Enwrapped in sheets of mist and clouds
By Rakesh Agrawal
Walking on the clouds
Streaks of clouds were descending from the heavens. They enwrapped us as we strolled on the whispering meadows. With cool air passing through a wall of tall deodar trees, it seems as nature was playing an eternal flute and music floated from the oblivion. The harmonious verdant grassland, rolling one over another in a seemingly endless bobbin merged into pearly whitish-grey. The firmament and orb had indeed become one.
It was difficult to say is we were on the road or were walking on the clouds, but definitely we were at Patnitop, an astounding hill station, approachable yet far from the maddening crowd in Jammu region, bordering the Kashmir Valley. Perched at the height of 2024 meter, this Himalayan plateau at off the beaten path is a cherished destination of lovers: lovers of all kinds: nature, human, plants and animals and especially in winters, when feet of snow adores every nook and corner of this little place, it indeed become a dream destination of honeymoon couples and love birds.
Pond of the Princess
And, there is a story behind the name ‘Patnitop’ that looks a bit bizarre. It is a distortion of the original name of the place, “Patan Da Talab” meaning “Pond of the Princess”. Long time ago, a pond existed in the meadows here and a princess often used to bathe there. Some part of the pond still exists near the local youth hostel. Once a British engineer who was building the road here asked the name of the place and when he couldn’t record the name correctly in their revenue records, he wrote it as Patnitop.
Of lately, it has become an extended destination for the thousands of pilgrims who visit the holy shrine of Vaishno Devi, about 80 km away, every year. Anyone who is attracted to its heavenly calm and virgin charm, is immensely rewarded by a nascent charm and indolent way of life of people in and around Patnitop which opens door after door of surprise.
One such door of surprise is Sanasar, a rolling carpet of verdant valleys, cusped by a saucer shape lake, mule tracks, apple & walnut orchards and an ancient temple. The meandering country road takes you through numerous waterfalls, springs and not a cluster, but a forest of majestic, mighty deodars. After a couple of hours as our taxi crisscrossed the broken and washed away road, with homes of Van Gujjars, a nomadic tribe who rear buffalos for a livelihood, stood proudly in the light drizzle. These homes made of wood and mud walls, also have mud & wooden roofs. And, as grass had grown on a few roofs, it looked like as if these people are practicing farming on roofs, thus making a best use of it. And, as Patnitop is at the edge of Jammu, bordering Kashmir Valley, one can cherish Kashmiri food as we did when hot plates of gushtaba were served with wheat naans and kahawa with a pinch of butter and dalchini.
Like free flying kites
Not just the Van Gujjar, but also bakarwals (goat rearers) have also been benefitted quite a lot from the bourgeoning tourism at Patnitop as increasing number of tourists and matching number of hotels means extra supply of goats’ meat as many tourists love to eat mutton and gushtaba, a Kashmiri delicacy, made by goat’s meat. On the serpentine, tattered road because of the rains, on the way to Sanasar, a few brave hearts were enjoying paragliding joyrides hosted by Extreme Himalayan Adventures, a private adventure sports company. Like free flying kites in red, orange, saffron, blue, violet and green, young men and women wade through the crisp air in jellyfish sky. This paragliding takeoff site is at Dawariyai, on the Patnitop-Sanasar road.
Those arriving here in winter are indeed lucky, even luckier as they enjoy the white and pristine beauty of Patnitop, wrapped under feet of snow with very few tourists there, one can have a total white world in a total solitary confinement.
Those having eyes to see beauty, nature’s beauty, will cherish their viist to Patnitop for the rest of their life as Ralph Waldo Emerson, a noted 19th Century American poet and lecturer once remarked, ‘Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.’