I have recently won a jackpot! Im suddenly richer than ever and there is a reason behind it. The story follows as below;
Its believed; you can only visit there if you have been called by the divine. I visited the same place 20 years ago with my father and wanted to visit with my husband immediately after we got married but couldnt. We tried once again after having our first child, we even booked our tickets but couldnt travel coz my son developed a high fever so we had to cancel the whole idea.
This time, we wanted to take a tour of our ancestor villages in the northern Himalayan region, our land is filled with the rich, natural charismatic beauty of Mother Nature. We spoke to our parents and created the whole itinerary of places we would be covering during our journey. We wanted to include our ancestor villages, a few mythological landmarks, and meet our relatives while our young children can connect to their roots. I had convinced everyone but suddenly the plans changed. Hubby asked me if Id be interested to visit the Holy Shrine during Kids March Break. I started crying after I hearing him, after all, it was long overdue.
SHE is the source of energy and inspiration for me and has been there for me always. To this date, I have always sought Her blessings during the good and bad times. Still thinking, Is this my call or not? SHE is the mother of all. SHE is the hope during the tough faces of my life and happiness in good times. So now, tickets got booked, visas are done, travel slip is booked and now in anticipation, I was still thinking, Is it true? On the day of travel, I woke up in the morning with a mild fever and sore throat. Oh, We have to travel tonight and Im sick, still in dilemma.
We took a night flight from Dubai to Delhi, reached Delhi around 3 am. Our next flight to Jammu was in 3 hours, another 1:50 hrs. journey. Kids slept on the way and we reached Jammu around 8 am. Now, we were closer to the destination. The drive was only 50 km and takes 1 hour. We booked a taxi from a Pre-paid counter and yes, we were on our way to Katra, the city where Trikuta Hills is located.
We stopped on our way to grab some hot tea and fritterswe reached the hotel at around 11 am. It was the 7th day of Navratri so we didnt want to hike during the busy period as we wanted to avoid the gigantic lineups. We slept for a few hours, took shower, and got ready for lunch, it was 3 pm already. We enjoyed the food in the nearby restaurant and explored the streets of Katra to find out what else we could do in and around the city. It was 24 and our registration slip for the Shrine was on 27, we had enough time in hand to explore.
We went to the Pre-paid taxi counter and were advised to book a trip to Shivkhori which is around 90 km from Katra and has a great mythological history. So, we booked a cab for the next day. On the way, we found an auto rickshaw driver who convinced us to go with him to visit a few temples nearby in the perimeter of 9kms.
Our first stop was Nau Devi temple; he mentioned all nine sisters of Maa Vaishno Devi reside there and took the form of pindis. We visited the holy cave, it was the first attempt for boys to visit any cave so they were exhilarated.
The second stop was Baba Dhansar, He is a family deity of local villagers in the area. Its believed snakes with multiple heads (Sheshnag) are seen in the falls located in the temple many times during the year.
The third stop was Baba Jittos temple; Baba Jitto was one of the biggest devotees of Maa VAISHNO and went up the mountain every day for 12 years without fail. To see his dedication, Goddess gave him sight and asked him what he wanted and also appeared as a baby girl to stay with him until he was alive.
Our first day in Katra was excellent, our auto driver also played a guide and explained to us about the area. We came back to the hotel, Royal Krishna, and crashed for the night.
The next morning, we left for our next voyage to another Holy cave around 9 am. Our taxi driver was nice; he kept talking about the city and the magical stories. It took us almost 2 and a half hours to cover those 90kms with curvy roads but the driver was very efficient. Frankly, he was one of the best drivers Ive seen in India. After reaching Shivkhori, we had to walk around 3kms to reach the actual temple. Kids hired a horse while I and hubby chose to hike.
The cave where Lord Shiva bestowed himself was a bit frightening at times. At one time I thought I couldn't go any further between those narrow strikes but luckily it was all lit up. Vaishno Devi Shrine Board manages this temple as well and it is very well organized. Cleanliness was maintained throughout the area. My older one took the lead inside the cave and we followed him. Im very proud of how he handled it with 2 bags including my big purse. He had suddenly grown-up, taking responsibilities. It was a great experience visiting the holy cave; our boys fell in love with cave adventures. We had a nice darshan and sat there to hear the priest and mythological story behind the cave.
