Keeping the long weekend in mind, we had pre-booked our train from Jammu to Delhi. I was travelling with a friend and hence Patnitop seemed like a convenient option to spend a day. Even though I wondered with the availability of accommodation options, we still took a chance and randomly arrived in Patnitop around 1 in the afternoon. The hitched ride dropped us just outside JKTDC office in Patnitop.
We decided to try our luck and asked the prices; it came as a big surprise when the managed quoted the cheapest room for Rs. 700 in JKTDC Hotel Maple (the new property). We saw the wooden rooms in JKTDC Hotel Alpine and were satisfied with a 1200 Rupee price after discount. I had faint memories of staying in the JKTDC huts in Patnitop on a previous visit with the family (more than a decade ago!) It was quiet and peaceful and the sun felt nice with the breeze blowing in the greens surrounded by pine and deodhar trees.
We were travelling on a remote road that crossed the border from Himachal Pradesh to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) which meant almost zero availability of public transport. It was the Chamba – Bhaderwah road that is quite famous as well as infamous with regards to terrorism in the region. This road had been built many years ago but traffic had only recently been allowed. Bhaderwah is popularly known as mini Kashmir and I was very keen on making it to this remote land with a fabled past. After having had a glimpse of the unexplored Bhadarweh region solely depending on hitchhiking and walking, we wanted to spend some time relaxing.
Coming from Himachal rather than going from Jammu, we were aware of the fact that we need to be really lucky to complete this journey in the stipulated time. As luck would have it, we ended up finding rides in the most random vehicles – the most epic of which was covering a 10 km stretch at the back of a pick-up with locals on their way to collect fodder from the forest. It was the bumpiest of the rides amidst the most picturesque landscape. (I am saving this epic story for some other time).
We woke up early one morning in Bhaderwah and a quick decision meant we were in a bus bound to Jammu that would drop us on the highway near Batote. The recently opened Chenani – Nashri tunnel meant that Patnitop wasn’t on the regular Jammu to Srinagar highway anymore and we would have to struggle a little bit to reach here. The struggle was worthwhile though when the bus stopped at Baggar for the famous rajma chawal with anardana chutney liberally topped up with desi ghee! It was priced at only 60 Rupees and we ate like crazy. Earlier, the rajma chawal of Peerah (near Ramban) used to be the regular lunch on this road but Peerah was not on the way this time.
After reaching Batote, we were told that shared autos would ply to Patnitop. I observed proceedings for less than a minute, and understood that the locals wanted me to book an entire taxi auto till Patnitop. The distance from Batote to Patnitop was hardly 12 kms. They quoted some absurd prices and as usual we started walking out of the main town towards the road to Patnitop. Among one of the basic rules for successful hitchhiking is that one needs to go outside the town for better chances of a vehicle stopping.
An auto came and dropped us 2 kms since he was headed on the same route. After waiting for a few minutes, a tattered old van came along. It screeched to a halt when we stood on the road and asked for a ride. They were pilgrims and were returning from Machail Mata yatra. The car had reasonable space for us to sit and I loved chatting with the kind people about more details of Machail Mata and Kishtwar. Within no time we were dropped in Patnitop and the air had become much cooler than it was in Batote.
We human beings are mostly cribbing about the imperfections in our respective lives. Amidst these imperfections, there are experiences when life feels just so perfect that you don’t feel like changing a thing. Such lucky experiences do happen once in a while with each one of us and these are the happy times that are etched in our memory forever.
Patnitop is a delightfully beautiful hill station and is peacefully set on an elevated hillock. It remains among the lesser visited hill stations of North India, and is not crowded compared to Manali, Shimla, Nainital or McLeodganj. Even though we had expected a lot of Delhi crowd in Patnitop, it was a pleasant surprise to meet families from Jammu and Punjab taking weekend breaks in this nature’s paradise.
As soon as we reached Patnitop, the first instinct was to just soak in the blindingly green landscape. This quaint hill station is endowed with meadows surrounded by thick forests of deodar, cedar and pine trees. It was the month of August and the entire valley was painted with varying shades of green. We were told that the landscape is a riot of colors in spring while in winters there is occasional snow. It is important to note that Patnitop is an all weather destination and that the road to Patnitop from Jammu is in excellent condition with good connectivity.
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Accommodation options are available in plenty in Patnitop and we decided to stay in the JKTDC Hotel as we deserved this basic luxury after hardly spending any money on travel in the first part of our vacation. Our room overlooked a massive forest on one side and the road hidden with deodar trees on the other. The bright sun during the day felt very pleasant.
