A generation ago from now, people in India looked for well known holiday destinations, be it a hill station or a seaside town or a pilgrimage center. Treading the beaten path was the norm and many vacationed at the same place year after year. The present trend is to visit little known places, have unique experiences and ……well, also announce it to the world on social media! So, if you are looking for such a place which aptly fits the cliche’d phrase of “ a gem waiting to be discovered”, try Bhaderwah.
While Jammu is well known as the gateway to the heaven called Kashmir, there awaits a remote valley of Jammu which qualifies for a no lesser heaven – the Bhaderwah region of Doda district. It is at one extreme end of Jammu, 200 kilometers away, so much so that it is closer geographically and culturally to Chamba in Himachal Pradesh. However, the people here speak neither Himachali nor Dogri(the language spoken in Jammu), but have a distinct language Bhaderwahi and a distinct identity too.
Nevertheless, it is easier to reach Bhaderwah from Jammu rather than Chamba, due to better roads and connectivity. On the Jammu Srinagar Highway, take the road to the left after Batote and follow the river Chenab
for about 80 kilometers or so, past the bridge leading to Doda town and the landscape changes from rugged mountains to valleys, meadows, brooks and picturesque villages with terrace farms.
As tourism has not yet developed well in Bhaderwah, you have to rely on home stays for accommodation. Visit Discover Bhaderwah on facebook and Twitter for planning your trip.
There are several places to visit in and around Bhaderwah. The Padri Pass and Jai valley are both contenders for the top place but the latter has an edge as there are lovely hiking trails near Jai and you also get an opportunity to camp by the side of the rivulet coursing through the valley.
Jai (pronounced as Jaai by the locals) is about 32 kilometres from Bhaderwah and enroute, you also pass through another beautiful green valley called “chinta valley”. As you descend from Jai top into Jai valley, a long narrow valley flanked on either side by dense coniferous forests with the gurgling rivulet Jai nullah coursing through it, you will find yourself in the lap of nature (cliche intended). It is an unspoiled pristine valley and on the trails around it, you could be the only visitor on some days.
Staying options at Jai valley include the Youth Hostel and a tourist camp set up by a local. We stayed at the latter and the arrangements were just about adequate.
From Jai valley, the hike to Roshera Mata temple goes through a gentle trail after the initial steep climb from the road. It meanders through forests and meadows dotted with Gujjar huts.
They are hospitable people and welcome you into their homes with warmth and easy chatter. After walking for about 5 or 6 kilometers, I rested for a couple of hours in a Gujjar hut where the mother and her teenage daughter were busy putting on a layer of wet mud on the earthen floor of their hut. The job done, they went to a nearby stream for a quick bath and then lit up the fire to boil milk. I was served a glass of hot milk though they themselves were on a fast as it was Ramzan.
I did not make it to the temple which was another 3 kilometers away. There was a festival going on at that time and I was told that a lamb was sacrificed as an offering for the deity and I could not have watched it. Walking on this trail and spending some time with the Gujjars was an unforgettable experience for me.
Padri Pass separates Jammu from Himachal Pradesh and is at a height of 10000 feet and is about 40 kilometres from Bhaderwah. After crossing the Padri Pass, you will enter Himachal Pradesh and the road goes on to Chamba.
When you reach the pass, the vision that greets your eye is spectacular. It is a fairly flat pass with undulating green meadows all around as far as the eye can see. For a pass of this size, the crowds were sparse and you can walk around the grassy slopes strewn with tiny wildflowers, find a secluded area and lie down on the grass to gaze at the blue sky and the distant mountain ranges with snow peaks.
It is a day trip from Bhaderwah and definitely worth spending a few hours here.
Guldanda is another vast meadow around Bhaderwah and from here one gets a view of sonbain glacier, the source of river Neeru which flows through Bhaderwah.
Khani Top, about 25 kms from Bhaderwah is another must visit place offering commanding views of the valley.
While at Bhaderwah, one must visit Vasuki Nag temple and the gupt ganga shiva temple along the river Neeru. Vasuki Nag, the snake God, is the reigning deity of Bhaderwah. The temple contains idols of Vasuki Nag and Raja Jamute Vahan, made of a single black stone and standing at a slight incline on small feet without any support.
Bhaderwah is also the base for the pilgrimage to kailash kund, at a height of 14000 feet. This pilgrimage, held in August every year, is considered to be older than Amarnath pilgrimage.
Plan for a 4 to 5 days trip to Bhaderwah, stay at comfortable home-stays with homely atmosphere and home-made food and make day trips to the valleys, Passes and grasslands around Bhaderwah.