Tourisim :
Sumah Devta: A Classical Dogra Shrine
The shrine of Sumah Devta near Akhnoor is one of the hidden pearls which dot the spiritual and cultural landscape of the Dogra Culture. Situated on the foothills of the lush green Shiwaliks in the village Sungal, the shrine is a classical tapovan-an abode of ethereal calm, natural beauty and spirituality. The shrine is about twelve kilometers from the ancient town of the Akhnoor. The crystal clear water of Sumah stream and presence of sacred groves ,mango orchards add to its holy and serene surroundings. No doubt it has attracted seekers of spirituality in the past as well as in the present times.

The place is home to number of natural caves interspersed in the foothills all along the stream. It is why such caves have been preferred abode of sages and ascetics. One of the caves called Pandav Gufa has its entrance covered with a fine brick structure. Some people ascribe these caves to be the creation of Pandavas who are believed to have spent their (Agyatvas) ie. period of total anonymity in Jammu region. The natural caves formed on the base of cliffs are covered by the thick vegetation of overhanging camel foot creepers enveloping the entrance of the natural caves in a green canopy thus shielding them from prying eyes of humans.

According to the local folklore Sumah Devta is worshipped as the Kuldevta of the Bral clan of Brahmins. According to the local legend a sage poured water from his kamandal at the spot to rid the place of water scarcity and this was how Sumah stream and adjoining Bowli (Natural Spring) came to have water throughout the year- a big boon for this kandi belt.

Recognizing the pristine beauty offered by the sacred place, the founder of the Dogra rule, Raja Gulab Singh built a magnificent temple dedicated to Shri Krishna and his consort Radha on a hillock overlooking the place. According to the priest of the temple, the construction was started around 1838 A.D. and the temple was ready by 1842 A.D. To express his deep reverence for the holy place and for the upkeep of the temple a land grant called Gair was sanctioned by the Raja .The temple affairs at present are managed by the Dharmarth trust. A old mango orchard exists in the vicinity of the temple even today. Interestingly the orchard is home to a healthy population of fruit bats which can be seen hanging upside down during the day time. The place also offers sanctuary to rock pigeons and other avians.

Another interesting feature of the temple is the existence of Frangipani tree (Plumeria) in the temple courtyard which according to Director Floriculture is probably more than a hundred year old. The Frangipani tree being a exotic species was introduced by the royal family in the state and was planted in the vicinity of royal buildings and parks. The temple also has remnants of a old Sarai.

The temple was vandalized in 1947 but was later restored. Unfotunately the restoration was done in a haphazard manner using cement and as a result the facade of temple structure is plain whereas the back of the temple still shows geometrical and floral motifs like inverted lotus etc. The place where temple is situated also affords a panoramic view of the adjoining hills, Sumah stream and Chenab River flowing at a great distance from this place.

Realizing the potential of this holy and picturesque place, plans are afoot to develop this ancient centre of pilgrimage without disturbing the natural beauty and sanctity of the place. The department of Tourism has chalked up an ambitious plan for realizing the untapped potential of religious tourism. The development plan includes construction of a rain shelter, tourist hut and a dormitory for pilgrims with all attendant facilities. The department of Floriculture has also decided to embark upon the task of developing a park and initiate landscaping in and around the temple, thus preserving the sensitive natural environment. In the later stage water body fed by the Sumah stream and a footbridge are going to enhance its beauty and accessibility. The development plan is being funded by the Union government.

With so much to offer the shrine beckons tourists both pilgrims and adventure seekers .Moreover the shrine is going to be a major attraction on the tourist circuit including Jammu, Akhnoor ,the shrine of Baba Mai Mal in Dori Dagher and Shiv Khori. Even if a fraction of tourists coming to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine visit this sacred place it would certainly help in the economic upliftment of the people of this backward area. It is generally believed that the benefits of religious tourism percolate to the lowest levels of the local populace.The successful development of this shrine can set a benchmark for development of religious and eco tourism potential of shrines like Baba Bhed ,Dhansar Baba , Siarh Baba etc. located in different parts of Jammu region.

It can be safely surmised that more footfalls at this sacred shrine having enchanting natural beauty would give further publicity to one of the lesser known shrine revered by the Dogras.

 
Jia Pota Ghat

Just as Akhnoor finds a place of pride in history for its antiquity and historical importance, the Jia Pota Ghat on the right bank of Chandrabhaga i.e. today's Chenab at Akhnoor is the crowning glory of this ancient town. Any old timer of Akhnoor will reveal that Jia Pota Ghat is one of many ghats situated on the right bank of Chenab, the other being Pehra, Gurgi Pattan and Harmandar (named after Hari Mandir) situated downstream.

