It's well said "Maa aap bulandi" J
Mata Vaishno Devi Darshan was planned several time but not working out due to busy college schedule of my both sons who currently study in IIT Kanpur and IIT delhi. Finally, we were all set to go for vaishno devi with well-planned itinerary.
Due to our sons' schedule, we planned it for Dec 3rd week. The credit goes to my wife who put her sincere effort and time to obtain the information and plan all this. As per our research on internet and having a view on statistical data on https://www.maavaishnodevi.org/ website, it was observed that there will be huge rush at this time. Having no other alternative we go ahead with that and booked our train ticket accordingly. The train we booked was "Uttar Sampark Kranti Express" which takes approx. 12 hours from New Delhi to Karta (SVDK).
The planning started with booking online yatra slip on https://www.maavaishnodevi.org/. Here you will need to register yourself and then you can start booking rooms, Yatra Parchi, helicopter etc etc. Online Yatra slip is free of cost and benefits a lot. Having this, you need not to be in queue (which can be very long during heavy rush) which saves a lot of time of individuals of-course. Online Yatra slip can be booked only 2 months in advance and totally depends on availability. There is a constraint on number of people in a day. Alternatively, offline Yatra Parchi can be obtained from various places like Katra bus strand, Niharika guest house etc. Many hotel agents also help to obtain this.
As per train schedule, we reached Katra station @9:00 am. Katra railway stration is really awesome. It took us approx. 15 minutes to get out of station to auto stand due to heavy rush at station. On station there are number of traveler/hotel agents who follow you and ask to get a room. You can get a good bargain if you had not already booked one. We didn't entertain any of the agents as we have already booked our room in Ardhkumari – Shailputri Bhawan and Katra – Niharika.
As planned, we directly moved from Katra railway station to Banganga. This the main place from where your trekking starts to Bhawan. Your Yatra Slip is verified over here and scanned for record. As we were having luggage with us, we were expecting cloak rooms near Banganga but we couldn't find any. Anyway, we crossed Banganga check post with all our luggage with us. As soon as you cross check post, there are plenty private cloak rooms. Many shopkeepers also provide this facility and honest enough. We deposited some of our luggage with a private cloak room and get a receipt for the same.
So our yatra starts from here @10:00 AM.
Jai kara e shere wali da, bol saanche darbar ki jai.
From here Vaishno Devi Trekking starts which is approx. 13 km to bhawan. Due to cold weather, we had put a lot of winter clothes and also some extra in our bags with us. There we booked a porter to carry our bags. They are having proper registration number. We clicked a photograph of porter along with his ICard and proceeded on foot.
[Me with my Pitthoo]
Upto to Ardhkumari, it was wonderful and we reached there in 2 hours. My wife was keenly interested to have a Darshan for Ardhkumari gufa irrespective of how much time it was going to take. So as soon as we reached Ardhkumari, we took the sequence number. Would like to remind, here you will need your Yatra Parchi for obtaining the Ardhkumari sequence number. Our seq number was 63 and at that time it was group 42 which was waiting for turn. As per our estimation, it was going to take atleast 2-3 hours. We had some snacks/Tea at Shrine board bhojnalya (having controlled price and everything you will get on MRP).
As we had already booked our room in Shailpurti bharwan @Ardhkumari, we proceeded to our room and refreshed ourselves. Again checked the group number, it was 45, we thought twice and proceeded to bhawan. We had already dropped some of our luggage in cloak room there and continued with lesser luggage with us.
Just before Ardhkumari, there are 2 ways to bhawan.
1st one is traditional way and via Hathi maththa and distance is approx. 6.5 km to bhawan. On this way there are a lot of ponies (Ghoda) but you will find many shops along the way.
2nd one is new way and via HimKoti and distance is approx. 5.5 Km to bhawan. This way is new and is cleaner and ponies are not allowed here and you hardly get any shop on this way.
From Ardhkumari, there is a tunnel which carries you to Himkoti way to start your trekking via that way @2:00 PM.
Anyway, we took the Himkoti way and started our journey. We were at Bhawan @5 PM. There again your Yatra slip is checked and verified. At the same time you will get group number as well. We were expecting a huge rush, but there was not any rush at all. We were not even given the group number. I inquired the person, what is our group number. He told us, group number is not required, just go and have Darshan. I was not convinced, I asked him again " bhai group number to de do". He stared at me and said "samajh mai nahin aata kya, khali pada hai, group number ki jaroorat nahin hai, jao aur darshan kar lo" J
I was elated and whispered "Jai Mata Di".
Now the next task was to submit our luggage, belt and shoes to locker. Before that we took our Prasad from the "Bhaint Shop" which you will get at your left side when you enter the complex. Prasad is at fixed price and no bargain or negotiation is required here.
Just opposite to "Bhaint Shop", there is cloak room 1. This is less crowded but a little far from Bhawan. Due to less crowd, we preferred that and deposited all our luggage, belt and shoes in that cloak room. Would like to remind, you will need to show your Yatra slip over here to obtain cloak room. Another 2 cloak rooms (2 and 3) are near Bhawan but are overcrowded. There is not much distance between cloak room 1 and 2 & 3.
We started for main Bhawan having only Prasad with us. Your coconut will be exchanged with token on the way. Keep this token with you.
There the queue was not much and hardly 20-25 people were there in queue. With-in no time, we were in divine gufa in front of maa vaishno devi.
While inside the cave, you will have Darshan of mother goddess in three pindi forms - Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi (Vaishno) and Maha Saraswati. It was a divine moment and cannot be expressed in words.
