‘Vaishno Devi’ temple is one of the most popular religious spot in India. More than 10 million pilgrims visit Vaishno Devi every year. Like Tirupati in South, Vaishno Devi is in North.
Vaishno Devi is located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (Jammu region). The temple is located on a 2800 ft high Trikuta Mountain. To go to Vaishno Devi, you first go to Jammu (a major railway head in North India). From Jammu, travel by road to Katra – 50 km (1 ½ hrs). Katra is at the base of the mountain. At Katra, one has to register for the Yatra. Registration helps in keeping some control over the numbers of pilgrims going up the mountain at a time.
From Katra, one has to climb on foot – a track of about 13 km. There are two tracks – the old (more treacherous and less preferred now) and the new one. The new track is well covered and well illuminated. Most pilgrims prefer to climb at night (especially in summer) to avoid harsh Sun. In winters, temperature drops below zero degree. On foot, it takes
anywhere from 4-8 hours to climb. It is not easy for people who are not accustomed to vigorous exercise. Chanting “Chalo Bulava Aya Hai – Mata Ne Bulaya Hai” (There is call from Mother Goddess – Let’s Move) – helps maintaining strength and tempo. Food and soft drinks are available throughout and one has to use them liberally. Ponies are also available. For last few kilometers, electrically operated three wheelers are also plying.
Darshan at the temple is possible after security check and waiting in long queue. One needs to take sufficient rest before climbing down – which is also not easy. Climbing up and down – total 26 km in less than a day is arduous, but it is an experience of a life time. We had gone in November (winter). Had started around mid-day (it was hot) to return at mid-might (it was pretty cold).
For tourists, for whom Vaishno Devi is one of the stops, it is recommended to keep at least half a day spare to regain energy before moving on.
Around Katra, there are many caves where Devis (Goddesses) and Devatas (Gods) of Hindu mythology prefer to stay (!). We
visited two of these caves – Nau Devi Gufa (Gufa = Cave) close to Katra.
Another is Shiv Khori Gufa – some 4 hours’ drive on dusty and rough road. The cave is more than 150 mts long and there is a Svayambhu Lingum, which constantly baths in a milky lime fluid dripping from the ceiling. The route from Jammu to Shiv Khori is full of beautiful and picturesque mountains, waterfalls and lakes.
Katra to Shiv Khori and back takes one whole day. We moved on from Katra to Patni Top – a beautiful hill station in Kashmir straight after returning from Shiv Khori.
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