During my vacation last week, I made a trip to
Vaishno Devi Mandir -
one of the biggest and the heavily visited shrine of the Hindus. This
shrine is located in the
in the Northern most state of India,
Jammu and Kashmir,
and is dedicated to the Mother Goddess.
The shrine is managed by Shri Mata
Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) who are doing a stupendous effort. I was
particularly very impressed with the communication, facilities and cleanliness through out.
The shrine is at an altitude of 5200 feet and visited by millions (almost
7 million in 2006) of devotees
every year. Read the
Hindu legend behind this holy place.
How to get there ?
After taking an overnight train journey from Delhi to Jammu, there is a 3
hour bus journey to
This is the base camp where all the pilgrims assemble to start the 12 km (7.5
miles) hike up the hill to The
Bhavan. This is the main place of worship and has the holy cave which
has the manifestation of Mother Goddess -
Mata Maha Kali,
Mata Maha Lakshmi and
Mata Maha Saraswati.
More details are available here.
There are numerous hotels in Katra that can be rented overnight and provide
facilities ranging from full room service to cloak rooms. And the rates are
pretty reasonable too.
The Shrine Board issue receipts (one per group/family) at the Katra in order
to control the number of pilgrims in the Bhavan. It is of utmost importance to
collect this receipt because this is your ticket to entry to the Bhavan later.
If you are not interested in hiking from Katra to Bhavan, then alternatively
you can ride a pony, palki
(palanquin) or even a helicopter ride. A mix-and-match where you ride the pony
oneway and walk the other way is also available. Or you can also hire a
pithoo (porters) who will carry your luggage from Katra to Bhavan and vice
versa. The biggest majority of devotees walk all the way up & down and backpack
their change of clothes or goodies (that may include prasad - offering to
the Godess) to be
offered at the Bhavan.
The hike can be done on the paved path (very well maintained) or up the
stairs (shorter distance but steep and tiring). The paved path and stairs meet
at certain points. However one particular stairs have 529 steps, before an exit,
so make sure to watch out for that (marked before the stairs) before you
venture. There are numerous food and utility shops through out the hike. And
then of course there are Dhabas
(street-side restaurants) which serve complete meal.
Mid Way Stop - AdhKawari
After approx 7 km of hike you'll reach AdhKawari. This is where Mother
Goddess meditated for 9 months in a cave attaining spiritual wisdom and powers.
The pilgrims wait in queue to enter the holy cave.
A token is issued (one per family/group) to control the flow of pilgrims. The
typical wait time after the token number is current is 3 hours. In order to save
time, some of the devotees skip this optional stop over.
At the Bhavan
||The visit at the Bhavan typically start with a freezing cold water
shower and a change of clothes. Even though both are optional, but
highly recommended after a steep hike.
The ticket issued at the Katra
is exchanged for a batch number at a counter in the Bhavan. The running
batch number is clearly displayed at several places. The devotees which
carry the current batch number, or lesser, can enter the queue.
After entering the queue, you pass through a maze (which is useful to handle
the crowd during rush time) and finally find yourself in front of a
marble stone cave.
The actual manifestation of Shri Vaishno Devi resides at one end of this cave.
After worshipping the Deity (typically for 2-5 seconds because of a continuous
churn of devotees) and making your wish, you head over to the exit at other end
of the tunnel.
The pilgrims keep reciting "Jai Mata Di" (Hail Mother Goddess) all
through out the journey from Katra to Bhavan and back.
After worshipping at the Bhavan, you head over to Bhairon Mandir (Bhairon
Temple). A visit to this temple is skipped by a few devotees because of a
further higher altitude and steepness of the hike. This is the highest elevation
(approx 6600 feet) in the entire trip. Make sure to carry your camera to capture
some picturesque view of the Himalayas, especially in the winter season.
After worshipping at this temple, the downhill hike starts. However be
cautious of the monkeys on the way coming back. Specifically if are using one of
the commonly used bags (bought at the prasad shop) then they might pounce
upon you ;-)
At the end, we took a bus from Katra to Jammu and then finally a train ride back
This was my third trip and I must say I'm really thankful for
The complete album is here:
The complete detailed planning can be done after reading the tips