Vaishnodevi Yatra

Jai Mata Di , Vaishno Devi is a place that’s home to the famous Vaishno Devi Mandir. Located in Trikuta hills, 13 kms from Katra , this renowned shrine allures millions of devotees from all over the world.  Daily thousands of devotees visit this shrine for darshan ,there are many who visit every year or even more ,I am also among those who try to visit every year to have divine darshan of Mata.

Last I visited in November,22 . I this blog will share my last visit and also some pointers to make Yatra easy and joyful.

My most yatra are planned for 2 nights and 3 days ,I prefer to reach Katra on day 1,do Yatra and darshan on day 2 and return on day 3,those in hurry can do in 2 days also comfortably .

This time my journey started from Jaipur ,I was there for Salasar Balaji Darshan ,will share about Salasar Balaji darshan in another blog.

Landed Jammu airport at 1 pm .First thing which I did after arriving Jammu airport was to get RF ID Tag. Earlier to start yatra from Banganga check post in Katra we needed Yatri Parchi which could be obtained online too but now system has changed, now we need to get RF ID which can be get only through designated counters and every person needs to be present at the counter. They had started counters at various places including Jammu airport , Jammu railway station , katra railway station and old yatra parchi counter at Katra Bus stand. This RF id would be useful in case of emergency ,by scanning the id details of yatri could easily be obtained.

*When getting RF tag do ask them about validity to cross banganga check post ,when I was there this system just started and nothing like that but come to know that later every RF id would come with validity (like 12 hr) and have to cross the banganga check post within the validity.

Next was to get cab to Katra hotel. Other than cab there is no other transport option available, if searching for economical option then have to take auto/cab to Vikram Chowk or Jammu railway station and from there can get the bus (and train also but very limited service).

There is a prepaid counter at baggage area and I booked the cab from there ,even from outside no other option than prepaid ,there is a prepaid counter outside also and no cab will go directly ,all goes through taxi union prepaid counter.

Even if we booked from inside need to go outside terminal to get the cab, no cab allowed inside the campus but its hardly 5 min walk, after exiting the campus turn left and 20 steps and can see taxi union counter at the petrol pump.

Next was taxi ride to Katra hotel, in normal situation its around one and half hour ride, first we have to cross Jammu town and after that smooth highway till few km before Katra. This time I had booked hotel Shree Hari Niwas situated 5-7 min walk from Katra bus stand which can be considered as center of Katra.

Around 3 I was at hotel and in next 10 min was at room. Overall experience of hotel was ok, room were clean and well furnished, didn’t had any meal so can’t comment but WiFi was almost down throughout my stay ,it worked only for few hours and that too very slow and and of no use, even after complaining no improvement , when you are at a place for 3 days where there is no mobile network (due to no roaming for prepaid customers) wifi is important to be connected with family ,very disappointed

Now was time for rest little bit as last 2 nights I had spend at different airports .Had a quick nap and woke up at 7 pm ,time to explore Katra market .Straight visited Bus stand chowk, there are many eateries ,there is a pure vegetarian Burger king too but any time my preference is old and small sweet shops and dhabas.

The most famous (online ) Dhaba in Katra is Manoranjan Dhaba but as its famous so most of the time there is a queue ,was not in mood to wait so switched to my another favorite , Prem Vaishno Dhaba , situated very close to Manoranjan. Without checking menu ordered Chawal Rajma ,when in Katra one should definitely have Chawal Rajma at least once .Its my comfort food in Katra , served in 5 minute, with Desi Ghee ka tarka ,cost only rs100.

Fried Rajma Chawal

After Rajma Chawal dinner time to have some dessert, in cold weather of Katra what can be better to end the day other that hot and sweet Kesar Milk ,visited Kapoor sweets just in front of Prem Dhaba and had a glass of Kesar Milk. Kapoor sweets is one of the oldest sweet shop at Katra and still maintained its quality ,I am visiting them since my first visit in 2005,rates are reasonable too ,they have very limited items, whatever they have are worth trying.

Now its time to return back to hotel and end the day.

