Ever been to Pakistan? I have. Well, if standing at a point in Jammu, where you are at the extreme end of the India-Pakistan border, to the extent that if you cross that line, you are most likely to be shot by one of the Pakistani militants counts, then I have. My recent, highly adventurous trip to Leh Ladakh started from the land of Jammu, a place with high security, very helpful army guys, slightly rude locals and a lot of sardars, which wasn’t surprising, of course!
Go visit the Raghunath Temple in Jammu if you’re feeling too touristy or simply skip that and ride down to the Octroi border at Suchetgarh. The drive is a beautiful one –large open fields on both sides, horses grazing around the fields, and farmers doing their daily chores with their tractors. Remember the Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge scenes when Shahrukh takes Kajol to his home in Punjab? Picture exactly that!
The Octroi border used to be a railway station, before it was converted into the border that it is today. It gets its name from the ‘chungi’ (tax) collection, the term that was told to us by the officials there, that was undertaken there. The main gate painted entirely with the Indian flag, stern and smartly dressed militants guarding it with rifles in their hands; it’s not every day that you get to see things like these. Feeling patriotic already? I definitely was. Go through the gate and you will see a STOP sign. That, right there is where our country land ends, and that of Pakistan begins! Goosebumps! I was then distracted by overexcited, Mr. Sheikh, an elderly army officer who made us take pictures with clichéd poses at all the different points from all the different angles. If and when you go there and he happens to be around, you know you’re in for some fun!
Everyone visits the border as a tourist spot and takes pictures, but it is only when you have a chat with the soldiers that you realize how deep their love for the country is, and what we simply go and admire for a day on our vacation is actually their job and what they dedicate their lives to, or more like our lives, to keep us out of danger. Sitting under a man-made stone seating area and listening to the chirping of the birds amidst the peace and calm there, my thoughts wandered to the firing, which took place from the Pakistani borders every night. The chirping seemed to be saying so many deep stories, stories of careless firing, of wounds, of lives, of families, who have lost their loved ones, and of the soldiers who jeopardize their lives each and every day, for the rest of us, so that we can enjoy that McChicken Burger with extra cheese, or go watch the latest 3D movie at Imax. Can we have one night of McPeace here?
Getting there: Best way to reach there is by flight. You will mostly have a stopover at Delhi. You can also take a train to Delhi, Duronto would be the best, and then fly to Jammu. That’s what I did.
Cost: Duronto Express – Rs. 2,171/- (Class 3A, Pune to Nizamuddin) Delhi to Jammu – Rs. 2647/- (Spicejet Flight) Book train ticket on IRCTC.
Staying there: I stayed at the Jammu Premiere Hotel, which is extremely close to the Raghunath Temple. The rooms were AC and pretty good. P.S. For Pune’s High Spirits lovers, there is also a bar there called Hi Spirit to make you feel at home!
What to eat: The non-veg food at the hotel wasn’t particularly appealing. I’d say, stick to the veg. Order rajma and dal tadka, those are their specialties. Strictly avoid ordering sandwiches! Also, on your way to the border, you might be tempted by the kulfi walas on the way, just like I was. DO NOT get yourself one. It tastes like frozen coconut water, sprinkled with salt!
For riding and other adventure tours: Get in touch with Tyremark, the group that I went with; it’s a bunch of fun guys. Here’s the contact – Dhaval Apte – 9923063562, Nitin Joshi – 9823179191