Katra serves as the base camp for the trek to the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. Located at the height of 2500 feet and approx. 48 kms away from Jammu, this is the last town, where you can reach by any transportation. Details about the accommodation in Katra town and Yatra Parchi (Journey Slip) has been already discussed in the first part of this series. To read that post, please click on this link: Trip to Mata Vaishno Devi Part 1..Jammu To Katra
Some Additional Details About Katra Town:
ATM facilities: Many ATMs are available from the banks e.g. J & K Bank, State Bank of India, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Bank of Punjab etc. Axis Bank ATM is just adjacent to the Yatra Parchi Counter near bus stand and HDFC Bank ATM is just 100 meters away from bus stand at the main road going towards the holy shrine. An ATM of J & K (and perhaps OBC also) is also avaialble at the top of Trikuta Hills near the holy shrine, but it may remain unserviceable or overcrowded. So prefer to withdraw your money in Katra. For the purpose of food, snacks, drinks etc Rs.1500 per person will be more than enough to spend from Katra to Bhawan and back, if you are trekking on the foot.
Railway Reservation Facilities: Katra railway station with railway reservation counter is expected to be operational by the next year. Apart from that, there is also a railway reservation counter available near the bus stand. This railway reservation counter is existed there from many years and becomes overcrowded during the peak season.
Moving Ahead From Katra: After your arrival in Katra, you can do two things: either start your trek immediately or book an accommodation and stay for few hours or for whole night. Both type of accommodation can be arranged easily. If you wish to start immediately, just go to the Yatra Parchi Counter and register your group for the yatra. A single person can register the whole group on a single slip. If you want to stay in Katra, don’t get Yatra Parchi immediately after arrival. You have to cross Ban Ganga check post within 6 hours of issuance of the Yatra Parchi. So, if you prefer to stay in Katra, arrange this Yatra Parchi later on. Parchi Counter opens from 6 AM to 10 PM, but you can start your trek anytime 24×7. So arrange your parchi accordingly.
How to Start this journey from Katra:
First and most important thing : Make sure that you have registered for the journey and have a Yatra Parchi (Journey Slip) for your group.
Second: Make sure that you are trekking lite. If you have more luggage, it will create problem while trekking, so get rid of extra luggage on various cloak room facilities available in the form of small shops, hotels, camera studios etc. You can trust all of them for the safety of your luggage and I hope that no body will cheat you at this holy place. Just do not keep any valuables like money, gadgets or jewellery with your luggage. Do not take food, drinks or blankets with you. They are available in plenty on the trek route,of-course on payment basis, but free of cost blankets are also available at major stopovers like Adi Kuwari Temple, Sanjhi Chhat and Bhawan.
Third: You can start this trek any time during day and night. The yatra goes on 24 x 7 without any restrictions. There are plenty of lights on the routes, so no need to worry about the darkness. Sometimes it may be stopped due to snow-fall, heavy crowd etc, but that happens once or twice in a year.
Mode of Transportation:
1. Own Vehicle: From Katra to Darshan Deodhi, Main Entrance of the Trikuta Hills. 2 kms distance. You can drive your vehicle upto Darshan Deodhi and then you have to park your vehicle in a designated parking area. Parking is at owner’s risk.
2. Auto-rickshaw: From Katra to Darshan Deodhi, Main Entrance of the Trikuta Hills. 2 kms distance. Rs.7-10 per person.
3. Helicopter: From Katra to Sanjhichhat, 2.5 kms before the holy shrine, Rs. 900 to Rs. 1200 per person single side journey. You can save some time. But you will not be able to visit Adi Kumari Temple and 2.5 kms easy trek also required to reach the holy shrine, and more trek required, if you wish to visit Bhairon Temple. It can be booked online also upto 60 days in advance and for the maximum group of 5 people by a single person.
4. Ponies: From main entrance Darshan Deodhi to Adi Kumari and further to Bhawan and to Bhairon Temple. You can also book between any two points while trekking on the route. Rates vary from Rs. 300 to Rs. 600 depending on the wait and age of the person.
5. Palanquins: From main entrance Darshan Deodhi to Adi Kumari and further to Bhawan and to Bhairon Temple. You can also book between any two points while trekking on the route. For a journey to Bhawan and back to Katra, rates vary from Rs.2200 to Rs.4000, depending on the wait of the person.
6. Potter or Pitthoos: From main entrance Darshan Deodhi to Adi Kumari and further to Bhawan and to Bhairon Temple, Potter facilities are also available to carry your child as well as your luggage. These are popularly known as Pitthoos and rates vary from 200 to 500 depending on the luggage and distance.
7. On Foot: Best way, preferred by 90 % of devotees. You will be required at least 30-40 hours to complete the whole trek comfortably (including total trek, darshan time at the temples and some sleep on the way).
The trek route from Katra to Adi Kumari passes thourhg following key points:
Katra- Darshan Deodhi- Gulshan Kumar’s Langar- Ban Ganga Check Post- Ban Ganga River-Ban Ganga Water fall- Charan Paduka Temple- Adi Kumari Temple
A Suggestion from My side: After passing the Ban Ganga river on your trek route, you will find the series of stairs going upwards. Few people also climb on those stairs. But, I suggest you to follow the road going upwards. You will be less tired and your legs will be grateful to you.
Darshan Deodhi: The main entrance of Trikuta Hills, also known as Darshani Darwaja, because complete Trikuta Hill is clearly visible from here. As per the legend, First time Mata Vaishno Devi met Pandit Shridhar in the form of a girl child at this place only.
