May 22, 2018, 7:43 pm IST
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T.K Thomas


By: T.K Thomas,   Feb 12, 2018

As one traversed the road from Jammu to Udhampur, the early morning mountain breeze was too biting. The rugged landscape and the well-maintained  multi -lane  all weather highway snake through the banks of an almost dry Tawi River, the scene on either side was breathtaking. The deep gorges and vales on the left and an almost dry yet lush green environs of the sacred Tawi river on the right. Like most other rivers in the region, River Tawi too is sacred for the faithful. As we pass through another area with rich green foliage, the policeman driving the white Ambassador points to a turn towards the left and said that the turn was going towards Katra, the foothills of the 13 kilometer trek or climb up to the venerated temple of Mata Vaishnodevi the abode of who is known as “Sherawali Maa”. Incidentally, according to my younger colleagues on the journey to Udampur who went for Darshan and  worship at the shrine ‘Mata Rani’ , ‘Trikuta’ and ‘Vaishnavi’  is believed to be is a manifestation of Goddess Mahakali, Maha Saraswati and Maha Lakshmi.

Those who want to visit Vaisnodevi have to touch base in Jammu. Jammu is also known as a city of temples. One of the most prominent temples, in the heart of the city there is Shri Raghunath Temple built by the founder of the kingdom of the Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja Gulab Singh  in 1835. His son and descendent Maharaja Ranbir Singh completed the construction of the temple in 1860.

Back to our journey towards Udhampur some distance after the turn to Katra, we stopped at a wayside tea shop under an ancient tree, inhabited by hordes of monkeys. The roads were almost deserted but for a few other cars stopping for a cup of tea. Tea served was indeed refreshing. There were people from across the state of J&K and nearby states in their typical sartorial outfits. We hurried up from  the Tea shop as we had only reached only half our way to Udampur.

Our work in Udampur was for a few days and one afternoon last week we started our return journey to Jammu en route Delhi. Jammu was the summer capital of the Kings of Jammu and Kashmir. So there are fantastic regal mansions of the Kashmir Maharajas. We stopped over at the majestic looking Hari Vilas Palace. It was built by the last Maharaja of Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh, in 1925; and the palace looks like a French Chateau. The earlier one was called Mubarak Mandi Palace. Interestingly, there is another palace in the same complex which has been converted into what is known as the Amar Mahal Palace Museum, a popular spot of tourist interest.

Presently Hari Vilas Palace is no longer the  abode for the Kashmir royal family. Instead it is converted into one of the best Palace hotels in India in 1990. One had been to different such palace hotels in Bikaner, Jaipur, Udaipur and many such places. These are often called heritage hotels. They give rich Indian and foreign tourists a taste of the pomp, opulence and lavish lifestyles of our erstwhile Maharajas!

The roads were not deserted and there was fairly good traffic. As we neared Jammu and took the main road there were streams of people going up and down the busy road. One wondered why there were such crowds as if they were going to or visiting some local festival. A Kashmiri friend from Kargil said that it was not any festival but people from the colder regions of Kashmir move en masse to Jammu during winter. He reminded that in the colder regions where the temperatures sometimes could be minus 30 degree Celsius or less! So people in large numbers migrate to Jammu where the lowest temperatures generally do not go below, say five or six degrees.

This is almost an annual migration of people from  the Srinagar Valley, Leh, Kargil etc. to Jammu. One does not know about any such large scale migration of people anywhere else in the country. One had seen such migration at a much lower scale in and around Darjeeling. People from very cold areas come to Siliguri; hire houses and stay there during the winter. Those with resources would even buy flats as an alternative arrangement.

But what happens in Jammu is at very large scale. According to a local resident the population of Jammu in winter  could even be double in certain years. The population of Jammu would burst in the seams as large number of migrants hire proper accommodation; an equally large number is forced to live in ghettos. Think of such migration for half the year, to be displaced and live in unknown environs. One understands that during the summer half of the year they earn enough to fend for themselves in Jammu in the winter.

There is also a historic background to this kind of a migration. The Dogra kings of  Jammu and Kashmir had a summer capital in Srinagar and a winter capital in Jammu. In 1872 Maharaja Ranbir Singh decided that Jammu would be the winter capital of his Kingdom and since the annual Darbar Move [a term used to denote the move] has become a yearly event. The king, his court and the entire administration would move to Srinagar in May and once the inhospitable weather changes the Darbar would again move back to Srinagar. Even after India became independent the practice of Darbar Move continues.

Today the Darbar move would mean the entire state Secretariat, the Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council, the High Court, the entire administrative machinery, the Governor and the Raj Bhavan, the Chief Minister and the entire cabinet. Someone who has watched the physical move of the Darbar tells that over 200 truckloads of documents, office equipment and other paraphernalia travel over three hundred kilometers from Srinagar to Jammu. One was told that the government staff travel by buses; the employees who move from Jammu  to Srinagar when the biting  snow ridden environs clear or from Srinagar to Jammu when the winter sets in were earlier given an allowance of Rs.10000 earlier has now been raised to Rs.15000. There are of course tremendous personal costs to be paid for these summer and winter sojourns. Surprisingly people take it in their strides. The estimated cost of these annual Darbar move is said to be Rs.600 crore. There have been questions raised at this annual expenditure. But the administrative machinery of the state has to run this 1872 tradition started by Maharaja Ranbir Singh, seems irrevocable!

People in large numbers moving around Jammu city looked happy and unmindful of some of the harsh realities that stare at them. As we were nearing the popular Wave Mall, my friend suggested hot momos at a roadside eatery. The  momos were made by people from Leh and people from different parts of Kashmir were devouring the tasty steaming delicacy. Well, that appear to be the spirit and meaning of this annual winter sojourn to the people of Kashmir to Jammu. My Friend from Kargil has an interesting take. According to him, in a terrorism ridden cloistered existence of such people, the annual move is an opportunity to mingle with other people and cultures. One has to see to believe the rare type of coming together and camaraderie of people during this great migration. Jammu residents do feel the strain on scarce civic resources with such large scale influx of people from elsewhere, there are of course inexplicable socio-economic-cultural  benefits.


A couple of days after one returned from Jammu the peaceful atmosphere and joyful life of the local population including the lakhs of people on annual migration were shattered by one of the worst terrorist attacks. The Sunjuwan military station, one of the most protected and fortified establishments in the region was attacked by suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad  [JeM] terrorists. It very deeply saddened one; one had passed through  very close to that spot. At Least five  Soldiers and  2 civilians  laid down their lives and almost a dozen people  were injured.  It also shattered a notion that Jammu and our major military establishments are comparatively safer. As a young producer in the early nineteen seventies one had carried an epitaph found in the War Memorial in Kohima for those Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during the 1944 Japanese attack. The following words originally attributed to the English poet John Maxwell Edmonds [1875-1958] still reverberate  in my mind:-


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