Vaishno Devi is a holy shrine dedicated to Maa Vaishnavi or Vaishno in Katra, Riasi district in Jammu and Kashmir, in the lap of Trikuta Mountains of the Shiwalik Range of Himalayas. It is located at an approximate height of 1500 meters from sea level. Every year this temple has more than 70 lakh visitors on an average. This is among the most visited and famous pilgrimage sites of Hindus from around the world.
Let us have complete information about the temple starting from the evolution of Vaishno Devi-
Story of Maa Vaishno Devi-
According to the Hindu Mythology legends, the story of the evolution of Maa Vaishno Devi dates back to the Treta Yuga or the third Yuga among the four Yugas or the time phases of humans on this Earth. In Treta Yuga, evil and tyranny of the demons increased to a great extent and to get rid of this, three Goddesses namely Maha Lakshmi, Maha Saraswati, and Maha Gauri created Maa Vaishnavi by their combined energies. Then, the demons were killed by Maa Vaishnavi and she decided to reside on Earth in the form of human incarnation, named Vaishnavi.
Vaishnavi had an intense habit to worship Lord Vishnu from her childhood only. As she approached the age of marriage, she went in search of Lord Vishnu for marrying her. Seeing her devotion, Lord Vishnu appeared as Lord Rama and told that he is already married to Sita and he cannot marry her. But Rama told Vaishnavi that one day he would return to her and would surely marry her if she recognized him. Later on, an old man approached Vaishnavi and asked for a marriage proposal, but she refused to him, thinking him to be unsuitable according to her age and beauty.
The old man was Lord Rama who came to keep his end of the promise and Vaishnavi failed to recognize him. Still, Rama promised that he would marry Vaishnavi, in his 10th incarnation of Lord Kalki in Kalyuga. Till then she should wait on the Trikuta mountains and help the people get rid of their pains and problems by the powers she had.
It is the cave temple at almost half the distance of the journey to Bhawan. Slips are issued from the Garbhjoon Slip Counter for visiting this cave. It is the temple where Maa Vaishnavi stayed for 9 months (similar to womb or garbh time of a baby) on her transit to the main cave.
Main Temple of Vaishno Devi-
The main temple of Maa Vaishno Devi is present in a cave on the Trikuta Mountains at a height of about 5200 feet from sea level. The main sanctum has three Pindis or Stone incarnations of three Goddesses namely Saraswati, Mahalakshmi, and Mahakali. The view of mountains and natural landscapes as seen after Darshan is much soothing and satisfactory.
Main Sanctum- Image Source- wikimedia.org
The Kal Bhairav Temple and the Story Behind-
Vaishnavi continued her meditation and helped people a lot and this threatened the popularity of a local Tantrik. He sent his disciple Bhairav to check for Vaishnavi, but Bhairav stuck in the beauty of Maa Vaishnavi and stalked her everytime. To escape from Bhairav, she entered a cave for nine months meditation. After Bhairav Nath discovered the hiding spot of Vaishnavi, he tried to hunt her. Then, Maa Vaishnavi took the form of a 10-armed, dark complexed Devi, Mahakaali and attacked him with her weapons and cut off his head. Bhairav Nath pleased her to forgive him for his deeds. As an answer she gave him the boon that he would always be worshiped in a shrine whenever she would be worshiped by people.
Image Source- hi.m.wikipedia.org
As a result, a visit to worship Maa Vaishno Devi is not considered successful and fruitful if one does not visit the shrine of Kal Bhairav Baba on the mountains above, about 4 kilometers from base. One can reach the Bhairav Nath Temple either by walking or through rope ways costing INR 100 for combined up and down journey.
How to Reach Katra?
The nearest railway station is the Katra Railway Station or the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi, Katra (SVDK) Station. From here, one should hire rickshaws to reach the center of Katra town.
The nearest airport to Katra is the Jammu Airport, which is about 46 kilometers from Katra and can be reached by taxis or by direct buses.
