Thursday, November 27, 2014

Trip to Mata Vaishno Devi - Part II (Starting the trek from Base Camp Katra to Adhkuwari)




Katra serves as the base camp for the devotees desirous to undertake the trek to the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. We have already discussed about the details of reaching Katra and accommodation facilities therein in our first post. The first post of the series also talks about the divine legend of Mata Vaishno Devi and her assuming of the form of Pindis (rock) amidst Trikuta Mountains.

Before starting trek from Katra to Mata Vaishno Devi. . .

Obtaining Yatra Parchi


Post arrival in Katra, devotees can either immediately start the trek or can freshen up a bit at the accommodation facilities before proceeding further. We booked ourselves in one of the hotels near main market of the Katra so as to freshen up a bit before proceeding further and also for dropping our luggage in the hotel room. It’s important to note here that devotees have to register themselves at Yatra Parchi Counters, which is just adjacent to Katra bus stand and obtain a yatra slip (which entitles them to start the trek to Mata Vaishno Devi). This is a mandatory requirement and each devotee must have individual Yatra Parchi (slip) before commencing the trek, the same can also be booked for a group as a whole.


* Yatra Parchi Registration Counter at Katra Bus Stand
The Yatra Parchi can be obtained both offline and online depending upon the convenience of the devotees. Offline Yatra Parchi can be obtained at base camp Katra located adjacent to the bus stand. There is one more yatra parchi counter in Jammu near the railway station, it is in the Yatra Niwas Dham made by Mata Vaishno Devi Shine Board named as Saraswati Dham, which is one of two Yatri Niwas Dhams at Jammu Railway station. Devotees coming by air can also get the Yatra Parchi from Jammu Airport.

Devotees must cross Ban Ganga within 6 hours of receiving the offline Parchi and the same must not lost during the trek as basis this only the sequence number for the darshan at Main Bhawan is assigned. If one loses Parchi, he needs to go back and have it reissued from Yatra Parchi Counter which is approx. 2 Km from Ban Ganga. The Yarti Parchi entitles the devotees for an accidental insurance (by the shrine board) of INR 1 Lakh (for major) and INR 25,000 (for minor), but this does not include natural deaths or death by heart attack.


Though, the offline Yatra Parchi booking option is always there, we booked the Yatra Slip online through Shrine Board website in advance to save our time at the Parchi counter lest there should be rush of the devotees. To obtain a Yatra Slip Online, a devotee would need to register on the website as a Devotee and select a Devotee ID and Password. Yatra Parchi can be booked and generated by using ‘Ónline Services’ link available on the Shrine Board Website. One has to mention the names and identity card number of the devotees and at one time Yatra Parchi for 5 persons can be generated. In casethere are more devotees in your group, the same can be generated in second attempt. The online Yatra Parchi is generated free of cost and is valid for full day to cross Banganga check post.

Prepaid Mobile Phones don’t work in J&K


The devotees planning to undertake the journey to the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi may please be apprised of the fact that prepaid mobile phones registered outside the state of J&K don’t work there due to regulatory constraints (thankfully I had one postpaid connection too which was operational throughout the trek). Hence, it is advisable for those devotees who are planning a longer trip to the state to have alternate arrangement in place and also communicate the same to their family members back home, lest they should be worried.

There are no major network issues, otherwise, in Katra and postpaid connections works well even at the  Bhawan (Mata rani temple in the mountains).

Stay light and carry minimal luggage


Stay light and carry minimal luggage during the trek as carrying heavy luggage might just create problem while walking on the mountain trek. Lots of options are available for the devotees to deposit their luggage in the cloak room facilities available. There is no need to carry any eatables or drinking water as there are plenty of shops through-out the trek selling all sorts of eatables and drinks on payment basis.

Prefer Sports or PT Shoes


If possible, do wear sports shoes or PT shoes for undertaking the trek and avoid wearing heels as those may cause unnecessary pains in the ankles and might damage the foot. Devotees (especially ladies and girls) who don’t have sports or PT shoes need not worry as there are many shops at the start of the trek who sell these shoes at nominal rates (INR 250 to INR 300 per pair). Besides, these shops also lend PT shoes on a rental basis (the rental charges vary from INR 75 to INR 100). The devotees may have to submit some deposit which is returnable once the shoes are returned to the shop after the trek.

Another small but important thing which really helps devotees in climbing the mountain is lathis (sticks). These are also available in many shops just before the start of the trek at a nominal charge of INR 20 and are of immense help to those who find problem in trekking as these supports their weight through-out reducing the fatigue to great extent.

