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MATA VIAHNO DEVI DARSHAN & SIGHTSEEING

One of the most popular pilgrim centres in the world, the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is set in the foothills of the Trikuta Mountains in Jammu and Kashmir. Here, the Bhawan houses the sanctum sanctorum or the holy cave where the goddess manifested herself in the form of natural rock formations, known as the three Holy Pindies. Visited by millions of pilgrims every year, the Mother Goddess is believed to fulfil whatever her devotees wish for.

The Spiritual Yatra

To reach the shrine, one has to obtain a Yatra Parchi from one of the registration counters and embark on a trek of about 13km from Katra. Most devotees walk both ways, some prefer to ride a pony, while palanquins are also available for the sick and elderly. A helicopter service operates from Katra to Sanjhichatt, from where the shrine is just 2.5 kilometers.

Trekking uphill to the holy cave, amidst reverberating chants of 'Jai Mata Di' and beautiful views of the entire valley, the yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi's temple is a spiritual journey like no other. Upon reaching the main shrine after the long arduous trek, the spirit of devotion and vibrant positivity around is truly mesmerizing, easing out all the fatigue and exhaustion of the journey

Things to Do
Visit the Ardh Kuwari Cave, located midway on the old route to the Bhawan. This narrow cave is popular not only for its religious significance, but also as a pitstop for devotees undertaking the yatra. One has to crawl on the knees to get to the other side where the main shrine dedicated to the goddesses is located. According to belief, Mata Vaishnodevi took refuge here while she was hiding from Bhairav Nath for 9 months.

Upon reaching the Bhawan, a bath in the holy water of the bathing ghat is considered the ideal cleansing before the holy darshan.
Experience the famed aarti held at the Bhawan before sunrise and after sunset. This sacred aarti is performed by pujaris before the holy deity and then brought outside for the devotees. Darshan remains halted during this time. The temple also offers facilities for individual hawan/poojan for devotees, for which slots have to be booked in advance.
Apart from the darshan of the three Pindies in the holy cave, there are a number of other holy darshans in the original cave, such as the symbols of Lord Ganesh, Lord Hanuman, Bhairon Nath, the five Pandavs etc. These darshans are only possible during lean season when the original cave is used. Also explore temples dedicated to Mata Durga, Lord Shiv and Lord Ram within the Bhawan complex.

When to Go
The shrine is open throughout the year, with Navratras being the peak season. For a comfortable trek, visit Vaishno Devi between March and October when the weather is cool and pleasant. For those who can brave the cold, snowfall during the winter months makes the experience even more charming.

Getting There
By Air: Jammu Airport is well connected to major Indian airports and is just 50 kilometers from Katra. Regular taxis and cabs from Jammu to Katra are easily available.
By Train: Udhampur Railway Sation is the nearest railway station, from where taxis to Katra are easily available.
By Road: A number of Jammu & Kashmir State Transport buses, as well as private air-conditioned buses operate between Jammu and Katra.

Places to See Around

Dera Baba Banda
Located 30 kms from Katra on the banks of the river Chenab, this historic gurudwara is dedicated to Baba Banda Bahadur, one of the Sikh leaders of Guru Gobind Singh. It attracts a large number of Hindu and Sikh devotees, especially during the three-day fair held at Baisakhi. The inside of the gurudwara depicts several important Sikh leaders, and houses ashes, weapons, and other relics of the great Baba Banda.

 

Bhairavnath Temple
Dedicated to Bhairav Nath, this temple is only a 2 kilometres walk up from the main shrine. The picturesque views from the temple are totally worth the trek, but if you're too tired to walk, ponies are also available. It is believed that a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi is complete only after paying a visit to this temple.

Holy Cave of Shiv Khori
Popular for its natural rock formations - the 4 feet high shiva lingam, and objects bearing similarity with Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesh, and Nandi - this 200 meter long cave is a sight to see. The carved snake formations on its roof from which water trickles down on the lingam, make it even more spectacular.