Man proposes, God disposes – that’s what the famous proverb says. That again proved true for me during my trip to Vaishnodevi and Himachal Pradesh during the end of September 2015. Looking at the calendar, I planned a tour programme covering Vaishnodevi, Chamba, Bharmour, Hadsar and Mani Mahesh, starting from 24thSeptember upto 2nd October 2015. Those places are far off from Kolkata, so I planned the schedule four months before the expected date of departure.
It is known that from Janmastami to Radhastami, a religious yatra is organised each year from Hadsar to Mani Mahesh. But since I prefer solitude and tranquillity, I planned it in such a way that after 7-10 days from closure of the yatra, I would reach Mani Mahesh. Accordingly, I, Swaraj (my colleague) and his parents booked the train tickets, hotel reservations and car arrangement at multiple points. However, as I said at the outset, my schedule got completely changed due to reasons beyond our control. How that happened? To know that, you have to go through this travelogue.
The Initial Plan
My plan was like this : To reach New Delhi by Rajdhani express from Kolkata. Then to go to Katra by Shri Shakti express. After darshan of Mata Vaishnodevi, to catch SVDK-Kalka express from Katra for getting down at Pathankot. Then by car from Pathankot to Chamba. After darshan of temples of Chamba to go to Bharmour. Overnight stay at Bharmour. Then next day from Bharmour to Hadsar by car/jeep. From Hadsar to go to Mani Mahesh by trekking and after darshan to come back to Bharmour. Then to come back to Pathankot. From there to reach New Delhi by Shri Shakti express, from there to arrive Kolkata by Rajdhani.
But, say 7-10 days before our journey started, a bad news arrived. The road adjacent to Kharamukh bridge was sunk because of landslide. That part of the road became unserviceable. I was keeping track of the situation through my friends of NHPC. I was expecting that the road would be repaired before we reached there. With that hope we started our journey from Kolkata.
And the journey began
On 24th. September 2015, we (I, my colleague Swaraj and his parents) started from Kolkata by Sealdah Rajdhani express (12313). The train started at 4.50 pm and reached New Delhi at 11.10 am next day (25th. September). We had put up in IRCTC retiring room situated within railway premises. Since our next train was at 5.30 pm, after the lunch we decided to go to Bahai temple situated in Kalkaji area.
A short and sweet to the Lotus Temple of Delhi
We took metro from New Delhi station, changed the line and got down at the metro station near the Kalkaji temple. From there we took auto rickshaw upto the gate of Bahai temple. While going to the temple my memories revived. In the year 1992 I first came here. Then after 23 years I now reached the same place. In 23 years, the area has undergone massive change. Earlier, this place was away from city pandemonium. Now it has become part of the city expansion. Metro line came here with lots of auto rickshaws and vehicles plying every now and then.
Inspired by the lotus flower, the design of the temple is composed of 27 freestanding marble clad “petals” arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides.The nine doors of the Lotus Temple open onto a central hall slightly more than 40 metres tall that is capable of holding up to 2,500 people. The surface of the House of Worship is made of white marble brought from Penteli mountain in Greece, the very same from which many ancient monuments and other Bahai Houses of Worship are built. The architect of this temple was Fariborz Sahba, an Iranian. The construction company was ECC, Construction Group of L&T. It was opened for public viewing since 1986 December.
We saw a huge queue of the visitors waiting to getting inside. It took more than half an hour to get inside the temple premises. The area was peaceful. It was green everywhere, amidst which the while marbled lotus shaped temple stood tall. Mark of peace was before us. The temple was surrounded by blue tiled artificial pond. We made a short prayer inside the hall, which filled up our soul with peace. Then we caught the return metro, changed line again and reached New Delhi station.
At 5.30 pm we caught Shri Shakti express (22461) from New Delhi station, which reached Katra station (Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra – SVDK) on 26th September at 5.15 am, i.e. before sunrise. The newly built station has got an international look. There was elevator in the station, which started from platform down below and went upto exit of the station at the top. So passengers with luggage had a convenient exit. Here also we made pre-booking in IRCTC retiring room. We got freshen up, put all of our luggage in cloak room and were out towards Baan ganga.
