After going through so many posts of Ghummakkar, I thought of trying my hand into it. Whenever I think of visiting some new place, first thing I do is to check this site. I am so fond of it. Now, when I decided to write, let me start with the recent Vaishno Devi Yatra, a complete yatra, after long time. We generally visit Mata Rani’s temple once in 2 years, but this was special as after having blissful darshan at bhawan, We could get darshan of Bhairon Baba (Thanks to cable car facility started by Shrine board) and Ardha Kumari, where waiting is generally for 24 hours.
We 6, me and my husband Deepak, father-in-law(72), mother-in-law(66), son Madhav(18), and daughter Muskaan(13), started from Delhi on 18th July 2018, Shri Shakti Express which starts at 05:30 pm and reached Katra 05:00am on 19th. To my surprise, train reached before scheduled arrival. Katra railway station is one of the beautiful railway stations of India. We wanted to book room at Bhawan, so first thing to do was, go to Shrine board’s office at Niharika Complex near Katra bus stand. This office opens at 7 am but generally people start queuing up quite early. In the mean time, we took a room in Niharika itself to take bath and other things. Lot of altercations between officials and my father-in-law, as VIP culture does not spare anyone. Only few rooms are available on Bhawan, and these poor guys are under so much of pressure in entertaining VIP request. Luckily after entertaining other requests, he could book a room for us as well. Blessings of Mata Rani have started showering on us.
Soon, we started our yatra at around 8am, hired auto to reach Ban-Ganga and then, all of us took ponies to go to Ardh-kumari. Ardh-Kumari is around 5km from Ban-Ganga and the path is quite steep till this point. In Ardh-Kumari is place where Mata Rani stayed for 9 months in a narrow cave when Bhairon Baba was behind her. So this cave is also called Garb-June Gufa. Since gufa is very narrow and one has to lie down to go through it, people can move very slowly through this and hence the long waiting. Since we had already decided to stay at bhawan, we took darshan slip at Ardh-Kumari. There is one yatra slip, which we get at Katra (near Niharika complex), same is checked at Ban-Ganga. Against this slip, one more slip with number is issued at Ardh-Kumari for entry into gufa.
From Ardh-Kumari, there is a provision of battery cars for senior citizens. We had booked tickets for parents online. One can also get ticket at that place, although queue is generally quite long. FDrom Ardh-Kumari, there are 2 parellel paths till bhawan, One is via Sanjhi-Chhatt, where there is steep rise of 3 km and again down for 2.5km. Other path is via himkoti, where there is little bit of rise. Ponies are not allowed on this route, so it is very easy to track. Parents took battery cars and we started tracking. Weather was just awesome, lot of clouds and then heavy rains. Rains could not affect yatra as whole route is covered with sheds. Lot of other facilities like free water ATMs, toilets, eateries, tea-coffee outlets have been made available by Shrine board.
Battery car takes only 10-15 minutes to cover 5km stretch. Of course, we took 3 hours as we were enjoying our track, clicking photos, having something or the other at cafes. But, the room, we booked was in Gauri Bhawan which is at significant height. We had to climb 150 steps to reach the room. Still, it is comfortable to have room there, where you can get fresh and take rest. After little rest and taking bath, we went for darshan. There was no queue but there was a twist waiting for us. Since room was quite far off, we thought, after darshan, we will take trolley to go to Bhairo Baba temple, so we carried necessary things like phones, wallets etc with us. Now we needed a locker to deposit all this stuff before darshan and there was a longer queue to get the locker. So we decided that I along with Deepak will wait and rest of us will go for darshan. Being Friday, it took only 30 minutes for the first party to get darshan and then we 2 took another 30 minutes.
Since I have been going to Vaishno Devi since my childhood days, I have seen many changes. Earlier there was natural gufa(cave). Around 10-15 people in a batch will go inside this, others will wait. Once they come out, next batch of 10-15 people will be sent. Then with more and more crowd coming in, to speed up the darshan another path, artificial gufa-1 was made, people will enter natural one and exit from artificial gufa-1. Then, another gufa-2 was made. People will enter into Gufa-1 and exit from Gufa-2 as going through the natural one was a slow process. This time, I noticed another Gufa-3, where people enter and exit from the same route. That means, there are 2 parallel queues now. That is the reason, in spite of such a large number of yatris, queues are not long. Only time, when one has to wait for 2-3 hours in queue is at the time of morning and evening aarti when darshan is closed for 2 hours. Morning 6-8am and in the evening 7-9pm.
Having blissful darshan at bhawan gave us immense pleasure and peace. By the time, we 2 came out, cable car trolley was stopped. It is only upto 6pm in the evening. So we decided to go for Bhairo Baba darshan in the morning. In morning, it starts at 7. After morning routine, we reached the ticket counter at 7:30. It took around one hour to take the ticket and reach the entry spot. Cabin is quite big and carries around 40 people in one go. It is just 3 minutes ride and we reached in front of temple. After long time, we could have darshan of Bhairo Baba and then started the return journey.
Again the same, parents took battery car till Ardh-kumari and then ponies till Ban-Ganga. Me and Deepak wanted to have darshan of Garb-june Gufa at Ardh-Kumari, so we stayed back and Madhav and Muskaan joined parents. Since we had darshan slip of previous day, we were given entry. It took around 2 hours for darshan. But it is real bliss to go through this gufa and feel the vibrations. From Katra to Ardh-Kumari, now there is another route via Tara-kot which is little longer(7km compared to 5km Ban-Ganga route), but it is not that steep. So me and Deepak decided to take that route. Little longer, but very peaceful track, no disturbance of ponies etc., wonderful shlokas and bhajans on speakers, delicious langer (free food) at 4km and fully covered. There is frequent announcements on speakers requesting yatris to take this route stating that it is 20ft wide costing 80crores. We saw many people taking this route for the onward journey also.
After reaching the yatra entry gate, we took auto to our room where our team members were eagerly waiting for us.