Zor se bolo Jai Mata Di
One of my ex-colleagues visits Vaishnodevi every year. As soon as I heard she was planning that year, I immediately asked her if I could join her. I always wanted to visit Vaishnodevi as I had heard so much about it. We divided our planning, she took over the flights and the accommodation booking and I took over the research and places to see.
Vaishnodevi is a temple where Maa Vaishnodevi resides. The temple is on top of Trikuta mountain situated in Katra in Jammu & Kashmir state in India.
According to Hindu mythology, Vaishnodevi is a collective energy of Goddess Saraswati, Lakshmi and Gowri. She appeared as an eight armed Goddess riding on a tiger. The Goddess Vaishnodevi was created to destroy demons on Earth. As the Goddess was requested to stay on Earth forever, she decided to take the form of a human as Vaishnodevi.
Vaishnodevi was always a devotee of Lord Vishnu. So she, at a marriageable age, decided to perform intense austerities to win Lord Vishnu as her husband. After many years, Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of Lord Rama, who was searching for his wife Sita. Lord Rama seeing her devotion promised that he would return and if she recognised him would get married to her. Many years passed by and Vaishnodevi, one day was approached by an old man who proposed her for marriage.
Unfortunately, Vaishnodevi did not recognise this old man and refused the proposal. But since her intense penance could not go unfulfilled, Lord Rama promised her that he would return as Lord Kalki, the 10th incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and would get married to her. He asked her to wait on the Trikuta mountain.
Vaishnodevi then began meditating moving from one place to the other. This threatened the local Tantrik, so he sent his disciple Bhairon Nath. Bhairo Nath was attracted to Vaishnodevi’s beauty and he started stalking her wherever she went. In order to get rid of that unwanted attention, Vaishnodevi hid in a cave and meditated for nine months. When Bhairo Nath found out her hiding spot, he decided to hunt down her again with the intention of forcing himself on her.
Vaishnodevi then took the form of Goddess Mahakali and slayed Bhairon Nath with her sword. After the Goddess had cut his head off, Bhairon Nath realised his mistake and begged for her mercy. Vaishnodevi then promised him that wherever his head had fallen was when he would be enshrined and he would be her guardian forever from then on. She then returned to the cave and took the form of three rocks and they are the representation of Goddess Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and Mahakali. This is currently the gufa of Vaishnodevi.
PIN for later reference
Planning for Vaishnodevi
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 natural gufa.
There are flights available from Bangalore to Jammu with one stop over at Delhi. Makemytrip is the best place to book the flight tickets. There are also trains that travel between the cities and the bookings can be done on the IRCTC website.
The travel agent who was booking the flights did a disastrous booking and he booked the flights with three stopovers – first at Hyderabad, second at Jaipur, and third at Delhi. All three stopovers we were not allowed to get out of the flight.
Lesson # 1: Book my flights myself.
We stayed at a hotel in Jammu. The price for one night for two people was around INR 3500. However, I advise that it is best to stay at Katra or at a dorm in Vaishnodevi for a night breaking the climb. This makes the hike a bit easy.
Maa Vaishnodevi is the official website where the darshan can be booked.
We were there in Jammu only for 3 days. The main purpose of our travel was to hike to Vaishnodevi.
Few facts about the climb
The climb is about 14 kilometres 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:
- The first is at Ardh Kuari – Distance between Katra and Ardh Kuari is 6 kilometres.
- The second is at Vaishnodevi Bhawan – Distance between Ardh Kuari and Vaishnodevi Bhawan is 6 kilometres.
- The third is at Bhaironath temple – Distance between Vaishnodevi Bhawan and Bhaironath temple is 2 kilometres.
- Distance: 28 kilometres return.
- Time taken: 10 hours (including the darshan time).
- Grade: Hard because of the distance.
- There are shops where one can buy water and snacks.
- There are toilets at various points. Note these toilets are very dirty.
- There is also a Cafe Coffee Day in midway which has clean toilets and decent food.
- It is advisable not to take stairs as they can be really hard on your knees.
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 kilometres from Jammu. Katra is the starting point for the climb. The drive from Jammu to Katra was very scenic. The cost was around INR 2000 return.
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 advice not to take the stairs – it is harmful to 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 entrance of the shrine at around midnight. After a long wait in the queue, we were allowed into the shrine through the natural gufa at around 1 AM. 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, dumbstruck. 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.
I also realised that she had never climbed the mountain before. She had taken the pony all the previous 9 times that she had visited.
Bhairon Nath Temple
After visiting Vaishnodevi Bhawan, it was time for us to head to the Bhairon Nath temple. It is said that the Vaishnodevi yatra is never complete without visiting the Bhairon Nath 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 Bhairon Nath temple at about 4 AM.
By now my colleague had dehydrated and was 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 do wonders – she felt much better after eating and drinking.
Return from Vaishnodevi
We started descending from the Bhairon Nath temple. It was a continuous walk of 12 kilometres. 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 kilometres 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 the next day. I had completed the 28 kilometres 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.