Every year millions of pilgrims visit the holy shrine of Vaishno Devi in Jammu & Kashmir. Many of them are the first timer, who plan their trip to Vaishno Devi as meticulously as they can. Here is a first timer’s travel guide to Vaishno Devi.
Reaching Vaishno Devi is quite easy. Before we elaborate how to reach Vaishno Devi, it is important to know a few important things about travelling to Vaishno Devi.
First and foremost, the shrine, also called bhawan or mata darbar is located at a distance of about 14 km from Katra. This distance is generally covered on foot though there are ponies, battery operated autos, palkis and porters to ease the 14-km long journey.
Katra is like most pilgrimage towns of India – crowded, dusty and chaotic. It is the last road head on your journey to the holy shrine. Buses are easily available from Jammu to Katra. If you are reaching Jammu by train, you may find buses to Katra just outside the Jammu Railway Station. Buses to Katra are also available from Jammu bus stand.
Now you can also take a direct train to Katra Railway Station – the official name of the railway station is Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra – SVDK. Shri Shakti Express (train no. 22461) leaves New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS) at 5.30 pm and arrives Katra Railway Station at 5.10 am.
While trains to Katra are limited, there are good number of trains to Jammu (Jammu Tawi Railway Station). The distance between Jammu and Katra is 50 km and it takes close to 2 hrs to reach Katra by road.
First thing to do after reaching Katra
All travellers going for darshan need to get themselves registered at the Yatra Registration Counter and obtain Yatra Slip or Yatra Parchi as it is commonly called. It is free of cost and you don’t have to pay anything to get a Yatra Slip.
Why is it necessary to get a Yatra Slip? Because you are not allowed to proceed beyond Yatra Slip Checking Counter at Banganga. Moreover, the Yatra Prachi insures you for a sum of max. Rs.1 Lakh in case of major accidental casualty and Rs. 25000 in case of any minor accident.
One Yatra Slip is issued to maximum 9 members. More than one slip can be issued if the number of members exceeds nine. Once a Yatra Slip is obtained, you need to cross the first Check Post at Banganga within 6 hrs of the issue of the slip.
The 14-km trek to Vaishno Devi
The 14-km stretch to reach the shrine of Vaishno Devi is well paved and well lit. There are ample places to eat on the old route and a few eating joints on the new battery operated auto route. If you plan to skip Ardh Kuwari, the new battery operated auto route is best. It may take you 3-4 hrs to reach the bhawan depending on your speed and stamina.
Facilities available at the Bhawan
There are good number of rooms for pilgrims but not adequate, which means quite a large number of people end up sleeping in corridors or virtually anywhere they can find a place to lie. Blankets are easily available on rent. There are quite a few cloakrooms available where you can deposit your valuables. Please note, you need to leave behind your wallet, mobile phone, comb, belt, any leather item…etc.