There is a security check post at Darshan Deodhi with the separate queues for ladies and gents. If you are without any luggage, then there is again a separate queue. You have to put your luggage under that X-Ray scanner here and the security personnel will also check you manually. Beyond this point Video Camera, Arms , cigarette etc are not allowed.
If your wish to travel on the back of pony or If you are still having extra luggage or if you want to hire a potter to carry your child, you can arrange these services just after crossing the security post at Darshan Deodhi.
Gulshan Kumar’s Langar: After 500 meters walk from the Darshan Deodhi, you will come across a open courtyard some 12 feet below on the left hand side, where many people would be standing in a queue.This is the famous Langar (a place where free foods are being served) of Late Sh.Gulshan Kumar. He was a great devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi. During his lifetime he started this langar, where anyone can go to take the food for free. Morning Tea and evening tea is also available. Earlier during our college days, we used to get the delicious halwa (a sweet dish) made of pure desi ghee. In fact, it was the biggest attraction for us at the langar. But now, from last 3-4 years, I did not find anybody serving Halwa. The tin-shed in front of the langar where this dish used to be served is now converted in a small shop.
Ban Ganga Check Post: This is a small check post, where an official will stamp your Yatra Parchi. Yatra Parchi validity to cross Ban Ganga check-post is 6 hours, i.e., you have to cross this post within the six hours of the time, when you get it in Katra.
Ban Ganga River: After passing Ban Ganga Post, you will reach to a small bridge on a small river. This is Ban Ganga River. There are some stairs after the bridge leading to the river, where you can bath. There is water in river all through the year except the acute shortage of rainfall or snow on the mountains.
Ban Ganga Waterfall: After 10-20 minutes of further walk, you will find a small narrow path on the right hand side that is leading to a small waterfall, known as Ban Ganga. 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, and thus the name Ban-Ganga (Ban: Arrow, Ganga: Holy River). After the rain, flow of the water is more and the waterfall looks beautiful. This is an ideal place to bath.
Charan Paduka Temple: This is the first temple of major concern on the right side. It is believed that the goddess stopped here for a while to look behind, whether Bhairon was still following her. So, there are the footmarks of the goddess and all devotees should come here for the first darshan during the journey to the holy shrine. Earlier it was a small unnoticed temple, but now they have constructed a big beautiful temple.
Various facilities on the way: There are various shops for snacks, lunch, dinner are available on the way. Medicine shops, gift shops, music shops, camera shops, children play areas are available on the way. There are various tea, coffee and soft drinks stalls on the way. Expect few, many charge five to ten extra bucks on M.R.P. due to the cost associated with the transportation of these goods on the hill. Also some small, but decent food joints like Sameer and Indraprashtha are available from the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, which offer the food and snacks on genuine prices..
Adi Kuwari Temple: The word Adi kuwari (also Adhkuwari) means “The Eternal Virgin”. It is believed that Mata Vaishno Devi resided here in a cave for 9 months to worship the Lord Shiva. When Bhairo approached towards her, she broke the other sides of cave with her trident and moved towards the cave of present day holy shrine at bhawan. Since the goddess lived in this cave for 9 months, as a child lives in the womb of her mother for 9 months, this cave is popularly known as Garbha Joon (Garbha: Womb).
Entrance to the Garbha Joon is broad, but as you approached further it became very narrow. 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. You could have wonder whether it would be possible to pass through this cave or not. But remember the name of Mata by heart and start crawling in the cave and you will be out from the cave after crawl by crawl with a new spirit. It is generally believed that by merely passing through this cave, a devotee’s sins are cleansed and his soul becomes pious again.
Adi Kuwari also marks the midpoint of the Yatra and most pilgrims like to rest here for a while and refresh themselves.
Points to Remember:
Before visiting Garbha-Joon, Get your sequence number: To visit the Garbha-Joon, you have to get a sequence number from the sequence counter. The sequence number is issued after showing your original Yatra Parchi at the counter and a person can get a single sequence number for all the members of his group. Generally they keep 100 people in a single group and this group number count goes upto 700 and then again starts the group number 1. Sometimes you have to wait for the hours to visit the cave. In our recent visit, our sequence did not turned up, even in 24 hours!
You can visit the Adi Kuwari Temple without sequence: Since the cave is very narrow, only one person can crawl at a time. Because of this, there is always a huge gathering at Adi Kuwari Temple. But, If you only want to visit the temple, not the cave (garbha-joon), you can do it without any sequence number.
Things not allowed: Any leather items including purse, bag, belt, watch etc, pen, shoes etc. You can take your credit cards, hard cash and jewellery.
How to arrange the blankets: Despite of the huge crowd, if you still interested in a visit to the cave and want to wait there in the night, you should arrange some blankets. Blankets can be obtained from the blanket counter at Adi Kuwari by depositing Rs.100 per blanket as the security. Whenever you will return the blanket, you will get all your money back. Blanket counter open from 8 PM onwards till the morning.
After getting blankets, if you wish to sleep there, try to find the shelter under a tree, in a verandah or under the tin shed. Avoid sleeping in the open, as it will be too cold in the midnight. After covering yourself with 4 blankets also, you can not avoid the freezing temperature. So its always better to rest under a shed.
Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner: There are excellent facilities for breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at the temple complex. They offer everything from Idli-Sambhar to Rajma-Rice, from Tea-Coffee to Sweet Milk and from Poori-Kachauri to Jalebi-Pakauri.
Apart from this, Adi Kuwari Temple complex also offers some amazing views of the surrounding hills, valley and excellent views of night lights in Katra.
I hope enjoy your journey till the Adi Kuwari Temple. The third and last post of this series will take you to the Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi and Bhawan and then a steep trek to Bhairon Temple.