Interestingly the Jia Pota Ghat got its name from the Jia Pota tree whose botanical name is Putranjiva roxburghii of Euphorbiaceae family under whose shade the Raj Tilak ceremony of Maharaja Gulab Singh took place. The coronation at the ghat would always remain etched in the collective psyche of the people of this state and more particularly the Dogras as the first concrete step towards the foundation of the modern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

It was on 17th of June 1822 A.D. that the magnanimous Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, the most powerful king in the realm of Hindustan coronated Gulab Singh as Raja of Jammu region at Jia Pota in the backdrop of Akhnoor fort and lapped by the icy waves of Chenab. To commemorate the coronation day of Maharaja Gulab Singh, a commemorative tablet has been installed at the ghat depicting the scene of Raj Tilak. It is believed that original tree got uprooted and ultimately washed away in the floods of 1957. However solace can be sought in the fact that a few specimen of healthy Jia Pota trees are flourishing in the adjoining Jiya Pota Park which was developed in 1999.

The importance of the place lies in the fact that Jia Pota Ghat is probably witness to the march of civilization right from the existence of early man. It is in the vicinity of a Neolithic site. Moreover historians consider Akhnoor as the northernmost point of Indus Valley civilization. Just imagine Harappans navigating river Chenab and using river front at Jia Pota to reach their flourishing settlement at Manda which is presently inside the Akhnoor fort.

River Chenab is one of the five rivers of Punjab where historians believed that Vedas were composed by the Aryans and this old ghat and its adjoining settlement may have seen the coming and spread of the Aryans. The ghat in all probability is a witness to rise and fall of Kushans and Buddhism. Just one kilometer upstream of the ghat was the Buddhist monastery and Stupa of Ambaran dating back to 1st century A.D to 7th century A.D and which today has became the focus of historians and followers of Buddhism alike. Further it can be safely assumed that in medieval times it was a notable trading post where exchange of goods from plains and adjoining hill regions was undertaken.

Recognizing the tactical importance of the place, it was Raja Mian Tej Singh who started the construction of the fort made entirely of bricks of different sizes overlooking the Jia Pota ghat. Later on the ghat also became a testimony to the ascendance of Dogras in the region. The ghat has remained a major centre of pilgrimage. It has a Devsthan of Baba Kahi where on a platform holy Soungals i.e. symbolic chains of the Devta are kept. The legend goes that Kahi Devta, one of the most illustrious son of Vasuki Nag brought the waters of river Chanderbhaga to the arid region of Akhnoor and then was crowned as its king for his feat. There was a belief that the day river water swollen by snowmelt of the sweltering summers touched the holy Soungals of Kahi Devta, the monsoons would usher their bounty on the parched lands of Jammu region. During the holy month of Magh, the devotees take a holy dip in the river Chenab at the ghat to cleanse themselves of their sins. The holy dip taken before dawn under starlit sky is considered especially auspicious.

Sankranti of every month of the Hindu calendar also witnesses huge rush at this ghat. Devotees especially women hailing from different parts of Jammu region congregate at the ghat. A majority of them instead of using the bridge cross the river from the left bank at Gurha Pattan to the right bank at Jia Pota by boats and vice versa. The boatmen locally called Mallah are offered, money, food grains, fruits and clothes. It is believed that such offering will please them and they would ensure safe and smooth passage through celestial rivers and oceans in the afterlife. Similarly offerings are made to propitiate Yamaraja the god of death and his vahana (Carrier), the male buffalo.

Taking inspiration from Ganga Arti at Haridwar the local enthusiasts are now organizing evening Arti at Jiya Pota on every sankranti which is generally well attended. To encourage religious and cultural tourism, the department of tourism has started organizing cultural events on Baisakhi and which now forms an important part of Jammu festival itinerary.

It is hoped that the existence of Pandava Cave, Parshuram Temple and Gurudawara Taposthan Sant Baba Sunder Singh and upcoming tourist centre which are in close vicinity shall attract more tourist and pilgrims to Jia Pota Ghat a hoary witness to the march of civilization in this part of the sub-continent.

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Akhnoor and Indus Valley Civilization

Indus Valley Civilization, Indus Civilization or Harappan Civilization are three names of one and the same civilization.Now it is established fact that this civilization is not limited to Indus Valley region as was supposed earlier. Therefore it is now thought to be more appropriate to call it the Harappan Civilization because Harappa is the first site, the excavation of which brought this civilization to light. Harappa was excavated in 1921 and was followed by Mohanjodaro in 1922. Both these sites are now in Pakistan. Besides Mohanjodaro and Harappa, the remains of this civilization have been discovered at a number of places in Pakistan like Sindh (Chahnudaro, Jhukar), Baluchisthan (Nal, Kalat). In India, a ruined city was discovered at Lothal, Gujrat. Another buried city was excavated in Kalibangan in Ganganagar District of Rajasthan. In nutshell, the civilization was spread over a vast area in the Northwestern part of the Indian sub-continent, in parts of Punjab, Sindh,

Baluchisthan, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and outlying areas of Western Uttar Pradesh, stretching from Ropar in Punjab to Bhagatrav in Gujarat and Sutkagendor in Baluchisthan to Alamgirpur in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh.According to the latest excavations the Northern most site of Harappan civilization is Manda, Akhnoor in Jammu & Kashmir and the southern most Diamabad in Maharashtra. Thus it can be concluded that the region in which sites of Harappan civilization have been found out is spread from Akhnoor in the north to mouth of river Narmada in the south and Bluchisthan in the west to Alamgirpur, Meerut in the east covering a length of almost 1600 km east-west and 1400 km north-south. The Harappan civilization covers an area of about 12,50,000 sq.km. The geographical expansion shows that in its spread, this civilization was most extensive of all ancient civilizations and bigger than the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations.