After that, we had lunch and walked down the hill, the lineups were huge by the time we finished. Beware of monkeys on the way; they will attack you if you are carrying any food in hand. We drove back through those scenic mountains and serpentine roads.
Our driver took a break to show us the Jhelum River Dam and the falls on the way. By the time we reached back to the hotel, it was around 6 pm. We went out for dinner and then retired for the day in anticipation of another adventurous day.
On day 3, we thought of keeping it local and hired an auto driver to take us to Deva Mai temple situated on top of the mountain facing Trikuta Hills. Maa Vaishno stayed there before making her forever home at Trikuta hills. The pilgrims who know about it visit here, hence the place for pretty empty.
When we visited, we had a very nice Darshan and sat there for a while. The sight from this hill was mesmerizing as we could see the mighty Trikuta hills right in front of us.
The next stop was the Bhoomika temple, this was the village where Pandit Sridhar lived and Mata Vaishno gave him a sight as Kanjak. After that Mata Vaishno ran towards Trikuta hills because Bhairav Nath started following her, later Bhairav Nath was killed by Goddess. Mata Vaishno granted a boon to Pandit Sridhar and his offsprings to serve at the temple. Currently, Pandit Sridhars 13th generation serves at the holy cave.
The third stop was Kalkaji temple located in Katra. Each and every place in the city says a lot of Maa Vaishno Devi and her miracles. We reached Katra during Navratri and thought it would be too crowded to visit the shrine but to our astonishment, the city was quite empty. Guess, everyone thinks the same way. And just the evening before our visit 500 buses arrived from UP and Bihar and suddenly the place was full.
Luckily, we had booked helicopter tickets. To get the helicopter tickets, you can buy them online from the Shrine Boards website but it is so difficult. The GM of our hotel suggested meeting a travel agent who booked our helicopter tickets but for thrice the normal price (1000Rupees per seat). Initially, I was upset that I wouldn't be able to hike the shrine but glad we did it. Both hubby and I suffered from food poisoning that night and kept throwing up with loose motions.
Finally, the day we had booked Attka Aarti online through Shrine Boards website. We woke up around 8 am, we had hardly slept that night, we literally spent our night in the washroom. I was more worried about my husband who had taken this challenge of bringing our family there and now he is sick. I was also down, body felt very weak!
I told him softly, Would we be able to go today? A bit doubtful of getting the negative answer, it wasn't his fault after all. He replied, Of course, we will go! Then he suddenly jumped out of bed with energy and started getting the kids ready.
It took us more than an hour to get helicopter tickets, then the driver dropped us at the helipad. There were only 6 passengers allowed in one ride and cameras were strictly prohibited. We took a few pictures just before heading up and then our cameras were taken and kept until we reached the destination.
I thought the ride would be scary but slowly with 3 boys in the house, I had suddenly become brave and thoroughly enjoyed our 5 minutes ride to Sanjhi Chhat helipad. Our phones were given back to us.
From the helipad, it's 2.5 km walking downhill towards the Holy Shrine. We slowly started walking and chanting the name of the divine, Jai Mata Di. Kids were really enjoying as they had never been in a helicopter before neither did I.
We arrived at the marketplace just before the shrine and bought prasad from one of the stores and kept our shoes and bag inside. Phones and cameras were not allowed inside.
It was around 11:30-12, the pilgrims from the 500 buses had not made it yet. The lines were short so we were able to reach the holy cave just within 20 min. If you've booked a return with the helicopter, they provide you VIP darshan and allow you to enter through gate 5. Since ours was only one way, we entered from gate 3. The darshan was quick and as we finished, the lines just increased to a km or 2.
It was time to visit Bhairav Baba which was a steep 3 km hike from Bhawan. You can hire a horse to reach there. I didn't want to take a horse as I feel like we are torturing the poor souls, the caregiver constantly pulls their tails and hits them with sticks to keep moving but the husband and kids were adamant. Even though we had finished one flight of stairs, they were stubborn hence I sat finally sat on a horse but tears rolled down my eyes and I apologized to the fellow carrying me.
