Vaishno Devi at the top of Trikuta Parvat is an ancient holy pilgrimage temple. Vaishno Devi is situated 61-km north of Jammu and 14-km from Katra. Its a four-hour (13-km) climb from Katra. The best time to come is March to July, as th rest of the time of the year it can be very cold. The main pilgrimage time is March-April and September-October during the two main Navratra or Navratri's .
This shrine is situated in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. You can get their by air, train,bus
( private as well as public transport) or car.
To visit Vaishnodevi a parchi or ticket is required. These can be bought online at http://www.maavaishnodevi.org/status1.asp or the tour operator can arrange these or they can be bought at the parchi or ticket counter at Katra.Once a ticket is purchased the yatra can commence. There are many places of worship or milestones (minor temples) on the way to Vaishno Mata as a devotee climbs Trikuta Parvat. Once you reach the Darshani Darwaza the closest is Banganga.
The gateway is the Darshani Darwaza which is approx 1 km from the parchi or ticket counter. It is so named because it is the point from where the yatra is really deemed to commence and thus becomes the doorway or Darwaza for Darshan. Pilgrims cover this stretch either on foot, or on auto rickshaws or by the bus service which is operated by the Shrine Board free of charge for the pilgrim.
Also called by some as the Bhumika Temple. Darshani Darwaza, 1-km from Katra, is where as per legend the Goddess Vaishno Mata disappeared. This place is called Darsani Darwaza because the Trikut mountain is visible from here Trikuta Parvat is three high peaks that are the abodes of the Goddess Vaishno Devi.
Banganga is the place where an arrow was pierced into the earth/ground and from which sprouted the Ganga or Ganges so that Vaishno Mata and her devotee ( some believ it was Hanuman others name him Veer Langoor) could have a drink of water an quench their thirst.
The legend goes that after the Goddess Vaishno Mata left the Bhumika Temple, she went to the Trikuta Hills passing through here. At this time, Langoor Vir (Veer Langur) felt thirsty. The Goddess shot an arrow into the stone and a holy river was produced, now known as Ban Ganga. It is called Ban Ganga because the Goddess washed her hair at this place. Ban Ganga is about 3-km from Katra.
Present day it is a stream offshoot of the Ganga and there is a spot where there are steps leading down to the stream. Some devotees believe in bathing here others in washing their faces, hands and feet and quenching their thirst before they continue on their journey. Many fill flasks and containers of Ganga Jal and all offer prayers and obeisances at Banganga.
Next Is Charan Paduka. 2 ½ -kms from Darshani Darwaza at a height of 3,200 feet above sea level is the place known as Charan Paduka. There is an impression of Mata's feet on a rock at Charan Paduka. A small temple has been constructed over this rock at Charan Paduka. There is a State Government run First Aid Centre here.
The legend states that the Goddess Vaishno Mata stopped for some time while Bhairon was chasing her. Her footprints are supposed to be visible on a stone at this place. Charanpaduka means ” holy footprints.” It is about 1.5-km from Ban Ganga
Pilgrims first go to the temple at Adhkawari and then enter the narrow cave of 15 ft known as Garbh Joon. At most places the cave is not more than two feet wide. Inspite of this people of all sixes are able to crawl though it. This cave is believed to be symbolic of the womb. The legend states that Garbha Joon where the Goddess hid herself for nine months and showed her self to a saint. The cave is narrow, and you have to almost crawl all the way though it. When Bhairon entered the cave, the Goddess made a new opening with her trident and ran away. Ardh Kuwari is 4.5-km from Charan Paduka
After ArdhKuwari the path gets very steep for 2.5-km. This ascent is called Hathi Matha ascent, because the mountain is shaped like the forehead of an Elephant. It is best to use the footpath rather than the stairs, as the climb will be easier. From here it is another 1,500-ft climb to Sanjhi Chatt, and from there another 4-km to the carve.
Vaishno Mata's Bhawan
The entrance to the shrine is wide and tiled but arrows down further down until the holy Pindi's (the 3 svayambhu stones of Mata MahaSaraswati, Mata MahaLakhsmi and Mata Mahakali or Mahagauri Vaishno Mata) representative of Mata Vaishnodevi.
The priests chants out loud the 108 names of Goddess Durga. Then they perform Atam Puja for their own purification. This is followed by Tilak - urging the gods to grant the priests health, chant of “Pratigya Sankalp” - vow to worship the three deities, bathing of Lord Ganesh, Surya and Chandrama symbols. Then the holy Pindies are bathed with water and the five Amrits: Milk, Curd, Ghee, Honey and Sugar.
