Tuesday 19 June 2018

A complete guide to the Holy Pilgrimage to Maa Vaishno Devi’s Shrine in Jammu and Kashmir

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It is considered truly auspicious and Goddess Durga’s direct blessings on us if one is able to plan a holy pilgrimage for Maa Vaishno Devi's Shrine in a lifetime. It is said she blesses only some and calls her to her door high up on the Trikuta mountains in Katra in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is widely believed that whatever you ask Maa with pure heart, she confers it to you and fulfils your desire.

I went there for the first time in May’06 as a newly wed as my husband is a staunch devotee of Maa Durga and this year again, twelve years later, again in May. You can choose to fly to Jammu Airport which is 48 kms from Katra or board a train or bus to Katra based on the total distance you ought to cover. We went from Delhi to Amritsar as visiting Golden Temple the second time was on our itinerary too and from Amritsar(more on it in my subsequent posts on my #TravelDiaries) we went to Katra for which there are several modes of transport easily available.

In Katra from Baadganga (from where we start the climb) the Shrine or Bhawan as it is popularly called is a straight fourteen kilometres climb upward. The entire journey is divided into two halves by Ardhkuwari. The climb is steep and difficult till ArdhKuwari if you are climbing on foot with horses, ponies  and palkis hovering and crossing you on all sides. From Ardhkuwari, upwards it is less steep and there are separate ways for those on foot and horses. 

If you too are planning a trip to Vaishno Devi with your family or friends, the following information shall be vital for you. Basically there are about five modes of transport you can take to reach the shrine.

1. Helicopters: You can take a helicopter which takes you to Sanjhi Chaath which is very close to the shrine. If you have a very elderly member in your family or a member who can’t walk, you can hire palkis from Sanjhi Chaath till Bhavan (main shrine) too to make it absolutely convenient for them.

2. Horses or Ponies: Alternatively, you can hire a horse or pony from Baadganga to ArdhKuwari and then from there to Bhavan(the same are available to come down too) and your trip becomes easy peasy if you are not scared of horses or ponies.

3. Palkis: But if you are scared of horses, take a palki, which means being lifted up in a comfortable chair with attachments for four men to lift you. This is normally recommended for elderly or sick but this time I saw young handsome men too enjoying palki ride(somehow I didn’t appreciate this much) so I guess the option is open for everyone.

4. Electric Cars: In all of the above, you have to shelve a  fairly decent amount of money from your pockets. At Ardhkuwari, electric cars(autos) are also available for the elderly and disabled. 

5. Pitthus: You can also hire Pitthus(similar to coolies) to carry small kids and your stuff up or down on the journey if you have decided to complete the pilgrimage on foot. Don’t forget to grab a Lathi to support you during the long walk..trust me it comes really handy when fatigue takes over you.

Food and water is available at regular intervals and it is advisable to take breaks and keep oneself hydrated., some pitthus also offer you massage on the route to relax your tired feet. Get your bookings done well in advance in peak seasons as there is crazy rush and we all have to queue up at bhawan for darshan. Do book a stay through Vaishno Devi Shrine Board if you have climbed on foot and would like to rest a little before descending, this is assuming you are catching good sleep at your hotel in Katra or Jammu so that your body can regain the energy.

We were a family of twelve with age group five to seventy and all of us did the Darshan nicely no matter what mode we took as per our health. Three eldest took helicopters while the youngest took pitthu, rest of us managed it on foot with just taking horse for three-four kilometers out of twenty eight whooping ones on account of a sprain. That’s the power Goddess gives those who come to her. Though I am extremely grateful to hubby dear for being patient to the cranky baby that I became during the last part of the descent, the gentleman that he is, he made me relax at a dispensary and gave me a good spray of instant pain relief over my sprain.

Never underestimate the climbing down, my friends, it takes a toll on your legs even when you are walking not against gravity😄. It also proved that I was no more an energetic newly wed twenty something young gal who climbed and descended merrily last time but I am still happy, I did it and wrote to you this post so that you know clearly the ways and means to plan your Vaishno Devi Darshan to the best of your abilities considering the best option that suits you and your family.

This is Truly Yours Roma signing off, see you soon with some other personal insights from my travel diaries ♥️. Please feel free to email me at roma.shobhit.sinha@gmail.com if you have any further queries related to this, I shall be more that happy to help you :)

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