Situated at the very top of a densely wooded hill above the Chenab River gorge, Patnitop has
Situated at the very top of a densely wooded hill above the Chenab River gorge, Patnitop haslong been Jammu’s most famous hill station. At 6,640 ft, it is the highest point along the Jammu-Srinagar highway and one of the few places in low-lying Jammu that receives snowfall in winter. Cool and bracing even at the height of summer, it is besieged by day-trippers hurrying through the Jammu-Katra-Patnitop circuit, only to depart at sunset. To do so, however, is to overlook its charms, for just a few hundred yards away from Patnitop’s touristy hotel strip are stunning views of the Pir Panjal range, quiet grassy meadows and hillsides of deodar and kail. And if you choose your hotel carefully, you’ll barely hear the trucks and cars on the highway.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
A sharp incline brings you to Patnitop’s highest point, where the grand Hotel Green Top is built on a hill. This is the start of Padora Enclave, lined with hotels, dhabas and shops. Around the next bend is a quiet stretch, dotted with the tents of Gujjar nomads, their horses and cows grazing on the upper slopes. JKTDC’s Alpine Hotel lies in a nook at the far end of the hill station, where a rousing signboard says “Welcome to Patnitop, an eco-friendly destination”. I spy a few dustbins and some more signs urging visitors not to litter, and banning the use of plastic bags.
The highway winds through Patni top, where a row of shops sells chips, cold drinks and wooden souvenirs, whittled locally from cedar and pine. A gully leads down to the 600-year old Nag Temple, heavily visited by devotees of Lord Shiva. The temple witnesses a massive rush on the occasion of Nag Panchami, the fifth day of the waxing moon in the month of Shravan (mid July-mid August). The temple is fronted by shops selling Kashmiri shawls and woollen salwar-kameez cut pieces at bargain rates. A word of caution: do open and inspect all packed items before purchasing and do not agree to having any items shipped home. Barely 2 km outside Patnitop is the entrance to the Chinar Garden (vehicle entry fee: ₹25-50) and another route to the Nag Temple.
Once home to a ski school for beginners, changing weather patterns have reduced Patnitop’s winter snowfall from 5-6 feet 10 years ago to barely 2 feet today. JKTDC’s Alpine Hotel’s assistant manager fondly recalls a time when he was forced to receive guests through the hotel window because the front door was jammed shut with piles and piles of snow! Although annual snowfall is no longer deep enough for skis, happily, it is still perfect for sledges, snowmen, snow angels and snowball fights.
In summer, you can swing and slide in the Children’s Park or steal rides off the little hill ponies. But with its absence of specific ‘sights’, Patnitop’s 5-km expanse is truly made for walking. So head out with a book and a pocketful of sandwiches, while the wind soughs through fragrant pines.
From the Main Chowk and Bus Stand at Patnitop, the Sanasar road snakes north-west up towards Natha Top, a high ridge offering scenic views of the Kishtwar and Shivalik ranges. Patnitop’s swathe of tall conifers is clearly visible on the opposite ridgeline. Nine km down the road, a short distance ahead of the Air Force Unit to your right, watch out for the Natha Top Road leading left off the Sanasar Road. Natha Top is 4 km down this road.
Continue straight along the Sanasar Road for 6 km to reach the grassy Sanasar Meadow, fringed by towering conifers, and now a 9-hole golf course. The road continues another 3 km to Sanasar Lake, where the JKTDC and a handful of other hotels are clustered. Sanasar is a beautiful mountain spot that is even quieter than Patnitop. Somewhat inevitably, Sanasar has been given the sobriquet, ‘mini Gulmarg’. It was Patnitop’s main skiing site and now hosts the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering & Winter Sports’ summer training camps for children (Tel: 01936-243129; Website: jawaharinstitutepahalgam.com).
Kud village on the outskirts of Patnitop, 8 km back down the highway towards Jammu, is famous for its kalakand and patisa. Slightly incongruent with the stacks of sweets are the CRPF patrolmen who stand guard on mithai shop roofs.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
There are two peak tourist seasons when you must book your Patnitop hotel in advance: during the summer school holidays and again over Christmas and New Year. During these periods, getting a discount is next to impossible. The rest of the year, however, hotels offer a 30 per cent discount on their printed tariff (JKTDC offers 40 per cent). Most hotels provide some form of internet connectivity (though perhaps not wi-fi). Even Alpine Hotel offers guests a computer with a fast connection free of charge.
JKTDC’s Alpine Hotel (Tel: 01992-287550; Tariff: ₹1,500-2,000) has 20 well-appointed rooms. It is best to book online and in advance, as JKTDC’s resorts are great value and extremely popular. A second JKTDC resort, Hotel Maple (Tariff: ₹1,000-2,000) has 14 rooms. JKTDC also has 3 single-room huts with attached bathroom and kitchen ( ₹3,500) and 14 two-room huts each with 2 bathrooms and a kitchen (8,000 super deluxe, ₹6,000 deluxe, ₹4,500 semideluxe, ₹4,000 standard).