The trek can be started at any time during the day or night as the Yatra goes unrestricted 24x7.

***Important Tips:
  1. It is mandatory to obtain Yatra Parchi (which can be obtained free of cost both offline and online) before starting the trek.
  2. If you have access to internet, it is advisable to generate the Yatra Parchi online as there can be huge rush at the Yatra Parchi counters during peak seasons which can easily take 2-3 hours.
  3. Prepaid mobile phones registered outside the state of J&K don’t work in Katra (for that matter anywhere in the state). So, it advisable for the devotees to have an alternate postpaid connection, in case they are planning a longer trip in the state. Please also communicate the same to your family members back home, lest they will be trying your prepaid number and get concerned on getting response.
  4. Carry light luggage and only those articles which are necessary.
  5. Prefer wearing sports or PT shoes (PT shoes available on sale and rental in many shops at the start of the trek) and avoid heels. You may also take lathis (stick) to help you out in providing support during the trek.

Mode of transports available for devotees. . .


Walking for 12-13 Kms. can be arduous and tiring for those devotees who are not used to it. About 90% of the devotees undertake the trek on foot walking slowly and slowly taking mata’s name (which surely acts as a booster for them). The tiredness and exhaustion of the trek serve as penances and their minds become still, meditative, full of devotion and gratitude for the Mother. The soothing and serene environment & surroundings adds icing on the cake and adds and a mystical charm to the overall experience of the devotee. Still there are many pilgrims who are overweight or aged or otherwise not fit to walk for long due to one reason or the other. Further there may be some devotees who might just be able to climb to Bhawan but may feel tried to need some assistance for their backward journey. For these, there are many options available which may include:
  •  Helicopter Services: This is the fastest and costliest mode of transport for the devotees to avail for the onward journey to Bhawan. The Helicopter services start from Katra on the foothills and the flight will drop you at Sanjhichatt which is about 2Kms away from the main Bhawan and the flight duration is about 8 minutes one way. The one way fare from Katra to Sanjichhat or Sanjichhat to Katra Rs.1039/-per passenger w.e.f. 01-04-2014 and the booking of the same can be done online on Shrine Board portal. It can be booked 60 days in advance and for a maximum group of 5 persons by a single person (from a single login ID).
  • Palanquins: The Palanquins or Paalkis (as they are commonly known as) is more suitable for elderly people who can-not undertake ponies ride. The rates vary depending upon the weight of the person carried. For an average person of upto 75 Kgs of weight, the charges are in the range of INR 2,200 to INR 2,500 for a round trip from katra to bhawan & return.  If you include Bhairon Temple (which is another ~2.5 Kms above main Bhawan), the rates are higher by INR 400 (approx.). The rates can go as high as INR 4000 depending upon the weight of the devotee being carried as in that case there would be more than 4 persons required to carry the palanquin.
  • Ponies: Ponies are yet another option for the devotees to undertake the trek. The rates vary from INR 300 to INR 600 depending on the weight and age of the person for the round trip to Bhawan. There is an interesting thing about ponies at Katra, their owner have an interesting way to govern their speed and to stop them. The hold the Ponies from their tail and direct & guide them by pulling their tail in the desired direction & needless to say, the Pony responds to the gesture of his master!!
  • Porters: Porters or Pithus (as they are commonly referred to as) are generally used to carry small kids or luggage of the devotees. The rates of hiring a porter vary from INR 400 to INR 600 for a return trip to Bhawan depending upon the distance and weight of the luggage or kid.
  • Battery Cars: Battery cars facility is also available for old age, handicapped and ill devotees from Adhkumari (which is midway) to Bhawan. The one way fare of the same is INR 100.

Except the helicopter services and battery cars, the devotees can avail all the other services (viz. palanquins, ponies and porters) at any point of time during the trek for partial or part of the trek. Consequently, depending upon the distance for which the services are used, the rates would reduce. The rates of all these services are fixed. Information about these rates is available on various sign boards and at the Assistance Centers at Katra, Banganga and other places.

Starting trek from Katra to Mata Vaishno Devi. . .

As we have taken care of all the necessary pre-requisites of the Yatra, let us start our trek to Mata Vaishno Devi by chanting her name from our hear. . . Jai Mata Di (Hail Mother Goddess).


We took bath at the hotel and after having a light brunch we left for the trek at about 1230 hours in the noon. It’s always advisable to have a lighter lunch or dinner before starting the trek as heavy stomach makes it difficult to climb.

The trek to Mata Vaishno Devi starts from Darshani Deodhi or Darshani Darwaaza (Visiting Door) which is around 1 Km to 2 Km from the Katra bus stand.

