Thursday, September 2, 2010

Destination Patnitop where you are surrounded with beauty and bliss

Destination Patnitop
where you are surrounded with beauty and bliss

AMBIENCE BY: SALMAN NIZAMI
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The feeble chirps and the soothing morning fragrance stimulate me from within, and I spring out of my bed. Peeping outside the window - young sunbeams desperate to break through the branches of conifers and touch the earth below, the breeze in turn swinging the trees to chase them away.
It’s another morning at Patnitop. You would probably not stop at this milestone on the Srinagar - Jammu National Highway. But this is paradise on earth, holding surprises where you least expect them to pop up. The conifers look like brides and after each spring shower, water droplets fall from the trees, for hours, much like the newly-wed damsel after her wedding night. The forester’s are not happy with the traditional but love birds make it a point to embrace the trunk of mighty conifers and engrave their hearts on it.
Patnitop is an all weather wide-way. When the sun’s scorching the plains, people come here to breathe in comfort, on velvet meadows and under shade trees, those are the peak-days. But winter is no less attractive. Come the first snowfall in early December and skiers begin camping to test the marvelous slopes for delight and adventure.
As the sun goes up higher, I begin my long day out at the upcoming tourist resort, ensconced between two beautiful districts of Udhampur and Doda. The serpentine road, with a sharp curve after every hundred yards, circles the entire circuit and stands testimony to the improvement envisaged by the decade old Patnitop development Authority.
On way to Padora, two kilometers from the National Highway and the main attraction of the hill resort, I stop at the club building owned by the Tourism Corporation. It may not look swank from the outside but inside it offers the best of couch comforts; there is a warm woody bar and restaurant, table tennis and snooker rooms, and a collection of interesting books on travel, history, wildlife, culture and fiction. Quite the recipe for a lazy after noon.
But I like outings. Coming out of the club, I take a pathway, curving on the plateau, to reach padora. Queues of beautifully crafted wooden huts, painted in green, stand at the feet of an endless slope. These are the abodes the tourism manager’s offer visitors. The well-furnished cottages come with the Kashmiri Wazwan - rista, gushtaba and kebabs. If you’re on a family trip, check into huts with attached kitchens for preparing your choicest dishes.
Padora is a bowl made of high and steep slopes covered with green turf. Just right for the adventure seeker, be it trekking, paragliding or horse riding. A contingent of 90 horses is entertaining visitor’s, carrying them from one slope to the other.
Patnitop is never empty, surrounded as it is by many shrines. The Mata Vaishno Devi Temple at Katra is just two hours away. A six-hour trek leads to Sudh Mahadev, the most sacred shrine of Lord Shiva in the region. Situated on the banks of Devak, a rivulet considered to be as sacred as the Ganges, the temple houses an exquisite image of Shiva and Parvati, and what is believed to be original (trident) Trishul of Lord Shiva. Pilgrims visit the shrine on the full moon night of Sawan (July-August).
Sudh Mahadev is named after a demon - turned - devotee of Shiva who on being beheaded by the Lord with a trishul, expressed his gratefulness to him for having released him from a demonic incarnation. A pleased Shiva, the legend has it, then ordained that the place would be known as Sudh Mahadev, the devotee - demon preceding the God in the nomenclature. The broken pieces of the huge trident that killed the demon stand fixed in front of the lingam. Even to this day.
Near the Sudh Mahadev is the legendary Gourikund spring. Where goddess Parvati used to bathe before commencing her daily prayers at the revered temple. Further away from Sudh Mahadev is Mantalai. Where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati tied the nuptial knot. Legends such as these are greatly effective in humanising the deities and bringing them a little closer to our perception. To the satisfaction of devotees, the authorities have decided to bring them even closer, having taken up a project to lay down at 40 km stretch linking the shrine.
By afternoon, I am trekking towards the 800 year old Nag temple of Baba Gawaji, the place no body misses. Not because of religion but because magnificent hotels and restaurants have come up on the way on all view points, enhancing the “carrying capacity” of the place with mouth watering cuisine and unmatched hospitality, the holiday makers find their home here. A long line of shops has cropped up outside the shrine where every thing from Puja Samagri to Kashmiri Shawls and Walnut wood carvings are on display.
But I refuse to be lulled by comforts and head for the shrine, nestled in a jungle of fir trees on a foot while. Manhant Ved Prakash Sharma warns chating pilgrims, against taking picture of the Pindli of Nag Devta. “He doesn’t like his pictures adorning homes. Do not violate the norm, or the devta might just frighten you by making sudden appearances”, he declares. Good way to keep the devout coming. Sharma, gives a second reason for this blessed land” each devotee who ties a wish fulfillment knot here has to return to the Mandir for unfastening it after he achieved his goal”, adds he on the way out. I bump into a group of devotees offering a lamb to the gods. A sadhu tells we that the meat will be distributed as prasad among all seekers gathering there. I decide to embark on the journey before sundown, it’s a one hour drive on a treacherous single road. But the pain hides itself in the vast meadows and wooded mountain slopes, burying itself deep in the mud huts abandoned by nomadic Gujjar shepherds, who occupy them during the grazing period....!
(The author is a Journalist working with a News channel in Gurgaon and can be mailed at salmannizami@gmail.com)

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