Jammu and Kashmir is a treasure trove of secret and varied landscapes. It is impossible to choose between destinations as each has its own significance and unique beauty. District Udhampur is well known for its historic sites of Sudh Mahadev and Mantalai, but not many know about its veiled Hillock, the Gangeda, rising from the outer Himalayan range of Shivaliks.
Gangeda is a feast for the eyes — its lush greenery, quiet forest treks, wafting cold breeze, effervescent crisp air, azure skies, and the burbling of the Tawi river over rocks and branches — isn’t anything short of Godly. It offers an experience for both nature lovers and adrenaline junkies. You can walk through its beaten in-roads canopied by tall trees, or take the roads less travelled over rocks and introduce yourself to exotic plants, flowers, and insects. Gangeda also houses a Bawli, a natural spring. People carry small water bottles to fill up the sweet nectar that is believed to be Amrit (divine syrup) of River Tawi.
Udhampur is also known as Devaknagri. Devika is a small rivulet that flows through the city originating at Sudh Mahadev and culminating at SuryaputriTawi. It appears again at Gangeda.
The trip to Gangeda is easy. Many trains and buses head from Jammu to Udhampur, hardly 65 km away from the winter capital of J&K. From the Military Hospital Chowk of Udhampur, one can see the road leading to Gangeda Hillock. Right at the foothills, there is a drop in temperature and an increase in wind speed, almost as if it’s a whole new world. Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes will be seen with their grazing cattle.
Pine and Deodars fill the sky along the trek. The hilly terrain is best enjoyed during the monsoon season when the heavy clouds blur the view, and you’re in for a surprise for the scenery that awaits you on the other side.
The pinnacle of the hill, the Chattri Point, gives the panoramic view of Udhampur as far as the eyes can see. Recently tiles were laid from the bottom of the hill to Chattri Point to make Gangeda more accessible to the senior citizens. Conical sheds, large gazebos for picnic purposes, antique benches, and similar facilities are dotted on the way to the top.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has taken a personal interest in developing Udhampur into a tourist attraction. District Udhampur is famous for its innumerable springs, food like kulchas, hill stations of Patnitop, Sanasar, Nathatop, and religious places like Sudh Mahadev, Mantalai, Sharda Mata, and so on. After a long day of work, locals love to indulge in nature, whether it’s a slow walk through the woods, watching sunsets from small hills, or bird watching at dusk. Initiatives such as renovating old structures and roads, and creating access to these destinations have helped to gain mainstream traction.
At the top of the hill, people take the challenge to identify localities in Udhampur. The Air Force Station can be viewed most clearly from the top. It is another feeling to watch helicopters taking off and landing now and then.
Gangeda is the latest hangout for the youth living in Udhampur and nearby hamlets. Unlike the cities, teenagers in small towns spend their leisure time in nature. The added facilities along the trek also encourage people to get out more and maintain their health. Groups of teenagers and young adults leave their homes at the crack of dawn, packed with snacks for the morning to view the sunrise. It is slowly becoming the spot for social interactions and community-building.
The autumn season changes the entire scenery of the hillock. The fallen leaves hide the trodden paths making it a challenge to find the way uphill. One is never lonely on the hills. The singing birds always keep company on the trek. The Shivaliks are the humble dwellings of Swallows (Wire-tailed swallow, Red Rumped Swallow), Brown Shrike, Eurasian Golden Orioles, Pipits and Wagtails, Purple and Crimson Sunbird, a variety of Larks, Starlings and Mynas, Magpies and Tree pies, Eagles, Ibis, Parakeets, etc.
Gangeda has a charisma that calls you closer to it. Once you’re absorbing the energy sitting on the ground, it’s easy to lose sight of the outside world. At that moment, you are more present. You can hear the cowbells, the bleating of sheep, the buzzing of bees, and all the sounds that are dimmed by today’s noise.
This picturesque hillock is an excellent camping site as well. One can climb uphill with a sleeping bag and a tent and spend a night under the stars. Wild animals are rarely spotted and its proximity to the city centre makes it an ideal camping spot. In the morning the green reflection of the hill in the blue Tawi waters merges with the yellow sun creating a canvas of perfectly blended colours.
As trekking across all demographics is not common in small towns, many locals are taking the initiative to bring families together and normalize taking nature walks through the calm Gangeda. Some organisations conduct weekly plantation and cleanliness drives to maintain the hill. Jammu and Kashmir has been liberally granted nature’s bounty. And Gangeda surely takes the cake in the district of Udhampur.