Approximately, more than one thousand cities and settlements belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization have been discovered till date. These settlements are mostly located on river banks mainly in the general region of the Ghaggar and Indus Rivers and their tributaries. The artifacts discovered in these cities suggest a sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture. The concept of urban planning is also widely evident. There is also the existence of the first urban sanitation systems in the world. The sewerage and drainage system found in the each and every city of Indus Valley comes across as even more efficient than those in some areas today of the subcontinent. Dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms and protective walls have been found in almost all the cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. The earliest cities became integrated into an extensive urban culture and continued to dominate the region for at least 700 years, from 2600 to 1900 B.C. The peoples who built and ruled these cities belong to what archaeologists refer to as the Harappan Culture or Indus Civilization and evidence suggests that these city dwellers were traders or artisans, who lived with others belonging to the same occupation in well-defined neighborhoods. It was only in the 1920's that the buried cities and villages of the Indus valley were recognized by archaeologists as representing an undiscovered civilization which was in fact one of the world's first great urban civilizations. The discovery has pushed back the history of ancient India by approximately 1500 years. Supported by radio-carbon dating theory, its time has been calculated as 2300 BC - 1750 BC.

Amongst various Harappan cities and settlements discovered so far, Akhnoor is one of them and has been regarded as the northernmost point of this civilization.

Akhnoor lies about 30 Km to the north-west of Jammu on the Rajouri, Poonch road and connects to old historical route to Kashmir i.e. the Mughal Road which was established by Emperor Jehangir. This is a picturesque town with the river Chenab in the front and the rolling hills of the Shivaliks in the backdrop. Archaeological excavations carried out at various places in and around Akhnoor reveal that, Akhnoor was the last Harappan city from where the Harappans used to collect timber.

The Akhnoor fort which lies towards east of the town, on the bank of the Chenab river holds great significance and is extremely important for reconstruction of the past history. The fort was built by Raja Alam Singh in 1802. Work on the fort, actually began in 1762 at the behest of Raja Tegh Singh and was completed by his son Raja Alam Singh in 1802. This two-storeyed fort which is perched on a cliff overlooking river Chenab is under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) since 1982 and has been declared a national monument protected under the Monument Act, 1958. There are two-storeyed watch-towers at corners. The fort also has an access through the river side. This fort, where excavation is still in progress in a phased manner, is perched upon an ancient site depicting three periods of history. The first period is represented by the Harappan red and grey earthenware that include jars, beakers and goblets. The second period is marked by the presence of early historic pottery and the third period is represented by Kushana objects and an impressive wall of rubble diaper masonry flanked on both sides by a 3-metre wide street.

Another important site from the archeological point of view is the ancient site of Manda. It lies on the right bank of Chenab in the Shivaliks foothills. It is believed that Harappans had reached Manda in the 4th century B.C. Their culture continued to evolve at Manda till 1st century B.C. Excavations were carried out here by ASI in 1977. Archeologists found Harappan and black-slipped ware as well as late Harappan red ware and plain grey-ware. Bangles and triangular tiles both made of terracotta, potshards with Harappan writings and bone arrow heads have also been found. Manda has already been mapped as the northern outpost of the Indus Valley Civilization. Besides the discovery of Harrapan red ware including jars, dishes stands etc. grey ware and black slipped ware, the proto-historic site at Manda has also proved the existence of the pottery remains of the Kushan period both incised and plain including terracotta figurines, bone arrow heads, iron daggers and copper antimony rods. These materials having cultural significance have also been discovered at various other places like Tikri, Guru Baba Ka Tibba, Jhiri, Jaffarchak, on the other side of the Chenab River which proved to be proto-historic sites with evidences of Buddhist-related antiquities also. These archaeological findings highlight the cultural development and evolution of Akhnoor from the Harrapan Age to the early Christian era.

The excavation done at Guru Baba Ka Tibba, a few kilometres from Akhnoor across the Chenab, yielded terracotta items of the Harappan period. ASI has also successfully excavated earthenware of the same period at Jaffarchak, also near the town. This has further strengthened the claim that Akhnoor and its surrounding areas was the last bastion of Harappans. Beyond Akhnoor, there has been no trace of any object that could show that Harappans were spread beyond this town.

On the basis of all these findings, Akhnoor has been accepted as one of the prominent centres of Harappan civilizations by the historians and the scholars. This has resulted in an extention of the hitherto known frontiers of Harappans as it is the first on the Chenab and also the first in the state. What is of still greater importance is the discovery at Akhnoor of a sequence of artifacts belonging to different periods from Harappa through Mouryans, Kushans and Gupta period. Akhnoor has perhaps become the most important place in the Jammu region if one goes by the historical and archaeological facts attached to the town.

