My first trek to Ma Vaishno Devi

On a chilly January morning of 1998 in Delhi, Vikram, a friend and co-worker, announced his plan to go to the shrine of Ma Vaishno Devi. The shrine is in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and you need to hike about 12-14 odd KMs to do the darshan. Couple of us who were witness to his announcement, were not very amused since we found ourselves severely religiously-challenged. We knew that unlike many Delhi-ites who visit Ma Vaishno Devi as an adventure-religious break, Vikram is visiting for pure belief reasons.

As part of his announcement we also learned that he is going all by himself. This was something which did not go well with another friend, Arvinder Sardaar Singh, and he volunteered his and mine participation to the great journey. Somehow Sardaar didn’t take this (going solo) as a right thing to do and since he needed good company, he pulled me in. As evident, I had no contribution in the decision which involved me managing a last minute rail reservation and a leg breaking bus journey on the way back. so much for brotherhood, we all found ourselves on a ill-lit Old Delhi Railway station trying to search our names on the reservation chart. It was to be ‘Pooja Express’ and we were booked from Delhi till Jammu Tawi.

The train started on time and I remember that it was dark when we left. Since we had got our berths confirmed through HQ (Headquarter Quota) our seats were spread over, luckily in the same bogey. The journey was eventful since on one of the berths, which Sardaar had to occupy, there were about 5-6 kids holding the berth ransom, Sardaar came back defeated with the mat in his hand. He decided to put the mat on the floor. He would curse their parents but would never ask kids to find some place else. It appeared to me that the religiously-challenged sardaar is getting better by being kind.

I was on a middle seat and after a while one of its hanging-holders came out and I almost killed the person who was sleeping away to glory on the lower berth. I tried balancing myself , thinking that I can start the adventure right from there but later wisely decided to join the sardaar on the floor. 10 years back, these bogeys were nothing great to write home about. The journey had started and we survived the night, it was a great sight to be at Pathankot in the morning where we had our first cup of tea.


At Pathankot Station

We reached Jammu sometime before noon. We realized that it takes too much of time if we rely on general buses so we decided to take a Taxi. Being young, active and a smart group (with great aid by Sardaar) we found two uncles who agreed to share the Taxi with us and square the expenses. All was well. It was a Jan 26 long weekend, there were hazaar army and Khaki on the road and we kept getting clearances. It was white amby, with two uncles and fabulous sights, nothing could have gone wrong. But Mr. Murphy was not pleased and our cabbie discovered that we have a flat tyre.


Flat tyre

While the cabbie fixed the tyre, we enjoyed some stupid hiking stunts and phots-ops. We reached Katra by afternoon and bargained a room with a clean loo from a local guest-house guy against the prasad which we promised to buy from him, once we are back after the darshan. This prasad is for distributing in office and family.

So before we start the trek, let me get you some info on the shrine.

Shri Maa Vaishno Devi Shrine is on Trikuta Hills, Shivalik Range, at a height of 5300 feet. From Katra, which is more like base-camp, you need to climb 13 odd KMs. Katra would be about 50 KMs from Jammu. If you are on road then its about 35 KM from Udhampur. On the top, there is a cave where the deity is kept. The story goes like this.

There are many legends around the deity and I am not sure on which one is correct so I wont give you any. In the cave there are three stones (called Pindian) which symbolizes Maa Kali, Maa Lakshi and Maa Saraswati. Ma Vaishnavee symbolizes all three of them being together, a sort of culmination of the strength of all three. If you really want to read more here are couple of links, here and here.

Apart from the cave, there is a large eco-system up there and we would get to know once we reach there. For time being, start your travel from base camp. After a while, you would reach a office and you get a token from there. This office is in turn connected to the one at top and depending on what token-no you have, they would give a tentative time-window when you would be called in for darshan. This information can be used to time your climb.

So on that Januray morning, three young and stupid (or at least two) started the climb with a big jaikaara, “bol sherwaali Ma ki Jai”. There are two ways to go up and you can mix the two as you go along. One is a slope and is recommended and the other one is through stairs. We mixed them more for fun then for any thing else and after about 3 KMs, Sardaar decided to call quits. He was not happy with his stamina (or the lack of it) and he decided that he would go back (then and there) , get some physical training and would come back and do this trip in one day or something like that. Alert readers would have guessed it that Sardaar awarded choicest swears to himself. Vikram was oblivious to all this and he was making a consistent slow progress and we could see him at a distance. It was not without a lot of persuasion that he agreed to resume the climb, it took a bottle of soda-pop and few snickers to get him moving.

