About Vashino Devi
The holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is located at a height of 5,300 feet in a beautiful recess of the Trikuta mountains, forming a part of the lower Himalayas in Jammu and Kashmir. The journey here takes you through awesome wilderness amidst snow- capped mountains and sprawling forests, to the shrine, sacred and mystical.
Every day of the year scores of devotees ascend steep pathways that cut across the hillside. A common faith among people is that goddess Vaishno Devi sends a 'call' to her devotees; and once heralded, the pilgrim finds himself
compelled to march towards the holy shrine of the great goddess. It is believed that a supernatural power seems to draw pilgrims across the mountains, so they climb those great heights, step by step, chanting "prem se bolo, Jai Mata di". Even those who are unused to walking the slightest distances, accomplish the difficult ascent of innumerable stairs. Popular belief holds that anybody who walks the Himalayan trail to Mata Vaishno Devi's abode to ask for a boon does not return disappointed.
There are many who journey here year after year to pay obeisance regardless of their faith, creed or class, caste or religion, because Mata Vaishno Devi transcends all such artificial barriers.
Katra, a small town in the foothills of Trikuta, serves as the base camp to the Mata Vaishnodevi Yatris. The shrine is approachable on foot along a 12 km path from Katra. Every year, nearly 6 million pilgrims visit Mata Vaishnodevi. The shrine has been a beacon of faith and fulfillment to millions of devotees. Popular belief holds that anybody who walks the trail to the goddess abode rarely goes back disappointed. The holy shrine contains the holiest of holy Pindis, manifesting the Mata in three forms Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati representing Creative, Preservative Destructive aspect of Mata.
It is said that a man named Sridhar discovered the cave; he lived nearKatra and was a devotee of Mata. Sridhar had no children and worshiped little girls. One day Mata appeared in his dream and revealed to him her cave abode, goddess blessed him four sons. Sridhar worshiped at the cave and since then his descedants perform as pandits at the holy cave. It is believed that the Yatra is not complete unless the pilgrim visits Bhairon ka Mandir as well (2.6 km from the main shrine).
Yatris on reaching Katr need to get a Parchi (registration slip) from Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB)
counters near the Bus Stand. Counter No.1 for 1 to 9 persons & counter No 2 for 10 persons and above. Counters are from 6 am to11 pm. Pithus, palkiwalas and ponywalas registered with the authorities are available from Katra to Banganga. The rates from Katra shrine and back are fixed as per the weight of luggage and yatri. Yatris are advised to
check identities hired pithu,palkiwala, ponywala and note their numbers/ names in case of any kind eventuality.
After darshan, one must not miss trying maalish (Body Massage) of Katra.The maalishwala will loosen your using different massage methods and a variety of oils
For your food taste, Katra is no less than a metro city.The modern Fast Food restaurants fulfil the needs of every yatri-be it Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali,,NRI's or foreigners. The food at Dhabas and Restaurants is equally tasteful and reasonable. In obeisance to Mata, the entire Katra town and nearby areas declared vegetarian and alcohol free.
Katra main bazaar is full of Kashmiri handicraft items, all types of dry bhaints, gift items and other specialities from the region.
Places of Interest
A major interest for the pilgrims visiting Mata Vaishnodevi is the side trip to Shikhori. A natural 4 ft high Svayambhu lingam in a kilometer long cave is about 75Km from Katra. The lingam is bathed by a natural limestone fluid dripping down from the cave ceiling. The cave is wider at the ends
and narrow at the center that gives it a shape of lord Shivas damroo. The metallic road leads up-to a place called Ransoo from where the pilgrims have to walk o distance of 3 km up-to the cave shrine shrine.
Tourist Reception Centre at Ransoo provides dormitory accommodation to the pilgrims for the overnight stay; there are some Sarais as well for the stay of pilgrims. During Shivratri, a three day fair is held when devotees from all corners throng the cave shrine. Shivkhori has today become a major attraction in the region due to the sincere efforts of the local people, particularly the people from Katra with the support of the department of tourism.
Traveling 11 km from Katra towards the famous Salal-dam, situated off the Katra - Reasi road, a cool spring gushes out of the mountainside in a thick grove of trees and forms a number of small waterfalls. Next to the spring is a naturally formed Shivling on which the droplets of water fall. Every year a festival is held during Shivratri at Baba Dhansar.