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Dogra Cuisine: Food for mind and body

The Dogra food adds colour and richness to the life of the people who struggle throughout the year due to vagaries of weather and topography. Inspite of the constant struggle against the elements the Dogras are cheerful, contented and less prone to undue worry and despair. For them life is a struggle and the food is a way of celebrating life.

It may be said that the Dogra cuisine is a perfect embodiment of Sattvic and Rajasic qualities as mentioned in ancient scriptures. It is that food which purifies, nourishes and is beneficial to the body and helps in development of higher senses.No doubt such food has influenced the people of this region to be patron of art,culture and full of valour and adventure.

The Dogra Cuisine has a distinct identity and brings to the fore the diversity and uniqueness of the Dogra Culture which flourishes and prevails over Shivalik Hills and its adjoining plains in Jammu and Kashmir,Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

Dogra food is known for mouth-watering but simple, nutritious and wholesome dishes.The beauty of the cuisine is in the preparation, combination and the saute procedures followed. The food is not extravagant and thus less atrocious to digestion.

The hallmark of the Dogra Cuisine is in its preparations of 'Madra' ,pulses cooked with curd or garnished with Khoya and dry fruits. 'Maa Ka Madra' is a delicacy relished by the Dogras on festive occasions. Rajmash ( red kidney beans) served with Basmati rice and anardana Chutney ( raw pomegranate seeds) is a feast in itself. Rongi (Black eyed beans) and Kulthi ( Horsegram) known for its medicinal properties are also a popular part of the diet.Dal cooked especially in a clay pot locally called Kunni and left to simmer over slow wood fire lends a distinct flavour.

Dogras are fond of relishing sweet, sour and tangy preparations like Auriya a dish of curd and potatotes spiced and fermented with rye. Mani is another tasty preparation made of half ripened mangoes. Ambal is a dish made of pumpkin, jaggery and tamarind. Timbroo chutney is also well liked .It is believed that tangy dishes combined with pulses help in the digestion of protein rich food. Another interesting aspect of this cuisine is Dhuni whereby mustard oil is poured on a hot burning charcoal and put into the utensil containing the freshly prepared dish which adds smoky aroma. The Dogras partake a wide range of cereals which would certainly be a dietician's delight! Wheat, rice, maize and occasionally bajra and barley are also consumed according to the season. A special mention can be made of the world famous variety of aromatic rice called Basmati which grows well in the alluvial soil of Jammu district and is irrigated by the icy waters of the mighty Chenab river. Mitha path(sweet saunf flavoured rice cooked in ghee alongwith dry fruits and khoya) is consumed on festive occasions,marriages etc. Rice kheer garnished with dry fruits, forms an important part of shradas or pitra pujan (remembering of the ancestors on marked days of lunar calendar).

Besides rotis there are a lot of variations of whole or refined wheat flour.Thothrus,pathoras and babroos made from fermented dough and deep fried in ghee or oil are much sought after.The people of this region are also very fond of fried food like 'Keur' a type of pancake made from wheat flour batter and lightly fried in Ghee ( clarified butter)and served with sugar and curd. It is a symbol of festivities and is served to the bride groom during the marriage. Sometimes prathas and rotis are baked in community tandoors. The rotis baked are sprinkled with khaskhas (poppy seeds) or sesame seeds for distinct flavouring and are enjoyed with ripe mangoes during summers.Missi roti made from a mix of cereals and grounded pulses is another healthy choice.Todas made of maize or bajra flour and eaten with homemade butter and saag are relished in winters especially.

Another major treat worth mentioning in Dogra Cuisine is Paji - an assortment of sweet snacks including rote (type of sweet hard bread) Kalah and mathiyan(deep fried discs made of refined wheat,salt and ajwain seeds).Suchiyan,Luchian, Chille,chiroliyan,dhropras (which are basically pancakes fried in Ghee) and Gulra -a sweet preparation made of rice flour, Ghee and dry fruits. Paji is generally presented on the occasion of marriage or any other auspicious celebration and is packed in a wicker or cane basket.

The local cuisine has got a diverse range of dishes which truly complement the distinct seasons and year round cultural celebrations. During Lohri ' Tricholi' a type of snack is prepared by mixing Til (seasame) , Gur ( Jaggery), popcorn and is relished by children and grown ups alike. On Makar Sankranti Kichdi made by boiling newly harvested rice and black gram dal is eaten with dollops of desi ghee. The mothers prepare Bhugga a type of prasad from til, gur and sometimes khoya (thickened and dried milk) on the occasion of Bhugga fast which is undertaken by Dogra womenfolk for longetivity of their children.On Janmashtami falahar or fruit based food is taken.A special food Sund panjiri is made from roasted seul,dry fruit,sugar and grated coconut and made into prasad. Similarly special food items are prepared on the occasion of Basant Panchami, Baisakhi, Rut Rareh, Diwali , Eid etc. Dogra cuisine is also famous for making the best use of the minor forest produce which the nature has bestowed upon this region. Gucchiyan ( morels) a type of dried mushroom which is much sought after in the whole world for its exotic taste is used to prepare Gucchi Pulav. Anardana (pomegranate seeds), Kasrod (fern stalks), Kachnar ( Bauhunia flowers) and a variety of tubers called Tarad add to the richness and diversity of the gourmet. The cuisine has distinct place for a host of pickle preparation made from Aonla (Indian gooseberry), raw mango, galgal (Hill Lemon) dhiyo (Monkey Jack) lasoda (Glue berry) and kasrod etc.The Dogras are very fond of eating a variety of greens or saags-sarson, bathua, chileri, cheerma palak, saunf or aniseed leaves ,methi or fenugreek,carrot leaves or mixes of many of these.

