With the words of Jai Mata Di echoing all around, the Yatra from Jammu to Katra is filled with spirituality and divinity. One can find umpteen numbers of devotees chanting the spiritual words, of "Jai Mata Di" and proceeding with their journey to pay their homage to Goddess Vaishno Devi.
Katra, from Jammu is short distance of 47 kms. One has the option various modes of travel from Katra to Jammu - By bus, by train and by cab/car. As per one's convenience one can corner the best travel option.
Jammu to Katra by Bus: Here one has the option of direct bus service that takes about 2 hours to reach. Travelling by bus is comfortable as there are various types of buses available such as air conditioned buses, non- air conditioned buses that are operated by private and state transport agencies and are plying at frequent intervals from Jammu to Katra.
Nagrota route is the most recommended route that heads for Vaishno Devi temple as it is most hassle free and comfortable. There is no holdup in this route and due to this one easily escapes traffic jams.
Nagrota is small town nestled in Jammu district and is the first shrine stoppage for the holy Mata's Darshan. This place has spiritual importance because of Kol Kandoli temple that is situated here. This place has special importance for yatris as it is the place where Mata Vaishno Devi appeared as a small child and practiced spiritual meditation for full 12 years. It was the time when Goddess took birth as small child and played with small children.
As per the legend one child felt thirsty and to quench her thirst, the Goddess (in the form of child) gave the bowl and shook it, from which the water gushed out. This temple is believed to be built by Pandavas and is considered to be the gateway to the shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. Here the Mother Goddess emerged in form of single pindi on the say Mata left Nagrota for Trikuta Mountain. Near to this shrine is temple of Gandeshwara Mahadev, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Here another attraction is the holy well exactly opposite to Shiva temple which has water that is supposedly posses healing properties.
Jammu to Katra by train: Another option to reach the pilgrim's paradise spot Katra, is by train. One can board direct Jammu to Katra train with 1 hour journey. Journey is comfortable and one can witness the beautiful and tranquil scenic view of the surroundings which will imbibe spiritual and divine feeling in the soul throughout the journey. In fact this mode of transport is the most comfortable medium to Mata's shrine for all those who have arrived in Jammu from different parts of the country to pay homage to Mata Rani. Trains have comfortable seating options in train enable the visitors to rest for a while before reaching the final destination. The train route is : Jammu - Bajalta - Sangar - Manwal - Ramnagar (J&K) - Udhampur - Chak Rakhwal - Katra.
Travel by train to the Holy shrine gives remarkable experience. One can experience the remarkable beauty of hills and natural scenes. Also there are few tunnels on the way that makes the journey more thrilling and exciting.
The year 2014 saw the direct train to Katra. Inaugurated by Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, the train named as Shrishakti Express that starts from Udhampur to Katra benefits umpteen numbers of pilgrims every year. With the help of this train the devotees able to directly travel to Katra, the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine. The work of this train started off at the time of Atal Bihari Vajapayee who dreamt of direct train to Katra and was materialized in the year 2014. The route is 53 km long was a challenging task because of hostile terrain.
Katra station is well equipped with all state of art facilities viz. Tourists guide counter, cloak room, waiting hall, VIP lounge, escalators, lifts and parking space. It has four platforms that have the capacity to accommodate 26 coach trains. Also the lifts have been built for traversing from platform number one to exit from the station. This Udhampur and Katra route comprises of seven tunnels and 30 small and big bridges in the span of total seven tunnels over every 10 km of the 25 km stretch. The benefit of the train is travel time is cut down between Katra and the city of lodging by 1 to 1.5 hour and the awesome natural scenic beautiful scenery and landscape that one sees through the window panes are really treat to the eyes.
Jammu to Katra by car: Another option of travel is car and is the time saving option. Hiring the cab from Jammu to Katra is most affordable and fast option. It takes approximately 1 - 1.5 hour. Cabs can be hired online same like bus and train tickets.
For the passengers who opt for fair travel has to break their journey at Jammu and from there on select an alternative mode of transport and for passengers travelling by road to Katra either through public or own transport there is an option of taking by-pass from Kunjwani nearly 10 kms off Jammu and then heading straight for the base camp of Katra. However the pilgrims can halt at Jammu to witness the bountiful of natural scenic beauty. Also they can visit the temples and other landmarks there. But one thing is quite sure that Yatra from Jammu to Katra is filled with natural scenic beauty and peaceful atmosphere making one's body and soul feel refreshed, energetic and filled with spirituality.
Journey from Katra to Bhawan is filled with spiritual aura with chants of "Jai Mata Di"making the atmosphere divine and holy. On the way to Bhawan one can come across various holy spots that catapult the religious fervour to new heights.
Yatris obtain Yatra registration slip from the registration counter located at Katra. This slip has been checked and stamped at Banganga and group number is allotted. This number would determine sequence in which the pilgrims would have holy darshan and the waiting period. The Shrine board has provided all the necessary facilities for the pilgrims to have comfortable darshan.
Darshani Darwaza : This Entrance gate or Darshani Darwaza is the first spot of entrance to the Bhawan from Katra. The entry gate to the track is approximately 1 km from the bus stand. As per the legend Mata Vaisho Devi met Pandit Shridhar, Her staunch devotee at this every spot in the form of little girl. From this place one gets birds' eye view of complete Trikuta mountain.