I immediately caught hold of my camera and off we went for a leisurely walk. First, we went to the meadow where one could see families on day picnics, lazing on the huge grasslands which are in plenty in Patnitop. We continued walking and crossed the Youth Hostel building. It was located in a delightfully green space surrounded by trees. Somewhere along the way, we also crossed a dhaba / café / restaurant located on the right.
The walking trail continued and we continued with it too. After a few minutes of walking, our eyes were spellbound by a green meadow! There were also a few old buildings that comprised of the Patnitop Club at one point of time. We met a few locals who were carrying supplies and cylinders to prepare a feast. It was a fabulous location of a picnic! They invited us too but we figured that things weren’t ready yet and it was just out of courtesy rather an an actual invite.
The light was perfect and we sat on the benches. The road took a U bend near the meadow but there were hardly any vehicles so that didn’t bother us. There was a walking trail that went through the forests and upon asking we were told that it went to the Naag Devta Temple. And then the locals joined in giving us their recommendations.
Naag Temple : It is a tiny wooden temple with immense mythological value. It is said to be over 600 years old, and is believed to be the place where marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati took place.
Natha Top : It is popular for being snowed out even in summer and is popular for Indian families for snow sighting. It is located only at a distance of 10 kms from Patnitop on the road to Sanasar. One can walk to the top of a peak at Natha Top for a spellbinding view of the mountains.
Sanasar : We briefly toyed with the idea of going to Sanasar which is located at around 19 kms from Patnitop, but gave up since we had little time. It is an offbeat location and has JKTDC huts in a meadow surrounded by huge conifer trees as well. There is a lake at Sanasar that has enchanting views of the surrounding Himalayan mountains.
Sudh Mahadev Temple : A temple dedicated to Lord Shiva with an interesting story of a real Trishul of the Gods in the temple. I can’t remember the details shared by the locals but the fact is that we were in no mood to try and visit any other place except enjoying our time on that meadow.
One can spend days soaking in the breathtaking views of the the Pir Panjal range from Patnitop. The forest trails lead one to places where time stands still and calm prevails. The sun had started setting effectively signalling the start of golden hour for my photography mind. The meadows shined in that incredible light and we sat at different places to savour the moments. After all, it is important to slow down and enjoy the time that you have rather than just hankering to go to different places.
Evening ensured that we were surrounded by mist, lending an air of mystery to the entire landscape. After having a chai at a stall on the road; a funny looking man tried to sell us some whisky from the wine shop. We tried local delicacies at the restaurant and after eating too much went for a walk in the fog amidst the lush green lawns lit by beautiful warm lights. The area is kept clean and well maintained by Patnitop Development Authority.
Our room was nice and comfortable with a lovely sitting area overlooking greenery. We would have loved to go to Sanasar and experience the solitude there but it was not to be! Our train was in the evening and we woke up to the sound of chirping birds. We went to the local café located on the way to the Youth Hostel near the meadows. He made super tasty aloo paranthas and tea (ginger masala chai).
After that we started on our way back from Patnitop to Jammu, and instantly got a ride from a couple driving to Jammu, but we got down midway as we had to buy the local Patisa in Kud. Kud used to be a popular stop among the food lovers during earlier days, but the charm was missing this time (the new Jammu-Srinagar highway bypassed this region, which meant reduced traffic on this route). From past memory, I bought patisa and halwa from Prem Sweets in Kud.
We did not feel like trying our luck at the handful of food joints still open, as they did not look very promising. After having our fill of patisa, we made a move. It was a bustling scene with celebrations of Independence Day in full swing. Having returned from the quiet environs of Patnitop, we did not quite enjoy the hustle bustle and hurried our way to reach the main highway in a local mini bus. It was so crowded that we thought we would get squished!
By the time we reached the highway, we were famished and had to eat something at one of the dhabas lining the highway. After a safe lunch of veg biryani, we set out again to try our luck and requested the toll booth guys on the highway to help us get a ride till Jammu. Now when I look back at it, we were favored by our luck all throughout the trip. In less than 15 minutes, the toll guys helped us board a mini bus to Jammu station. Reaching Jammu station and waiting in the air conditioned room, we were already missing the mountain cold and the misty evenings.
About Patnitop: Patnitop (2000m) is located in Udhampur district in Jammu and Kashmir on the way from Udhampur to Srinagar. Distance from Jammu to Patnitop is around 110 kms. Patnitop has pleasant weather during the summers and one can enjoy snowfall during the winter months of January and February. Patnitop is a perfect destination for people seeking to enjoy the quietude of nature and breathe in the fresh air.