Though the cuisine is basically vegetarian,Dogras occasionlly also consume non-vegetarian food. Khatta meat, a preparation of goat meat curry cooked with sour pomegranate seeds or lime juice is relished. However Dogras especially Hindus maintain austerity and purity in their food during Navratras and Shradas.It may sound strange but it is true that nomadic herdsmen like Gujjars and Bakerwals who rear cattle , sheep and goats rarely partake meat .Their diet primarily includes maize, whey and milk products which are simple , nutritious and suits their nomadic lifestyle.


Dogras are fond of community feasts known as Dhams which are orgainsed on the occasion of marriage, birth, religious congregations and maels (a reunion of kinsmen). Generally vegetarian food is prepared in a Dham and served on pattals ( Plates) and doonas ( Cups) made from leaves of a broad leaf tree or a creeper. The dishes in a dham generally include Bengal gram dal, Rajmash and Ambal and are served with rice followed by Mitha Path ( sweetened rice flavoured with black pepper and raisins). The food is prepared on firewood(dhaan) and cooked in large, thick brass utensils(sagle) which make the food delicious and wholesome. A cook employed for cooking community feasts is called 'Sayan'. However the skills of a Dogra housewife are un- paralled in preparing mouth watering dishes , pickles and murabbas during the bountiful days.

If your mouth has not started watering by now one may mention the variety of sweets on the offering. No surprise the Dogras are known as sweet natured and sweet tongued( Mithi a Dogri te Khand mithe lok Dogre). The region boasts of a variety of Burfi made from abundant supply of locally available khoya. Palang Tarod ( Milk Cake) made from fresh milk and sugar is another specialty which is much sought after, Mesu a sweet prepared with besan, sugar and ghee is also somewhat peculiar to this region.

However, no write up on Dogra sweets can be considered complete without mentioning Patisa a delightful preparation of besan, sugar, desi ghee and flavoured with cardamom seeds served soft and fresh which melts in the mouth. Sund is another sweet attraction which signifies festivities be it cultural festivals or a birth of a child. It is a preparation of nuts and dry fruits like almonds, kaju(cashew nut) ,grated coconut, chuhara(dry dates) and a variety of gums extracted from plants and trees , sugar and lightly fried in ghee .When sund is poured in hot milk it is called kadha and is considered good for lactating mothers. Patashas made from treacle are given on auspicious occasions.Halwa made from Tarkira(dried extract of soaked wheat grains) is a sweet wholesome delicacy.

Dogra cuisine also boasts of street food which is sure to tingle the taste buds. Any traveller coming to the J&K state will have an excellent opportunity to relish Bhallas made of gram dal and deep fried which are served with grated radish and chutney in a doona at Samba. Jammu city the heart of Dogra culture welcomes the foodies with both ethnic and contemporary snacks. A special mention can be made of Kachalu, Kaladi Kulcha, Gulgalas, Rajma Kulcha, Banta (a type of lime soda). A journey on national highway is incomplete without savouring the hot paneer pakodas at Nandini which are made from fresh, soft and slightly sweet paneer sourced from surrounding hills. Achars and chicken dishes of Manthal enroute to Udhampur are also famous. Dogras are also fond of Kaladi, a type of dried milk cheese.

The Dogras are also fond of drinking Green tea(desi chaa) a tasty concoction of green tea leaves, boiled over a long period of time and mixed with gur or sugar and milk. The best part of this beverage is its flavouring. ginger and cardamom add a spicy flavour. Sometimes Chuharas ( Dry Dates) are also added along with baking soda which helps in extracting pink colour from the ingredients. Lassi , chach, roh (cane juice),skanjmi (lemonade), sattu (drink made from roasted barley and jaggery) etc.are other popular choices to sooth and quench the thirst during hot summers.

While Dogra cuisine is flourishing in rural areas its appeal is certainly on the wane in the urban areas due to changing life style, westernisation and introduction of junk food in our menu. No doubt lifestyle related diseases are also on the rise. Recently the health value and significance of Dogra cuisine has been recognised by dieticians and people alike. Sincere efforts are required to be made to recreate the magic of Dogra Food. There are a number of restaurants and hotels in Jammu who are offering Dogra cuisine which needs to be encouraged. Certain NGO's have made a notable contribution to encourage and recreate certain Dogra dishes and culinary traditions which were going into oblivion.