How to Reach the Vaishno Devi Temple from Katra?
From the center of Katra town, the distance of the main shrine of Vaishno Devi is about 14 kilometers. One can reach the top of mountain either by walking or other ways like palkis, ponis, and pithoos. There are two paths constructed- the newly constructed path via Tarakote which is only for walking people and taxis and the other is the older one which is a common path for pedestrians, ponis, palkis, and pithoos. Also, battery taxis run from Ardhkuwari to Vaishno Devi (7 am to 7 pm) i.e. half-way from the top. The facility of helicopters is also available from Katra to Sanjhichhat. People who are aged and have walking issues should prefer other methods than walking. The various charges are listed below-
- Taxi from Ardhkuwari to Vaishno Devi Shrine base (Bhawan)- INR 236. (one way)
- Palki from Katra foothill (Chetak Bhawan) to Vaishno Devi Bhawan- INR 3000. (one way)
- Pony from Katra foothill (Chetak Bhawan) to Vaishno Devi Bhawan- INR 1300 (one way)
- Pony from Vaishno Devi Bhawan to Bhairav temple- INR 100-150 per person (one way)
- Cable Car from Vaishno Devi Bhawan to Bhairav temple- INR 100 per person (both ways)
- Baby Car facility is also available there.
- Helicopter Charges from Katra to Sanjhichhat- INR 1045 per person (one way)
Helicopters function from morning 7 am to evening 7 pm based on the weather. The booking office for Helicopter is located near the bus stand in Katra and open from 6 am to 6 pm. Online tickets for Helicopter journey can be booked from here, 60 days prior to the journey date. All these charges are fixed by the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board that is the care-taker and developer there.
Image Source- wikimedia.org
Yatra slips are issued to each visitor at the starting of the journey from the registration office (Niharika Bhawan) near Katra Bus Stand, which is compulsory for further journey. This registration is done from 5 am to 10 pm only.
The whole journey of around 14 kilometers is divided into various base points-
- Chetak Bhawan (Katra)
Ban Ganga-Image Source- commons.wikimedia.org
- Ardhkuwari (6 km from Ban Ganga)
- Bhawan (or Main Shrine of Vaishno Devi)
- Bhairav Temple (4-kilometer steep trekking from Bhawan)
Various restaurants and food outlets along with cafes are present throughout the journey. You will get Amul parlors, Café Coffee Day, Sagar Ratna, Dosa Point and various others there. Affordable food is also served near the Bhawan.
For staying in Katra, one can book Hotels in the town which range from INR 800 to INR 2,000 depending upon the season and type of rooms.
Dormitory Accommodation facilities are available at Bhawan at INR 120 per bed. Other facilities to stay are also available and can be booked from the Niharika Bhawan near Katra Bus Stand.
Various shops are present in the Katra town which sell articles ranging from small keychains, pens, bangles, jewelry to large vases and statues. All these articles have pictures and designs of Maa Vaishno Devi that give them a different look. Some of these should be purchased as a gift to others and as a mark of a successful journey.
Dry fruits market is also present in Katra but they should be purchased carefully and safely to get rid from frauds.
One should carry the relevant ID cards -Aadhar Card, Driving License or Voter ID Card, the latter two are used for sim card registrations there, as the prepaid sim cards of other states do not work in Jammu and Kashmir. Cloakrooms, restaurants, washrooms and drinking water throughout the way, medical facilities, rooms, and banks are some facilities that are present there. Visitors should beware of the shopkeepers that try to cheat them in the name of faith and belief. You should keep the travel tickets and other slips with you throughout the journey for security purposes like background verification. Yatra slips should always be kept securely in the whole journey as these are mandatory to get Darshan of Vaishno Devi. Raincoats are available for free during monsoons from the registration counters at a security fee of INR 300.
The place is best to visit in the months of February to June, when the weather is pleasant. From November to January extreme cold is there and journeys may get hindered due to heavy snowfalls. Do take care of family members and companions, as network issues prevail and they could get lost.