Darshani Deodhi or Darshani Darwaaza (Visiting Door or Gate)

~ Darshani Darwaaza from where devotees start their trek to Main Bhawan
The main entrance of Trikuta Mountains where the trekking to Mata Vaishno Devi starts is Darshani Darwaaza. As per the legend, Mata Vaishno Devi met Pandit Shridhar at this spot in the form of a girl child. This is also known as Darshani Darwaza because from here one gets a complete view of the Trikuta Mountain. The term Darshan stands for view; hence symbolically this is the first Darshan of the Yatra. This spot is at 2800 feet above sea level.

One can either walk up to the Darshani Darwaza on foot or hire an auto rickshaw. If one has his own vehicle one can drive up to the new gate, adjacent to the Darshani Darwaza and leave it parked there. Many of the hotels and lodging houses in Katra offer free pick and drop facility to the devotees to this Darshani Darwaaza. Our hotel offered pick and drop facility from hotel to Darshani Darwaaza and back (make sure when you book a hotel you enquire about the same) as autos can be costly depending upon the rush. The guy who dropped us gave his number so that we can ring him up once back from the darshan. We prostrated at Darshani Darwaaza and sought Mata Rani’s blessings before finally starting our trek.

* Security Check at Darshani Darwaaza
The moment you enter the Darshani Darwaaza, there is first security check wherein all ladies and gents (in a separate queues) are checked and frisked. There is also a separate queue for the people carrying luggage as the luggage are also x-rayed for security purposes. The offline Yatra Parchis of the devotees are also checked and stamped here. For online Yatra Parchi, the check post is situated about half a Km ahead at Ban Ganga Check Post. Since we had online Yatra Parchi, we moved further from Darshani Darwaaza to the online counter which had a small line. It’s important to note that all the persons of the group have to be present at the counter as they take photograph of each member mentioned in the Yatra Parchi printi out from their webcam and give a new Yatra Parchi which needs to be preserved through-out the trek.

When we submitted the print out of our online generated Yatri Parchi, the person at the counter called the names of each individual member of our group and clicked a photograph installed at the window of the counter. Once all the members of the group were clicked, he handed over the Yatra Parchis for each of the member for us to take further.

* Check Post for devotees with online Parchi
As one proceeds further, about 500 meters walk from Darshani Darwaaza, the devotees comes across a big courtyard on the left hand side wherein once free langar sewa (free serving of food) was organized. This is a famous langar of Late Mr. Gulshan Kumar who was a staunch devotee of Mata and attributed all his success and fame to her. From the look of the langar, it appeared isolated and barren as if the same is now closed and no longer operational.

~ Langar Services by Late Shri. Gulshan Kumar
Baan Ganga


After the Police Check Post and Yatra Parchi Check Post, the devotees reach a small bridge under which flows Banganga, the legendary river associated with the miracles and legends of Mata. The name of this river comes from two terms, Baan (meaning arrow) and Ganga (implying sacred water as of holy river Ganges). It is believed that Mata Vaishno Devi, while on her way to the Holy Cave, created this water body with an arrow from her quiver, hence the name Banganga. As per the legend, the goddess, accompanied by Langoor-Veer was moving to her destined abode in the Trikuta Hills, when Langoor-veer felt thirsty. The goddess shot an arrow into the ground and a spring gushed out. This is a sacred stream and many devotees take a bathe in it before proceeding further.

* Baan Ganga
Situated on the bank of a small rivulet called Baan Ganga and at a height of 2700 ft., Baan Ganga is the first major station for devotees during on-foot journey from Katra to Bhawan.

***Important Tips:
  1. Don’t forget to get their Yatra Parchi stamped as the same is checked at the Bhawan at time of allotment of sequence number.
  2. Special care to be taken in case of online Yatra Parchi, as for devotees having online parchis their computerized photograph is taken and fresh Yatra Parchis are given to them at online check post.

Geeta Bhawan Temple

~ Colourful and divine entrance of Geeta Bhawan Temple
After around 1.5 kms from Katra, and 750 meters from banganga, the devotees come across a beautiful temple called Shri Geeta Bhawan. The temple is beautifully made with Mata Rani (mother goddess) idol in sanctum sanctorum. The outside view of the temple is as divine and picturesque as inside with two lions (symbolizing power of mother goddess) gracing the gate of the temple and beautiful idols of Lord Hanuman, Lord Shiva, Mother Parvati and Mother Saraswati installed besides. The devotees are surely advised to take a halt and enjoy this beautiful temple of Mata.

