Vaishno Devi

Nestled in the Trikuta mountains, Vaishno Devi Temple, 61 km from Jammu, is visited by thousands of devotees every year. It is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimage places for Hindus in north India. The temple is perched at a height of 5,200 ft and Goddess Shakti is worshipped here in forms of Maha Kali, Maha Saraswati and Maha Lakshmi. A cave temple, the shrine houses three sacred ‘pindis’ or stone representations of three energy forms, which are worshipped as the aforementioned goddesses. Interestingly, all the pindis differ in colour and texture despite of having the same source rock. The pale white rock is said to represent Goddess Saraswati, lying on the extreme left, in the middle lies the yellow-red rock denoting Goddess Lakshmi, and the one on the left is black representing Goddess Kali. The holy cave shrine is said to have been built by the Pandavas of the epic Mahabharata. The first reference to the goddess is found in Mahabharata, when the Pandavas and Kauravas were preparing for the war at Kurukshetra. On Lord Krishna's advice, Arjun is said to have meditated on the Mother Goddess seeking her blessings for the victory. Another legend says has it that more than 700 years ago, Vaishno Devi, who was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, had taken a vow of celibacy. One day another god, Bhairon Nath, saw her and chased after her. During the chase, the goddess felt thirsty and shot an arrow into the earth from where a spring gushed out. A place called, Charan Paduka is where she rested and it has the imprints of her feet. She later meditated in the cave at Ardhkanwari. Nine months later Bhairon Nath found her and the goddess blasted an opening through the other end of the cave. She then took the form of Maha Kali and beheaded Bhairon Nath. A temple of Bhairon Nath stands at the place where the severed head fell. Many believe that the boulder at the mouth of the cave is the petrified torso of Bhairon, who was forgiven by the Goddess in his dying moments. Yet another story goes that Vaishno Devi was initially called Trikuta, and when she was nine years old, she was performing penance on a seashore by praying to Lord Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. At that time, Lord Rama passed the shore looking for Goddess Sita who had been abducted by the demon Ravana. Seeing the girl deeply immersed in prayer, he blessed her and Trikuta told him that she had accepted him as her husband. However, since Lord Rama was faithful to Goddess Sita, he could not wed another. Moved by the girl's devotion, he gave her the name Vaishnavi and promised that in kaliyuga, he would marry her in an avatar of Kalki. He also told her to meditate in a cave in the Trikuta range and gave her a bow and arrow, a lion and a small army of monkeys for her protection.

Vaishno Devi

Ranbireshwar Temple

Being the largest north Indian temple dedicated to Lord Shiva (a part of the holy trinity), the Ranbireshwar Temple is divided into two distinct halls that are adorned with idols of the two sons of Lord Shiva - Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya. The focal point is the 8-foot-tall shivling made from black marble in the central sanctum, along with 12 lingams carved out of crystal, measuring from 15 cm to 38 cm. Moreover, there are about 1.25 lakh bona lingams placed in the two halls. Built by the king of Jammu and Kashmir region, Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1883, the temple is located near the Secretariat. The best time to visit the temple is from the months of September to April.

Ranbireshwar Temple

Raghunath Temple

In the heart of the city lies the Raghunath Temple, the largest shrine complex in north India. It houses seven shrines with each having a shikhar (spire) of its own. The main temple is dedicated to Lord Rama. A notable feature of this temple is the fact that gold sheets cover the inner three sides of the temple. In addition, it has a gallery that houses numerous lingams and saligrams. The intricate carvings on the temple walls immediately catch the eye. The temple also houses a library that has rare Sanskrit books and manuscripts. The construction of the temple was started by Maharaja Gulab Singh, who founded the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir in 1853 and was completed by his son, Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1860.

Raghunath Temple

Peer Kho Temple

With igneous rocks and acacia caves as a backdrop, the Peer Kho Temple is a stone’s throw from the centre of the city. The temple comprises two caves that are 20 to 30 ft deep with a flight of marble steps. A 3-ft-wide cave is followed by a large cave that is 12-ft-high with a naturally formed shivling which is the centre point. While the exact time of the construction of the temple is unknown, many believe that it is the most ancient temple in the Shivalik region. There are several legends associated with the origin of this temple. One of the more popular stories says that Jamvant, the bear god from the epic Ramayana, meditated here, which is why it is also known as the Jamvant cave.

Peer Kho Temple

Gaurikund

A natural spring, Gaurikund is known for its sacred waters that attract a number of tourists and devotees. It is believed to be the place where Goddess Parvati would come and bathe every day before making her way to the nearby Sudh Mahadev Temple to pray. It is also said that taking a bath in the sacred water of the kund (pond) keeps one from falling prey to bad fortune. Tourists can see the top of Mt Kailash or Kailash Parvat from here. A temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati has been constructed here, and is frequented by devotees all year round. An annual fair is held in June, during which Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are worshipped in the forms of Shankar and Uma. Pilgrims bathe in the Dewaki river after offering their prayers. Gaurikund lies about 100 km from Jammu. Another attractive site to visit near Gaurikund is Patnitop, which is known for its beautiful landscapes and thrilling adventure activities. Some of these activities include parasailing, paragliding and hot air ballooning.

