A popular Hindu shrine and pilgrimage spot, Vaishno Devi is known to be another avatar of Goddess Laxmi. The Goddess is also fondly referred to as Mata Rani.
The Vaishno Devi temple is nestled in the Trikuta Mountains of Katra, Jammu and Kashmir.
A popular belief is that you need to get a ‘bulawa’ or a calling from the Devi and only then would a visit be possible. I completely agree as my 1st ever visit happened exactly like that. My friend called me up to ask me if I would like to accompany her to Vaishno Devi and I immediately agreed and within the next 3 hours our bookings were done. Before you could say Jai Mata Di, we were on the flight to Jammu.
A visit to Vaishno Devi is on the list of must-dos of a lot of people, just as it was on mine. It was a great feeling being there, and getting our Darshan. Thankfully, the friend I was accompanying is a regular visitor, so the trip and temple visit was a breeze for me.
However, I realised that for any 1st timer Vaishno Devi could be confusing, which is why the thought of writing this post.
Most people think of making Vaishno Devi a day trip, but unless you have time paucity or any other issues I would advice against a day trip as it can get extremely tiring. An overnight stay in Katra, with the Darshan scheduled for the next day is a better option.
We flew from Mumbai-Jammu via Go Air
Our non-stop Mumbai-Jammu flight was 2h 40 minutes long.
The drive from Jammu to Katra took us an hour and a half.
Getting from Jammu to Katra:
Our morning flight to Jammu got us there at 1:35. After landing at Jammu Airport we booked an airport taxi to drive us to Katra at the airport.
There is an option of walking out of the airport and hailing a cab and it costs you lesser than a taxi at the airport would, but keeping safety in mind we decided to book ours at the airport.
Stay In Katra : We stayed at The White Hotel. The hotel was comfortable, well located and had very helpful and cheerful staff. The food was very good too.
All the hotels in Katra serve only pure Vegetarian food, and some even don’t use ginger and garlic in their menu.
After lunch and resting for a bit we headed to the bustling Katra Market. If you wish to take some ‘chadhava’ or offerings (like Chunni, Prasad etc) to the temple it is a better idea to buy it at the market. The shops on Sanjhi Chat charge more and sometimes there is no time, or the inclination, to stop and make purchases.
Tip: Before you start your trip towards the Shrine, get your Yatra Registration Access Card. Ask for it at your Hotel / the Helipad Terminal/from any official on the way to Bhawan. This card is like your visa, keep it with you on all times till you are done with your darshan.
Modes of transport to the Bhawan, as the main temple is also known as:
A 14 km walk, one way. The walkway is good, covered for 90 % of the way.
A steep incline on the way up and a steep decline on the way down. The walk is peppered with staircases along the way, which are not very comfortable to ascend or descend. Your fitness and persistence levels need to be high to undertake the walk.
The walk has toilets, water stations, benches and refreshments for sale available at regular intervals.
We walked down on our way back, as cloudy weather did not permit the Helicopter to fly back, and the 20 odd kilometres took us 6 hours. Our feet and legs needed a week to recover.
Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes for the duration of your Darshan. Keep an eye out for Monkeys who grab at everything they can. One grabbed my bag, opened it, took out the packet of dryfruit Prasad and threw the bag with the rest of the belongings in it back at me.
The quickest option, with a 4 minute ride each, to and fro. Reaching the Bhawan from the Helipad is a 5 km walk. We booked ourselves for a return Helicopter ride, through the official website and got a good deal.
The bad thing about booking a Helicopter ride is that it does not fly even if there is a single cloud hovering on the horizon. The good thing is, they refund your full amount in case of cancellation. You need to go to the booth, show your printout and get it cancelled.
Tip: Keep the Credit/Debit Card you used for making the payment on you, as well the identification used (Pan Card etc) They will ask for these to check against your booking and confirm it.
A Palkhi or Doli is a chair mounted on wooden poles on either side. Where you are seated on the mounted chair and it is carried by 2 people.
This animal is a cross between a donkey and a horse. Mount one of these and make your way up and down.
Pithu: Men who walk along with you carrying your personal belongings. Some also carry babies and young children.
Tip: A request: Try not to haggle too much with the Palkhi/Doli carriers, the men who own and control the Khajjars and the Pithu’s. Their work is strenuous and they are paid very little to get you to your destination safely and comfortably.
What to wear: Since Vaishno Devi is a place of worship you need to dress respectfully. Salwar Kameez/Sari/Jeans with Kurti’s for women would be ideal. Men could wear Jeans/Pyjama Kurta. Please avoid wearing shorts and revealing attire. Cotton clothes in summer, as it gets very muggy and aptly layered in winter wear in winters.
Comfortable walking shoes/sports shoes are a must.
Things I bought in Katra:
Walnuts : Excellent quality walnuts starting at Rs 1000/- per kilo. Do ask to taste them before you buy. See to it that they pack the batch you taste from.
Kasuri Methi: These dried methi leaves are so fragrant that each time I use it the aroma lingers in my kitchen. I got a 50 gram packet for Rs 30/-
Puja Accessories: Everything you may need for your temple at home. A good variety.
I hope this was a helpful read. I’d be happy to answer any questions related to Vaishno Devi that you may have. Jai Mata Di!
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