Vaishno Devi is the most common spiritual trip that a Hindu takes in his lifetime. It starts at Katra and covers a stretch of 13 km to the main temple –Bhawan. The blissful experience which I felt during the trek is what compelled me to start writing this blog. It will be of great help to anyone who takes this trip as I would be covering in it many do’s and don’ts.
1. From your home to Jammu Airport
Jammu is the nearest airport to Katra. The city is also connected via trains and by road, just that these transport modes take more time. Also being a defence airport, photography is not permitted at Jammu airport.
I took a cab from Pune Station @ 5 am (thanks to my cousin who suggested taking a cab against a Bus) to reach Mumbai. The dark sky, cool breeze, lack of sleep coupled with smooth car drive on the express highway makes one doze off.
About an hour into the journey, the driver got a call which woke me up as well. He seemed to be thanking the caller. He looked at me and said something in Marathi – unable to understand his words I simply nodded my sleepy head.
Moving ahead, I noticed him taking a diversion. Alarmed, I ask him for the reason and only after he repeated the same thing in hindi, did I understand that there had been a collision of 6 vehicles and the main route was blocked, resulting in a traffic jam that extended to over several miles.
Most certainly, it would have taken a minimum of 3-4 hours for the jam to clear. By the time, I would have missed my flight. It was a blessing that I chose that car among several others at taxi stand.
Lesson learnt – Traveling with 2 hrs of gap for flight @ Mumbai-Pune Expressway can be disastrous.
Mumbai Airport to Jammu –
Mumbai Domestic Airport has trained many a people for the recent effects of demonetization – long queues for all flights.
When my turn came to get the boarding pass – it took the lady on the other side some time in doing the needful. She asked the attendant at adjacent counter as to why this flight was not being displayed on her computer and that was because “The flight to Srinagar is cancelled”.
My heart skipped a beat. There was no alternative.
I was choked…..
“But he’s going till Jammu, you can issue him a pass”
It started pumping blood again. Euphoric about the normalcy of life, I could breathe again.
So I was relaxed and got busy in figuring out ways to kill time. What do I do when I am bored? – I eat. It being the 2nd week of demonetization, people around could be heard discussing their views – the stories of their bravery of standing in ATM queue for hours and flaunting their single Rs 2000 note. Quite an entertaining breakfast with so many pseudo economist around.
An hour gone – one more to go. Waiting alone can be boring. And so as I was walking towards crosswords – I saw a man swiftly walking towards me with his face down and I kept thinking I had seen those clothes before…in a split second I realized it was my brother. What a surprise! We were supposed to meet in Jammu. I had no clue he would be taking the same flight. What a relief!!
2. Jammu to Katra
@Jammu airport – Don’t throw away the boarding pass yet. Just near the baggage collection belt, there is a kiosk where you can get your Yatra pass. Make sure you collect it at the airport itself – saves time. They require your boarding pass and contact details.
Yatra Pass is mandatory for ————— the yatra, amazing isn’t?
There are taxis to Katra from the airport – approx 1.5-2k for a sedan.
If you wish to save some money, take the regular buses to Katra. Local buses charge only 60 bucks for the 70 km ride. Make sure you take the Haryana roadways, for the govt buses won’t make you wait till they are full.
We didn’t know about the Yatra pass when we landed. I could see a queue at the counter which I thought was for the ATM or prepaid taxis. But when I went near, I saw the ticket distribution centre. So that is a point for the prospective travellers to know.
The weather was pleasant quite unlike the photos people post on Facebook. There was no signal in my phone even though I had connections from 3 major service providers – could be due to the defence airport. BuntyJi (friend of my brother who works at JK bank) had met us at the airport and it was him who told us about only post paid sims working there.
We visited three different branches of the bank in the second week of demonization where queues @ ATM would be as long as siddhi vinayak temple however, I was astonished to see no queue at the ATMs or at the branch – all were loaded with cash.
BuntyJi took us to the main market and we had lunch at a bar (Quite ironic since we are on a spiritual trip).
We took a local bus to Katra which frequent every 30 mins. What a mistake! Rickety bus, slow driving, frequent stops, no lights on the road and chilling weather made it seem forever. In the midst, there was a point where some passengers got down and got in back after a few minutes. We were informed that it was a check post – all male passengers needed to get down.
Somehow we reached Katra – the first glimpse of the mountain charged us, it rekindled our spirits.
The hotel was close to the bus stop. An hr of sleep after 12 hrs is all I could afford thanks to my elder brother who always chooses to stay awake.
