadows of Kashmir. Of the different routes they follow, one goes parallel to the Jammu-Srinagar highway in parts, but the most beautiful is the Lower Munda-Kulgam-Shopian-Sedav-Aharbal-Kongwattan-Konsemarg route. The route passes through the town of Shopian (famous for its Jama Masjid), once an important stopover on the Mughal Road across the Pir Panjal. Beyond Shopian it passes through beautiful sub-alpine pastures where the Bakarwals stay in caves and mud-huts (baihks). The route then takes them past Aharbal, known for its beautiful waterfalls, and finally on to the pastures at Konsemarg. The entire journey is about 130 km long and can take up to a month.

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