Frequent hosting of ethnic food festivals in the state and the rest of the country will afford more people a chance to relish the ethnic food. The proof of pudding lies in its eating and certainly the Dogra dainties will convert more foodies to its fold.Food courts can be established by JKTDC in and around Jammu,in Malls and all along the highways to promote Dogra Cuisine. Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine which receives close to ten million devotees in a year can play an important role in popularising the Dogra cuisine among the pilgrims who throng the Shrine not only from India but also abroad. As the Dogra food is largely vegetarian and avoids culinary excesses, there is little doubt that it will appeal to aesthetic and religious values of the devotees.

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The historical grandeur of Ambaran - Akhnoor
The village Ambaran situated near Akhnoor on the outskirts of Jammu recently has been in limelight because of the visit of Tibetan Spiritual Guru Dalai Lama who visited this famous archaeological site on November 16 last year. The village is famous for earlier yields of the so called Akhnoor Buddhist terracotta heads that now find their place in a number of museums throughout the world. The visit of his Holiness Dalai Lama to this ancient Buddhist site has further confirmed the grandeur of Ambaran's rich historical and cultural importance and has opened gateways to the new world of fame and accredition for its glorious past. His visit is a great turn in the history of Ambaran, as this is the only site which pre-dates all other Buddhist sites that have been discovered in the state.

Ambaran has now acquired a religious and tourism status and the place has become a source of attraction for the locals as well as the outsiders. .The site is expected to invite special attention of the archeologists, historians along with tourists and visitors not from across the country but also from the worldThe Ancient Buddhist site of Ambaran (Lat 300 54` N and Long. 740 46` E) is located near Akhnoor, a few kilometers upstream from the town on the right bank of Chenab river. The site of Ambaran had come into prominence in 1930's, when Charles Fabri, the English art historian and the then curator of the Lahore Museum (now in Pakistan) found a basket lying in a corner of the museum with no clue to its origin. In it were lying terracotta figurines, Buddha's head, female torsos, draperies of life-size terracotta Buddha figures or monks. Then he decided to locate the origin of these terracottas. After painstaking investigations, including trips to various places like Baramulla, Srinagar, Harawan, in Kashmir and Akhnoor, in Jammu, Fabri finally traced the place from where his finds originated. This place was Pambarwan hamlet under the village Ambaran, situated at the point where the river Chenab emerges onto the plains. He called these relics: Akhnoor terracotta and explored the area and found fragments and parts of statues of Lord Buddha and female figures, draperies, jewellery, one beautiful and near-complete head of a woman, similar in style to heads found in the Lahore Museum. Today these sculptures, labeled as Akhnoor terracotta, are the star attraction of classical art of India and are housed in various national and international museums including Dogra art Museum Jammu.

In the year 2000 and 2001, to make the historic site of Ambaran ready for visit of tourists and general public, the ASI decided to undertake the scientific clearance of the site. But this led to unique find of an eight-spoke stupa base made up of fire baked bricks. The exteriors of the stupa were made of moulded and plain bricks. Its core was filled with pebbles and earth. This stupa was found to be associated with the Buddhist religious architecture developed by Kushanas between 1st to second centuries A.D. This chance find of a Kushan period stupa at Ambaran has not only taken back the date of the site to 2000 years from today, but also made it as the earliest recorded Buddhist site in the entire state.

Apart from the above four small votive stupas were also earlier unearthed, at Ambaran. These votive stopas according to archaeologists were constructed during Kushan and late-Kushan period. This find of votive stupas has confirmed that it could be location of one of the largest Buddhist monastic complexes in Jammu and Kashmir which comprised of stupas, chaityas (Buddhist temples), viharas (living quarters for monks) and also spaces for votive stupas which as a practice are erected to commemorate the mortal remains of monks. These chaityas- meditation corners and viharas -discipline quarters are believed to be fully functional from second century A.D. to mid-sixth century A.D., attracting devotees from far and wide. It is believed that this monastic complex has been on the route of Buddhist monks and traders going from Patliputra (currently known as Patna in Bihar) to Taxila (in Pakistan these days).

Along with the evidences of the existence of a sprawling Buddhist Complex, archaeologists made some other extremely important and exciting set of discoveries here when they unearthed the reliquery from the base of stupa. They found a silver casket, gold and silver leaves, pearls, corals and three copper coins, which was dated between third to fourth centuries A.D., thus taking the period of the site to Gupta period. Other artefacts found at the site were basins, beads, copper coins, bowls, lamps, pots with handles and spouts, small sculptures made of stone, terracotta human figures and vases etc.

The history of Ambaran-Pamberwan can be summed up thus:

* Pre-history (2nd century B.C. to 1st century B.C.): The evidence of primitive man is available from Stone Age tools and pottery unearthed at Ambaran and Akhnoor which indicate that the place has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. People seem to have first settled here around the 2nd century B.C. Till 1st century B.C. the village was quite small.