Like every spiritual trip, this one was to be done barefoot. But as I woke up – the world had changed – the temperature had dropped significantly. I was unable to stand bare feet in the hotel room and so we decided to wear our shoes.
After light snacks around 9 pm we took an auto (rs 100) to the start of the trek.
Lessons Learnt – Always take a direct flight to Jammu! Srinagar flights are usually cancelled.
3. Vaishno Devi – The Trek
Make sure you carry your yatra pass at all times. They will scan the same at several places during the climb. In case it’s lost, then you can issue a new one at the entrance. If you have lost it midway – let us know your experience :).
You can either choose to walk the 13 km stretch or ride on horses; palkies for the elderly.
The track is well maintained by the shrine board with facilities for refreshments, toilets, benches at regular intervals and most important- medicinal facilities. If you feel like resting for a few hrs – there are blanket stores too.
The first half of around 5-6km is common, and then comes a diversion old and new route. Old route passes through Adhkuwari – is a steeper and lengthier. New route is easier.
After reaching the base camp, they checked our Yatra passes. We started off. It took us just 1 hr to cover a stretch of 3 kms. So going by that approximation, we would cover 13km in next 3 hrs. This meant more time to sleep before flying back. On our way we saw temples, shops which sold various items from shoes to walking sticks but major attraction were the selfie centers, where they had a miniature cave temple setup made and they charged you to click photos.
Having covered a distance of 5 kms, a diversion came where we took the older route, which is difficult to traverse because we wanted to visit Adhkuwari(This is the place where Maa had observed spiritual discipline). Every major point is preceded by several shops and this is how we inferred we had reached Adhkuwari. For the first time, we saw a sizable flat area on the top of a mountain which had a temple structure built in the middle.
A lady who was standing at some distance away looked at me as I was ascending up. She asked if I was going to visit Adhkuwari; I nodded my head. She extended her hand, gave me a piece of paper and asked me to use it. Confused, I look back at my brother who was 5 steps away, as I don’t know what that was for. She asked how many of us were there.
“Two” I replied.
“Good, up to 4 people can go with this” replied the woman.
I thought it was a paid entry to Adhkuwari so I reached for my wallet.
“No need, but you should hurry as the slot is about to be announced.”
We learnt that, we first had to take this entry ticket which mentions a number and when an announcement is made, a batch of 40-50 people could go inside the temple. Approx wait time is 1-2 hr after you take the ticket.
That was truly a moment of elation, as if it were a personal invitation by the Goddess of the Temple herself.
As we reached the entrance, the announcement was made. However, we were stopped because of the bag. You are needed to keep everything in cloak room – belts, shoes, bags, etc.
I ran to the cloak room which was located two floors above in an adjacent building. It was locked. I inquired but no one knew. Time was running out. I quickly descended to the inquiry room below. Luckily, I found the guy who had the keys of the cloakroom with him and hustled back up to the cloak room. Yet, another ticket for cloak room only if your batch number is to be announced.
We rushed back to the entrance to find the gates closed and requested the security staff to let us in due to the inconvenience faced. But he didn’t allow. So we went along with the next batch.
Inside the temple hall – there was a queue of around 150 people! We waited for 30 minutes while the queue moved only by 10 people. This meant 4-5 hrs minimum before we could reach the other end. Other end may or may not be the end of the queue as we could only see as much as other end of hall, the queue could be longer. Now, the only option was to move back and skip Adhkuwari’s Darshan because of the time constraint (just 8 hrs more to reach hotel -distance to be covered 7 + 13km).
With such low energy and cold temperatures, my brain had given up on its natural working. I couldn’t make any decision. But my brother was determined; he took the lead, requested the people to let us jump the queue and surprisingly, most agreed. In next 5 minutes we were ahead of 100 people.
When our turn came, I went ahead first. There was no temple as per my expectation. It was a cave – a very narrow one. Initially, few steps have to be crawled and then you to need to twist and turn conscientiously to move ahead and at the end someone will pull you up.
After the Darshan, we finally walked out of the temple enclosure… into the freezing cold. Just walking a few steps bare feet made us run towards the cloak room. It’s surprising how some Devotees complete entire trip bare feet – this requires another level of devotion perhaps.
The surge of happiness due to the recent incident rejuvenated our spirits. The circumstances were favouring us strongly or maybe because we really did have the Deity’s blessings.
