Hindu Pilgrimage
 
Vaishno Devi

This place is about wish fulfillment. About a cave that lies 61 km North of Jammu, and the faith that surrounds it. People visiting Vaishnodevi undertake a tough yatra (pilgrimage) to reach the cave with the shrine of the 'Mata' (mother goddess) Vaishno Devi. She is represented in the three divine aspects of goddess-hood in Hindu mythology -- Mahakali (the fierce form of the goddess), Saraswati (goddess of knowledge) and Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth).

The gruelling yatra to the cave works as a kind of catharsis for the pilgrim soul. Believers -- and they are not just Hindus who come here but people of all faiths -- cover a 13 km trek on foot from Katra at the base of the Trikuta mountains to reach the holy cave.

Miracles are granted to those who are determined enough to make it to the cave. Stories are told of people ascending the innumerable stairs on foot when they have never walked small distances from their homes. The most common link is the shout of Jai Mata Di that dissolves in the cold air on the climb up to the cave.

Location

The cave shrine lies in the Trikuta mountains, 61 kilometres north of Jammu. Situated at a height of 5,200 feet above sea level, this mountain forms the lower ranges of the Himalayas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The cave is 30 m long and 1.7 m in height.

How to Reach

The nearest airport is at Jammu (48 km from Katra). You can catch daily flights from Delhi and Srinagar.
The nearest railway station is Jammu which directly connects Calcutta, Delhi and Kanyakumari.
Jammu is the terminus of a large number of Inter State Bus Services.

Sights to Visit

Jammu to Katra

Buses leave for Katra every 10 minutes from the main bus stand at Jammu between 5.30 am to 8.30 pm. During rush hour extra buses are pressed into service between Jammu and Katra.
You can hire private taxis between Jammu and Katra. These can be engaged from Jammu Airport, Jammu Railway Station and the Tourist Reception Centre in the city.

The Yatra

A 13 km journey that covers Banganga, the Adhkawari cave, Sanji Chhat, Bhawan, the shrine and the Bhairon temple.
The entire route has been widened and tiled recently. It is also well-lit at night with sodium vapour lamps. Other facilities include, rest shelters, cafeterias, drinking water fountains and coolers and a public utility with an automatic flushing system.
The yatra begins at Katra as pilgrims go on foot to reach the darbar (the sanctum sanctorum). A kilometer away from Katra is the Banganga, the place where the Mata is believed to have quenched her thirst (see legends). Six km away is the holy cave at Adhkawari.
Produce the free yatra slip (collected from the Yatra Registration Counter at the Tourism Reception Centre, Katra Bus Stand) which allows you to cross the Banganga checkpost.
After a six km trek, you reach Adhkawari, the holy cave where Mata meditated for nine months. Another 9.5 km takes you to Sanji Chhat where you can rest for sometime. Accommodation is also available at this place. Bhawan is just 3.5 km away.
On reaching Bhawan, show your Yatra Slip at the Registration Office and take down your batch number. This number is important as it will determine your place in the queue for darshan (glimpse of a deity or saint).
At Bhawan, you can bathe and change. All leather items and luggage can be booked here in the cloak rooms. Book your valuables separately. Preserve both the receipts. You can also collect blankets on a refundable deposit of Rs.100 from here. Offerings like prasad (food blessed in temple sanctuaries), chunri (veil for the goddess) and coconuts can be bought here.

The Temple

You can queue up for darshan according to your group number at gate number two outside the cave temple.
You will not be allowed to carry the coconut into the narrow cave. Deposit it before entering the cave and collect your token. In a bid to keep the shrine clean, your blessed coconut can be collected on your way out after darshan. The prasad of sweets can be carried inside. Inside the cave, the goddess exists in her three pindi forms -- Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati.
The water at the feet of the shrine is believed to be holy.
The yatra is considered complete after a visit to the shrine of Bhairon on the return journey. Bhairons Shrine is 2.5 km. from Bhawan.
It is important to collect your belongings deposited at Bhawan before leaving, as the return path follows a different route.
The Bhairon shrine joins the main path at Sanjhi Chhat.

Bhairav Temple

The place where compassion triumphed over rage. When Vaishno Devi slew Bhairav, this is where the head landed. It is called Bhairav Ghati. The temple has been constructed at the same spot. The body of Bhairav remained near the cave and the huge stone, outside the cave is a symbol of Bhairav's body.
Legend has it that while dying, Bhairav prayed to the mother for mercy. He is believed to have said, Mother, I am not mourning my death as I have died at the hands of mother creator. I only beg your forgiveness. I did not understand you were a goddess in the form of a human. If you do not forgive my sins, the world may hate me.
His boon was granted and today people throng here for darshan.

 
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