Day 2

Today was darshan day, woke up early, had a light breakfast and proceeded to Banganga check post. Drop to Banganga was included in room tariff so used the service ,was hardly 10 min drive.

Banganga is the starting point of yatra by old route. There is another new Tarakote route which have different starting point but except during season when there is huge crowd and administration divert devotees to tarakote route very few devotee use that .Both route merged at Ardhkumari and after that common route to Bhawan.The Tarakote route is little longer but have less inclined gradient than the old one ,also no ponies are allowed on that route ,new route have limited number of facilities specially food and beverage ,even now most people preferred old route and so I.

I was at Banganga post little after 9,there have to go through security check and also check of RF ID.They are supposed to scan the ID to register devotees entry but as it was just started few days back wasn’t scanned ,just confirming everyone have ID or not.

Yatra route can be divided in 4 part with 4 stop,Charanpaduka, Ardhkumari, Himkoti and Bhawan.

After clearing security check post Yatra starts ,just after security devotees would be mobbed by ponywalas ,palkiwalas and porters .If wanted to take their service then book directly from the booking counter there, rate list is also there ,before starting the yatra have a photo of the porter/ponywala id card

After that we cross the Banganga river ,there is ghat also so those who wants to have a holy dip can stop and take ,many devotees do Mundan of their kids too. There are barber shop who can manage all mundan related rituals.

Route from Banganga to Charanpaduka and further till Ardhkumari is full of shops ,mostly Dhaba/Snacks shop, Souvenir/Puja Samagri and Massage chairs.Upto Ardhkumari route is common for walking and pony so may have to negotiate with herd of Ponies

,I am a slow walker and take my time with regular break, also regularly hydrate and refresh myself with different beverages like Lassi,Lemon Soda,Tea,Sugarcane juice,up to Ardhkumari there are shops every where. With multiple stops it took around little less than 2 and half hour to reach Ardhkumari which is half of the yatra route.

At Ardhkumari both route merge and Pony route divert ,ponies goes via oldest route which is via Sanjhi Chhat, from Ardhkumari to Bhawan via Himkoti its only for walking and electric vehicle operated by temple authorities .Earlier these EVs (operate between Ardhkumari and Bhawan) were only for senior citizen, Divyang and those traveling with kids but now its for all ,can book ticket online through temple trust website ,getting ticket on the spot is time taking and hassle.

Ardhkumari to Bhawan route is almost flat with very less gradient ,easy to walk. In this section no private eateries ,only trust operated cafeteria and few kiosk of Nestle ,Coffee Day and Amul .The cafeterias run by trust are good (at least not bad), reasonably priced and food decent food ,just like any government canteen ,after Ardhakumari they are every where till bhawan.

Always beware of monkeys on the yatra route, up to Ardhkumari you wont find many as there are shops throughout the route so shop keepers keep them away but from Ardhkumari very few shops so you will find them everywhere. Keep your belonging safe specially food items, don’t pass through then with any food or beverage in hand otherwise almost sure your food or beverage would be snatched by the gang.

This time it took me just little less than 4 hr to reach Bhawan in comfort with regular food break, little above 1 pm I was at Bhawan.4 to 5 hr is standard time to reach Bhawan from Banganga depending upon individual walking capacity.Temperature at Bhawan is always colder than Katra.

First thing after arriving Bhawan is to buy prasad ,there are trust operated prasad shop ,no need to buy prasad at katra and carry all the way to bhawan,better is to buy from there at least one portion and later when return back to Katra buy more from hundreds of private shop and mix it ,prasad come with and without coconut ,if flying back then either buy without coconut or after reaching hotel break the coconut as whole coconut is not allowed on flight, neither in check in baggage nor cabin baggage.

After prasad next is to submit every item except prasad to lockers .For Darshan almost nothing is allowed, no mobile, camera, smart watch, leather items, best is to lock everything in locker. There are 2 lockers at Bhawan for devotees.One is just before entry gate (from where queue starts for Holy Cave) and another in front of restaurants (starting of Sanjhi Chhat/Bhairownath route).Lockers are free of cost.

