Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vaishno Devi Yatra

Jai Mata Di.
It was a sudden plan to visit Maa Vaishno Devi Mandir. Actually it was my wife’s wish, she has a huge devotion in Maa, has visited there 9 times, and we just finished our first year post-marriage, so this time wanted to be there with me. Her brother and a friend with his wife also were to join us. As I said it was made all of sudden, we couldn’t get reservation in train. Then I remembered last time I went there by DTC Volvo bus, so on 6 June, I reached Delhi ISBT for bus ticket booking, but couldn’t get, as the ISBT was under-construction so the advance booking was not possible. But all know if Maa is calling then nobody can stop you, I got tickets booked for 5 people for AC sleeper bus from Red Fort for 17 June.

Maa Vaishno Devi Mandir (Bhavan)

17 June: We reached Red fort at sharp 7:30 PM, where we got to know that the bus was parked somewhere else where we had to reach by khataara taxi arranged by them. No problem. Finally we were in bus, bought water bottles and relaxed in our sleeper cabins. Bus started around 9, soon we slept.

Sleeper cabins in AC bus (not easy for 6 feet tall guy)

18 June: At 5 AM, I opened my eyes and got shocked to see that we were still in Punjab, and estimated about the rest of the route, more 5 hours it was going to take to reach Katra. Closed my eyes again, and opened at 7 or 8 AM around Pathankot for tea break. At 10:30 we reached Jammu. On the way to Katra all buses halt for checking at a check-post. Our bus also did the same, there we had a short break. I was again in hills, admiring the beauty of nature, thanking God for giving me again an opportunity to see the mountains.

On the way to Jammu. Road was in good condition. Jammu to Katra road 

 Jammu to Katra road

 About to reach Katra

Around 12 PM we reached Katra. There was huge crowd over there as it was June, a vocation month. Well we were ready to have the best time there. First of all I decided to get the Bhawan Yatra ticket. Note: Get your Bhawan Yatra ticket, valid for next 3 hours, which you may get from a office located at main Choraha. After that we moved on towards Yatra entrance area, to get a good room in any guest house there.
It is recommended to have room near the Yatra Entrance, so that you can soon and easily come back after finishing Yatra. We got a double + single bed room in a guest house, very near to Yatra Gate. Room was clean and cost for Rs 500 for a day. We finalized it at Rs 300 for 4 hours for getting fresh.
We left the room to begin our journey towards Bhawan at 4 PM, and stored our luggage at cloak room provided by guest room. Such guest houses provide cloak room or some space to keep your belongings for free and safe.

Our room at first floor in Katra Near to Entrance Gate to Bhawan

After leaving room at 4 PM, we had light lunch and moved ahead to Vaishno Devi Yatra. Instead of carrying back-pack bag, we had trally bag, easy to drag in inclines. We entered in Main entrance, had a quick checking at front check-post, and moved on.

Entrance Gate to Vaishno Devi Yatra

Weather was pleasant, some road side shopes and shopkeeper welcomed us. We bought some JAI MATA DI written ribons to tie on foreheads. Some pony-walas tried to convince us to hire them, but we preferred to walk.

We moved forward and crossed a temple in our way, Shiva & Hanuman idols were attracting us to visit the temple but we decided to not stop.

The way to Bhawan was fully fenced with small shops, where you can buy snacks, water/softdrinks, fruits, Puja prashad, and others items useful in your journey.

The vaishno Devi shrine is at an altitude of 5200 feet, located on the holy Trikuta Hills of the Shivalik Hill Range, and a distance of approximately 14 kilometres (8.4 miles) from Katra. Being in hills is like living the heaven. There was huge crowd at that time, but views of Trikuta hills made our visit unforgettable.

A view of Katra  town from the hill

14 km long way is mounting up to Bhawan. People incapable to walk, heir ponies and palkis. Palki is a big chair carried by 4 persons, charges around Rs 4000 per visit. Pitthu or coolie are available easily for carrying bags and kids. Choppers can also reach to Sanjhi Chat. Way to Bhawan is almost cemented and goes up round like a climber. Devotees from the different parts of the world treck upwards with saying "Jai Mata Di". We also went up stairs in our way, you beware of them as they may be upto 350 in count. On the wall near first step, one can read the total count of staircase.

 Stairway may be painful shortcut to Bhawan

Around 7:30 PM, we reached at Ardh-kwari, there was long waiting to visit the Ardh-kwari Gufa. We got the coupon for Ardh-Kwari darshan, and instead of waiting there we felt better to move further. One thing I must mention here which I didn't know before, there is another way from Ardh-kwari to main Bhawan via Himkoti, instead of via Sanjhi Chhat. This way via Himkoti is plane without much incline and decline, and 1.5 KM shorter than the way via Sanjhi Chhat. I didn't know about this by then so moved towards Sanjhi Chhat.

See the crowd at Ardh-Kwari

Ardh-Kwari Mandir was under construction
As we were going up the temperature was going down. On our way enjoyed coffee and other snacks, and with short breaks we kept moving, and crossed Sanjhi Chhat with longer break there. At Sanjhi Chhat we ate Raajma Rice, which was almost boiled without onion, but still we revelled.