* The Kushan Period (1st century A.D. to 3rd century A.D.): An advanced civilization flourished here during the Kushan period. The Kushan Empire was originally formed in the early 1st century AD under Kujula Kadphises( grandfather of Kanishka) in the territories of what is now northern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and southern Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. During the 1st and early 2nd centuries AD, the Kushans expanded rapidly across the northern part of the South Asia as far as Saketa and Sarnath near Varanasi (Banaras). The most famous Kushan ruler, Kanishka is renowned in Buddhist tradition for having convened a great Buddhist council in Kashmir. It was also Kanishka who had issued the coins which were excavated at Ambaran. Red-ware dating to Kushan period has also been found at Ambaran. Considerable building activity is believed to have taken place at Ambaran during this period, especially the grand stupa. Around the same time, a large building i.e. the monastery was constructed nearby. It was damaged by floods. Later on in 4th - 5th century A.D. the building was rebuilt and was renovated and expanded several times thereafter. The Kushan Empire had declined from the 3rd century and fell to the Sassanid and Gupta Empires.

* The Gupta Period (4th century A.D. to 6th century A.D.): Red-ware dating to the Gupta period has been found at Ambaran. Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 AD and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors. This period is called the Golden Age of India and was marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata,Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma and Vatsyayana who made great advancements in many academic fields. Chandragupta I, Samudragupta the Great, and Chandra Gupta II the Great were the most notable rulers of the Gupta dynasty. Samudragupta brought the Jammu-Sialkot region under his control in the 4th century A.D. The Akhnoor terracottas that Ambaran is known for belong to this period. Fa-Xian, the famous Chinese pilgrim had visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II.

* Post Gupta period (7th century A.D.): the large monastery survived during this period when additions and alterations were made in the original structure. Repairs were also carried out after it was damaged by flash floods.

Hence it can be concluded that the present site of Ambaran is a Buddhist monastery that was active for about 900 years between the second century BC and seventh century AD, a period belonging to the pre-Kushan, Kushan, and post-Kushan Gupta eras. It also underwent repeated repairs due to the havoc wrought by periodic flash floods of the Chenab River. The site of Ambaran is unique in the state due to the fact that the buildings speak of the continuous existence of the monastic complex through different stages of history and is considered as third of its kind in India with one found at Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh and the second at Sanghol in Punjab. The site seems to have been abandoned when it was washed away around 7th century A.D. due to flash floods and decline of Buddhism in the region.

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Akhnoor - The unexplored tourism destination
The great city of Jammu is primarily identified as a city of temples and the gateway to Mata Vaishno Devi and the annual Amarnathji yatra. However, near the city of Jammu lies a tourism destination waiting to be discovered, on the banks of the beautiful, pristine and majestic Chenab, the Chanderbhaga river, emerging fresh from the mountains. This is the picturesque town of Akhnoor with the river Chenab in the front and the rolling hills of the Shivaliks in the backdrop. It is hardly 26 Kms from Jammu. Known as Virat Nagri in ancient times, the town is situated on the north-west on the road from Jammu to Rajouri, Poonch and connects to old historical route to Kashmir which was established by Emperor Jehangir during the Mughal rule. Located in the foot hills, Akhnoor is known for its beauty, army cantonments, and the eye catching beauty of the Chenab river. Its geographical coordinates are 32.52N 74.44E / 32.87, 74.73. It has an average elevation of 301 metres i.e 988 feet.

Akhnoor has its historical importance too. It has many stories related to it. One being from the Mahabharata which says that Pandavas hid in the caves in Akhnoor during their period of Agyaatwaas. Another story says that Akhnoor was earlier called Virat Nagar, but it came to be known as Akhnoor during the Mughal reign. The reason behind this is that the Mughal emperor's wife had vision problem in her eyes and she was prescribed to wash her eyes with the holy water of Chenab using some ayurvedic medicines by a local Hindu priest. The queen strictly followed the prescription and her vision was restored. Hence the city was named Akhnooer as in Urdu the word 'noor' means vision/glow/shine and the word 'aankh' means the eye.

There are many astounding historical and religious places in Akhnoor. From the Indus Valley Civilization to the present day, Akhnoor has it all. Excavations in and around Akhnoor, have revealed remains dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Ambaran on the bank of the river has structures and brick structures dating back to the 1st to the 7th century BC. Some of these places are being mentioned below.

The majestic Chenab: The waters of the Chenab start from snow melt from the Bara Lacha Pass, in the Himachal Pradesh. The two streams of waters one flowing south and other flowing north from the pass are known as the Chandra and Bhaga Rivers respectively. The Chandra and Bhaga meet to form the Chandrbhaga River at Tandi. It becomes the Chenab when it joins the Marau River at Bhandera Kot, 12 Km from Kishtwar

At Akhnoor, the river completes its mountainous journey and starts its onward journey into the plains before entering into Pakistan. The old steel girder bridge constructed in 1930's was washed away in September 1992 and was rebuilt in April 1994. However a new concrete, 2 way bridge has also been built which is 0.5 KM upstream the present steel bridge. It is the first longest caterpillar bridge in India which is 180 mtrs in length. Both these bridges command panoramic views.