The trek ahead was steeper. The memory of how we managed Adhkuwari’s Darshan kept reverberating in our minds, giving us the strength to move forward. At the next police check post (after which the track was flat), it is very relaxing, no more ascend. Imagine yourself walking on a flat 2 km foggy track, on a mountain at an altitude of 6000 feet and no one around. Bliss!
Another diversion came – one led to Bairav temple and another to Bhawan. This meant we had to ascend the same track to come back here. A final Check post where they stamp your visa to Mata’s Darshan! (Don’t walk beside it because it can be avoided – or u will have to come back here.)
And we reached Bhawan. Now could we directly visit the Temple?….No! As per the rituals, one is supposed to take a bath.
I could barely walk in the cold (managing to limp my way up to reception) and to add to the list of problems – all the rooms near the Bhawan were occupied. With no hopes of getting a room at this ungodly hour at a godly place made us think of an alternative. But the alternative of not taking bath was not an alternative. :(.
The ATM guard of JK bank assisted us (thanks to BuntyJi’s call to him), took us to the police headquarters. Everyone inside this building was sleeping. But at the other end was a bathroom with tiles, only a cemented floor, a single bulb glowing at the other end and water dripping into a broken bucket. This was worse than my hostel too! But we had to take bath! I felt like a true warrior taking out my clothes in this intense weather. Each mug of water that I poured on my body sent shivers. I believe ice bucket challenge would be easier. My turn was over! 🙂 After popping a muscle relaxant, the pain in my legs subsided to the level where I could walk again.
|With the ATM guard|
So around 3 am, we joined the VIP line for Darshan, wherein there were hardly any people. And alas! The moment of divine Darshan inside the cave was there where we spent comfortable 5 mins. Inside, there were three Pindies – (Parvati, Vaishno, Saraswati) and we also satiated our thirst (not had water since 9 PM) by drinking from the stream which flows there. Blissful! On your way back, they will also give you a packet of Prasad.
After thanking the guard, we had to move back to the Bairav Temple which was 1.5 km away. That was the most difficult trek of the entire journey – because we were tired and hungry. The only source of energy was the water we drank in the cave.
The temple is built at a place where Bairav’s head fell – unable to walk – I wished the head had fallen somewhere down so it would be easier. There was no queue in the temple and like at other places, here too Pujari didn’t accept Dakshina. He pointed out to the CCTV camera above and said “Modiji sab dekh rahe hai”! 😀
After a quick bite (no time to eat), we started our downward trek. In the morning you can see the mountains nearby, babbling of the river – its heaven.
Around 7:30 am we reached down and took an auto back to the hotel. But next was an almost terrible incident – we both fell asleep – without setting an alarm. Luckily, something woke my brother up after 45 mins! Saved yet again! Got ready and booked a cab back to Jammu.
4. Katra to Jammu
Going back is much cheaper. For a mere 600 bucks, we got an ambassador – yes the old monster. You can also choose to take buses.
The Jammu Airport is worst in the country. They don’t allow hand baggage and there will be no speaker-based announcements in the waiting area (someone will come in the room and ask if there any people who want to board the particular flight).
What a deviation! The hell had turned into heaven in just 12 hours. The same route in the morning looked much more alluring. The highway was well maintained, roads that passed through tunnels and mountains offered a breath taking view.
After reaching Jammu airport, we had time so we ate something in the waiting area. A guy came and announced about the flights to Srinagar that were being cancelled. Since it was only 1:30 hour before departure, we walked inside the airport but were stopped at the entrance saying the crew members from the flight had not yet come. Strange! We walked back to the waiting area. Half an hour later, we were asked to proceed for the airport.
Almost 45 mins of long queue for baggage scanner and a complete mismanagement from spice jet (They arranged for a separate queue only after my brother told them about the situation), in the line of boarding pass, we were told no hand baggage! This was a typical situation because we had to get into different flights and layover was 2 hours with a change in terminal – this flight was anyway getting delayed.
So we quickly shuffled our stuff and got them rescanned!! The security check-in was even more awesome. We are supposed to identify our bags. The unidentified bags were left behind, slowly limped on stairway to flight while others waited at the back. Again! Luckily we were late by mere 15-20 mins.
Ok! So, recounting all the luck/divine intervention:
1. Pune to Mumbai Taxi didn’t get stuck in traffic jam.
2. Flight to Jammu was a direct one – Flights through Srinagar were cancelled.
3. Direct darshan at Adhkuwari – waiting would have costed us 3-4 hrs/
4. Managed to take bath @ police headquarter.
5. VIP darshan saved time.
A Weekend trip where you are planning to spend only 12 hrs in Katra is not possible.