Gaurikund

Baba-Dhansar

Located near the serene Karua lake, Baba Dhansar is one of the holy places near Katra. It has a Shiva temple and a gushing spring that emerges from rocks and falls into a thick forest. It re-emerges as many small waterfalls that form a pool while flowing into the valley. A grand fair is organised at the festival of Maha Shivratri in the area, and draws devotees from all over the area. Legend has it that when Lord Shiva went to Amarnath to show his powers of immortality to Goddess Parvati, he left his serpent Sheshnag at Anantnag. The serpent took a human form of Vasudev and had a son called Dhansar, who later became a saintly person. Thus, the place has been named after him.

Baba-Dhansar

Sukarala Devi Temple

An ancient shrine dedicated to Goddess Sukarala, a reincarnation of Goddess Sharda, the temple is situated at a height of about 3,500 ft from the sea level. It is located in Billawar in Kathua district. The goddess is considered to be a form of Hindu Goddess Durga. The temple was made by Madho Singh, a banished prince from Chamba in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Legend has it that the goddess marked herself in a sitting posture on a block of stone. The idol features the goddess sitting on a lion figure made of brass with a mounted head of silver. Devotees also come here to worship Mahishasura Mardini, a form of Goddess Durga, standing on top of demon king Mahishasura.

Sukarala Devi Temple

Krimchi Temples

Also known as Pandava temples by local people, the three ancient Krimchi temples are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The temples are believed to have been built in the 11th and 12th centuries AD, and are perhaps the oldest in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The architecture speaks of a predominant Greek (Hellenic) style. These temples are situated on a stone complex, skirted by a small stream. The temples have an abstract architecture and house fascinating sculptures of Hindu deities. The main temple is 50-ft-high. A popular legend associated with the place is that Raja Kichak of the epic Mahabharata developed the town of Krimchi and Pandavas took shelter here during some years of their exile and hence the temples are sometimes called after them.

Krimchi Temples

Shrine of Peer Baba

A spiritual spot visited by people of all religions, the Shrine of Peer Baba is a much-visited site. The locals see Peer Baba (Peer Budhan Ali Shah) as their protector and believe that no evil shall befall them as long as Peer Baba watches over them. According to legends, Peer Baba was a close friend of Guru Gobind Singh and lived on milk all his life. He lived to a ripe old age of 500 years and was much-loved by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. After his death, they revered him and built him a shrine. Located behind the Civil Airport of Jammu, the shrine sees a huge footfall on Thursdays. It is believed that if people offer flowers and chaddars at this spot, their wishes would be fulfilled.

Shrine of Peer Baba

Shahdara Sharief

A religious site visited by people of all religions, the Shahdara Shareif was built by Maharaja Gulab Singh in the 19th century to pay tribute to Baba Ghulam Shah. It is believed that Pir Ghulam Shah, who was born at Saidian (now Rawalpindi, in Pakistan), made Shahdara his home for life. Legend has it that Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab in 1820 AD, sent his army general, Gulab Singh, to conquer his adversary. However, the general lost most of his soldiers and when he was camping at Thanna-Mandi, he found out about Baba Ghulam Shah and went to see him. When the baba saw him, he smiled. On being asked the reason, he said that he was smiling at the good future of Gulab Singh. Then, baba asked the general to climb on top of a mountain and look around. He said that all the places he saw with his naked eye would be a part of his territory someday. The general saw Jammu, Kashmir, Tibet and Kishtwar and as thanks asked the baba to take some land from him, who asked him for the land of Shahdra Sharief in Jammu. Later, Gulab Singh became the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir and went on to express his gratitude to the baba. However, baba had left his abode and Gulab Singh got a shrine constructed for him. The shrine lies at a distance of about 177 km from Jammu.

Shahdara Sharief

Peer Ki Gali

The word ‘peer’ denotes a person devoted to religion. Situated between the villages of Poshana and Heerpur along the Mughal Road, written records suggest that the place got its name from a saint, named Sheikh Ahmed Karim. The locals still worship him and he is considered as a living saint. The shrine is not the grave of the peer but the place where he meditated. It is said that there are imprints of his hands on a stone slab inside. Apart from this, the area is surrounded by snow-clad mountain peaks which make it a picturesque tourist destination. Locals believe that the saint still comes to help those who call on him. If you are visiting here, then you can take a short detour to the scenic Srinagar as well.

Peer Ki Gali

Akhnoor

About 28 km from Jammu, at the foothills of the Great Himalayas, lies the beautiful town of Akhnoor, situated on the banks of the Chenab river. The town has artefacts that date back to the Indus valley civilisation. The centre of attraction of this town is the Gurudwara on the banks of Chenab. There is also a Parshuram temple nearby along with a spectacular park on the banks of Chenab, which shines like a pearl during the later parts of the evening and seems like a wonderland during the night hours. The annual celebration of the Parshuram Jayanti take place in May and are a must-see if you are visiting around that time. There is also a shivling here that is believed to have been founded by the Pandavas along with the impressions of Lord Krishna in the Pandav Gufa. Near Akhnoor is a site called Ambara with a monastery that dates back to somewhere between 1st century AD and 7th century AD. Apart from being a place of religious and historical importance, it serves as an ideal vacation spot as well.

Akhnoor