The one near entry gate is more than 100 stairs down so not an easy task for many ,the one near restaurant is little walk from gate but at the same level of road, no stairs involved so IMO better, after buying the prasad when we proceed towards entry gate first we pass ropeway and then there is a T junction, left goes to entry gate and left to Bhaironath .

It took around half an hour to buy prasad and use locker, now it was time for darshan. As it was weekdays and no holidays so took only half an hour for Darshan and as not much rush so got more time for darshan inside the Holy Cave. No words in the world can define the divine experience we get after Darshan inside holy cave.

Its 2 pm now and time to have lunch .At Bhawan there are few private restaurants and trust operated canteens, I prefer canteen ,you can choose as per your comfort and budget ,had rajma chawal and tea.

Now its around 3 PM, time to visit Bhaironath using Ropeway .It is considered that pilgrimage of Vaishnodevi not complete until devotee visit Bhironath temple after Mata Rani darshan. Bhairo temple is 2 km from Bhawan but the incline was very stiff, not so easy to walk ,many devotees avoid visiting due to this. Now ropeway has started and its less than 5 min ride but to get ticket and board the cable car can take half hour or more depending upon rush.

Ticket price is rs 100 ,its for 2 way ,both up and down. Ticket only available offline through counter ,no online option and each passenger need to be present at the ticket counter to get the ticket. Ropeway operates from 8 am to 5 pm so plan your yatra accordingly if wanted to use ropeway for Bhaironath darshan .

Today there wasn’t much rush to took around 50 min to get ticket, board the cable car and reach Bhairo Ghati. Another 20 min to have darshan .After darshanback to Bhwana ,in total it took little around one and half hour.

After coming back to bhawan spend some time there, had tea and started to walk back to Katra around 5:30 pm and at 9 pm was at Banganga check post, so it took 12 hr to complete the yatra with Bhaironath darshan .Before exit we have to return back the RF tag. On the way back stop for tea, maggie and chair massage ,you will get many shop offering foot and body massage and they are really relaxing, should try it.

From Banganga to hotel/bus stand auto are readily available. Share auto are also available but was not in mood to wait for other passenger so took a full auto and reached Chowk.

Now back to Katra and time to have some delicacies, as it was starting of winter so how could I miss Gajar halwa, visited another favorite place for sweets in Katra , Pandit Ji Mithaiwale .It is relatively new place but whatever they prepare is good ,they also have small clean seating area. First ordered Gajar halwa but after completing that couldn’t resist myself ordering their deliciously looking hot gulab jamun. They also serve hot kesar milk but I wanted to try my another favorite place near chowk so strolled towards chowk ,had hot milk and ended the day .

Next day had flight at 1 pm so booked the taxi for return to airport for 9 am so that can reach airport comfortably.

That was my Maa Vaishnodevi Yatra experience

Jai Mata Di

Few Suggestions

When to visit

Yatra continues 365 days of year but anyone should plan as per individual priority. If someone wants to avoid crowd rush then should avoid any holidays including school holidays in North India, they should visit during non holidays and weekdays.

During peak winters Dec/January weather is extreme cold at Bhawan and few days of snowfall too so those who cant bear with cold should avoid this period.

Navratri are most auspicious and at the same time most crowded .New Year also attracts large number of devotees who wants to start the calendar new year with blessings of Mata, after Navrati I found 1st January most crowded.

July to September is monsoon ,rains may create problem and also helicopter flight can be cancelled specially in July/August.

Where to stay

Katra have accommodation for all budget ,can get Dharammshala, Dormitory ,budget hotels and also 5 star , can decide as per budget and requirements .If traveling during off season then finding budget accommodation after arriving is not an issue, you can book on the spot with bargain.

Katra is a small town and there are many different area where hotels are situated and travelling within Katra is not an issue ,you will get auto everywhere to travel within ,many area are walking to each other too.

My preferred area is Bus stand/Chowk area ,it is the center of Katra and lots of hotel and restaurants .If arriving/departing by train then can stay near railway station . Railway station also have rooms and dormitory for stay.

Thanks for reading ,feel free to ask if have any doubt about yatra, happy to help.

Jai Mata Di

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