Up in the North of India, there is a city on the foothills of the mighty Himalayas like no other. A city divided into two equal halves by a perennial river. A city surrounded by the Himalayan foothills on two sides and blessed by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi from a little distance. A city which is a metropolis and yet a small town. A city of a million souls, a city encompassing divergent cultures and languages, a city etched in history for the valour of its people, a city with a history of 3000 years, a city called ‘Jammu’, a city which is my favourite place in the world.
Folklore has it that when Raja Jambulochan came across a goat and a lion drinking water from the same pond, he decided to establish a city on the very site and thus, came into being our beautiful Jammu – a place which symbolized peace and tranquility. Carrying this legacy into the modern age, Jammu has continued to provide refuge and home to people escaping ethnic strife or other such madness. Be it the Mirpuris or West Punjabis in 1947, the Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 or the people from Doda and Kishtwar, so many have made Jammu their home and are proud Jammuites today. In a world torn by ethnic and religious strife, the city is a melting pot of cultures and yet retains its Dogra identity. There is so much to love about this place.
A thing unique to Jammu is that it is both a big city and a small town. Jammu is well connected by Air, Rail and Roads, has malls and branded showrooms, the latest cars are present, the youth is urbane and above all it has a million people. But somehow it manages to retain its small town feel. Some days in Jammu you get a feeling that everyone knows everybody. If you happen to go out and watch a movie or go to a restaurant, the probability of bumping into an old friend is really high. Most people here religiously attend the annual community gatherings or ‘Mail’. We know everything about our neighbours (well almost), one can commute from one end of the city to another in 30 minutes flat (well of course, the Janipur and Canal road area are best avoided) and most people are laidback and never in a hurry.
Our Jammu is a place surrounded by places of great scenic value. Although suffering apathy at the hands of successive Kashmir centric governments, it is still not a bad place for tourism. If someone has only a few hours to spare they can scout the many Temples and enjoy the local cuisine. If one has a day at hand, we have places like Mansar, Pancheri, Shiv Khori, Jhajar Kotli, Akhnoor and Saurinsar all rich in natural beauty to explore. Two or three days then you can pack your bags for Patnitop, Sanasar or Vaishno Devi. Bhaderwah, Paddar and Poonch will always retain their relevance for the serious tourist. In fact, eight million tourists visiting Vaishno Devi each year and the resultant estimated infusion of Rs 500 crore into Jammu’s economy (every year) has ensured the well being of the people living here.
The valour of the Dogras are tales of folklore. The legacy of General Zorawar Singh and the likes continues to this day. Jammu’s contribution to the Indian army (through the JAK Rifles and the Dogra Regiment) far exceeds the proportion of its population in the country. Jammu may be the only place in the country with two Param Vir Chakra awardees who survived to tell their tale (Bana Singh and Rifleman Sanjay Kumar).
A crowded street and you hear a mix of Dogri, Hindi, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Bhaderwahi, Ladakhi and Gojari; Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians all side by side. Jammu in a way is the essence and a reflection of the idea of India. It is place which is modern and yet seeped in its rich culture. It is a place to be proud of.
Today, if Raja Jambulochan was watching from heaven, he would be proud of the place he founded.