To read the series from the start please click here.
In coming final two posts I dedicate my wholehearted and sincere thanks to Maa Vaishno Devi because of whose blessings I was able t0 come here. It was only and only the decision of Great Goddess that I was able to perform my Amarnath Yatra and finally called by her. I am greatly obliged and feel lucky and fortunate one to be blessed by her. Along with Mata , I would also thank the authorities for managing this huge heavily visited shrine with such a thoughtful and organised manner that if visited once would develop penchant of visiting again and again.
Along with my travelogue I would also like to help the devotees by giving them each and every information known by me and share it on this common platform so that every body can benefited.
Here I come to my final destination of this ” Mighty Journey to Almighty ” i.e. Vaishno Devi , which is one of the biggest Shakti peeths in Hindu Mythology. Along with Kamakhya Devi it is the most important destination in Shakta tradition. Before going towards the journey I will start to narrate about hotel and arrangements in Vaishno Devi. In katra there are countless Hotels at every corner of the town. In fact I feel each and every building you see would come out to be a Hotel. But I stayed at Niharika Guest house which is organised and maintained by Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. I arrived at around 4.30 PM at Katra in the main Chowk and in the mean time I found this wonderful complex which has plethora of facilities. I was once again very fortunate because only one room was available and it was me who got it, because this Hotel is always full with advance online bookings.
Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Accomodation (Niharika Complex)
Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board provides clean, well maintained and very economical accommodation.The available accommodation is in the form of rooms of various types, huts , suites and beds (dormitory accommodation). Rooms, both air conditioned and Non air conditioned are available. In all the accommodation units provided by Shrine Board, there is an additional facility of a hygienic, no profit no loss Bhojanalaya besides a Souvenir Shop and a free cloak room. Free parking of private vehicles is also allowed. Apart from these facilities , there are also medical facilities and a Railway Reservation counter in the Complex.
Accommodation for all Shrine Board Guest houses/dormitories can be booked (subject to availability) at the reception of these guest houses or at the Enquiry and Reservation counter at Niharika complex. Online booking is also possible through this website. For maximum chances of obtaining confirmed room reservations at various locations devotees are advised to make the necessary bookings well in advance. In addition, since heavy rush is experienced on weekends and holidays, pilgrims are advised to plan their Yatra on weekdays.
Address for making accommodation reservations:
Officer Incharge (Enquiry and Reservation)
Shakti Bhawan, Niharika Complex (Near Bus Stand)
Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Katra – 182301 (J&K)
Phone: 01991- 234053,
E-Mail: [email protected]
Pawan Hans and Global Vectra helicopter services from Katra on the foothills and the flight will drop you at Sanjhichatt. This visit to the sacred Shrine, enveloped by the clouds is the beginning of a breathtaking heli-hop. Pawan Hans. 01991-234658, 09205044014 Email [email protected],
Helicopter rates are Rs. 1200 for the return trip.
For terms and conditions and to do ONLINE BOOKINGS for both Accomodation and Helicopter Bookings , please click here.
Check out the rates at Niharika Complex.
Each room contains accessories like a huge table, two chairs, a huge double bed, cupboard , dressing table with mirror, blankets, dustbin and geyser etc. The rooms of this place are very large comparing different hotels nearby. The best quality is hygiene and room service is very quick to respond.
Below given are the facilities provided for pilgrims at various places in Vaishno Devi.
I have never seen any Railway Reservation Centre in any Hotel Complex in any of the destinations I have visited so far. If any body has seen such one please let me know.
Apart from this rented accomodation, for the convenience of the pilgirms a number of halls have been provided at at Adhkuwari, Sanjichhat & Bhawan. Pilgrims can take rest here while waiting for their turn for the Darshans of the Holy Goddess or before proceeding further. These halls are available free of cost but their availability is on a first come first served basis. Pilgrims can also spend the night in these halls. Toilet facilities have been made available here.
For the convenience of the pilgrims, Blanket Stores, Toilet Blocks, Bhojanalayas & Catering Units and a Medical Aid Centre have been opened up in the near vicinity of these accommodations units.
Belief in Mata’s Bulawa or Call
The journey to the Holy Shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji starts with the Call of Mata. It is not only a belief but also a strong experience of one and all that the Divine Mother sends a call to her children. And once a person receives it, wherever he is, is bound to visit the Mother to receive Her unbounded love and blessings.Simultaneously, it is also believed that unless there is a call or Bulawa no one can visit the Shrine or have her blessings, howsoever high or mighty one may be.