The main strip, Padora Enclave, bristles with hotels to suit all budgets. The best by far is Hotel Green Top (Tel: 287519/ 29/ 81; Tariff: ₹2,890-8,500) with 43 rooms. On account of its elevated vantage point, it offers unmatched views and enjoys the most silence. On the flipside, however, you have to negotiate endless flights of stairs to get to your floor — a small price to pay for spacious rooms fitted with the beautiful woodwork roofing known as khatamband. JKTDC has 12 more two-room huts located here (₹ 5,000). The newly opened Patnitop Heights (Tel: 287547; Tariff: ₹ 4,000-6,500) is fairly plush with centrally heated rooms and standard mod cons. Also at par in terms of price and amenities is Hotel Trinetar (Tel: 287676-77; Tariff: ₹5,000-6,500), while Hotel Holiday Inn (Tel: 287570; Tariff: ₹3,090-6,090) is a rung lower with 32 rooms. Bang in the centre of Padora Enclave is the kitschy Hotel Jaishree (Tel: 287610; Tariff: ₹3,090-5,090). About 4 km short of Patnitop on the highway in Panchot, Asia-The Oasis Resort (Tel: 288204-06; Tariff: ₹1,995) offers views of the Chenab gorge.
Up in Sanasar is JKTDC’s Alpine Resort (Tariff: ₹1,000-1,500). Contact JKTDC Patnitop for bookings.
Apart from the restaurants within hotels, Patnitop has no free-standing eateries. Hotel Green Top has a decent restaurant called Shabnam that serves Indian and Chinese cuisine and is open to non-residents. JKTDC’s Hotel Alpine serves standard Indian food and snacks.
Sudh Mahadev (44 km)
Travelling south from Kud along NH1A, you reach Chenani, the start-point of the 9.2-km-long Chenani-Nashri Tunnel that is being built to decrease the distance between Jammu and Srinagar and also reduce the traffic jams that occur due to snowfall and avalanches at Patnitop. When complete, it will be India’s longest road tunnel and the new highway will bypass Patnitop entirely. A road branches to the south-east at Chenani, leading through the town and curving its way to Sudh Mahadev. Four km short of Sudh Mahadev is Gauri Kund, the legendary spring where Goddess Parvati is believed to have bathed before her daily prayers at Sudh Mahadev. Sudh Mahadev itself houses a famous Shiva temple, the Sudh Mahadev Shool Paneeswar Mandir. While the temple in its current form dates back to the early 20th century, local legend speaks of a shrine existing here for over a millennium. Devotees believe that the temple stands at the spot where Shiva killed the demon Sudheev, after he inadvertently scared Parvati. However, upon realising that the demon was only trying to pay his respects to Parvati, Shiva decreed that Sudheev’s name be taken before his own when praying at this spot. The temple is also the site of a three-day festival on Ashad Purnima (July 12 in 2014), and contains a broken trident, said to be the one Shiva used to kill the demon.
Seven km south of Sudh Mahadev, a beautiful drive through thick deodar forests, is Mantalai, with its apple orchards and citrus groves. The pond at the Gauri Mandir here is believed to be the spot where Lord Shiva married Parvati. It’s also here that Dhirendra Brahmachari, guru and confidant of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had built an ashram complete with private air strip and zoo. The airstrip proved unlucky for Brahmachari, who died when his private plane crashed into the airstrip at Mantalai.
Krimchi (54 km)
Further south on NH1A comes Udhampur. Towards the southern outskirts of the city, just after the Army Public School, a road branches off to Krimchi, 8 km away and the site of a temple complex known as the ‘Pandava Temples’. Located between two streams, the complex consists of five bigger temples and two smaller shrines. Legend connects the temples to myths from the Mahabharata, and the temples have been named after the five Pandava brothers and Draupadi, but excavations have hinted at an origin sometime in the post-Gupta period. Due to the considerable distance, Krimchi is best visited as an excursion on the way out of Patnitop.
Location Patnitop lies on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway in Udhampur District, perched at 6,640 ft at the very top of a hill, high above the Chenab River gorge
Distances 46 km NE of Udhampur, 107 km NE of Jammu, 191 km S of Srinagar JOURNEY TIME By Road 3-4 hours from Jammu, depending on traffic
Route from Jammu NH1A to Patnitop via Nagrota, Domel, Tikri, Udhampur, Chenani and Kud
When to go All through the year. Summer is wonderfully cool, with temperatures remaining below 28° C, while winter promises fun in the snow if you’re willing to brave the cold (temperatures dip to minus 4° C)
JKTDC, Tourist Reception Centre, Vir Marg, Jammu, Tel: 0191-2579554, Website: jktdc.co.in
Patnitop Development Authority, Chief Executive Officer, Patnitop, Tel: 01992-288146, Mobile: 09419157901, STD code 01992
Air Nearest airport: Jammu (107 km/3-4 hours), connected to Srinagar, Leh, Delhi and Mumbai by Air India, SpiceJet, Indigo, Jet Airways and Go Air. Taxi to Patnitop costs approx 2,000-2,500
Rail Nearest railhead: Jammu Tawi (107 km/3-4 hours ). Taxi to Patnitop costs ₹2,000-2,500. JKSRTC (Tel: 0191- 2470062, 2576562) as well as private buses going from Jammu to Srinagar halt at Patnitop. You can get ordinary, deluxe and luxury coaches (₹90/ 125/ 200, respectively)
Road NH1A from Jammu is an excellent highway all the way to Patnitop via Nagrota, Domel, Tikri, Udhampur, Chenani and Kud. What is usually a 3-hour journey between Jammu and Patnitop can sometimes take 4 hours, depending on traffic, so ensure you factor this in and leave early enough if you’re taking a flight or train