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Journey to the holy shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi is a pilgrimage in itself. Its importance as a distinctive holy place even in this modern era is unfathomable. Three highest mountains, Trikuta house the spiritual cave folds where Mata Vaishno Devi lives. The Goddess is referred across the globe as one who satisfies the desires of all her devotees. A huge number of pilgrims constantly step in the holy Cave round the year. Studies reveal that people pay a visit to this pilgrimage with an immovable faith in the goddess, who fulfils their desires.
Another important factor is the height which is 5200 ft. The journey starts from Katra and the pilgrims are expected to walk up 12 kilometers, in a way which is not that easy. Once the pilgrims walk to the top by tracking – they get an opportunity to take blessings of goddess Durga.
When the place started experiencing big number of people, need was felt to improve the condition of the place. And then came the Shrine board in 1986, which took the entire responsibility of maintaining the place and providing the most facilities to the pilgrims. The board started several development activities in order to make the journey for the pilgrims a hassle free and an admirable experience. This is still evolving till this date.
Historical Background of the Place
Though it’s difficult to declare any single date when the holy pilgrimage came into existence, but the research done reveal that the place originated some million years back. The history of the place is as mysterious as the place itself. The place is actually considered one of the top most spiritual places all around the world as it is surrounded by the power of nine spiritual souls called, Devis.
Visiting the Holy Place
The journey to the holy shrine starts from Katra, the base camp. After the tiring journey from their respective residences to Katra, people look for some fine place to keep their belongings, get fresh and finally begin the journey. And, to facilitate the visitors and the pilgrims, the shrine board has established a number of accommodations. Here is some handy information about the places that can help the visitors stay comfortable.
Accommodations at Vaishno Devi
As the number of visitors to this pilgrimage is very high, the shrine board has opened many rest houses, which are solely meant for the comfort of the pilgrims. Out of these, some are free while others are rented out at low costs. Also there are hotels to stay in Katra, Jammu, and on the holy track too.
Various halls have been established which are free and facilitate the stay of pilgrims and they can stay there without much difficulty. There are actually halls at Ardhkuwari, Sanjhichatt, and the Bhawan, where the visitors can take a halt. These places are almost always full, as the pilgrims wait there for the darshan of the cave, the three pindiees and the goddesses. These accommodations have the facilities like toilets, blankets, catering etc, which make the stay a better experience.
Starting your journey
The foremost thing that a pilgrim has to consider before staring the journey is to take the yatra parchi manually from the yatra parchi center or you can also book it online. Nearby, Katra bus stand is the yatra parchi center, where you have to stand in the queue to get the slip. The slip providers will ask your entire address, will take your photograph and will provide you the slip to start your holy journey to Vaishno Devi. This is actually a way to record the necessary information of the visitors.
Along with the manual parchi service, the online option has also evolved. It has actually made it easier for the visitors to get the slip prior.
Once you start tracking on the holy path, you see many other devotees just like you struggling to reach the Bhawan for final darshan. They are actually kind of motivators for you. And, seeing them walking with such enthusiasm actually inspire you to move on. In the holy track, there are a lot of places to take shelter/rest, there are bhojnalyas, washrooms, etc. which makes your journey easy. While covering the distance, the pilgrims are always eager to reach the destination as soon as possible. However it really needs a lot of patience and strength to cover all the distance on foot joyfully.
Since the shrine board is involved in making the journey, a relaxed experience, there are sheds installed throughout the way. It protects the pilgrims from the adverse weather. Moreover, the board has put up the speakers on the track, where hymns keep on running and keep the visitors engrossed.
As the name signifies, the ardhkuwari temple is located in the middle of the journey to the holy shrine. The pilgrims take rest here and they can feel relaxed after covering half the distance. They can also take breaks here as they have to wait for their turn to do the Darshan of the cave.
Religious significance of Ardhakuwari temple
Like every pilgrimage, there is definitely a religious relation behind its evolution. Ardhkuwari temple has a great religious significance. It is a belief that in this cave, known with the name Garbhjoon, goddess Durga dwelled for nine months, just like a baby lives in the womb of a mother for 9 month period.
She stayed there and did meditation. A saint saw her sitting there and since then the place is regarded as a pilgrimage and visited by umpteen numbers of devotees.
Also, there’s one more story that doubles the significance of this cave. It is said that once bhairon rushed into the cave while teasing Mata Vaishno and in order to escape from him, she made her way and ran from the trident.
Vaishno Devi Bhawan
After doing the Darshan of the religious cave and taking a rest for a while, the pilgrims go towards the Vaishno Devi Bhawan. Though the Bhawan is at a distance, but the visitors start getting the glimpse of the place from far away, from where it surprisingly looks very near. And, this glimpse actually motivates the pilgrims to advance and reach the Bhawan with full enthusiasm.
After doing the darshan of the Bhawan, the pilgrims start advancing towards the Bhairavnath temple. However, not every pilgrim moves further into this temple. And, covering this distance from the holy cave to Bhairon temple is not easy either. The steep path tires your muscles and one starts feeling exhausted very quickly.
While many start their returning journey after bowing their head in Bhawan, it’s a belief that if you do not do the darshan of Bhairavnath temple your holy journey to the place remains somewhat incomplete.