Legend of Vaishno Devi
Amongst the many legends associated with the Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi, is that of Lord Rama’s encounter with Vaishnavi during the period of his exile when he (Lord Rama) directed the Goddess towards the holy cave situated in Trikoot Parbat. There are other legends too, like that of the Pandavas, who are said to have visited the holy abode and are also believed to have built a temple here. Prahalad, the legendary son of the atheist king Hirankashayap, is also believed to have undertaken a pilgrimage to the holy shrine. However, the most popular and well known legend is that of Sridhar Brahmin who used to live in village Hansali situated at the foot of Trikoot Parbat, adjacent to modern day Katra Town.
For reading the complete legend of Sridhar Brahmin please click here.
Coming back to my travelogue, I landed in Katra at 4.30 PM booked my accomodation and started to roam and enquire about other places nearby. I came to know that Shivkhori is another wonderful cave of Lord Shiva with huge Swayanbhu Shivalinga situated in Himalayan mountains and around 90 kms from Katra and also has lot of other places in between. But It requires one full day , so even though I was heavily tempted that was out of question. Also it was raining very heavily in Katra , So possibility of climbing Vaisno Devi at night was again out of question. So only .activity possible was to relax in our comfortable and spacious Hotel. In evening we went out to have dinner at Shrine Board Bhojanalaya and had famous Rajma Chawal. At around ten oclock we slept as we were exhausted.
3rd August 2012, Friday.
Next day early morning we woke up and headed towards the Banganga the Entrance to start the Vaishno Devi climb or Trek or foothills of Vaishno Devi Mountain. Before moving towards Banganga to start the Trek , one has to take a darshan receipt (parchi). For that the Shrine Board has made a separate counter. Unless you take the receipt ( parchi) you are not allowed to enter the trekking path or at Cave entrance. Sometimes in festive seasons even to get the receipt ( parchi )requires 2 – 3 hours. Yatra Registration Counter is located in a Town’s main circle called Main Chowk. From here itself one can go to Banganga which is around 1.5 to 2 kms. Here there are lot of Auto rickshaws available to go near Banganga at the rate of Rs. 50 .
After taking receipt we headed towards Banganga to start our final yatra. Initially we wanted to go via helicopter, but due to bad weather Helicopter services were stopped. So we thought of climbing 14 kms on our feet itself.Trek to Vaishno Devi is very steep but smooth till Ardhkuwari ( 5 kms ) . One becomes really tired climbing till here . After Ardhkuwari the road is less steep and can be covered by walking at a constant pace easily. There are two ways of reaching the main Shrine 1) Himkoti Marg, New one 2) Hathi Matha Marg, Old one . In both the paths again there were two bifurcations a) via plain slanting road b) via steps. We chose Himkoti slanting road for climbing and Hathi Matha marg via steps for climbing down.
We reached Banganga and decided to have some snacks. One thing in Katra I would like to inform my viewers that you won’t get non veg any where in Katra. Forget non veg you won’t even get onion and garlic anywhere in Katra. We had Parathas and Chole without onions. Then we started our 14 km Trek towards the shrine.
At the main entrance there is heavy security and checking.
We proceeded further. At around every 300 – 500 meters , we get one sweeper continuously cleaning the path of the Trek. When the allotted area get finished , they again start sweeping from initial area. Thus continuously the path is hygienic free from all papers, plastics,dust and animal waste.The whole scrap is then accumulated at one place and from there it is routed towards dumping zone.
Then we reach Yatra Parchi Check Post where our parchis are checked.
We had already decided that this time Aarya was going on Pithu. Pithus are readily available anywhere on the trekking path, The rate of Pithu is Rs. 500 till Bhairo Temple and back ( Load upto 20 kgs ) officially by Shrine board , but we didn’t knew this and our rate was fixed at Rs. 600. In between he also had tea and lunches on our expenses.
My Whole journey to Maa Vaishno Devi Shrine was happening under the layer of thick fog. So in this post I won’t be able to show you much hilly terrain and views. But the best thing happened to us was the climate was soothing pleasant because of this.
After around 2 kms we come across towards two beautiful temples. First one is Shree Geeta Bhawan and Second one after 50 – 100 meters comes Pratham Charan Mandir. Geeta Mandir is extremely beautiful and worth watching.
Pratham Charan Temple, as the name suggests is a place where Maa first came on this mountain. The original foot print of Devi Maa is still preserved here and besides it a Golden Idol of Mata is present . This view is mesmerizing to watch.
