If you have visited Jammu seeking blessings of Mata Vaishno Devi, the shrine of the Hindu Goddess Mahalakshmi, here is a reason you should stay another day in the city of temples.
Tall and sturdy Deodar and Blue Pine trees guarding the green meadows, houses of wood that complement the lush with their color, clouds swirling within your arms length brushing the cool damp air against your face and breathtaking view of the valley below—when I think of Patnitop, these scenes rush through my mind like a quick slideshow.
Patnitop was originally called Patan Da Talab, which translates to Pond of the Princess. It is believed that earlier there existed a pond amidst the meadows, where the princess of the local ruler used to take bath.
However, the name was noted down as Patnitop when the Britishers were creating a record of the places in India. This distortion in name is often accredited to the misunderstandings they developed by wrongly pronouncing the words from Indian languages.
People come here to escape the scorching heat, which can surge up to 46 degree Celsius in the planes of Jammu.
Jammu, the winter capital of J&K state, is just 1073 feet above the sea level as compared to Bangalore, which exists at an elevation of 3000 feet.
People often mistake Jammu to be a place where the weather is always pleasant and it snows in winters, just because it is 260 kilometers away from its peer, Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K state.
Patnitop is a famous tourist location in Udhampur district. It is more like a picnic spot where you can go to have a hearty meal in the most tranquil and natural locations and lie down on your back to see clouds rushing past you against the backdrop of blue sky and tips of the Deodars and Kail trees.
Patnitop’s elevation is 6640 feet and it snows here in winter months of November, December, January and February.
How To Reach Patnitop
You have to cover a distance of around 106 kilometers to reach Patnitop if you are starting from Jammu city. It will easily take you 3-4 hours by car.
It is a hilly area—the roads are snake-like with hairpin turns and sudden inclinations. Prefer hiring a skilled driver (the one who has driven in that area) than driving by yourself.
If you prefer a train journey and are coming from Delhi or any other part of the country, get down at Udhampur railway station (it is the closest to the location) or Jammu Tawi railway station and hire a taxi from there. The closes airport is Satwari Airport in Jammu city.
The scenic beauty on the way to Patnitop is a treat to the eyes. The road takes you through many tunnels cut through green hills, which funnily resembles human nostrils— at least to me.
The Chinani Nashri Tunnel
On the National Highway NH1A, which connects Kashmir to rest of the country, lies the Chinani Nashri tunnel.
The drive through the longest road tunnel in India with a whooping 9 kilometer long stretch is no less than a thrill.
The tunnel is around 13 meter in diameter and well lit by orange sodium lights. Those lights are sure to have a magical effect on you as you pass the never-ending tunnel in echoing silence.
When inside the tunnel, pull down the window of the car and stick out your head, feel the cool winds running against the length of the tunnel. The massiveness of the tunnel is both scary and exciting—the journey feels so long that you get accustomed to the darkness inside and feel that this moment, here and now, is never going to end.
What To Do In Patnitop
Eat and sleep in a serene and picturesque place—make this one a priority, you will know why.
That and these things are what you can do at Patnitop. There are other beautiful areas to explore around the place like Kud and Sanasar—keep that for the next day.
1. Climb On A Horse’s Back
Horses will take you places. Horse owners will be charging around 300 per head, however, you can bargain and bring the prices down to half. It is a 15-20 minute ride amid the large Deodar trees.
In between, they will halt at a beautiful garden with apple trees, rose and Dahalia in full bloom. The fee is 30 rupees per person and the place closes at 2 pm.
Avoid looking down and thinking whether your horse will make through the sloppy muck. You won’t fall until you keep looking around.
2. Wear Kashmiri Dress And Take Pictures
You could wear a traditional Kashmiri dress, which is the ethnic wear of Kashmiri Muslims. Wear an ever vibrant and colorful ‘pheran’. Adorn yourself with artificial silvery jewelry, which includes necklaces and and the headgear ‘kasaba’.
Hold onto a flower basket or an earthen pot and feel that you belong here. Get a great picture clicked and receive them in less than 10 minutes developed and in your hand.
The photographer charges around 100 per picture.
3. Roll Down In Giant Inflatable Ball
The rolling inflatable ball is a recent attraction. Confirm the charges and bargain a little before you opt for it.
4. Explore The Jungle
Patnitop is like a labyrinth amid the tall deodar trees. Run free athwart the vast meadows and amidst the trees and you will feel a wild Adrenalin rush inside you. Walk through the serenity and please your eyes with green all around. The place is magical.
Explore the jungles, the roads and grassy slopes intertwine at different points and you get the feel of trekking in a jungle.
The serenity of the place, the tall trees, baritone of crickets and the cool of the wind makes it a dramatic experience.
5. Visit Nag Devta Temple
A little far from Patnitop is a quaint old Nag temple or Snake temple. The temple complex is small—you can’t go inside, but can circumvent the sanctum. Females are not allowed inside the temple, so if you are with a female, promote equity and skip this one.
5. Trek To The Waterfall
There are various trekking routes around Patnitop, one of them leads to a small waterfall. It is at a distance of 2 kilometers from the Nag temple. There are no direct roads to the place, neither are tourists told about it—though it is written on the sign board once you enter the park.
Take the help of locals, especially the horse owners, who know about it and can safely guide you to the place.
6. Shop For Shawls
If you find yourself attracted to the shawls and stoles sold by the locals in the area, go ahead and buy a piece for yourself. The vibrant winter-wears are warm and cozy and worth a buy. You can always bargain on the price.
7. Lie Down Quietly And Look Above
That is all that should be said. When you are there, lie down and absorb the peace of the place and stare at the sky. It is an enchanting experience.
Must-Follows When You Are At Patnitop
1. Start early and reach there by 9 or 10 am—so that you have more time to enjoy. The place starts getting darker and cooler towards the evening.
2. Staying at the wood houses or nearby hotels is an experience in itself. Spend a night there.
3. If you plan to return, start early. You won’t want to drive down those hilly roads and sharp turns at night.
4. Don’t venture out alone—the place is quite a vast stretch of meadows. For security reasons, Indian army soldiers have been dispatched in and around Patnitop. Be responsible for your own safety though.
Patnitop gets covered under the layer of snow during the four prime winter months. The excitement only manifolds if you visit here during that time.
Snow offers the opportunity for sledging, skiing and many other fun activities. I plan to treat myself with the visit again in January—when the white of the snow replaces the green of the flora, turning it into a spectacular location. What about you?