We reached Ardhkumari in afternoon. Its a mid-way temple. The temple has a large courtyard for pilgrims to rest and lie-down. There was a long queue for darshan. After asking around and doing some basic maths (time = displacement / velocity ), we figured that it would take 2.5-3 hours to do the darshan. It was fairly clear that Vikram is going to use those 3 hours for the darshan and he headed for the queue, me and Sardaar spread ourselves on the floor and enjoyed the sun and had many rounds of foolish and insignificant conversations around life/truth/nirvaana and software delivery.


Lazing around at Ardhkumari

It was getting dark by the time we started from Ardhkuwari. The whole climb is pretty fun since everyone around is chanting ‘Jai Maata Di’ and you can join any group and be with them. There are restaurants along with way to stop and rejuvenate and the whole air is pretty peppy.


Jai Mata Di

So we went on and on. We reached Saanjhi-Chaat and from there its a descent to the cave which we did almost running. We were finally there at the top around midnight. It was more then 24 hours of adventure. Once you are at the top, it feels like as if you are in a small city. There are lots of shops selling sweets, food, parasad. There is a large complex which houses cloak-room and I guess one can also book a room and stay for a night. There is a place where one takes the holy bath, one of the mandatory thing before visiting any place of worship. In the middle of night the place was reverberant with action, it felt like as if we have come to some mela.

We checked with the authorities and we were given a time-window. We were asked to deposit our bags in the cloak room and get in queue. So we went in, it all happened in a jiffy. There is this really constricted pass with cold water at your feet which opens out into a cave. By the time you realize you are instructed to move on. For a flash you lose yourself, feeling un-necessary calm in your head, the cold (but fresh) environment inside appeared very soothing and now I remember that our actions were some sort of remote-controlled by the powers to be, doing our chores of darshan, movement and finally coming out of cave through another constricted pass.

It was over.


Its over

On the way back, Vikram arranged for feeding kids and people. The hotels folks arranged it all for you against a price. We stopped for the night a Saanjhi Chaat (Common Terrace) and climbed down early morning next day. Took a knee breaking 12 hour journey and was nursing my cramped muscles for a week and felt good for every morsel of pain which I had to endure, everytime I took a stair.

I never could go to the shrine again in last 10 years and if it was not for Vikram and Sardaar, you would not be reading this.

28 Comments

  • Rahul says:

    Typical trip similar to the one I had in 2001 with collegemates. Nostalgia!
    I’ve been there like 6 times tho, the place changed so much through the years since I first remember visiting in ’88…
    Well put together account!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Yes. Thanks.

    I heard that there is now a new road to go up which is easier to climb. You can also now book choppers and they are not very expensive. I would want to go there again, just to relive the nostalgia. Vikram is now at Singapore and doesn’t read Ghumakkar. Sardaar is at US and probably wont read this as well :)

    I wrote this more in desperation to have something going. After Ram’s fabulous tale, it seems everyone wants some average stuff to come before they resume writing :)

  • Arun says:

    Bless Vikram and Sardar!

    Doesnt it get very cold in winters?

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Arun – It does but since you are climbing or walking or doing something, you dont feel too much. In our case, we have spent lot of our life in Delhi so we were sort of used to unlike someone in Blr or Mumbai.

    Even if one is not too religiously inclined, this is worth doing it.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Nandan,

    Your excellent write up made me nostalgic about the more than half a dozen trips we made to this holy shrine. In the good old days, the trains presently terminating at Jammu Tawi, concluded at Pathankot and from there we used to take a bus to reach Jammu and the another small bus to reach Katra.

    At Katra there used to be only one rest house (The J & K State Govt. Tourist Centre). Those days Katra was not all that crowded and with every one laid back, the first night was invariably spent at the Tourist Centre. The evening was a big joy with lots of Aloo, Gobhi, Paneer Paranthas landing in our throbbing bellies. Next morning, in the hustle bustle of yaatris getting ready for the climb, we used to dump our extra luggage at the Lockers provided by the Centre and march to the Bal Ganga. In those days, even this strip of the journey was also gorgeous, with lush green valleys all around. After taking a dip in that rivulet, we would take a hot cup of tea with some snacks and head for the climb. Those days, the present finely cut roads didnt exist and the only way of reaching the shrine was through uneven steps only. Unlike today, when you have Nescafe coffee vends and some clean toilets at every hundred meters, there was hardly any stopovers, except the small time Piyaous to quench our thirst. The only place to get some filling Puri Alu and Halwa and a tea stall (and of course, some chewing gums) was at Aadh Kumari. Those days, we used to spend a night there too before the further ascend.

    Thanks to Jagmohan ji, the then Governor of the state, who took some bold steps and took away the administration of the shrine from the Pandaas and handed it over to the shrine Board, which saw to all this development in the later years.

    Thanks for reviving our old memories.

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Ram for the wonderful comment. Glad that it made you relive the past time.

  • lakshmi says:

    Well, I dont know about others, but parts of this write up had me in splits.. Its good that you got to go there eventually

  • Nandan Jha says:

    finally someone got the humor.

