There is something magical in the air of Katra, the closest town to the holy shrine. It is this mystical aura that attracts millions of pilgrims every year to pay a visit to this holy shrine. The shrine resides in the Trikuta Mountains of Katra, Jammu & Kashmir and is one of the holiest places of North India.
On receiving the ‘Divine mothers call’ or what people say as ‘Mata ka Bulava’ (call of the divine goddess Vaishno Devi) I packed my bags and headed to the holy shrine. The journey was bound to be fun. Trekking for 12 km, chanting prayers and indulging ourselves into spirituality, what’s not to like. Here is my experience of the trip that will help you plan your journey to the mystical land.
Things to Remember:
1. Book your ticket for entering the shrine (yatra parchi) before leaving for the trip.
2. If you are travelling via helicopter to the Bhawan then book your tickets in advance to ensure a smooth journey.
3. Bags are not allowed inside the temple, and the lockers are good enough for small backpacks. So, carry as less as you can and carry a lock for safety purpose.
4. Do not wear any leather article (jackets, shoes, belts etc.) as they are not permitted inside the temple premises.
5. Keep yourself hydrated and a full stomach, if you are walking to the shrine. You will need a lot of energy and stamina to climb the mountains.
6. Carry something warm with you as the temperature falls in the evening and early mornings.
7. Wear good shoes, preferably sport shoes to avoid any foot injury.
Getting to the Shrine:
Helicopter (From Katra to Main Shrine)
The helicopter service started by the shrine board has made the journey easy especially for the elderly. You have to register yourself to the official site of Mata Vaishno Devi and book the tickets.
Fair charges are 699 INR per person and it takes around 8 minutes to reach the shrine. The booking can be done for a maximum of 30 days and minimum of 4 days in advance.
Pony Rides and Palanquin
There are ponies and palanquins to take you to the shrine. (The charges varying from 1000-1500 per person)
Battery cars are available from Ardh Kuwari Temple to the main Shrine. You need to book tickets from the counter that is at the check post just few kilometres before the temple.
Getting to Katra:
Katra is a small town in Jammu and Kashmir, lying on the foothills of the Trikuta Mountains.
Nearest airport is Jammu and from there you can take a state bus or taxi to reach Katra. Approximate distance from Jammu to Katra is 46 kilometres and takes 1.5 hours.
This is the best option to reach Katra if you are coming from Delhi or other states of North India. Moreover, the view throughout the journey is impeccable. Katra railway station is just 8 minutes away from the bus stand, which is one of the prime location of the town.
If you are coming from Delhi or the neighbouring states, you can take a bus to reach Katra. However, the journey is long and tiring.
Where to Stay:
There are a plenty of hotels and Dharamshalas (rest house) in Katra especially near the bus stand.
Where to Eat:
You would get only vegetarian options here. Below is a list of few good restaurants near the bus stand and those that you will find during your journey.
1. Punjabi Rasoi –is near the Katra bus stand. It is a good multi cuisine restaurant serving great food.
2. Sagar Ratna – This is close to the main shrine. This restaurant serves great South-Indian food.
3. Café Coffee Day – There are two outlets of Café Coffee Day, one is near the Padchin Temple and other one is near Ardh kuwari Temple. This is a great place to stop by and recharge yourself with some great coffee.
4. Bhojanalaya – These are the local eateries set up by the Shrine board. They serve local Indian street food and Maggie.
1. Police and Yatra Parchi check post
This is the first check post that you’ll encounter as soon as you enter the main gates of Mata Vaishno Devi Temple. From there you will be guided to the ticket counter where they will scan your ticket and from there onwards, your journey will begin enchanting ‘Jai Mata Di’ all your way.
2. Bal/Ban Ganga
The miraculous flowing river flows all the way down the hills is associated with many stories and legends of the Goddess. Devotes take a bath here before beginning their journey.
3. Charan Paduka Temple
This is just 1.5 kms away from Banganga. This is the place where the Goddess’ footprint is engraved on a rock slab.
4. Ardh Kuwari Temple
This cave acts as a stopover for the pilgrims on their journey to the shrine. It is said that the Goddess took a halt and rested in this cave for 9 months before making the Bhawan her home.
5. Bhawan and the main Temple
This is the main stoppage of the pilgrims; the holy cave houses the sanctum sanctorum. You can get a sight of the Bhawan, approx 1.5 km before reaching the place. Since this is the main point in the journey; this place has a lot of facilities from rest rooms to eateries to medical facility.
In the holy cave, the goddess has revealed herself in form of holy pindies/ balls, that represents the three forms of the goddess; Goddess Kali, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati (The destroyer of Evil forces, Goddess of Wealth and Goddess of Wisdom).
6. Bhairav Temple
This is the last stop of the journey, just 2 km from the main temple. It is said that the journey is not complete without paying a visit to this temple. The temple resided in the Bhairon Ghati and the view from here is simply breath taking.
For more details and help related to planning your trip, you can visit the official website. Jai Mata Di! 🙂