So I am not religious. Not the temple hopping types (okay, an occasional hopper). Not in the truest sense of the word. And still there are places I believe in. I would go visit them in a heartbeat. For their energy, the peace you get when you are there, a feeling of connection with a power which cannot be described in words.
Vaishno Devi for me is one such place. I had always wanted to visit the Shrine after hearing about it from so many of my friends and families about its energy and the environment. When the opportunity presented itself and we had a free weekend (‘the family’), we just booked our tickets and headed there.
The visit was a fulfilling one and we came back with a lot of sunshine in our hearts.
A bit about the Goddess and the temple
Amongst the holiest of Hindu Pilgrimage sites, Vaishno Devi is located in the Trikuta Hills in Jammu, India. It is said that you can visit the Shrine only when the Goddess wants you to. Every year, more than 10 Million pilgrims visit , some undertaking the 13 Kilometres arduous trek and some going even one step ahead, crawling up the entire way up to seek the blessings of the Goddess,
According to Hindu mythology, It is believed that in the Treta Yuga, the Earth was overburdened by the wicked and tyrannical rule of the demons. It is then that the Goddesses Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati decided to combine their energies to rid the earth of destruction and the impending doom and created Vaishno Devi, an eight armed Goddess.
Vaishno Devi destroyed the demons and was requested to reside on Earth, so that she may forever keep all evil at bay. She chose to incarnate as a human, named Vaishnavi.
A devotee of Lord Rama, Vaishnavi had an Ashram on the foothills of Trikuta. Bhairav Nath, a tantrik, chased her while the Goddess was meditating. Finally Vaishnavi got angry and took the form of Kali and beheaded the notorious Bhairav’s head. However, the Goddess then forgave Bhairo Nath and allowed him to attain Moksha.
In order to continue her meditation without any disturbances, the Goddess shed her human form and took the form of a rock. The cave where the transformation happened is now the holy shrine of Vaishno Devi. It is said the the Goddess takes away all your sufferings and fulfils all your wishes, if you visit the Shrine.
Our Journey to Vaishno Devi
Katra to Vaishno Devi, is a 13 Kilometres long and uphill route and most of the people who visit, prefer to walk up the whole way.
I will admit here that at the time I visited Vaishno Devi, I wasn’t as adventurous as most of the people who visit the place are. Probably now when I go, I would go walking the entire route, but at that point in time, my son was barely four years old. We weren’t sure that we would be able to walk the whole route and hence had decided to opt for the helicopter services.
The ride lasted barely for 7-8 minutes but to be honest was an amazing experience. It is very rarely that we get a chance to sit in a helicopter. Anyway, we landed at Sanjichat which is at an elevation of 6080 ft. Post that, it was a pleasant 2.5 Kilometres walk till Bhawan (Shrine of Vaishno Devi) which took us around 45 minutes.
Taking the helicopter ride has its own perks. With the boarding ticket, you will get VIP entry passes to the Bhawan from Gate no. 5.
It was a beautiful and deeply moving journey from Sanjighat to Bhawan. The valley below looked beautiful. We felt as if we are one with the crowds, the heady chants of ‘Jai Mata Di’ reverberating everywhere.
Whether old or young, it seemed like the devotees had springs in their feet. Everyone looked happy, no signs of the tiredness or fatigue anywhere on their face. The vibes were infectious and even we could not stop ourselves from shouting ‘Jai Mata Di’ once in a while.
Once we reached Bhavan, we had to deposit all our belongings at a designated locker(free of charge) in the Cloak Room. There is a good arrangement of bathrooms and toilets where devotees can freshen up before darshan.
It is a short few steps to the Bhawan for Darshan/viewing of the Goddess. There is no statue or idol of the Goddess. Rather, there is a natural rock form in a holy cave in which it said that the Goddess manifests herself in the form of three heads or Pindies and the Pindies are considered to by Holy and are worshipped.
The rock formation is immersed in water and there is a marble platform around it. It is amazing that through all the three Pindies emanate from one single rock, they are different in their colour and texture.