On exit, holy water coming from the Mata's feet can be collected which is coming out of stone elephants' mouth. On the way, we were provided Nariyal back exchanged with token. After that, you will be given Prasad (mishri) and Mata's khazana in paper pouches. So, we had done Mata Darshan very peacefully and were very happy. It was approx. @05:45 PM at that time.
It is believed that the Yatra is not considered complete without having a Darshan of Bhairon after Mata's Darshan. Bhairon Mandir is 2.5 km. from Bhavan and is quite steep. We collected all our luggage from cloak room. Before proceeding to Bhairon, we went to Shrine's Bhojnalya and had good eatables like Chips, tea, Biscuits and Rajma Chawal. Now we were full and ready to proceed for Bhairon baba darshan.
There you will get ponies to bhairon. Due to steep Vaishno Devi Trekking, many people prefer these. The rates are almost fixed. Just do not forget to obtain Icard and Registration number after booking the pony. We hired one for my wife. Me and my 2 sons started on foot only. We were there at Bhairon mandir @6:00 PM. No rush was there so it hardly took us 10 minutes for Darshan. Thanks GOD, we reached before 07:00 PM as Mandir is closed during 07:00 PM to 09:00 PM for Aarti/cleaning etc.
After Bhairon Darshan, we took some rest and had some eatables and refreshed ourselves. We were free by 06:30 PM. Now, our next target was to go to Ardhkumari and have darshan over there. We again proceeded to Ardhkumari @07:00 PM. It was very cold by that time and we had put on some more clothes.
We reached at Ardhkumari Mandir by 09:00 PM. There we checked the sequence. Our number was gone so we had to take another sequence which was 142. We were still having the old sequence number (63) parchi with us. The current group number was 115 at that time. We were all tired and hungry. We put all our luggage to our room (already booked) and went to Shrine board's Bhojnalya. Rush was there but it was manageable. We had complete dinner and decided to wait for our turn. We inquired from authorities, when can we expect our turn. They told that 142 sequence number can be expected @2:00 in night. Having no other alternative, we waited in front of mandir for our turn. It was not more than 10 minutes, we found that authorities were calling all group whose sequence has been passed and sequence number is less than 100. Our old sequence was 63 and we were still having the old parchi as well.
So it was like "Bol saanche darbar ki,………… jai"
We entered the complex. There the queue was long and it took time everyone to pass through holy cave as the cave is very narrow. We were all done by @11 PM and were out of Ardhkumari's gufa. We had some snacks and tea over there while returning to our room. We slept peacefully overnight and woke up refreshed.
It was 05:30 AM, we had some snacks and tea etc over there. By 06:00 AM, we were ready for our downward journey to Banganga. This time we took stairs through-out our way and reached Banganga by 08:00 AM. From there we collected our luggage from cloak room and proceeded to Katra bus stand. It was 08:30 AM by that time.
We proceeded to ShivKhori from there. Shiv Khori is surrounded by green luscious mountains and is at a tracking distance of 3.5 kms. It is about 140 kms from Jammu and less than 80 kms from Katra. On the way we had our lunch at dhaba. It took approx. 3 hours to get there. Reaching there, you will again need to obtain Yatra parchi for each individual. It took us approx. 10-15 minutes to obtain the Yatra Parchi. Ponies are also available there. We took ponies for the up-way and had darshan of Shiv Lingam over there. We started our back journey on foot and were back by 04:30 PM. We reached at our hotel at Katra –Niharika by 08:00 PM.
Now, our next and big target was to have dinner J. We had already collected information from internet for good eating joints in katra. "Manoranjan" dhaba is very famous and situated in kartra main market. We reached there but it was not easy to take seat over there. We were in waiting and seats were allocated depending upon how many members were there in group. We were 4 members, waiting for approx. 10-15 minutes, we were allocated tables. The dinner satisfied our taste buds. On the way back, we had some tea and snacks again in our Niharika hotel and headed towards our room. Room was 4 bedded AC, very clean and spacious. In all manner it was very good and satisfying. We had a good sleep over night.
Next morning, we were all refreshed and went to see local market. Before starting, once again we had our breakfast at Manoranjan dhaba. If you are planning to buy Walnuts, you need to be very careful about quality. Getting good quality walnuts over there is a challenge in itself if you are not extra careful. You will end up spending handsome money but get less satisfying quality. In katra main market, there is shop called "Baniya's shop". The shop is very big and having many items which the pilgrims want to buy. The price was fixed and quality was good. We did almost all our shopping from that shop. No bargain, fixed price shop J
In the evening, we had our train scheduled @07:00 PM. Before moving to station, we had our lunch at "Sagar Ratna" in katra main market. We boarded the train at scheduled time and reached New delhi almost in time.
Key points to Note:
1. Book online Yatra parchi in advance.
2. Get stamped your Yatra parchi for sure (if Offline)
3. If want to book rooms at bhawan, you need to be very quick and a good internet connection is required. Booking start exactly 2 months in advance @12:00 sharp
4. Do not take stairs while going up if you are not regular walker and very fit physically. It puts a lot of pressure on your knees.
5. Have plenty of water during the way.
6. Keep as less luggage as possible during the way
7. During winter weather have complete arrangements of garments.
8. No need to carry eatables on the way, there a plenty of options
9. Beware of monkeys. If you are having white polythene with you or any other eatable, they will surely snatch it.
10. Shops on the way charges almost double. At Shrine board's bhojnalya, you will get quality items and at MRP.
11. Do bhairon baba darshan after mata darshan
12. Keep your patience
13. Keep your body language, language and thoughts clean
14. Only thing which is allowed at bhawan is Prasad and cash, no leather items.
Jai Mata Di.
If anybody is planning to Vaishno Devi and is having any query, I can be contacted at my email address firstname.lastname@example.org
It's well said "Maa aap bulandi" J