Hubby says, by hiring them we are helping the owners eat and also the horses, so instead of harm, we are doing good. Huge lines up there again, this darshan is considered to be very important after visiting Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine. As they say, your travel will only be completed if you visit there. We had a good darshan and rested near the temple before heading down. From there you can hire a horse to Katra or walk down.
Since we had booked aarti in the evening, I think we were the only ones going in the opposite direction. Going down is not that hard, we took stairs to reach Bhawan again. It was already 3 pm and we had to report for arti at 5:40 pm. At Kalika Bhawan, the Shrine board handed us tokens, bags containing chunni and prasad. The Arti was to start at 7:30 pm so we sat in the room to pass our time and we were called to line up according to our token numbers. We went through gate no 2 and were handed over a book with Sanskrit shlokas from Durga Shaptashati. The aarti takes place outside the old cave and during aarti, darshan is stopped for other pilgrims.
This was the most special time of my life; I was sitting on the premises of a place where I was longing to be for the last 20 years. It was truly magical, I was gazing at the whole place, decorated with fresh fruits and flowers, it looked beautiful We were facing the holy cave and then prayers kept going on for an hour and followed by aarti. I felt a big connection with the almighty and prayed for each and everyone in the family. SHE is the mother of all who protects us from all evil and odds. I highly recommend attending aarti, it can be booked in advance directly through Shrine Boards website,https://www.maavaishnodevi.org/OnlineServices/login.as
Shrine Board has organized everything so well, the area is clean and roads have sunroofs. You won't find anyone begging up there unlike other temples since registration is required to enter the main gate. Shrine Board doesn't support child begging as it would ruin their future. You can take a horse/ carrier until Ardh Kuwari and then battery cars are available to drop you near Bhawan. They are also building a gondola from Bhawan to Bhairav temple which will be ready by the end of this year. The auto driver mentioned, they have built a motor path on the other side till Bhawan but only Shrine Boards cars would be allowed. It was enticing to see this kind of arrangements for pilgrims in India.
After the aarti, we had another opportunity to meet the divine. This time darshan was longer, I felt like I had just won a jackpot, had an opportunity of darshan twice in one day with the bonus of Aarti. I thanked Mata Rani for bestowing an opportunity to me and my family and prayed that we visit there again soon.
After that, we had dinner as we had not eaten anything throughout the day due to being sick and started walking down to Katra. We took the road and stairs both to come down, it was quite a long walk with more than 12 km but my 5 years old managed it well. We reached back to the hotel around 2:30 am. It's already been a month since we came from Vaishno Devi but I just keep thinking about our trip. We all loved it and I hope we will visit again soon.
We left Katra after breakfast with loads of memories. On our way to Jammu, we stopped at Kol Kandoli which is told to be the first darshan before going to Vaishno Devi.
In Jammu, we stayed at Lords Inn. In the evening, we hired an auto driver to explore the city. Jammu is a city of temples, he took us to beautiful Har ki Paudi, a place where all deities are present alongside the Jammu Tavi river. After this, we went to Bahu Fort, Kalikaji temple. This temple was built inside a fort on top of a hill facing Tammu Tavi. You can experience majestic sunset from this point. Baghe Bahu, a beautiful floral garden with fountains is on the other side.
Our next stop was Jamwant Gufa, it was almost 8 pm and we luckily made it for aarti. It was another cave experience for my boys. Aarti is considered to be very auspicious in Hindu culture and this was our second aarti in a holy temple. I felt blessed and so fortunate.
Our last stop was Raghunath temple, this was another sought temple in Jammu. And guess what! We made it again for Aarti, what a day it was and what a trip! Totally blessed; this trip happened to us after 20years and it was fantastic. Only one thing was running in mind, again and again, I have won a big jackpot on this trip. Thank you so much God for the opportunity. We are ready for another adventure,
Aerial view of Trikuta Hills from the plane, Jammu to Srinagar.
I really wish we do this trip again in the future, I miss everything so much.