Jai Mata Di !

The Team: chulli, nimbu, sassy and me.

We all had desired to visit Mata ka Mandir since a long time, but college schedules and work hadnt let us plan everything properly. So after long we got a chance and jumped at the opportunity.
The trip to Vaishno Devi started off with getting our tickets reserved for the train to Jammu Tawi. The train journey is long, but since chulli n me had the same berth on the train (we held RAC tickets) the journey passed quite easily, chatting laughing and enjoying.The train started off at 9 PM on Thursday, 22 September. Jammu Tawi is about 560 kilometres from Delhi, and we reached at 10 AM on Friday. After alighting at Jammu Tawi, we caught a bus to Katra. which is about 50 KM from Jammu. We reached Katra at 1 PM. Right after getting down from the bus, we walked into the yatra office of the shrine board to get our “darshan tickets”, sometimes the line at Vaishno Devi gets very long for darshan, people have to wait for more than a day. We started scouting for a suitable accommodation to rest our tired bodies. The accomodation at Katra is quite expensive with respect to the facilities provided with everybody demanding exorbitant rates for stuffy ill ventilated rooms, anyways after making a compromise and much bargaining we found a room to rest our travel tired bodies. We rested for hardly 4 hours before starting off from Katra to Vaishno Devi. Its better to climb from Katra to Vaishno Devi during the night. Safety is not a problem since there are thousands of people climbing on the way at any time of the day, the entire journey is well managed and protected by the army with frisking centres and baggage x-ray machines every couple of hundred metres. The Shrine board has provided shops and basic amenities at short distances throughout the way, making everything pretty comfortable. Before starting the climb, we went to the shrine board office in Katra to inquire about the accomodation at Vaishno Devi and found that all rooms were full, this meant that we would not be able to stay overnight at Vaishno Devi and would have to walk down back to Katra immediately after the darshan. From Katra we started off at 6:30 PM on Friday and looked forward to the 14 KM walk through the mountains, sometimes the road becomes very steep, but it is easier to climb using the ramp as compared to stairs. Still-cameras are allowed but videocams arent. We were body frisked and x-rayed at the start of the journey. We saw old people being lifted on “palki’s” by four bearers who carried them to the top, although it felt pretty bad to see young couples too using the services of palki bearers to avoid climbing. Many many ladies made their way barefooted, it takes a lot of will power. It is customary to visit the shrine after bathing so we were all carrying a change of clothes along with our camera’s. We sprinkled ourselves with water at the “BanGanga” river and refreshed before setting out for the climb. The climb was enjoyable, and we went chatting all the way. There were “dholwallas” all the way and by matching the walking rhythm with the dhol, we had fun and felt less tired. We had rest every 20 minutes as the way is steep and everybody gets tired easily. We reached Ardhkuwari (half way through) in a couple of hours and had rested for a long time with many cups of tea and coffee. It was a good decision to start climbing during the night as it gets very hot during the day, the entire path is well lighted with huge floodlights and everybody greets everybody else with loud chants of “Jai Mata Di”. From Ardhkunwari we took the new way which has been made, coz the old one is very steep and we were already tired after travelling more than 6 KM, the calves of the leg and the balls of the foot pain the most and we stopped more frequently for coffee. Every couple of hundred metres there is an army booth where everybody has to stop for getting x-rayed and having the bags checked. I was surprised to see “Cafe Coffee Day” -infact two of them, on the way. The new way was less tiring and less steep and we trudged along. The view of Katra was amazing, we could see the entire path that we had travelled and also the Katra town twinkling in the valley below. We reached Vaishno Devi at 12 AM at night and bought the Prasad from the “Bhaint Shop”. There are no geezers at Vaishno Devi and to have a bath in the shrine premises, everybody has the stand under the freezing cold water flowing down from the mountain glaciers. My head went numb at the spot where the water hit me, but I lasted out a full 32 seconds under the water {in three separate shifts}, the longest time amongst the four of us. After donning new clothes, we got into the queue at the shrine. The entire way to the “goofa” was filled with temple bells hanging from the ceiling, it was amazing to hear so many bells ringing at the same time and the melodious chants of “Jai Mata Di”. The queue was long and it was 2 AM already, the temple closes between 5 AM to 7 AM for puja. After having been frisked many times we entered the gufa an hour later. the army people didnt even let us stand in front of the “Pindiyan” for more than a second. We saw all three “Pindiyan” of Mata Vaishno, Durga and Saraswati. and were immediately pushed ahead by the guards. We exited the temple and collected our bags from the cloak room. We had travelled 12 KM, and had 2 KM more to go for Bhairon Baba Mandir. At 3:30 AM, we were very tired, but still we crawled ahead on the mountain to the Bhairon Baba Mandir. after visiting the Mandir at 5 AM, we started descending at 5:30 and decided not to stop until we reached Sanjichatt. After reaching Sanjichatt we took a long break and watched the sun rise. There is a helipad at Sanjichatt for those people who wish to avoid climbing from Katra to Vaishno Devi. We kept on crawling and crawling stopping frequently for coffee and snacks along the way, we took half hour breaks at the shelters and reached katra after 10 hours, even though the climb had taken less than 6 hours. We were very very very tired and the weight of the bags and Prasad nariyal weighed us down even more, but still crawling ahead we reached the “BanGanga” waterfall. There we had lots n lots of fun and the freezing water refreshed our tired bodies. We had made the entire 28 Kilometre journey without much sleep and rest , {we had no option, everything was booked at Vaishno Devi!} We reached Katra at 3:30 PM on Saturday. At Katra, I realised that I had lost chulli and my train tickets to Delhi. From Katra we caught the bus back to Jammu and rushed to to Railway station, after talking to the railway superintendent and paying the penalty charges per ticket, we had a duplicate issued. The Jammu railway station looked as if it was under siege as it was flooded with CRPF, Military Police, Army and local police personnel, there was heavy checking and from 5:30 PM to 11:30 PM we slept on the platform while waiting for our train. We were very very very tired, every bit of the body was paining. Finally, we entered the train and from 12 AM to the next day 2 PM {more than 12 hours} we slept soundly before being woken up by fellow passengers as we had reached Delhi. It was tiring, but the excitement of visiting the mandir gave us strength. It was a fullfiling trip, spiritual and enjoyable at the same time.

~ by sleepwalker on September 28, 2005.

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