~ Another view outside the Geeta Bhawan Temple
Charan Paaduka Temple

~ Charana Paaduka Temple considered as Pratham Darshan of Mata
Approximately after another 250 meters or so at an altitude of about 3380 feet, devotees come across another divine temple known as Charan Paaduka Temple (charan meaning feet, paaduka meaning imprints). This temple assumes importance as it houses the place where the imprints of Mata's pious feet are believed to be imprinted on a rock slab. Devotees pay obeisance at the footprints of Mata engraved on a rock slab and proceeds further. Symbolically, it means touching the feet of Mata and seeking Her blessings at the start of the journey. Earlier there was a small temple at this place which is now replaced by a beautifully constructed big temple. During the normal rush, it doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes for the devotees to take darshan inside the temple. Photography inside the temple is strictly prohibited thought one can click pictures from outside the temple.

* Footprints of Mata Rani at Charan Paaduka Temple
As per the legend, at this place Mata Rani (mother goddess) has stopped and turned around to see whether 'Bhairon Nath' was still following her or not. The moment mother goddess stopped here, Her footprints got imbibed on the rock, hence the name ‘Charan Paaduka’ (Feet Imprints).

On the way to Bhawan

Devotees need not worry about the eatables or drinks on their way and should not bother to heavy themselves by stocking food or water. There are many shops and food joints available through-out the way for devotees for snacks, lunch, dinner, juices etc. These include both the ones established by Shrine Board (like Alok, Sameer, Indraprashtha etc.) and also some of the privately owned shops. Further, there is adequate arrangement for medicine shops and nursing homes after every few meters for the help of devotees suffering from any disease or ailments.


~ Climbing / Walking track  for trek

The entire track of the 13 Km trek is laid with tiles and is very clean with cleaners & sweepers visible periodically cleaning the tracks. At various places the track is divided into two parts one for the devotees walking on the foot and other half for the ponies so that the later don’t distract and disturb the walking pilgrims. There are adequate arrangements for lighting to enable the devotees walk at the night. After every few meters or so there are adequate shelter sheds (called Vishram Sthals) being erected with chairs or stone slabs installed to enable the devotees to halt and take rest. There are also sufficient facilities for free toilets and water coolers established by the Shrine Board for the benefit of the devotees.

Through-out the trek, the scenery is immensely picturesque giving majestic views of the Trikuta Mountains on the one side and the valley on the other. As one climbs up, the sight on the valley side gets more and more beautiful full of greenery. One also spots bunch of monkeys on the way through-out the trek but these don’t harm any devotees.

~ Majestic view of the valley during the trek
In addition to the walking track, there are simultaneous stairs too through-out the trek which are (in a way) short cuts connecting two walking tracks. But it is advisable, especially to elderly devotees and ladies, to avoid these stairs particularly while climbing upwards as these have the tendcncy to exhaust you quicker. The best part is that every piece of stairs has a board at the start which mentions the number of stairs in the stretch, which is very helpful as you may decide to undertake some of the shorter stairs (but it’s purely dependent upon individual stamina and appetite).

After having the darshan at Charan Paaduka temple, we took the stairs situated just adjacent to the temple on a test basis. However, some of the group members did feel the heat and were tired after the climb. After climbing two or three more stair stretches, we finally decided to follow the track instead of stairs.

New Track at Inderprastha– Shorter & Less Steeper

The Holy Shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi was taken over by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board in the year 1986 and the Shrine Board has been constantly undertaking endeavours to enhance the comfort and experience of the devotees. One of the key achievements of the Board has been the construction of the alternative track measuring 5.5 Km, which is shorter by about a kilometre and is also less steep as compared to original track.

As the devotees continue their trek, just before Adhkuwari there is a halting point at Inderprastha where the way to new track is introduced to the devotees with a sign board. From Inderprastha, there are two ways to go to Main Bhawan – one the older trek via Adhkuwari (which is ~6.5 Km long) and other via Himkoti (which is ~5.5 Km long). Hence, the newer trek is shorter by a kilometre and is also less steep providing relief to the devotees climbing the trek. Further no ponies are allowed on this track which again is appreciated by the devotees walking on foot.

~ Signboard at Inderprastha guiding towards new track
It is important to note that the newer track via Himkoti bypasses Adhkuwari and thus, devotees desirous to have darshan of temple and Garbh Gufa at Adhkuwari before going to Bhawan may not take this trek else they can take the Adhkuwari route while coming back from Bhawan. Alternately, one can go to Adhkuwari, take darshan there and come back to this new track (there is an option for the devotees to re-connect to this new track from Adhkuwari too).