The banks of the river Chenab are a happening site to watch in the evenings of the summer season, because a very large number of people gather there to get relief from the heat and enjoy in the cold breeze that flows along the banks. A walkway has been constructed along the bank. Construction of a park can further add to the beauty of this place. The river while winding its way through Akhnoor is ideal for rafting and other water sports activities. These sports can be introduced here.

The Akhnoor Fort: Standing tall on the bank of the river is the Akhnoor fort. This two-storeyed fort is the dominating structure of the town which is perched on a cliff overlooking the river Chenab and looms over the town. The fort is under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) since 1982 and it has been declared a national monument to be preserved and protected as per Monument Act 1958. As per historians, the fort was originally constructed by Raja Teg Singh in 1762, and then by Raja Alam Singh in 1802. It has gained considerable attention as terracotta items belonging to Harappan Civilization were excavated from different parts of the fort. It also holds significance as the place is the northernmost site of the Indus valley civilization on the Indian subcontinent. The ASI has taken up several measures to restore the pristine glory of the historical building and has mooted several proposals for the removal of encroachments from there. Presently, It houses various Govt. offices including the SDM office and the police station.

The Historic Jia pota Ghat: On the northern bank of mighty sprawling river overlooked by the magnificent Fort, lies the Jia Pota ghat, This is the place where an event of unprecedented historical importance took place in which Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab gave Raj Tilak to his most trusted & loyal Dogra General Gulab Singhji on 17 June 1822 (4th Har 1879) and made him Raja of Jammu. A mural has been constructed here to showcase the event.

Ambaran the Buddhist site: Just below the newly built bridge lies the archeological site of Ambaran where ancient Buddhist ruins of Kushan and Gupta dynasties have been found. Excavations suggest four different periods of existence - the pre kushans period (second Century BC), the Kushans period, the Gupta and the post Kushans period. Many a terracotta heads and a gold casket containing the relics of the Buddha were unearthed here and are exhibited in various museums of the world. This is the eighth place in the world where Buddha relics have been found in a stupa. Unearthing of a Buddhist monastery complex by ASI makes this place, an important centre on the Buddhist circuit in India. Some coins, terracotta beads and other articles of Kanisha - the Great Kushan Emperor unearthed here are exhibited in a small room along with some photographs of the excavation. A visit to this site is enthralling especially for those having deep interest in Archeology. Ambaran has gradually started attracting attention as an ancient Buddhist site and is believed to be the oldest in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Border: About 25 Km. further towards north-west lies the Pallanwala sector on the line of control which can also be exploited for border tourism. The area is famous for peacocks. There are a number of places worth watching like the Chinota forest, Kaani Dhakki, the Butcha Mandi, enchanting views of Manawar Tawi at Burdoh, Dhakkar, Battal etc. Recently, a three-day border tourism festival was organized in Suchetgarh along the India-Pakistan international border that included cultural programmes, promotion of local cuisine and handicrafts. Similar programmes can also be organized here along this belt.

Religious Places: There are number of temples, shrines, ashrams and meditation centers in and around Akhnoor, which are host to a number of religious programmes and discources. The Durga temple and Pandav Ghufa: It is believed that Pandavas had spent their Aagayatvas here. Shiv Gufa also known as Pandav Gufa on the banks Chenab is said to have been discovered by the Pandavas. A beautiful temple called the Durga temple is built around the Pandava gufa. Balle-Da-Bagh: On the Akhnoor-Jourian road, a mazaar of Baba Faiz Baksh Syed Bukhari is situated on the right side of the road at Balle-Da-Bagh. This sacred shrine is equally important for the people belonging to all religions and faiths. According to the local priests, the shrine is about 450 years old. It has high value amomg the village folk and it is believed that whosoever comes here, his wish is fulfilled. Gurdwara Tapo Asthan Sant Baba Sunder Singh Ji: Just a little downstream the old bridge, a magnificent Gurudwara Tapo Asthan Sant Baba Sunder Singh Ji has been built in the memory of the Sikh Sant who sat here near the river in meditation.

Dori Dager: Situated below the Kalidhar Range in the lap of cliffish mountains, is the beautiful scenic hamlet of Dori Dager which is famous for temple of Baba Mai Mal. Baba Mai Mal is a renowned deity of Duggar Pardesh. He was the hero of farmer community. Just like Baba Jitto, he sacrificed his life to fight against injustice and cruelty to farmers. A congregation (Mail in Dogri) is held twice in a year in his memory. A large number of people throng the place to seek blessings of Baba Mai Mal. They lay offerings at the Darbars of Baba Ji to get their wishes fulfilled. Dori Dager has been brought on the tourism map and several developmental works have already been taken up by the Tourism Department.

All the above mentioned places can be linked to other tourist and religious places in Jammu region so that once a tourist comes to Jammu he should not miss to visit Akhnoor.

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