The holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is the second most visited Hindu temple of India. Situated at the altitude of 5300 feet on the Trikuta Hills, this temple is accessible by the 12 kms long trek over the hill. In the previous two posts related to this temple, I discussed about the ways to reach Jammu and then Katra and after that I gave details about the trek from Katra to Adi Kuwari Temple, which is situated at the mid of this trek route, 6 kms away from Katra. I suggest you to read these two posts to get a better idea of this journey to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine:
These two posts give you a fair idea on the journey till Adi Kuwari Temple. The present post takes you beyond the Adi Kuwari Temple to holy shrine at Bhawan and further to Bhairon Baba Temple.
Moving Further from Adi Kuwari Temple:
There are two routes leading from Adi Kuwari Temple to the holy shrine “Bhawan”:
First one is just adjacent to the blanket issuing counter and it is the old traditional route going via Hathi Mattha and Sanjhichhat. A person requires a 6 kms trek on this route to reach Bhawan. Hathi Mattha area has a steep climb like the forehead of an elephant, hence the name Hathi Mattha (Hathi: Elephant, Mathha: Forehead). So this route is relatively difficult in terms of trekking compared to the another route. However, you can avail the services of Ponies, Porter and Palanquins on this route.
Second route is starting about 500 meters before the Adi Kuwari Temple and going to Bhawan via Himkoti. There is a small tunnel from Adi Kuwari Temple premises, connecting it to the second route. This route is 5 kms long and it is a relatively easy trek compared to the first route. Route is almost parallel, no major climb during the trek, but it is prone to frequent landslides and stone shootings from the hill. On this route, Palanquins and porters are allowed, but ponies are not allowed.
You can also board Battery-Operated Vehicles from the vehicle stand near the beginning of the route at the cost of around Rs.350 per person till Bhawan. These 8-seater vehicles are basically for senior citizens and handicapped people , but if you request them, they can also accommodate you along-with those persons, subject to the availability of seats.
Please note that you can not board these vehicles at any intermediate points. If you are at Adi Kuwari Temple, go to the second route via the tunnel and then walk below towards the vehicles stand for half kilometer to catch a battery-operated vehicle.
While walking on the second route, I noticed that they are now building another route from Katra to Adi Kuwari Temple. Creation of new routes may provide some convenience in the handling of increasing crowd, but it is also destroying the beauty of this hills and the surrounding valley. Faith shouldn’t overcome the requirement of ecological sustainability, but unfortunately that is what happening there now at this holy shrine.
I generally prefer to trek on the second route now. This route is more convenient and more scenic, specially the views of the valley from Himkoti and Devi Dwar. Facilities for snacks, drinks and foods are available on this route also.
There are major landslides and stone-shooting areas on this route. Always be careful and remain vigilant on the trek route and if you see a sign-board warning you not to stay at any particular place, please do not spend your time there and walk further. The shrine board is trying to cover the entire trek route by tin-sheds, but major portion of the route is still left uncovered. Moreover, sometimes stone-shootings are so heavily that they even penetrate the tin-sheds and fall down in the valley or on the trek route.
After trekking of about 4.5 kms, you get the first glimpse of Bhawan to your left hand side. Walk further and you reach to a Bhaint Prasad Shop on your left hand side, where you can buy a packet of prasad (kind of offerings). These packets cost are varying from Rs 21, Rs.51, Rs.101 etc. and accordingly those packets contain a coconut, a packet of lachidana ( a type of rounded sweet), a chunri (a small piece of sacred cloth) etc. You can also buy this prasad from many other shops located there.
Just after the bhaint prasad sjop, you come across a huge building at right hand side, known as Manokamna Bhawan. This is a kind of accommodation facility, where you can book a single , a double AC or non-AC rooms and also the dormitory beds, if you wish to rest there for a while. If rooms or dorms are available, they can also accommodate you on hourly payment basis on the spot. Normally, you have to book your accommodation in this building from their Katra Office or you can even book these rooms online on Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board website. You can book these rooms 60 days in advance (Updated on May 14, 2014. Earlier it was upto 30 days in Advance).A maximum of one Room/05 dormitory beds can be booked by an online user in a calendar month. Apart from Manokamna Bhawan, there is other buildings also like Sarswati Bhawan to book your room at the Bhawan premises.
At Holy Shrine Bhawan Premises:
If you move forward from Manokamna Bhawan, you come across a Yatra Slip Counter on the left hand side. This is again a sequence number issuing counter for your group, just like one at Adi Kuwari Temple. You have to show your Yatra Slip issued at Katra to the person at the counter and he will give a sequence number to your group. This sequence number will give you an idea of expected delay for your sequence to visit the holy cave of Mata Vaishno Devi. Sometimes, during the lean period, you can go directly to the cave after getting your sequence number, because there is very less crowd.
