It is said that unless Mata calls you to her darwar, no matter how hard you try, it is impossible to get to the holy shrine.
My trip to Mata Vaishno Devi was in planning mode for more than six months. Every time I booked train tickets, I somehow managed to get waitlisted ones only, and they never got confirmed. Things were no different this time too.
I had my eye fix on the Good Friday (April 2) long weekend and wanted to make best of use of it. So right in February I booked train tickets for April 1 on Sampark Kranti Express. My experience with trains had taught me that tickets do get confirmed even if you are at waiting list position 50, provided you have enough time; mine was 29 & 30 (3rd AC) and I had more than a month in hand.
As the journey date drew near, I had this apprehension that history may repeat itself.
I was right.
Tickets didn’t move beyond 3 & 4 WL. I dreaded the thought of taking a bus all the way to Jammu. I would have avoided that if I could. But my better half was determined to make the journey come what may. I had no choice but to oblige. We reached ISBT Kashmere Gate only to find that everybody is heading to Jammu. It was not easy to get bus tickets. Again it was time for the lady power. We finally managed to get on to the bus but not before many frantic calls to conductor selling tickets at the counter. The counter was being attacked for tickets from all three sides. My better half was leading the charge from a corner with a couple of old women. The conductor has to finally relent to shrill voices of the ladies.
Once on the bus, we thanked Mataji for coming to our aid and helping us. The overnight journey was uneventful. The bus stopped at a dhaba somewhere in Punjab and I decided to have something. The food was pathetic to say the least and the money they charged was exorbitant.
We started our trek to the holy shine around 9 pm. Now, one has the liberty to use three-wheelers to reach Banganga. The price for the same was 40 bucks for four persons. Please note fare is different from Banganga to Katra bus stand (while coming back) as the route taken is long and bumpy.
We avoided trekking up to the shrine in the day as it was hot. We used the new route meant for the battery operated autos. The new route starts a few kilometers after Banganga gate. The good thing about this route is that ponies are not allowed and you can walk freely. Battery operated autos don’t ply in the night as I didn’t see any. This route bypasses Ardhkuwari as well as Sanjichat and takes you straight to the bhawan of Mata Vaishno Devi. The last few kilometers are bit steep.
A number of new eating joints have sprung on the way. You may find a variety of kiosks selling coffee, cold drinks, even orange juice. I tried one such kiosk for a glass of dew (do the dew!) and that too just for 10 bucks and I was wondering why it is so dirt cheap at this height. The moment I took the first sip, I realized why. It was probably 80% water and 10% dew mix. Another kiosk was selling orange juice for 5 bucks. By this time, I was wise enough control my temptation.
The best place(s) to eat on the way to the shrine are many food outlets opened by the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. The food is not only of good quality but it is very economical too. Self service is the mantra for these outlets. You pay the money and give the token to the guy at the counter and he’ll provide you whatever you have ordered. Yes the menu is not elaborate but good enough for a hearty meal. A plate of Rajma Chawal costs only 20 bucks (may be 25); am I getting old. A plate of bada (or wada) sambar costs just 15 bucks (I am sure about it).
The bhawan was a pleasant sight after three long hours of walking. We quickly took bath in the ice cold waters and were ready for darshan. The entire luggage including leather items, mobile phones…etc. has to be deposited in the clock room.
We made our way to already surging queue of devotees waiting for darshan. It took us an hour or so to visit the shrine and had our share of a fleeting glimpse of the pindis, which lasted for a millisecond or less.
We slept for a few hours after darshan before marching ahead to pay our respects to Bhairon Devta. The ascent to Bhairon Temple is little tough and steep as compared to the bhawan. The distance from the shrine to Bhairon Temple is 4 km and it took us close to two hours to reach there.
First timer’s guide to Vaishno Devi
- Regular buses (both state transport and private) are available from Jammu Bus Stand to Katra
- Katra is close to 50 km from Jammu and bus fare is 35-40/- per person
- Timely JKSRTC buses are also available from Jammu Railway Station
- Don’t forget to register and take Yatra Slip from the Yatra Counter at Katra near bus stand
- You won’t be able to proceed ahead after Banganga Gate, if you don’t have Yatra Slip
- Prasad is available at the bhawan, so don’t buy parsad from Katra and take it all the way
- There are enough eating options available on the route to the bhawan
- Beware of cheats: Someone may approach you on the pretext that he/she has lost his/her wallet. Turn a blind eye. Can’t do that, guide him to the nearest police post!
- Battery operated autos are apparently available for senior citizens and physically challenged and patients
- The cost for the same is Rs. 100/- per person
- Battery operated autos don’t run after sunset
- Deposit all your luggage (including purse, bags, watch, mobile, belt…) at cloak rooms available at the bhawan
- Blankets are available on rent at the bhawan premises
- If you have army connection, special passes can be obtained from the army counter near Banganga. This helps you jump the general queue at the bhawan and darshan will be much quicker.
More on Vaishno Devi
10 Most Useful Travel Tips to Vaishno Devi
A First Timer’s Guide to Vaishno Devi