Vaishnodevi bhawan is situated in Trikut parvat at an elevation of 5200 feet, in the Shivalik range of the Himalaya. The journey from Banganga upto Bhawan is apprx. 12-13 km. Yatris can walk, take doli or hire ponny (limited distance). Aged / handicapped persons can avail services of battery operated small vehicles (covering limited distance).Yatris can also avail helicopter facility from Katra upto Sanjhi Chhat, from there they have to reach bhawan by walk. Entire walkway from Ban ganga upto bhawan is cemented, fully illuminated and mostly under covered shed (to protect yatris from rock fall and rain fall). Illumination is of such quality that there is no difference between day and night. In my previous visit in 2013, I walked at midnight without any difficulty. There are plenty of shops offering tea, coffee, juice etc. throughout the journey, apart from shops selling religious items or souvenirs.
VISIT TO SHRI MATA VAISHNODEVI BHAWAN
There was an auto stand outside the Katrastation. We took one of them and went straight toBanganga check post. I already got online yatra pass from the website of the board. So after initial screening, we went to the specific counter wherefrom ticket type yatra pass was issued against internet booking printout. After getting our hard copy of passes, we discovered that mother of my colleague Swaraj was missing. We searched every possible corner, but could not find her.
Then we walked fast and went ahead, thinking that she might have gone forward when we were busy in the counter. But our effort went into vein. Then we came back to Banganga main gate, with a hope that she might be waiting over there for us. But we could not locate her. Then we went to the announcement room and made an announcement in public address system. A security guard told us that a lady was searching for her co-yatris sometime ago, who ultimately went ahead. With a ray of hope we again entered the yatra route and tried to walk as fast as possible.
As this was my second visit to Vaishnodevi, I knew that walkway route intersects the traditional staircase route at many points. I was afraid that if she had followed the staircase route, then it would be very difficult for us to trace her. With full tension in mind we continued to walk. Though it was day time, but the sun was merciful to us, as it was not very bright that day. We stopped at one or two points for having fruit juice or cold drinks then again started our journey.By then my plan to have a darshan of Mata Vaishno devi had become secondary.
My first priority was to find out mata of Swaraj. After covering almost 50% of the total route, we discovered the lady. She was walking on slowly, smoothly in a rhythmic pattern. It was an emotional reunion of family members, where I also took part. To minimise further loss of time, we decided to arrange doli for parents of Swaraj, which helped them to retain level of energy. Doli hire charge was Rs.4,000/- per person. Swaraj and I continued to walk. Ultimately we reached locker room, where parents of Swaraj were waiting for us. We put our camera, mobile, shoes and all belongings in a locker and moved ahead towards the bhawan.
The queue of yatris that day was havoc. We stood behind 500+ yatris, before the metal barricade. After the barricade upto the entrance of the cave, much more yatris were already waiting. But I knew from previous experience that line moves fast. So, by following the line we entered the cave, had great darshan by grace of Mata Vaishnodevi and came out in flying colours. It was simply grace of Mataji that we could overcome all obstacles to successfully complete the darshan. Then we collected our belongings from locker room and started return journey back to Banganga. We had light food on way, as we did not have much appetite after the 26 km nearly continuous walking for the full day.
From Baanganga we took an auto straight to Katra station. On way I noticed that modern shopping complex, multiplex etc. had come up at Katra. The town has slowly taken a modern look. Our country is really an example of extreme diversity. In a town like Katra, where age-old religious practices are followed century after century, there also influences of American consumerism has stepped in. It will be our duty to maintain the balance without sacrificing Indianism.
From Katra station (SVDK), we were supposed to catch the SVDK-Kalka express (14504) for getting down at Pathankot. Departure time was 9.30 pm. Our luggage were in the cloak room. There was a last minute tension again, because when we reached cloak room at 9.00 pm, it was closed. Fortunately a local boy was standing nearby who, on being enquired by us, gave us mobile number of cloak room staff and his manager. We rang up the staff, which went un-attended. By then it was 9.10 pm. We then rang up the manager, who came to us immediately. Thanks to him and the local boy because, as soon as we picked up our luggage and ran upto the train waiting a distantly placed platform, it started to move.
We reached Pathankot at 1.30 am (on 27th September) in the night. From station we took a taxi (sedan) upto Hotel Asia in Dhangu Road (it took Rs.300/-), where we had pre booking. We spent the night in the hotel. We had plan to move out of the hotel at around 7 am, for which I had already booked a car. As the day was totally hectic and eventful, we went fast into deep sleep.
Please follow next parts of the travelogue for my tour to Himachal and Punjab.