Vaishno Devi Yatra: Jai Mata Di
It is believed that one can go to Mata Vaishno Devi only when the Goddess herself calls the devotee.
A pilgrimage to the Holy cave Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimages of our times. Mata Vaishno Devi attracts millions of devotees each year from India as well as abroad. Everyone on the journey has the words "Jai Mata Di" on their lips, which gives them comfort and courage to climb the Trikuta mountains and reach the shrine.
Vaishno Devi is located at an altitude of 5,200 ft in the folds of the Trikuta or three mountains. It happens to be one of the best maintained pilgrimage places in India, with well maintained and clean roads. There are two routes to reach the cave. The old route has steep steps, while the new route has a gentle gradient. It's advisable to take the gradient while going up and taking the steps to come down.
Legend has it Goddess Vaishnavi wanted to marry Lord Vishnu, who incarnated as Lord Ram. Lord Ram asked her to wait on the Trikuta Mountains till all humanity has taken her blessing. In the search for the mountain, Goddess appeared as a child at Shreedhar's home and asked for a bhandara. This was attended by Bhairon, who asked liquor and non-veg to be served in the bhandara. Goddess Vaishnavi refused and escaped with Bhairon in pursuit. Two guards, Veer and Langur, accompanied her. The place where she stopped and fired an arrow for water to quench the thirst of her guards now has the Banganga River. Then the Goddess settled herself in Adkuwari, where she was for nine months. But when Bhairon followed, she escaped to the Holy cave, where she now resides. When Bhairon followed her there, she took the form of Mahakali and killed Bhairon. But before dying Bhairon asked for forgiveness. So, where Bhairon's head fell on a neighbouring mountain, Mata sadi that a temple will be built there by the name of Bhairon Mandir and no journey to her shrine would be complete unless the devotee also visits Bhairon Mandir.
The Vaishno Devi Yatra
1. Katra: Registration for the pilgrims has to be done at Katra, near the Bus Stand. One person can register for upto nine pilgrims. the entry to the 12 km long upwards trek begins at at the Darshani Deodhi, which is hardly a km away from the bus stand.
2. From Darshani Deodhi: 500m from the entrance is the first checkpost. Just after the first checkpost is the Banganga river and a small bridge to cross it. If you wish to take a pony to the top, you can get one from here. One and a half kms from here is the Charan Paduka, imprints of Mata's feet on a rock slab, which gives you blessings at the start of your journey.
3. Indraprastha: Indraprastha is located 5 Km from Banganga. The journey can follow two different routes, one goes through Adkuwari on the old route which has steeper steps and the second goes to the Bhavan through a gentler gradient route. Adkuwari is the place where Mata Vaishno Devi is said to have meditated in a cave (Garbha Joon) for nine months.
4. The Cave: Once you reach the top, you will need to queue up for the darshan. The pilgrims walk through a narrow tunnel, at the end of which on a raised marble platform, Maa Vaishno Devi reveals herself in true natural rock form. In front of Mata's form are three smaller pindis. The left pindi is considered to be Goddess Saraswati, middle one is Goddess Lakshmi and the right one is Ma Kali.You only get a fleeting glimpse of the deities as you can't stand there for too long because of the long queue of waiting devotees.
5. The Bhairon Mandir:It is said that a pilgrims journey to Maa Vaishno Devi isn't complete till he has visited Bhairon Mandir as well. The mandir is situated 1.4 km away from the holy cave on a steeper climb.
Some good to know info:
1. At Katra, registration at the bus stand counter is a must.You can also register at the second registration counter at Udhampur Road. You are issued a white registration slip for individual movement and if you are traveling in groups, a red/pink slip can be provided.
2. At the first Checkpost which is just 500m from Darshani Deodhi, mobile phones, cameras and other equipments are not allowed.
3. If you wish to pick a pony or a porter, you can do so at the start of the journey at Darshan Deodhi. You can also avail the helicopter service for Rs. 1400 per person one way.
4. Cloakrooms will be available for you free of cost when you reach the top.
5. You can visit the shrine round the clock throughout the year. But daily for 2 hrs, during sunrise and sunset, the cave is closed for darshan.
Route to Vaishno Devi:
From Jammu, take the NH1A to Domel. Then follow the district road to Katra. The total distance is almost about 60 Kms. From there, trek to Vaishno Devi.