On my way to Sanjhi Chhat

Full masty

Hills behind Sanjhi Chhat

Devotees coming down after darshan

As soon as we crossed the Sanjhi-chhat, it started raining, but not heavily. We didn't stop till the small coffee break, which became a long one as my wife phoned her home and gave a long description of our journey to her dear Dad. :) Post break we moved on to Bhawan, on our way we joined a dhol wala, danced on his beats.

Coffee break

Dhol baje dhol baje dhol, ho dham dham baje dhol

It was around 12:30 AM then, and we were about to reach Bhawan. Katra town was looking like a galaxy of stars from that distance.

View of Katra town from the upper top

Around 2 AM, we finally reached Bhawan. Huge crowd was there. And by then, we had been very tired, wanted eagerly to take some rest, and also we felt better to have darshan after 4 AM in brham muhurat. So we had enough time. First we took bath in cold freeze water, it was too good that our pain and tiredness had disappeared for sometime. After changes new clothes, we packed our bags to store them in cloak room. Space in cloak room can be easily available after some wait. Then we bought prashad for Bhawan darshan. Because of huge crowd, there was a big queue of devotees, we joined them. Each and everyone was full of devotion. Loud jaikara could be heard from everywhere......BOL KARA SHERAWALI DA..BOL SACHE DARBAAR KI JAI.

Finally more 500 mt

 Prashad shops near Bhawan

View of Bhawan in night

We had a short but great darshan, though we wanted to stay some more time in main gufa. After coming out, we got our bags back, had light food (don't know what it was, dinner or breakfast). My wife wanted to take some rest, so I wished, but we had to move on towards Bhairo Temple. It is said that if some one doesn't visit bhairo mandir after Vaishno Devi Mandir, his/her yatra goes wasted. So we had to move on, and if we took rest there, it would be worst for us, as the way to Bhairo from main Bhawan is a steep climb, it should be covered in one go. I covinced her, and we were on our way. We reached there within one and half hour, and had bhairo baba darshan. Then this was the time to take some rest as we had covered up-going part of our jouney, now we had to came back down, we all were feeling like winners. We slept for two good hours there, and after waking up, we had a great breakfast with Tea & Pakodi. At Bhaira mandir, you must eat Pakodis.

Bhairo Mandir

Beautiful morning in hills

View of Sanjhi Chhat from top of the hill

Covered way to go down hill

Wildlife of Trikuta hills


On our way back to down, we enjoyed a lot, as it was taking less effort to coming down on slopes, we just had to maintain the balance of our body, and rest of the work was being done by the gravity. We had some monkeys, langoors, goat and some beautiful birds on our way.

This is airbase at Sanjhi-Chhat. Devotees come in chopers till here, rest of the journey they cover on ponies or on-foot. We took some short breaks for tea and water, and kept moving.

Above photo is of Sanjhi Chaat. We had a very short break here before moving further. I found Vaishno Devi a very organized place, almost clean with helpful staff and polite police. We really have a big responsibility to keep our religious places clean.

About 10:30 AM (I think), we reached back at Ardh kwari, we already had coupons for Ardh kwari darshan, so first of all we checked the current going number, and estimated that we had to wait for a whole day to get in there. It was my wife's wish to visit Ardh-kwari gufa, so it was final that we were going to wait, so we tried to get a room in nearby building, and succeed. We got a room, and had a good sleep for three hours. After walking up, my travel-mates went for lunch but I preferred to sleep. At 4PM, I wake up and had Dosa with tea, and informed others to get ready as our turn was about to come. We got ready and stored our bags to cloak room available there. This time we didn't have to wait as they were giving space on turn-wise. It took 4 hours to have Ardh-kwari Darshan. Ardh-kwari is a place where Goddess Durga in her Vaishno Devi avatar, did penance for 9 months. The gufa was very narrow, it was real fun to come out from that. We shouted, 'Jai Mata Di', and crossed from there. I couldn't take photographs there, as the camera was packed in the bags, also the photography was prohibited.

Pony is used to transport goods on these hills. About 10 PM, we left Ardh-kwari behind after having blessings of Goddess. This time we dicided to cover rest of the journey by stairs, which was going to be more painful, but it saved lots of time. We already had informed the hotel manager about the time of our coming back, which was estimated 3 AM. And it was almost well-estimated, as we reached main entrance gate by 3 AM. The one thing here, which surprised us was the money demanded by auto-drivers to take us to the hotel, they were charging Rs 200, which was too much as our hotel was not that far. Well, we preferred to walk. Now walking in plains was not a big deal for us. And soon we reached our hotel, had a good bath, and went to sleep for few hours.
Next to sleep, this was the time to explore the market, we started our day from bhandara, which was going there in a ground, had amazing puri-sabzi-halwa. We spent 3 to 4 hours in the market, bought some artificial jewelry,  some warm clothes like chingu, blankets, shawls, and prashad. It was fun, we were tired but still enjoying the market. I didn't carry the camera, so no photographs from market. After checking out from hotel, by 6 PM we were in the bus on our way to back.

I am ready for my next trip now, which will be here soon in words & photos, till then Happy Ghummakari!