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Friday, March 5, 2010

Trip to Vaishno Devi

I went to Vaishno Devi past weekend (Apr 12), the trip was adventurous & fun but as good as a war!! I was with one of my friend, we left Sunday afternoon by bus from Bus Terminal at Jeeval in Jammu (click here to read about my Jammu trip) and it took us around 1.5 hrs to reach Katra. You have to wait in a line to get the 'darshan parchi' (visitor-slip) which you need to collect to get in, it's free. We waited around 3 hrs in line till 5pm but it turned out that they won’t give slips anymore till 5am next day as there are too many visitors for the day. It was quite disappointing but we thought of checking for the passes at the Defense Camp which is 1 Km ahead near Brhamakumari where you get special passes for defense people (my dad is Ex-Defnse Personnel). When we reached there we were told that since 9 months policy has changed and now the passes are not available for families of Defense Personnel anymore. Again disappointment, but we talked to the guy there named Naidu and ultimately he was convinced to help us by giving us the visitor slips (not defense though, but he had few general slips). If you are convinced and work hard, nothing is impossible.. Or may be Maa Vaishno was calling us…
Then the journey upwards began which wasn’t too bad. Just be slow & steady and keep taking short rests when needed. Half the way to the top, the way splits into two… one way goes through Ardkwari in between & then further up to Bhawan (mata Vaishno’s temple), the way is little tough as it is steeper and longer than other way. Darshan at Ardhkwari is not easy as there are long waiting, you have to take a visitor-slip again here for this temple and the waiting for us was 2 days. Then there is the other way which does not go through Ardhkwari and it is shorter by 1 Km, its easier as well (less steep & newer road). You can take a short tunnel through Ardhkwari to get on this way but you end up walking 1 Km extra. The Pony-Ride which keeps coming on to you is a big nuisance, but you don’t encounter them on this road which is good. It took us around 4-5 hrs in total to reach till Vaishno Devi Mandir. Just before entry you have to get your slip stamped and they give you a group number fro entry into temple which is displayed all over TV (but it is hardly followed, you cant go before it I think but can go anytime after your number has crossed. Doesn’t even gives you any priority in darshan line).
Then you have to take holy-bath at the snaanghar which is at the end; just keep walking past lockers etc. The water comes out of pipes from somewhere but it is very cold n chilling, however bath is kinda fun. Then put your shoes, leather stuff & belongings (including cam etc) in the locker & go for the darshan. Darshan are open all day-night except the Arti in Morning & evening. When we got in the line at around 2 in night the security guys told us that darshan are closed till morning… another disappointment but we decided to wait. The darshan were open in half an hour!! It takes around an hour or so to get till the Bhawan Gufa (or the cave in which there are the Pindies). There is no photo or idol but just the mata ki pindies…. If its crowded they don’t let you go in the real gufa but the artificial one which takes you near darshan place (I was told that if there is less rush you get to crawl in that gufa and get closest darshan). They hardly let you see anything and you can’t even stand for few seconds for proper darshan. They don’t take your Prashaad (offerings, you can buy those even downwards before starting the climbing which is better as you get nicer stuff but you have to carry it. Options are less & limited upwards). After darshan you take the halwa prashhad & then it’s done. Don’t forget to take your stuff abck from the locker though…
The next is the visit to Bhaironath & it’s said that darshan is not complete until you visit there (it's said that Maa Vaishno killed Bhaironath who was a evil taantrik, however while dying he asked for forgieness & Maa gave him this aashish). Its 3-4 Kms up and you can walk, take stairs or take pony ride too. We decided to use stairs mostly because it was faster but painful too. The temple was not open early morning at 6am, so I think it’s only open from Morning till evening/night. You can also get some nice pictures from the top spot there. Now you can take another route to return back to Katra which goes through Ardhkwari too. If you have taken the visitor slip to Ardhkwari while climbing, you might wanna check while going back if your number has come, its easier way than waiting there only. Or you can go back to Vaishno Devi and take a tempo ride from there till Ardhkwari which runs ant fixed times starting 8am. The walk back is really tough & painful… climbing up is tiring but if you have not taken enough rest or do not have great stamina, the walk down is very painful & strenuous. You might wanna use stairs to get down which is quicker but be careful as well. I was really collapsing the way back but managed to get down somehow.
The other options to get up-down are using Pony-Ride or Paalki. Also you can take the Helicopter Ride which is very quick & takes you directly up from Katra near Vaishno Mandir (around 1 km walk away). But the fun is in walking and doing it yourself. Take proper rest while going up & coming down, you may even rest at Vaishno Devi for few hours before coming down. Also it’s good to have a larger group so you can support each other & enjoy the journey. Make sure you carry all the money you need before starting as ther are no ATMs on the way. That day, all the ATMs at Katra were not working as well (except one Axis bank ATM near bus-stand). There was too much rush to get the bus back to Jammu but we managed somehow. At the end I guess it’s all about your faith & will and nothing is tough. And as people say, you cant go until Mata is calling you.. And if she’s calling you, no one can stop you. Jai Maa Vaishno, Jai Mata Di!!!

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