If I thought Chamba as a hot and humid place, it is actually heaven when compared against Jammu. I a keen to see Jammu quickly and leave as early as possible to cooler climates. I arrive rather late into Jammu by a direct bus from Chamba. En route I pass the busy town of Pathankot. It is a place of a large army settlements and a gateway into Jammu and Kashmir. I quickly find a room and ask the manager about things to see in Jammu. He tells that the Bahu Fort is open till late evenings. The evening won’t be wasted after all. I head to the fort. Shared mini-buses are common all across Jammu but getting into the right one can be quite a challenge. I ask for Bahu Fort and the conductor drops me half a kilometer from Bahu Plaza. I learn that the fort is three kilometers away. I just walk my way to the fort.
The fort is just too well restored. It might have seen many turbulent times in its past but it clearly lacks historic allure. I am told that there is nothing inside except a temple which people flock to see. I lose interest to go inside. Nearby is an acquarium but this too does not interest me. I am happy to wander within the terraced gardens below the fort’s ramparts. From the garden a beautiful view opens out to the River Tawi below. Jammu town is spread out on both sides of the river. Far away to the right on the other side are buildings that may perhaps be the palace of the erstwhile local maharajas.
The garden itself is well-maintained. Fountains and cascading channels define the garden and its layout. In one particular view two cascades join at a lower terrace. The spray of fountains is blown by the evening’s breeze and brings much needed coolness. Neatly clipped hedges stand flanking pathways. Hedges of bougainvillas bloom in profusion. A nice collection of trees, including one palm tree, decorate the green lawns and provide shady picnic spots for relaxing in leisure. A little bridge spans a terraced cascade. Grotto-like niches line the course of the cascade. The garden is a good place to hangout. On this Saturday evening, it is a popular place for locals and tourists alike. Such gardens are rare in India.
Jammu is known as the City of Temples. I’ve never heard of such an epithet until I see signs making such a lofty claim. The most famous of Jammu’s temples is the Raghunath Mandir. The temple is close to the bus station, just a few minutes’ walk. Other than the main temple, many subsidiary temples stand within the complex. Lots of shrines stand within the complex with an unending line of deities. The numerous shrines, which seem to honour every conceivable god or goddess of the Hindu pantheon, do not appeal to me. Confusing array of names backed by legends and divine relationships are not in line with my belief of a single god. Even if there is a belief that the multitude is simply manifestation of the same god, recognizing and enshrining this multitude gives force to Hinduism’s polytheistic image. There is nothing fascinating about this temple. It gives me the conviction that Jammu does not deserve to be called the City of Temples. Kanchipuram or Bhubaneshwar may be more deserving.
I make a couple of enquiries but many people don’t seem to know about the Amar Mahal Museum or how to get to it. This is the palace I had seen last evening from the Bahu gardens. The best way I know of is to take the bus heading to Panjtirtha and then walk ten minutes to the museum. On the walk to the museum I pass orchards of mango, flowerless and without fruit in this out-of-season period. The palace is a romantic building inspired of European architectural elements. It is a building of red brick and grey stone. The facade has eye-catching gables and oriel windows. Pillared verandahs are covered with bracketed eaves. A square tower is topped with round turrets ending in crenellation. This gives it the look of a medieval European castle. It is a nice building but I prefer the old palaces of Orchha, Amber or Chittorgarh that are true to Indian architecture.
The museum has modern oil paintings in a couple of galleries. In another gallery is a set of watercolours done by Indra Duggar from 1982. I love these watercolours, mostly of landscapes of Jammu and Kashmir in the changing light and seasons. Portraits of the royal family hang high on the walls. A golden thrown is a famous exhibit of the museum. What really captures my attention is a set of miniature paintings telling the story of Nala and Damayanti. Just as I had lost myself in the almost real worlds in the paintings at Chamba, I lost myself in the legendary tale of this loving couple.
‘How many are in this series?’ I ask the man keeping an eye on the paintings in the gallery.
‘Forty seven in all. You know, someone offered some time back to buy each one for ten lakhs,’ he replies. I believe he is exaggerating. The paintings are excellent but the figure this guy quotes seems excessive.
Back at the hotel, I pack and wait in the lobby to check out.
‘Did you visit the Ice Cold Water Canal?’ the manager asks.
‘What’s that?’ I ask amused by the strange name.
‘Cold water melting from ice up on the mountains flows directly into town. It is ice cold even in summer. Recently J&K Bank has adopted the canal. A nice park is coming up around it,’ he points out.
‘May be some other time,’ I thank him. ‘I’ve got to be leaving soon for Patni Top.’
On th eway to the bus station, I walk past shops heaped up with dry fruits. Walnuts in particular are common. They are not exactly cheap. I settle myself in a bus to Patni Top and wait for it to depart.