One of the Sadhus is doing tough procedures in bhakti to please Mata. He used to lay down with his body stretched and then the other sadhu would mark where his fingers are stretched in the front. After marking the laid sadhu used to get up and then start to lay down from that marked point again in that forward direction.Thus whole 14 kms he was going to cover with entire length his body touching the trekking path. AN EXAMPLE OF SHEER FAITH AND DEVOTION. I am nothing in front of them. But wait for one more post , because in the next one I am going to show one more staunch devotee who is delivers even bigger than this one.
Entire path whether it is Himkoti Marg or Hathi Matha Marg is covered by signboards either indicating good manners , important headlines , distances or any other information related to Shrine. I will be showing you some of them.
One of the strange way of controlling horse moments. I have never seen or heard anywhere in the world that horses are directed and guided by catching and pulling their tails . If the horse is to move left than the horseman used to pull his tail left side and if right , then he used to pull his tail on the right side. If horse is to be stopped than the horseman pulls his tail straight. Strange . IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA.
The rates of horses varies. It becomes more when helicopter services don’t function. Normally the rates start fro Rs. 1500 till Bhawan , Bhairo and back. Again it totally depends upon the individual how he negotiates.
The Shrine Board has constructed Shelter sheds at various places along the track. At certain stretches on the alternate track and on the old track from Sanjhichhat to Bhawan, these shelter sheds cover almost the entire track. However, in other portions of the track, the sheds have been provided at a distance of about 500 meters from one another.
These shelter sheds are instrumental in saving the visiting devotees from Shooting stones, rain, sun, snow and adverse weather conditions. The decent seating facilities provided underneath the sheds, prompt the devotees to have a little rest. Hence they are also called Vishram Sthals. Toilet blocks and refreshment units have been provided adjacent to most of the shelter sheds, for the facility of the pilgrims.
So far about 70 shelter sheds with a total length of over 4 km have been constructed.
Then after we reached at a Junction where one path goes to Ardhkuwari and other one goes to main Shrine. About Ardhkuwari , It is to the belief of people that Goddess Vaishno hid herself here for a period of nine months after which she showed herself to a saint. The opening of the cave also has a story behind it as it is believes that when Bhairon entered into the cave to look for Mata she used here trident to cut a path and run away. The opening of the cave is actually the way made by Mata to escape from Bhairon. This temple is situated at a height of 4,800 feet above from sea level and Ardhakuwari darshan forms a vital part of Vaishno Devi Yatra.
The Ardhakuwari cave is 15 foot in length and is very narrow. One needs to creep through the tiny entrance made at the door of the cave to penetrate through it. People say that although the opening of the cave is very narrow any individual who has will can move through it by the grace of the goddess.It has great religious significance, as it is believed that penetrating through this cave is just as moving to lap of the goddess and seeking her blessings.
At Ardhkuwari, it takes lot of time for darshan so and also one has to take a parchi ( receipt ) and he is allotted a number . The Individual has to wait till his number comes. Then only one is allowed to enter the cave. So we told our Pithu to bring the parchi for us and we moved forward towards main shrine . We will try our number to visit the cave while returning.
There is one more facility which starts from Ardhkuwari which is mentioned below in the signboard . i.e. battery operated car at the rate of Rs. 300. Although they have mentioned it for old ones and sick people, these are used by everyone and are quite useful.
There comes Himkoti where one can have refreshments and breath taking views. As of now I can’t show you because the entire mountain was covered with Fog.
Refreshments like biscuits, cold-drinks tea, coffee, milk, mineral water, etc. are available along the way at refreshment units of the Shrine Board. Nearly all of these units are located at carefully selected locations from where one can have a panoramic view of the valley. Therefore, they are also known as View Points. There are a total of 12 such view points.
The Pithu was very tired in between . My daughter Aarya looks OK , but taking her continously for 14kms on shoulder is not a joke. She also wanted some change. So for around 1 -2 kms she also walked with us.
There are some very strict rules here while climbing the shrine. One of them is shown in the signboard. SMOKERS BEWARE. For at least 10 hours on this trek you can’t smoke .
Apart from all the facilities like plain road, Helicopters Horses Pithus even dolis are available. Dolis used in Vaishno Devi ar most comfortable dolis I have ever seen. The approximate rates here are Rs. 3500 for till Bhawan ( main Shrine ) and back via Bhaironath Temple for a person weighing upto 75 kgs.
Now at around 12.00 PM, we reached a place where Bhawan was just 250 meters from us.
Dear Readers ,
At the moment I am stopping here . In the next and final post of this huge series , We will have darshan of Maa Vaishno Devi , Her Cave , Bhaironath and return Trek via Ardhkuwari. Till then
( *** sign :- denotes that pictures are taken from free download section of Maa Vaishno Devi’s official website https://www.maavaishnodevi.org/)
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