"Pashupatinath" is then given a bath with Panchamrit. This is followed by a general cleaning of the area of the sanctum sanctorum. Ganga water is poured over the holy Pindies. The priests chant “Devyapradh Kshamapan Stotram” or the mantras seeking forgiveness for their sins. Meanwhile the preparations for the adorning of the sacred Pindies go on.
When I had visited the place as a child devotees would distribute 25 paise coins stating that pilgrims were to push them into the walls of the tunnel/cave before darshan of the shrine or to eave them at Vaishno Mata's feet. I still remember being amazed at the number of 25 paise coins that had been pressed into the walls on both sides as we walked towards the shrine.
On a busy festival you may have to wait several hours up to your knees in cold water. You walk about 100ft in the knee deep water and then up four steps to see the pindies.
The Sri Ram Temple
The Sri Ram Temple is near Vaishno Devi cave. There is a Shiva-linga in a cave 125 steps down from the Ram Temple which has a steady stream of water trickling over it around the year.
Kal Bhairav or Bhairon Temple
This temple is about 2.5-km from Vaishno Devi cave at about 6,700 feet. It is traditional to visit this temple after visiting the Vaishno Devi Temple.
The legend states that Bhairon (Bhairav) was absolved of all sins when Durga killed him.
When Bhairon was killed by the Goddess his head flew to this place. There is a huge stone outside the cave that represents the body of Bhairon. After he was killed, her prayed to the Goddess to forgive him. It is said that the Goddess gave the benediction that the desires of her devotees who visit this place would be fulfilled.
Things to Remember
- Do not discard the yatra parch or ticket after purchase. The tickt is to be used within 6 hours of purchase. Online tickets may be different. Kindly check at the website given above.
- Take official receipts for all payments made to the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board as well as private vendors.
- Avail of the services of only registered people be it pithu, pony or the dandiwalla and keep his token for the period he is engaged.
- Contact the announcement counters of Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board at Katra, Banganga, Adhkawari and Darbar for locating missing persons.
- The first station beyond Darshani Darwaza is Banganga. Ponies and Palkis are available for hire at Banganga on rates fixed by the State Government.
- Use only the donation boxes provided at various places by Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board. In case of donations at the donation counters of the Board at Katra (Central Office/ Vishram Ghar), Adhkawari, Sanjichhat and various points at the Bhawan obtain a formal receipt.
- Avoid overstraining on the climb and prefer the track over the stairs and stick to either of the paths.
- Luggage and belongings should not be deposited with unauthorised persons or left unguarded at the bathing ghats.
- Qualified doctors are available at the Primary Health Centre, Katra, Adhkawari and Bhawan - Open round the clock. The Evening Clinic, Katra Bus Stand - Open 2.00 pm to 8.00 pm. Sanji Chhat also has a First Aid Centre. A very large hospital has also constructed for the shrine Board by the Sagar Suri Trust at Sanji Chhat. Two helipads have also been constructed at Sanji Chhat.
- Clothing - Light woollens required at night during the summer months. Heavy woollens required during the remaining part of the year.
- For first timers dont try and walk up and try to return home straight after. Keep a resting period after the darshan before traveling to your home or next destination as your legs will land up hurting like hell after darshan.You may want to keep a suitable painkiller ( as per your doctors advise) handy for post darshan pains.
A large number of privately run shops serve food and snacks to the pilgrims. In addition, the Shrine Board runs a Bhojanalaya at Vaishno Devi Ji which is open rounded the clock. A medical dispensary, a chemist shop, a post office, a telephone exchange, two banks and a Police station also function at Vaishno Devi Ji. The Shrine is open for Darshan round the clock every day except for two hours in the morning (from 6.00 am to 8.00 am) and for two hours in the evening (from 6.00 am to 8.00 am) when the Aarti is performed. There is also an ISKCON temple at Katra.
All in all its an exhilarating experience and one feels blessed after darshan. An experience I will remember all my life.
How to get to Vaishnodevi
The nearest airport is in Jammu, which is 48-km from Katra. There is a helicopter service that departs from the airport at Sanjhi Chat in Jammu in the morning. Rail:
The nearest railway station is in Jammu, which is well connected to all the major cities in India.
There are regular buses leaving for the 52-km trip from the central bus stand in Jammu to where the road ends at Katra (2 hr). Walking From Katra it is a steep 13-km walk. You can rent a horse or be carried up from Katra. You can go up to the cave and back in the same day. It takes about 4 hours to climb up and 3 hours to come down. Pilgrims must get a Yatra- Slip from the tourist reception center near the bus stand in Katra to get pass to Ban Ganga.
You can stay in Jammu or even better stay at Katra. There are plenty of good hotels in Katra itself ranging from the expensive 5 star such as the Country Inn Suites and the White Orchid to cheapest options such as yatri dharamshalas.