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Well, my lips did split seeing the pics.

    Would like to place the year as 88.

    :-)

  • ashish says:

    Interesting, 1988 was the first and last time I went to Ma Vaisho Devi. My experiences were somewhat different since I had gone with parents, and we managed to use the army (even though dad was not in the army) method to make the whole stay in Vaisho Devi in around 3-4 hours (not including the time spent between Katra and the shrine)

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Patrick – I seem to have grown much faster (or older) in last 10 years. Its indeed 1998.

    Ashish – Yeah, there is this Army way to getting in where you can skip queue for most part of it. We took even less , probably 2 hours odd or less. May be it was just one of those busy days.

  • Celine says:

    Nandan,

    Severely religously-challenged..and Sardar’s kindness out of lack of choice..haha! I wonder why was the bus journey leg breaking though? Who/What broke your leg? lol

    The part about hanging holder coming off and you almost killing an unsuspecting fellow passenger is hilarious!

    I found your post interesting to read, both in terms of description of the journey and the destination. Thanks.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Celine – It should have been knee-breaking, one of the few times when I was trapped in a no leg-room 12+ hour bus-journey after a 28 KM trek in severe cold condition with zero to no warm support and I must have been a raw rookie :)

    Thanks for everything else.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Good one to read. I too shared the same feeling as that of Patrick. Are you sure these photos are of 1998, they seems to be of 1988. You looked so cute at that time ;)

    I got a hint that out of you all three, you seems most religiously challenged and look God’s way of teaching you a few things, you not only read posts at ghumakkar, but you also own fairly good amount of them. tch tch …
    In next birth, I wish that you will learn from this birth’s mistake and be a bit more religious and have a life without http://www.ghumakkar.com

    :) hahahahahaha. Lol … its too less for kind of laughter. So again hahahahahahahaha

  • nandanjha says:

    I think the most avid form of travel in current India is religious travel. I would think that if I become one then probably I get to travel more.

    Thanks for liking the post. I am still very cute :)

  • Dear Nandan-I am writing you because I need a favour–I listen over and over to a lovely Bahajan part one-part 2-and part 3- all 3 part was sung by the same person-I would like to know her name and what other Bahajans that she sung–I cant find her any where-I google search every where–the bahajan name is-( Jai Mata Di Katha Ma Vaishnu-) thats all I have to go on-If only I have her name then I can search for her CDs–I know its not what you were expecting but I have no contact in India-I am in Miami Floreida USA–My e-mail is-( MSingh9089@bellsouth.net )thanks for your help-in anticipation-Mohabir Singh-

  • Please search for me as a favour and tell me the name of the Lady that sings this bahaja all 3 parts-( jai mata di katha ma vaishnu) thats all i have i did a search on that and the songs start playing-hehe no names or address or information-can you help–My e-mail is-( MSingh9089@bellsoiuth.net )thanks for an early reply-Mahabir singh-

    • GSK says:

      Hi Here is the details…..

      ARTIST : SANJO BHAGEIL
      ALBUM : S A M P O O R A N Y A T R A M A A V A I S H N O D E V I D H A A M K I
      TRACK : 09/ K A T H A M A A V A I S H N O
      PRESENTATION : A M B E Y M U S I C D E V O T I O N A L

      • GSK thank you very much for the information-yes it was her-SANJO BHAGEIL–what a wonderful singer-a golden voice–tell me what you think ok–ANY one please tell me what you think about her voice–I wish I could meet her–Smile-Mahabir Singh-

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Mahabir ji – It would help if you can give me more words, I do not remember being familiar with this song. Probably I can search if you can give me first Antara. Thanks.

  • Dear Nandan,
    All i have is the name of the bhajan all three parts have the same name-(Jai mata Di. Katha Ma Vaisho ) and it was posted by-HRDX9–no other information-please help thanks-Mahabir-

  • Mukesh Bhalse says:

    Nandan,
    Right now I am involved in discovering Nandan – The great, hence going through your old posts. You look very cute in the pics. Also gone through the post thoroughly and enjoyed your story of Vaishno devi trip.

    Thanks.

  • SilentSoul says:

    ?????? ???? ?? ??? ??

  • Nandan says:

    Mukesh – This was about 15 years back. I could never visit the shrine again.

    SS – ??????? ???? ??? ?? ?? ???? lol

  • Chandra81 says:

    Hey Nandan!
    Loved it completely especially the lightness of what otherwise gets a preachy topic about “power that be” . I can empathize with you on the hardship and fully understand conversations around life/truth/Nirvana and software delivery :P
    The only thing I’d like to tell you is that you should write more often :-)
    Nikhil

  • d pilankar says:

    nice blog post, loved reading it.

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