One very important thing to remember is that the Darshan is suspended during the The ‘Aarti’ of the Goddess, which is performed twice a day, once before the sunrise and then immediately after the sunset so plan your trip accordingly.
The ‘Aarti’ process is an elaborate and lengthy one. We reached a little bit late and had to wait for more than an hour for the Darshan. The evening Aarti preparation starts at around 5:30 PM so if you are planning for a Darshan at that time, do make it a point to reach before 5:00 PM. And remember, there is very little time to do the Darshan since it is almost always crowded.
Our next stop is the Bhairavnath Temple.
There is a belief that no trip to Vaishno Devi is complete without paying a visit to the temple of Bhairav Nath.
As per Hindu mythology, Bhairav was a tantric who followed Vaishno Devi consecutively for nine months in the Trikuta hills. Finally Vaishno Devi got angry and took the form of Kali and beheaded the notorious Bhairav’s head.
Bhairav, after realising that Vaishno Devi was no ordinary girl, realised his mistake and sought her forgiveness before dying. The Goddess knew that his intention in attacking her was to attain salvation and she forgave Bhairav, liberating him from the cycle of reincarnation.
She also granted him a boon that no pilgrimage of Vaishno Devi would be complete until and unless a devotee visits the Bhairav Nath temple after the Darshan of the Vaishno Devi.
The temple is a further two kilometres walk from Bhawan. We walked up till there enjoying the trek. However, it was quite steep. Ponies are available in case you feel too tired. The view of the Bhawan and Katra from the Sunset Point is beautiful.
While on our way back, we stopped at Ardhkunwari, a shrine in a 15 feet long cave. It is said that this is the place where Vaishno Devi did her meditation for 9 months due to being chased by Bhairavnath.
The sight of illuminated Katra looked beautiful. Chants of Vaishno Devi’s name could be heard everywhere. Ardhkunwari Temple is located a half way to Vaishno Devi Shrine and normally people who walk all the way up also make a stop here.
Our last stop on our way down was Banganga. A tributary of the Chenab River, Banganga gets its name from two words – Ban meaning arrow and Ganga, being the holy Ganges River.
The story goes that when Vaishno Devi was heading to her abode in Trikuta Hills, in order to quench her thirst, she shot an arrow in the ground and a spring came up, which is known as Banganga now.
Devotees like to take a dip in the holy waters of Banganga before continuing their journey to Vaishno Devi. While going up, Banganga is the first major check point.
Remember : While on our way back, in order to save time, we took stairs to descend at many places. However, it can lead to excruciating pain later on, so please descend down the slopes. Also, lots of massage options are available. Do get one and you won’t regret it!
Reaching Vaishno Devi
Katra is the place one has to reach to be able to visit the Vaishno Devi Shrine. The nearest accessible place to Katra is Jammu which is well connected to the rest of India. From Jammu, it is approximately a 2 hour ride to Katra which can be done by a Bus or a taxi.
|AIR||Jammu is well connected to the rest of India by air. All the major airlines fly to Jammu. You can book your tickets on makemytrip.com or kayak.com .|
|TRAIN||Numerous trains ply to Jammu from various parts of the country. Also, there are Vande Bharat Trains on the Delhi-Katra route which take just eight hours to reach. |
Special trains are also run for the convenience of passengers, in the peak season of summer.
You can check out the website of the Indian railways for booking your tickets.
|BUS||National Highway No. 1A passes through Jammu and it is very well connected to the rest of India. There are frequent bus services from major North Indian cities to Jammu and Katra as well.|
For passengers traveling by road, either through public or own transport, there is an option of taking a by-pass from Kunjwani, nearly 10 kms. off Jammu and heading straight for the base camp i.e Katra.
Katra to Vaishno Devi
There are more than one ways to reach Bhawan (Shrine of Vaishno Devi). You can chose to trek up, hire a pony or a palanquin, or take a helicopter ride (one way/return).