~ New Track to Bhawan - Shorter & Less Steep
Battery vehicle facility is also available at Inderprastha (Adhkuwari) for infirm, sick and handicap devotees. The booking of facility is subject to availability.

When we reached Inderprastha, we were in the dilemma with regard to Adhkuwari darshan as to whether we should try for the same or not (as I was aware of the longer darshan queues at the Adhkuwari cave). Still some of our group members were desirous of having the darshan just in case the rush there is less. While we were still deliberating on the issue, one of the fellow devotees climbing down from Adhkuwari told us that there is a waiting of atleast 2-3 hours at the Adhkuwari cave temple. Then we decided to go to Main Bhawan via Himkoti and come to Adhkuwari while climbing down to Katra.


Adhkuwari – The Half Way Mark

Further 500 meters from Inderprastha, at an altitude of 4800 feet, is Adhkuwari located. Adhkuwari is the half way mark on the track as it is situated at a distance of nearly 6 Km from Katra. The Holy Cave at Bhawan is nearly 6 Km away from this point. The moment devotees march towards from Inderprastha, after sometime they can get a glimpse of the fluttering flag and temple spires and can hear continuous announcements from Adhkuwari.
* Adhkuwari - The Half Way Mark. The temple can also be seen in the background
The term Adhkuwari is believed to have come from Adi kumari, which means "The Eternal Virgin". According to the legend, when Mata Rani, in the form of a small girl, disappeared from the Bhandaara organized by Pandit Shridhar, she halted at Banganga and Charan Paduka. From there She reached Adhkuwari, where, in a small womb shaped cave she meditated and observed spiritual discipline (Tapasya) for nine long months. The exact spot where she is believed to have meditated is located at the right hand side inside the cave and is shaped like a womb. Since Mata had observed spiritual discipline in a womb shaped cave for a period of nine months, this cave has become popular by the name of Garbh Joon, which has come from the term Garbh Yoni meaning the Womb. It is generally believed that by merely passing through this cave, a devotee's sins are cleansed and his soul becomes pious again.

When during her meditation Mata realized that Bhairon Nath had approached the cave in Her search, She created an exit at the other end with Her trident and proceeded towards the Holy Cave.


Adhkuwari Temple & Cave

As mentioned above, there is a cave at Adhkuwari wherein Mata resided for 9 months, thus the same assumes spiritual importance to the devotees. The cave is very narrow and only one person can pass through it at a time. While the entrance is comfortably broad, it  tends to get narrow as one enters further & the person starts wondering whether it would be possible for him to pass through it or not.

As only one person can pass through the cave at one time, there is usually huge rush there at and darshan to the same are done through number system. Devotees desirous of having darshan of the cave have to get a sequence number by showing his Yatri Parchi at the counter. The darshan turn arrives when the sequence number is reached. Due to paucity of time, we couldn’t visit the Adhkuwari cave and prostrated from outside paying our homage to Mother. Many times devotees register themselves for the cave and head towards Main Bhawan for Mother goddess darshan and while returning / trekking back from the Bhawan stop here at Adhkuwari and have a visit to the cave (presuming they are fortunate and get their sequence number reached during the timeframe). 

~ Devotees halting and taking rest at Adhkuwari
Alternatively, many devotees also choose to wait and take rest at Adhkuwari till their turn for darshan comes. There is a provision for blankets, which are given free of cost to the devotees at the security of INR 100. There are also accommodation facilities available for devotees but these need to be booked in advance to avoid last minute hiccups.


The point to be noted here is that the sequence number is only there for the visit to cave and not to the temple. The temple’s darshan can be done by anyone without any slip or number.


***Important Tips:
  1. Avoid stairs unless you have a great stamina as they can exhaust you quicker and make you tired.
  2. The new track which is near Inderprastha (about 500 meters before Adhkuwari), is shorter by 1 Km and is also less steep; devotees may take this track while climbing.
  3. Battery facility for for infirm, sick and handicap devotees is available only at this new track from Inderprastha to Bhawan.
  4. There is huge rush at Adhkuwari cave and it, at times, takes hours and hours for your sequence number to come.

We will stop here for now and will resume our trek from Adhkuwari to the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi & further to Bhairon Temple in next post…Jai Mata Di (Hail Mother Goddess)
Note: Pictures with asterisk (*) are sourced from the internet and rest have been clicked by me from my smartphone. Legend of Mata Rani has been adapted from Shrine Board website.

~ Shubh Life . . . OM Sai Ram 

© 2014 Manish Purohit (Reserved)

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