If you do not wish to book a room and want to go for the darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi straight (depends on your sequence number), you should first go to the bathing ghats to take the bath. These bathing ghats located at the extreme end of the Bhawan and remain open round the clock. There are separate bathing ghats for ladies and gents. The ice-cold water come out with a strong force from the many tap-pipes mounted in the wall, so that you can get a chilly bathing experience round the clock.
After a refreshing bath, deposit all your luggage in the lockers available at the different locations in the Bhawan premises. Two locker facilities are available below the stairs near the Yatra Slip Counter. The lockers are large enough to accommodate 3-4 carry bags. You should also locked your camera, leather belt, leather purse and other items like pen, comb to avoid any inconvenience later on. These items are strictly prohibited inside the holy cave. You can only carry your money, jeweleries, credit and debit cards along-with the prasad bought from the shops.
After depositing your luggage in the locker, wait for your turn near the main entrance. When your turn come, you will pass through a 500 meters long-gallery and a series of security checks before reaching to the holy cave of Mata Vaishno Devi. They also deposit the coconut from the prasad bag in the mid-way of this gallery and issue you a token. Later on, You have to deposit this token on another counter to get a coconut, after your return from the holy cave.
Please note that Darshans remain suspended for during the Aarti time, twice a day, first is just before the sunrise and second time is immediately after the sunset. The procedures of Aarti take nearly two hours to be completed, therefore everybody has to wait outside the cave during this.
Slowly moving further in a queue, you reach to the holy cave. Please note that there is no statue or portrait of Mata Vaishno Devi. She along-with the Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Kali, resides there in the form of stone Pindis, and depending on the crowd you will get only 5 secs to 30 secs to look at them. So pay your full attention while approaching in the cave.
After the darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi, you come out again via a gallery. There is a prasad counter on the left hand side and a coconut counter on the right hand side. From prasad counter, you get a small packet of sweets. This packet also contain a small coin issued by shrine board as a souvenir. At coconut counter, hand over your coconut token that you got while depositing the coconut earlier and you will get a coconut again.
If you still have the energy to descend few stairs, you can also visit a Shiva Cave, which is near the bathing ghats.
After visiting Shiva Cave, you can plan your further actions. You can take your luggage from lockers. You can get the foods at a food joint located near the bathing ghat. There are many other shops for foods and snacks located in the Bhawan premises. If you wish to take a rest and have the booking in Manokamna Bhawan, you can go there. If you do not have any bookings and still want to stay at Bhawan, you can also get the blankets by depositing Rs.100 per blanket as security money at the blanket issuing counter. After returning those blankets, you will get back your security money.
Visit to Bhairon Baba Temple:
It is believed that your Yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi does not completed unless you also visit the Temple of Bhairon Baba, that requires a further trek of 2 kms on steep hills. So, do visit the temple of Bhairon Baba also. Darshan to Bhairon Baba temple is also suspended during the period of Aarti, which held simultaneously with the Aarti at Bhawan and Adi Kuwari Temple, twice in a day.
After the visit to the Bhairon Temple, this journey to Mata Vaishno Devi is considered as completed.
Return Trek to Katra:
Now, You can return to Katra by two routes: Either by the first route you have taken to reach there via Bhawan or else you can return from Bhairon Temple via Sanjhichhat to Adi Kuwari Temple and further to Katra.
If you are returning back via Bhawan, you can opt the route passing via Himkoti and there you can use the facility of Battery-Operated Vehicles till Adi Kuwari Temple. But if you opt for the ponies, then you have to descend via Sanjhichhat and Hathi Mattha from Bhawan.
If you are returning back from Bhairon Temple directly via Sanjhichhat without going to Bhawan in the night, please make sure that you have a torch with you. The route remains in dark due to inadequate lighting and in our recent visit, there was two big landslides on the trek route. One was so dangerous that if we were not warned by fellow travelers, we could have felt in the valley below hundreds feet. Therefore, either avoid this route in the night or arrange a torch before proceeding on this route.
If you return from Bhairon Temple via Sanjhichhat in the day time, you have a good chance to see the helicopter operations at the Sanjichhat Helipad.
From Sanjhichhat onwards, you can opt for the various stairs to descend down at fast pace. These steps are leading till the Ban Ganga. But avoid these stairs while trekking upwards, as you would be tired soon while climbing.
While returning back to Katra, again you can get auto-rickshaw from Darshan Deodhi to Katra. But if you arrive late in the night, auto drivers may ask for much higher prices for this 2 kms journey. Try to bargain as much as possible. Katra is a good option to buy souvenirs and other prasad items to distribute among your relatives and friends.
This end my three post series on the trip to Mata Vaishno Devi. JAI MATA DI.