Trek from Katra to Vaishno Devi
Step 1 – Yatra Parchi/Entry Pass
A compulsory entry pass is required to visit the Shrine. Queue up at the Yatra Registration Counter at the Fountain Chowk in Katra and get the entry pass or the ‘Parchi’ as it is known. The process is free and easy and the queue moves really fast (waiting time is normally 10-15 minutes).
You will get a printed pass once they verify your name and hometown. As a matter of rule, always keep an identity card with you.
You can save the hassle by pre-booking your Yatra Parchi online on the website of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. Please remember that this Yatra Parchi has to be carried at all times and is even needed when availing the helicopter services.
Step 2- Reach Banganga Gate
You can take a shared or a single autorickshaw till Banganga, which is the first check point for the trip or the Yatra. There is an option of walking down till Banganga (4-5 Kilometres). There is a security check so carry only things which you really need. There are separate queues for men and women.
Step 3 – Banganga to Bhawan
The walk till Ardh Kunwari is of moderate intensity (6 Kms) while from Ardh Kuwari to Sanji Chaat, the ascent gets a bit difficult. From Sanji Chaat to Bhawan, the walk is again of moderate intensity.
The final leg of the journey till Kal Bhairav temple is steep and is a high intensity walk.
There is also the option of hiring a pony in case you have some health issue or are daunted by the uphill trek. Option of Palanquin or Palki for elderly and aged people is also there. Rates are written on the walls and are decided by the Shrine Board.
|Remember that |
1. You don’t need to carry a lot of things. Carry only essentials. Throughout the route, there are plenty of water vending machines (no charge). There are many food joints serving food (vegetarian) at very reasonable charges. Toilets are there at many places.
2. Be careful when walking because there is two way movement of people and the ponies/palanquins and sometimes it gets chaotic, something which we learnt while we were on our way back.
3. Wear a good pair of shoes.
4. Lockers are provided free of charge near Bhawan where you have to deposit all your things.
There is an option of Helicopter ride till Sanjichat which we also availed of (one way) since our kid was small then. The flight lasts for eight minutes and then it is a pleasant 2.5 Kilometres walk till Bhawan.
One way fare from Katra to Sanjichhat or Sanjichhat to Katra is Rs.1730/- per passenger and round trip is Rs.3460/-per passenger. Helipad is approx. 2 Km. from Bus Stand Katra at Udhampur Road. You can book your ride online on the website of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.
Remember that often the helicopter ride depends on the weather conditions. Also, ensure to keep your Yatra Parchi, your ticket as well as your identity document since these documents are required.
There are multiple stay options at Katra in all ranges. You will find many economical hotels near the bus stand, making it easy for travelling to different places since it is a central location.
The Atrium on the Greens is a luxury and a good option to stay and is located close to the Katra railway station. Hotel The Royal Krishna is also a very comfortable option and provides a luxurious stay and good service.
The Shrine Board provides decent and economical stay options at Katra (Niharika Yatri Niwas, Shakti Bhawan, and Ashirwad Bhawan situated at the Bus stand) and dormitory accommodation at Trikuta Bhawan near the 2nd Yatra counter. It also provides stay options at Adkuwari, Sanjichatt and at main Bhawan.
Bookings can be made at the reception of these guest houses or at the Enquiry and Reservation counter at Niharika complex. Online booking can be done on the website of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.
Best time to visit
Though Vaishno Devi is popular with visitors at all times of the year, summertime is the peak season when it can get really crowded. However, the best time to visit Vaishno Devi is from September to October and February-March since the weather is pleasant and makes the long walk uphill much more easier.
Navratras are a very popular time to visit but it also gets very very crowded then.
A great experience for us..a beautiful and well managed temple in a peaceful location..a thrilling helicopter ride, a trek down to Katra which made us realise that climbing down can be a difficult experience..the serene environment and most of all the atmosphere…and the vibrant chants filling it up.
Some places have the ability to turn you into a believer.
Jai Mata Di!
Have you been to the Holy Shrine of Vaishno Devi? If yes, do share your travel experiences in the comments section below. Do also share if you have any feedback!
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