-Baba Agar Jitto
6km from Katra, amidst the hills, Agar Jiito is an enchanting spot having natural springs that refreshes the visitors. Baba Jitto has been a revolutionary folk hero who campaigned against the feudal system in the area. A huge statue of baba AgarJitta and a statue of his daughter Bua Gauri besides him is a prime attraction for the visitors here.
Nav Pindiyuan ka mandir, is yet another cave shrine situated on the banks of a river, 3 km from Katra on the Katra-Reasi road The nau or nine pindies (images) represent the nine forms of godess Durga. A short trip to this place has become common among the pilgrims at Katra.
This gurdwara situated an River Chenab is named after Baba Banda Bairagi who is said to be Guru Govind Singhs favourite saint-soldier. Frescoes and a 48ft high Nishan Sahib made of Deodar erected by Baba is a main attraction. The Chenab River offers breathtaking environs; the river rafting can also be done at the site.
10km from Reasi near Talwara village this exotic 400 ft cascading waterfall is a popular picnic spot among locals and the visitors alike. The Pragan Nag temple here is yet another attraction for visitors.
A famous Dam constructed on the Chenab river in Reasi has produced a fabulous lake about 20km long . The picturesque Chenab valley makes a visitor stop for a little a longer the wonders of nature at this far off destination.
Bhimgarh fort at Reasi, 40 from Katra, was built by Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1817. Fort associates this town with the historic victory of the maharaja and his most reputed general Zorawar Singh in forming a larger Kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir.
As legend goes, more than 700 years ago, Vaishno Devi, a devotee of Lord Vishnu had taken a vow of celibacy. Bhairon Nath, a tantric, using his tantric powers, was able to see her going towards the Trikuta mountains and chased her. The goddess feeling thirsty at Banganga, shot an arrow into the earth from where water gushed out. Charan Paduka, marked by the imprints of her feet, is the place where she rested. The Goddess then meditated in the cave at Adhkawari. It took Bhairon Nath nine months to locate her, and this cave is called Garbh Joon. She kept 'Veer-Langur' on guard outside the cave and asked him not to allow Bhairon to enter the cave. When Bhairon Nath tried to force an entry to the cave, Veer-Langur offered resistance and a terrific battle started. Vaishno Devi blasted an opening at the other end of the cave with her trident when Bhairon located her.
Thereafter Devi took the form of goddess 'Chandi and beheaded Bhairon Nath, whose skull was flung up the mountain by the force of the blow and fell at a place now known as Bhairon Ghati. Beheaded Bhairon now prayed to Mata for mercy and was granted a boon of liberation. She said, "My devotees will visit your place after they have come to me for 'darshan'." The desires of devotees will be fulfilled, if they visit your place. A temple has been constructed at the spot where Bhairon's head fell. Accordingly, the pilgrims visit Bhairon temple after offering prayers at Mata's cave.
It is mandatory to obtain a slip from the Yatra Registration Counter at the Tourism Reception Centre, Katra Bus Stand, without which, crossing of Banganga check-post is not permitted. The yatra begins at Katra and pilgrims have to cover 13 km. of terrain on foot to reach the shrine. At Banganga, a kilometre away from the starting point is a security checkpost. After 6 km of trekking, you reach Adhkawari, the holy cave where Mata meditated for nine months. Most devotees catch a breath at Sanji Chatt after 9.5 km of walking. Accommodation is also available at this place. The shrine is just 3.5 km away. By showing your yatra slip at the registration office at the Bhawan, you are given a number, which will determine your place in the queue for darshan.
At the Bhavan there is provision for bathing, and for keeping your belongings in safe custody, as leather items are not permitted. Blankets are also available at a refundable deposit.
Prasad, "chunari" and coconuts can be bought from shops situated at the entrance of the Bhawan. In case of overcrowding, you might have to wait patiently in a queue according to your batch number. Before entering the cave, the coconut has to be deposited against a token. The whole valley reverberates with the chanting of "Jai Mata di".
According to legend, the boulder at the mouth of the holy cave is the petrified torso of Bhairon who was granted divine forgiveness by the benevolent Mata in his dying moments. Inside the cave, there are three natrual pindis of Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Kali which represent the creative, preservative and destructive aspects of the divine energy images of three deities - Mahakali, Maa Saraswati and Maa Lakshmi. The holy Ganga's cold and crystal clear water washes the lotus feet of the Mata's 'Pindian'. Previously the shrine had only one natural entry cave, but now two more exit caves have been constructed. Remember to collect your coconut here.
