Vaishno Devi, Katra (Jammu), India

As we continued our journey after paying our visit to The Golden Temple in Amritsar, it started to rain. Though, we knew already that it is going to rain a lot, so it wasn't a surprise. In March, it rains a lot so we were well prepared. Rain did slow us down but it was a relief and made our journey even more beautiful. Around 12 in the noon, we crossed Pathankot and entered Jammu. It started raining heavily and we decided to take a stop for lunch at road side Dhaba. After satisfying our stomachs, we had a cup of tea while we gazed outside at the beautiful views of hills while it rained. It was time to hit the road again and now we committed ourselves to not to stop at all on the way. By the time it stopped raining and we caught the speed. We took the new highway which is recently built in 2014 to reach Katra and drastically cut down our travel time. Road was smooth and wide and by evening around 7, we finally reached Katra.

As I stepped down from the bus, I was too tired and stretched my arms and smelled the fresh air. The guy behind me asked me to get aside and I realized I was blocking the way for others. Never-mind.. It started to rain again and without wasting much we checked in to our hotel which was just a walk away.

After an overnight journey, all you need is your bed and that's it. I tried to ignore my empty stomach and ignored my wife as she continually called me for dinner. I tried to ignore as long as I could until I was hit by a flying pillow or rather pillows. How dare I forgot the lesson that always listen to your wife? "I thought". With a sad face and an aching body, I got up and went up to had the fastest dinner of my life. I don't remember much of it afterwards but one thing I know is that was the best sleep I got.

While it rained all night, the morning was sunny and beautiful. I convinced everyone that we will start our journey of 14 kms trekking Trikuta hills where the holy temple of Mata Vaishni Devi is loczted, by 7am in the morning. Once again, I was late and we started off at 8am after having breakfast. Before you start your journey, you need a Yatra slip which you can get at Katra bus stop or online free of cost. I got it online for my family members and carried it along with the ID proofs.

One can either walk all the way, hire a pony or palki (4 men will carry you in a carriage) which is used by elderly or pregnant women; and helicopter service is also available at a very nominal price but make sure to book in advance.

Darshani Darwaza
We started walking carrying our 18 months old son, but then it started getting difficult as we crossed Darshani Darwaza (the starting point of the journey) as the trek became bit steeper. Then we hired a pithu (men who carry children or your luggage), but that didn't work as my son wasn't ready to go with him. "Why not a pony?" my wife said, and I said yes with a doubt if my son will sit on it or not? My wife did a trial and she sat on pony with my son and he looked happy. With a relief, we hired ponies till Aadhkawari. Aadhkawari is the mid point to The holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. It is believed that mata stayed in the Garbh Joon at Aadhkawari for 9 months while Bhairon was chasing her after she challenged him.

Darshani Darwaza
My Pony
Coming back to our story, my son really enjoyed the ride and within 45 minutes, we reached Aadhkawari which is 6 kms from Katra. We got off our ponies and stayed there for a while and had some snacks. The queue to enter Garbh Joon was so long that we had to wait until the night in order to get inside. It is believed that even the most fat person can pass through Garbh Joon which is a very small cave. As w didn't want to wait in the queue, we skipped it and continued the journey.

We took the new trek which is built quite recently and is less steep as compared to the old trek. E-Autos also ply on this trek which have to be books in advance, We chose to walk and my wife and me carried our son as it was easier on the new trek. We enjoyed the views and at one point, it started to rain, but didn't last long and we continued the journey.

After 3 hours of trekking, we reached The Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi which is located 12 kms from Katra. We had a bath as it is custom to have a bath before paying visit in the temple. Though it was so hot, the water in which we had bath was so chilling that I could not even spend 10 seconds in it. Water flows directly from the hills and I wondered how people manage it during winters.

Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan
The Bhawan
Shivering, I ran out to get ready. I was the fastest one in my family to get ready, usually I am the last one under normal circumstances. The place where temple is built is believed to be the place where mata fought Bahiron and cut his head. Bhairon's head flew across the hill and when he died, he asked for forgiveness and mata being the generous one, forgave him and made his name immortal and said whoever will visit her temple, his journey will only be successful when he will visit Bhairon' s temple as well (the place where his head fell).

Back to our journey... we deposited our stuff in the cloak room and rushed towards the queue and after displaying our Yatra slip, We were glad that the queue wasn't that long and everyone was chanting Mata's name which made the atmosphere totally divine. We crossed the original cave from where mata passed is closed for public and opens only few days in a year for public for safety purposes. They have made another way which is more easier and convenient to reach. We continued to chant Mata's name and it felt like we were re-energized and forgot how tired we were. In the temple premises, mata is staying in her pindi form.

Vaishnodevi Mata is form of Mahalakshmi. She is depicted as very beautiful and dressed in red. Her eight arms hold trident, bow, arrow, lotus, mace and sword and a hand in abhaya gesture. She rides on a tiger. Pindi Darsha of Tridevi right to left Mata Mahakali, Mata Vaishnodevi (Mahalakshmi), Mata Mahasarswati.

As we reached inside the temple premises, we bowed our heads and prayed for our well being. It was a divine feeling, a heavenly experience that I recommend for everyone.

It was 6 in the evening and we planned to return to Katra same day as the weather forecast for the next day was rainy. Else, one can choose to stay there as well which requires a pre-booking though. We collected our stuff from the cloak room and ate something to gain energy to continue our journey. Next stop was Bhairon Mandir which is 2 kms ahead. The trek to Bhairon Mandir is steep and narrow. In fact, it is the most difficult trek of the entire journey. By the time, it started to rain as well so we hired ponies to cover that stretch. We reached Bhairon Mandir in next 30 minutes but had to wait as it was Aarti time. Since they closed the gates of the temple for aarti, the queue grew longer and longer. We entered the queue and it moved quite fast gladly. Before we even realized, we were out of the temple. Since I was carrying my son, I realized that his one shoe is missing. I went in the premises again and  was glad that I found it. It was still drizzling, but we continued our journey back to Katra. My wife and me took turns to carry our son and continued the down hill trek. Our speed increased but we were cautious as it was raining and trek was bit slippery. We tried not to stop too much in order to reach Katra on time.

By the time we reached Aadhkawari, we were so tired and my son fell asleep and it got difficult for us to carry him. We decided to hire ponies to ease our journey. Within 30 minutes, we reached Katra and hired an auto from Darshani Darwaza to reach our hotel. We had some juice and chips and went to sleep.

As we woke up next morning, it was raining heavily and we were glad that we covered the entire journey the day before. We had tea and breakfast while it rained outside and we still felt tired. We spent the noon relaxing and packed our bags to leave for Delhi in the evening. On the way, we planned to take a stop in Chandigarh to visit the World famous Rock Garden. I have been to Chandigarh earlier so you can read about it detail in the post published earlier about Chandigarh.


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