Religious Significance of the Vaishno Devi Bhawan
When Mata Vaishno escaped from the holy cave, the Bhairon was still chasing her in order to know about her whereabouts. She advanced towards the hills while Bhairon again challenged her to stop. Observing the situation, Mata decided to use her divine power and threw her sword, which cut his head charismatically. The head of the Bhairon fell on the hills around 1.5 km away from the Bhawan. And, finally, that place became famous as Bhairavnath mandir.
In addition to the above information about Vaishno Devi, there’s a lot more that any pilgrim should know. Here is the list of some Dos and Dont’s.
• Take the yatra parchi from the parchi center, before starting your journey to the eventual destination and keep it handy – when you will be entering the temple.
• If in case you forget to get the yatra slip, you cannot precede further the Bad Ganga check post.
• If you want to reserve a room to take rest, you should reserve it prior. There are reservation centers at Katra, Ardhkuwari, Sanjhichatt, and Bhawan.
• To avoid any hassles, you should confirm the rates of the Ponies and the porters in advance. Though the shrine board takes care of the rates – not to be charged than the usual rates, but still the pilgrims are expected to be aware.
• Try to climb the holy path without carrying any load. It can be tiring if in case you carry a lot of load with you.
• Remember to keep the umbrellas and the raincoats with you, because the weather can change suddenly in Vaishno Devi. So, it is better to be prepared.
• You need not carry a load of blankets with you; these facilities are available where you will be taking a halt. All you need to pay is the security which is refundable once you return the blankets.
• Check out the group number going when you reach the cave for darshan. There are chances that your turn will come the next day or even after that. So, knowing the timings of the darshan, you can easily plan your journey.
• Once you reach the Bhawan, you ought to deposit all your belongings in the locker room. You will get a locker from where you can collect your possessions after the darshan.
• After that, you can take the prasad. There are many shops where you can buy it. But it is preferred to buy it from the shrine board commission, as they sell it at genuine prices.
• Clean yourself completely before entering the Bhawan temple before darshan. It is a said belief that people take a bath before doing the darshan of the Bhawan. And, they prefer wearing new clothes, especially the inner wears.
• Once you get into the queue for the final darshan, your coconut is deposited and you are given a token. You can recollect your coconut after giving that token back.
• While coming out you get a packet of prasad in which there is a silver coin and some sugar candy (mishri).
• Make sure that you go to Bhairon Mandir as the darshan to that cave is kind of good to do.
• You can collect the ash (raakh) kept there which comes out of the havan ceremony performed in the temple.
• Do not lose the yatra slip. Keep the yatra slip with you as that’ll help you enter the main temple and will also let you know about the group number for doing the darshan of the cave.
• Avoid keeping items like mobile phones, camera or anything which is not allowed on the track.
• Avoid being vulgar during the journey, as it’s a hindrance to the spirituality of the journey.
• Try to cooperate with the people around and do not show any sentiments which can hurt anyone on the way.
• Avoid taking rest in the places which are prone to landslides.
• Do not throw clutter in the way as it is against the cleanliness rules and may also disturb the fellow pilgrims.
• Avoid resting in the landslide prone areas while moving towards the temple premises.
• Reduce the use of plastic and make use of dustbins, so maintain cleanliness.\
• Do not be dependent on the ATMs, after Katra, you’ll get the ATM service only at the Bhawan.
• There are monkeys on the way, do not disturb them or show them the things to eat. You may get in trouble if you try to interfere in what they are doing. It’s better to move silently if you see them.
Security in the Holy Place
While millions of pilgrims visit the holy place, security of the pilgrims is given a high level of priority. The state board and the shrine board have also made wonderful arrangements in order to keep the pilgrims safe from every aspect.
• There is sufficient deployment of the paramilitary as well as the police forces in the local area.
• There are safety drills after a certain distance doing the checking of the pilgrims and their bags.
• The security force keep on patrolling on the holy track after regular intervals. It ensures that the timely action can be taken in case of any emergency or security breach.
• There is also the facility of doing an x-ray of the luggage.
• There are door frames, metal protectors ensuring a thorough inspection and assuring the full security of the pilgrims.
• The place is almost entirely equipped with the CCTV Cameras.
Additionally, the local police force is also deployed in the key places like Katra, Adhkuwari, Banganga, Bhawan, Sanjhichatt, Bhairav temple, etc., who work as a team and promise the highest level of security to the pilgrims.
So, if in case you experience any theft or crime in the way, you can get an easy access to the security to resolve the issue. Moreover, there is police assistance booth at Katra bus stand, for your help.
Vaishno Devi Helicopter Services
With so many services, shrine board has also taken a very good initiative of starting the helicopter services. A person can reach the Sanjhichat by availing the Pawan Hans helicopter or the vector helicopter services down from Katra. The journey in the clouds eventually taking you to the goddesses’ shrine is an amazing experience in itself. It’s actually a very good service for the aged people, the patients, the disabled or simply the people who cannot walk that long distance. It literally helps those desiring souls have a glance of the holy place without much hardship.
Vaishno Devi is a wonderful place that one should visit at least once in a lifetime. Millions of people got what they asked for from Mata Vaishno. So, try your luck and visit the holy shrine. This above-written information will certainly be helpful in getting you to the place comfortably and hence giving you the memories to cherish throughout life.