One of my ex-colleagues visit Vaishnodevi every year. As soon as I heard she was planning, I immediately asked her if I could join her. We divided the planning – she took over the flights and the accommodation booking and I took over the research and places to see part.
There are two entrances to Vaishnodevi Bhawan, one – the natural gufa (cave) and the other – the man made entrance. The natural gufa is open only during winters i.e. in the month of February. Of course, I had to go through the natural gufa.
There are flights available from Bangalore to Jammu with one stop over at Delhi.
The travel agent who was booking the flights did a disastrous booking and he booked the flights with three stop overs – first at Hyderabad, second at Jaipur and third at Delhi. All three stop overs we were not allowed to get out of the flight. Lesson # 1: Book my flights myself.
We reached Jammu at around 1 PM after a very long flight. My ex-colleague suggested that we head to Katra that evening to do the climb after our lunch. She has been visiting Vaishnodevi from past 9 years, I quietly followed her instructions.
Jammu was cold, my experience said that the mountains will be colder – hence, I ensured I dressed appropriately for the weather. My colleague was wearing a thin jacket. When asked she mentioned she was used to the cold and she was fine with it (“she has been visiting Vaishnodevi from past 9 years” – I kept quiet) Why mention of the clothing? I will explain later in the post.
We hired a taxi to Katra, which is about 50 kms from Jammu. Katra is the starting point for the climb. The drive from Jammu to Katra was very scenic.
Few facts about the climb:
Vaishnodevi is a temple where Maa Vaishnodevi resides. The temple is on top of a mountain situated in Katra in Jammu & Kashmir state in India. The climb is about 14 kms one way. Some people climb one way and decide to take a pony for the rest of the journey. There are three major milestones in the climb:
- First is at Ardh Kuari – Distance between Katra and Ardh Kuari is 6 kms
- Second is at Vaishnodevi bhawan – Distance between Ardh Kuari and Vaishnodevi Bhawan is 6 kms
- Third is at Bhaironath temple – Distance between Vaishnodevi Bhawan and Bhaironath temple is 2 kms
Start the climb at Katra:
Whilst we were approaching Katra, we saw the snow capped mountain that we were climbing. The sight was spectacular.
The driver dropped us off at the entrance of the mountain. After buying my head band and clicking some pictures, we started our climb at around 6 PM.
I was surprised to see the food stalls along the path. There are two options for the walk itself – one is through the stairs and the other through the cemented road that’s been very well laid out. I decided to take the cemented path as I remembered Rahul’s advise not to take the stairs – it is harmful for the knees.
All along the way, I made sure I was hydrated and was eating the fresh cucumbers and carrots. For some reason, my colleague was not drinking water or eating anything (“she has been visiting Vaishnodevi from past 9 years” – I kept quiet again).
At the first milestone – Ardh Kuari:
I was not exhausted. I was in fact very happy to see the devotees (Yes, I love people and crowd) and all the hustle bustle happening even at around 9:30 PM. My colleague looked tired but she said she was fine and I believed her. As there was a long queue to get into Ardh Kuari, we decided to skip and continue our way to Vaishnodevi Bhawan.
The first glimpse of the bhawan was enthralling. I was super excited. We took some pictures, even though my camera did not do a complete justice of the beauty of Katra and the temple.
We reached the shrine at around mid night. After a long wait in the queue, we were allowed into the shrine through the natural gufa at around 1 PM. When I entered the gufa and saw Maa Vaishnodevi, something happened. I was mesmerised by the beauty and I do not remember anything but just looking at Maa Vaishnodevi, dumbstrucked. I do not remember praying or asking for anything.
After we came out of the gufa, I realised my colleague was exhausted. She had not drank water, or eaten anything or was not wearing appropriate clothing. The night was getting colder and colder. Lesson # 2 – Even if the ex-colleague does not want to eat or drink anything, make sure they keep themselves hydrated.
Lesson # 3 – Make sure the ex-colleague has at least climbed a mountain (any mountain) once. In my case, I realised that she had never climbed the mountain but had taken the pony all the previous 9 times she had visited.
After visiting Vaishnodevi Bhawan, it was time for us to head to Bhaironath temple. It is said that Vaishnodevi yatra is never complete without visiting Bhaironath temple. On the way, we saw some snow. Always having lived in the southern part of India, seeing snow was an amazing feeling and is something that had never happened in my life.
After walking for another 2 hours, we reached the Bhaironath temple at about 4 PM:
By now my colleague had dehydrated and exhausted. I was exhausted too but was very angry as well. I did not listen to anything she was saying but ensured she had some food and water. Yes food and water does wonders – she felt much better.
We started returning from the Bhaironath temple. It was a direct return of 12 kms. Lack of sleep from the time we had left Bangalore was not helping us. Lesson # 4 – Bad idea to start the climb without enough sleep.
Lesson # 5 – There are dorms in Vaishnodevi Bhawan – It’s a good idea to rest after the 12 kms climb.
I just wanted to get down and complete the journey and head back to our hotel in Jammu. My colleague started feeling very sleepy and wanted to sleep on one of the benches at the top of the mountain. I agreed and we settled down on one of the benches. It was super cold. I realised that she was shivering and if we couldn’t stay any longer there. We hired a pony for my colleague and asked her to head to Katra where our taxi driver was waiting for us.
I wanted to complete my journey by walk. Lesson # 6 – It does not matter how many times a person has visited a place, always trust my instinct and plan and research myself.
I reached our taxi at about 9 AM next day. I had completed the 28 kms journey by walk and had scaled the Vaishnodevi mountain. It was an achievement in spite of all the challenges I had to face along the journey.