It is believed that the journey to Mata's shrine is complete only after visiting the shrine of Bhairon, 2.5 km from the Bhawan, on your way back. You have to collect your belongings before going to this shrine, as the return path from the Bhairon shrine joins the main path at Sanji Chatt.
Do's and Dont's
Pithus (or porters) can be hired for carrying your luggage. Those who have problems climbing, can hire the services of a pony or dandi (palenquin). It is advised that you should avail of the services of only registered people, whether it be porters, pony or dandiwallas and keep their token for the time period they are engaged.
Missing persons can be located through the public address systems from the counters at Katra, Banganga, Adhkawari and Darbar.
The entire 13 km route is quite wide and tiled. Besides, the whole path is lit up every night by powerful sodium vapour lamps. Avoid overstraining on the climb. The track is preferable to the stairs.
Receipts for all payments made to the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board as well as private vendors are available and should be insisted on. Official rate lists for all services are available. Use only the donation boxes provided at various places by Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. In case of donations at the donation counters of the Board at Katra (Central Office/ Vishram Ghar), Adhkawari, Sanji Chatt and various points at the Bhawan obtain a formal receipt. Note that donations to the Shrine are exempt from Income Tax under the Income Tax Act. Luggage and belongings should not be deposited with unauthorised persons or left unguarded at the bathing ghats. To maintain the sanctity of the place, please refrain fromn gambling, playing cards, smoking or chewing betel (Paan) at the Bhawan or en route. Do not stick posters or disfigure signboards, or litter anwhere. Containers have been provided for throwing rubbish and other waste. Please show all possible consideration to fellow pilgrims. Avoid playing transistors/tape recorders, or creating hindrance in movement along passage ways.
General Information Accommodation
Yatri Niwas is managed by the Shrine Board. Various private hotels are also available, the room rent ranging from Rs.300/- per day to Rs.3000/- per day
At Katra, there are several options: Yatri Niwas managed by the Shrine Board, rest houses maintained by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department, other hotels. Sarais, managed by the Shrine Board offer free accommodation at Adhkawari, Sanji Chatt and Darbar. Dharamshalas, run by various organisations offer inexpensive accommodation to pilgrims.
How to Get There Air
A frequent bus service of SRTC, JKFDC and private luxury coaches from the Railway station are most economical. Most of the northern State road transport buses like , Haryana roadways, Punjab roadways and Delhi Transport Corp. operate from there respective cities directly to Katra . Many transporters have luxury coaches like Volvo and other Air conditioned couches plying from diffirent cities right upto Katra. One can also contact a nearest travel agent for a conducted tour. The journey of 45 km from Jammu to Katra is covered generally in 2 hours. Private taxi can also be hired the railway station or the airport at.
By Air:Daily flights are available from Delhi and Srinagar to Jammu. These flights (Indian Airlines) connect Chandigarh and Amritsar on specific days of the week. Jet Airways also flies to Jammu from Delhi via Srinagar.
By Rail:By rail, Jammu is directly connected with most major cities in the country.
By Bus:Jammu is the terminus of a large number of Inter State Bus Services. Buses leave for Katra every 10 minutes from the main bus stand at Jammu between 5.30 am to 8.30 pm. JKSRTC runs buses and luxury coaches from the Jammu railway station to Katra. Private taxis are also available for hire between Jammu and Katra, from Jammu Airport, Jammu Railway Station
Where to eat?
The Vaishno bhojnalays in and around Katra market provide delicious meals from early morning to late evenings. At the sweet shops one can have a quick breakfast of cholla puri or milk with jalebi. There are some good fast food restaurants like JKTDC Jewels, Hills and New Durga near the bus stand. Most of the hotels have self contained restaurants where all type of Indian and continental meals are provided. Free langars right from Banganga upto the Holy cave are also available. The bhonalyas enroute provide melas throughout day and night. The SMVDSB restaurant at the bhawan is hygienic and economical too.
Where to stay?
At Katra, accommodation is available in A/C and non-NC hotels as well as budget hotels, guest houses, dharamshalas. The hotels are located from the entrance point of Katra right upto Chintamani Mandir. Accommadation is also available around the oId bus stand area and on the Kashmir-Tikri race. The SMVDSB's well maintained sarais and houses an the entire route of the shrine and at the Bhawan should be booked in well advance.
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