A pilgrimage to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi, the holy shrine, is regarded as one of the biggest holiest pilgrimages for the people of all religions especially for Hindus. It is the Hindu temple which is dedicated to 'shakti', situated in the hills of the Vaishno Devi. Vaishno Devi Mandir is located in Jammu and Kashmir. Vaishno Devi is called by so many names in Hinduism such as Vaishnavi, Trikuta and Mata Rani. Maa Vaishno Devi lives and rests in a holy cave which is located in the three peaked mountain folds called Trikuta. It is one of the most visited Hindu pilgrimages by the people, not only from India but also from the foreign countries. The holy cave of Mata Vaishno Devi is situated at a height of 5200 ft. The yatris have to start their yatra from the base camp katra which is approximately 12 km by road. There are no idols or statues of Mata inside the holy cave. The pilgrims get darshan in the form of pindies which are three natural rock formations. Every year approximately one billion devotees visit the holy shrine to devote their prayers to Mata Vaishno Devi.
How to reach Vaishno Devi
The pilgrims who wanted to visit holy shrine, have to first reach to Katra, base camp for Mata Vaishno Devi. Katra is almost 50km of distance from Jammu. Katra is very well connected to Jammu by road. And to reach Jammu, the yatris can choose any way of transportation like by road, rail or air.
Jammu is very well connected by road to various cities of India. The road which connects Jammu to Srinagar is National Highway No-1A. Regular buses are available to Jammu and Katra from all the important cities of North India. The state road transport corporations of various cities and towns of India provide the service of standard and deluxe buses to devotees who wanted to visit Mata Vaishno Devi. There is also an option of by-pass from Kunjwani, straight to the base camp Katra.
Jammu is also the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir. It is well connected to whole of India by air. There is a well maintained airport at Jammu and the flights operate daily to Jammu. The time taken by an airline from New Delhi to Jammu is almost 80 minutes. After reaching Jammu, the yatris have to hire a taxi to reach Katra.
The yatris can also reach Jammu by train. Many passenger trains board to Jammu from the various cities of the country. At the time of holidays, many new trains are being introduced to provide comfort to the yatris. There are many super fast trains available on this route and you can reach to Jammu from New Delhi in an overnight.
Best season to visit Vaishno Devi
The yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi is open all round the year. There is a heavy rush in the months of summer vacations i.e. May, June and July and on the festival days i.e. Chaitra and Navratras and on New Year vacations. The devotees have to wait for 20-24 hours for darshan. So you can plan your yatra in the months of monsoons and winters. At this time of year, the nature is at its best with snow fall, water falls and greenery all rounding. The original holy cave of Mata Vaishno Devi is open during the months of winter. But it is advised that you should avoid to visit the holy shrine in the period of rush.
What to carry
During the winter season, one should carry heavy woolen clothes. In summers, when there is too much heat all over the India, even at Katra, the main bhavan still remains cool in the nights. There is no need to carry blankets because these are available free of cost. Do not carry high heel shoes or footwear because you will find difficult to track. So canvas shoes are recommended for the yatra. A walking stick, umbrellas, rain coats are helpful during rainy season. But all these things are available at rent also at reasonable rates.
Accommodation is made available by the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board for the comfort of the pilgrims. Rooms are neat and clean, economical and well maintained. The accommodation for yatris is available at different places like Jammu, Katra, Adhkuwari, Sanjhichatt and at the Mata Vaishno Devi main bhawan. There is an option of various types of rooms' i.e. suites, dormitories, huts and their rent varies with facilities available. There is a facility of online booking of the rooms.
For those people who can not afford to pay the rent, there is a facility of rooms made available by Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board at various places like adhkuwari, Sanjhichat and at Bhawan. The yatris get the rooms at first come first get basis. The pilgrims can rest in these halls and can wait for their turn. Facilities like blankets, medical, bhojnalaya and toilets etc. are available near these halls.
Availability of shelter sheds
On the track of Mata Vaishno Devi many shelter sheds have been constructed at various places. At about 500 meters distance, shelter sheds have been made for the convenience of yatris. These sheds are made to protect the devotees from rain, snows, stones, sun or other unfavorable conditions. These also provide the benches where the pilgrims can rest for sometime. Facilities like toilets and refreshment are available near the shelter sheds.
Availability of Ponis, Pithoos and Palkis
The holy temple of Mata Vaishno Devi is about 13 km distance from the base camp Katra. It becomes difficult and tiring for those people who can not walk or are aged. But mostly the devotees prefer to walk to the holy temple. They forget their all pain, exhaustion and tiredness in front of the love, devotion and gratitude for the Maa Vaishno Devi. Yet there are many pilgrims who are medically unfit, aged, and overweight or physically handicapped and they can not walk. So, they have the option for completing their yatra on ponis, pithoos or palkis. People choose pithoos to carry their luggage or young children. The service of ponis, pithoos and palkis is managed by the local municipal committee. These are issued an identity card which is renewed every year. The rates of these three services are fixed by the committee and all the information is written on the sign boards which are made available at various places.
The service of helicopter is also being provided for the devotees from Katra to Sanjhichatt. The main temple is 2.5 km away from Sanjhichatt. The one way fare of helicopter (from Katra to Sanjhichatt or from Sanjhichatt to Katra) is Rs-800/person. But children below the age of two years can sit from of cost. An online booking of helicopter service is also available. Helipad is at a distance of 2km from bus stand, Katra.
Adhkuwari is located in the middle of the track, that is 6km away from katra and the holy cave is also 6km away from it. Adhkuwari is located at a height of about 4800 feet. It is believed that if a devotee passes through Adhkuwari cave, all his sins are cleaned and his soul becomes pure. The cave is so narrow that only one person can pass through the cave. The persons have to pass this cave bu crawling on their knees. This Adhkuwari cave is of womb shape, so it is also called 'Garbh Joon'. When the devotee comes out from the cave, he feels fully recharged and feels in another world.
Do's and don'ts going on vaishno devi yatra