Walking down Raghunath Bazaar road one can experience the mish-mash of a place slowly being encroached by modernity. A road opposite the temple takes you to old dhabas, a Kashmiri emporium, a tiny tea seller, the only bookshop of Jammu, enumerable branded cloth shops and the grand K.C. hotel.
Across the road from K.C. hotel, is a lane winding inside to a colony dated 150 years. Panj Bhaktar road houses the famous Billu-di-hatti which sells unhygienic but palatable non-vegetarian food. Two steps away you would also find the Waz-e-Khas restaurant which claims to sell Wazwan, a multi course Kashmiri meal. The colony has been redone in the recent years with most establishments looking new and freshly painted. However between two identical looking compact buildings there’s the remnant of a bygone era. Dilapidated, crumbling, red brick stone house with tree roots growing between the walls. The municipality has declared it uninhabitable but a few towels and pants can be seen drying on the roof.
A couple of steps forward and I reach my destination. Panchvaktra temple. The namesake of the road I had been walking on. It is a 650 years old Shiv temple that is now part of a huge complex housing various gods and goddesses. Under the shade of some trees sit old men and women, waiting for the evening Aarti. One feels that these women and men could be found in the same place every day.
The black and white chequered floor holds Victorian coins embedded in them. The manager/Pandit talks about the humiliation that Indians wanted to bestow on the British – to walk on the face of their Queen, he said, is our way of revenge. The temple has grown to its size within the last two centuries with the contribution of Maharaja Gulab Singh, of Jammu and Kashmir, and his successors.
A beautiful courtyard behind the temple complex, with benches under tall trees look welcoming. Teenage boys skip rope in the twilight. A pandit with long hair walks around. His face, the picture of serenity. His eyes, holding happiness, completely unavailable to those who take a step outside this corner of the world. An old man sits quietly, suddenly aware and staring when I attempt to take a picture.
Outside, on the main road, before the Kashmiri emporium a road veering to the right would lead you to a McDonald’s restaurant. When you exit the McDonald’s and walk back the small tea shop owner on your right might say, “Tea, coffee? Madam?” On the main road, while attempting to click the picture of a brightly lit Raghunath Mandir, a kindly autowala might stop to ask, “Did you get the picture?” Being a Delhi girl you learn to ignore what passers-by say, well meant or not.