Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi: Jai Mata Di

Thanks to online flight offers and Ugadi long weekend, I along with my parents planned to do much awaited, always postponed- holy pilgrimage to Vaishno devi at Katra. We started off from Bangalore early on a Friday morning in flight and almost missed the train to Jammu from Delhi in the evening since I had misread the starting station as New Delhi instead of Old Delhi. Those tensed moments in auto to catch the train was a gripping start for a journey to remember!
View of Trikuta Mountains From Katra

Saturday morning, 18 degree Celsius, I had got down from Jammu Tawi station and boarded mini bus to Katra (they ply as soon as they get full).Ours was the first train on time and no train had arrived to Jammu in past 12 hours owing to terrorists firing near Pathankot (major station before Jammu)!

I was mesmerized by the Jammu- Srinagar highway. We arrived in Katra, freshened up, after a 46 kms ride through beautiful landscapes, some tunnels, engineering marvels, army personnel in every 2 kms guarding- I promised myself to visit J & K again and now I am convinced that J & K is the real Heaven on the Earth!

Vaishno devi pilgrimage is very well controlled by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. The Holy
The Path to Bhavan
Cave of the Mother is situated at an altitude of 5200 ft. The Yatris (pilgrims) have to undertake a trek of nearly 12 km from the base camp at Katra. At the culmination of their pilgrimage, the yatries are blessed with the Darshan of the Mother Goddess inside the Sanctum Sanctorum- the Holy Cave. These Darshan are in the shape of three natural rock formations called the Pindies. There are no statues or idols inside the Cave.

One needs to buy ticket at the base camp and would go through at least 7-8 security checks. I suddenly made up my mind to go barefoot to the top. The first part of the trek (6kms), i.e, from Katra to Adi Kuwari Devi Temple, is believed to be very strenuous. Take my word, it’s an easy climb with inclination hardly reaching 30 degrees, lot of eateries, colorful shops, ponies and
Heading to Bhairon Nath Temple
other thousand people walking along side you chanting “Jai Mata Di”- you won’t realize the difficulty.

Adi Kuwari Devi Temple to Bhawan(the shrine) is again 6 kms and we chose to go via Himakot, comparatively easier stretch. Route is almost parallel, no major climb during the trek, but it is prone to frequent landslides and stone shootings from the hill. Breath-taking views, frequent helicopters that fly over your head, cool breeze, no sweating- journey is really enjoyable. We took 5 hrs from Katra to reach Bhawan. We deposited mobiles, cameras and baggage in a clock room and headed for Darshan of deity in the cave, which hardly took us 45 min.

It is believed that your Yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi is not complete unless you also visit the Temple of Bhairon Baba that requires a further trek of 2 kms on steep hills. We took pony to climb this stretch and headed down in the same- we took around 4 hours in total. While climbing back, the
Bahu Fort
Sun had turned red and was almost ready to set. Mercury had started falling and views were just awesome. I also spotted helicopter operations at the Sanjichhat Helipad.

After the trek, the feeling was just incredible. Heart was smiling with immense satisfaction. I didn’t have mobile connectivity since J & K has banned prepaid sim connection. It didn’t really bother me since this spiritual connection was with God and fellow trekkers who had come to discover themselves!

After a good night sleep, we headed towards Jammu to catch train back to Delhi. We had 8 hours to kill and we explored Jammu. Jammu resides on bank of Tawi River in the lap of nature. Jammu is also known as “The City of Temples”. I visited the following places-

#Raghu Nath Temple is the oldest/ most famous temple and boosts of incredible spiritual
Aquarium Entrance
ambience. Many chambers for different Gods, Goddess and Sants are the specialty here. Also, you’ll spot 11 lakh Lord Shiva Saligramas(similar to small stones).

#Bahu Fort is believed to be made by King Bahu Lochan, 3000 years ago. Much later, its extensive reconstruction was done by Dogra rulers of Jammu and they also built a mughal-styled garden. Majestic!

#Bawe Wali Mata Temple is an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Kali located within the Bahu fort. Goddess Kali is considered to be the presiding deity of Jammu and with whose blessings the town was established and prospered. This temple was constructed in 1822 during the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh. The temple has few other shrines and idols also such as Ganesh, Narasimha, Radha Krishna, Ram-Lakshman-Sita-Hanuman, Panchmukh Hanuman, Shiv Linga and Vaishno Devi.

#Bagh-e-Bahu is the beautiful garden on the banks of Tawi River and just below the Bahu fort. You’ll spot series of beautiful flowers and small fountains on the other side of the walking path, once you have entered in the garden. Also, a small lake is like an icing on the cake!

#Aquarium museum sandwiched between Bahu Fort and Bagh-e-Bahu is the largest underground aquarium of India. The entrance is designed in the shape of the mouth of a fish and the exit in the shape of a fish tail. The aquarium houses a museum where 400 varieties of freshwater and marine fish are on display.

#Har ki Pauri mini Haridwar is fairly new temple built on the banks of river Tawi. Tall idols of Lord Ganesh and Lord Hanuman are the main attraction. Also, from here, we could get a sight of Bahu fort above our head and burnt palace of Raja Hari Singh across the river.

I continued my trip from here to Delhi and Agra. I have blogged it separately for better clarity. Do visit Agra with me by clicking here!

[Thanks to Supraj for booking tickets and to Sambit for helping with right information]