One can either walk up to the Darshini Darwaza on foot or hire auto rickshaw. And in case if you have arrived at your own personal vehicle, just drive up to the new gate adjacent to the Darshini Darwaza and leave it parked there. However parking is at the owner's risk.
Banganga : After passing through the Police check post, the pilgrims reach a small bridge under which holy water - Banganga flows. It is said that Mata Vaishno after escaping Bhairon nath created this holy river with the arrow to quench the thirst of her ape and lion by the name Langoor Veer. Thus the name Ban Ganga. The water in this river flows all through the year except when there is rain or snow during monsoon and winters. It is the sacred river and as per tradition the devotees take bath in it before proceeding further. Also it is said that Mata Vaishno Devi took dip in this river and washed her hair. So it is also called Bal Ganga - 'Bal' means 'hair'. After passing through the Police check post, the pilgrims reach a small bridge under which holy water - Banganga flows. It is said that Mata Vaishno after escaping Bhairon nath created this holy river with the arrow to quench the thirst of her ape and lion by the name Langoor Veer. Thus the name Ban Ganga. The water in this river flows all through the year except when there is rain or snow during monsoon and winters. It is the sacred river and as per tradition the devotees take bath in it before proceeding further. Also it is said that Mata Vaishno Devi took dip in this river and washed her hair. So it is also called Bal Ganga - 'Bal' means 'hair'.
Charan Paduka : Just about 1.5 kms from Ban Ganga is Charan Paduka. It is the place where Mata placed her first step towards hills. It is holy place where the imprints of Mata's pious feet are believed to be imprinted on a rock slab. Devotees come and pay homage and obeisance at the foot prints of Mata engraved on the rock slab and then proceeds further. It epitomizes touching the feet of Mata and seeking her blessings at the start of the journey. The medical unit of Shrine board is nestled here that has all the basic medical facilities and trained medical staff.
Adhkuwari : It means eternal virgin. It is the place where Goddess is believed to have worshipped Lord Shiva in the cave for nine months. The place where she meditated is in the shape of the womb and is located at the right hand side inside the cave and is known to be famous as Garbh Joon. It is believed that by passing through this cave all the sin of devotees are cleansed and the soul becomes pious again.
During meditation, the Goddess realized that Bhairon Nath had approached the cave so she created an exit at the other end with her trident and then proceeded towards the holy cave. As the cave is narrow only one person can pass through it at a time and by chanting the words of Goddess (Jai Mata Di) one is out of the cave fully recharged with energy that is filled with divine and spirituality. The holy main original cave is just 6 kms away from this spot and Adhkuwari is most important Darshan to Mata's Shrine, second only to the main Darshan.
Himkoti : It is nestled at the distance of 2.75 kms from Adhkuwari on new track. Himkoti is one of the most beautiful spots on this track with mind blowing scenes with bountiful of natural beauty all through the valley. Although there is no traditional or religious significance associated with this point yet the very nature of this spot and the natural aura baths the pilgrims in splendid charm that are truly treat to the eyes. This place is developed something that takes the pilgrims close to nature and it is bathed with natural beauty, artificial pond, garden and meditation centre. It also has adequate place to relax and rest the nerves amidst beauty of nature.
Sanjhichhat : It is the highest point in the Yatra to Holy Bhawan and present panoramic view of the landscape below. Helipad is constructed here for those pilgrims who want to visit Holy Bhawan through helicopter. The place also houses shopping complex and hospital.
The holy Bhawan of Mata Rani houses the Holy Cave or the Gufa which is the ultimate and the final destination for all the pilgrims. The holy Sanctum or the Sanctorum has divine aura and spiritual atmosphere. It is here where the Goddess has epitomized or revealed herself in the form of Holy Pindies manifesting Mata in Her three forms - Maha Kali, Maha Laxmi and Mata Saraswati.
Pilgrims normally take bath before having darshan. Earlier they used to take bath at the bathing ghat where the water flows from the feet of Mata. Shrine board has built many bathing ghats with toilets and bathrooms by channelizing the Holy water to all the bathrooms. The pilgrims can buy coconut as offering to the Goddess from the counter but for security reasons, coconut is not allowed to be carried beyond the designated point.
Original cave : Earlier yatris used to reach the holy bhawan through this cave. This cave is closed for large part of the year because it is very narrow and it takes much of the time for single person to cross it. Inside the cave one gets divine view of holy pindies of Mata Rani in her three forms (Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi, Mata Saraswati), whose ornamentation has been done over a period of time since the discovery of Holy Shrine. Various jewellery are offered by the devotees in the form of crowns, idols etc. as the ornamentation of Holy pindies. Various idols and statues donated by the kings all these years are also kept in the Sanctum Sanctorum and are visible to all the yatris.
Amrit Kund and the Charan Ganga: Just outside the exit tunnel, to the left hand side of the cave is the Amrit Kund. It comprises of water taps through which the Charan Ganga, the water from the feet of Mata Rani flows. Pilgrims prefer to fill the holy water called Charanamrit in bottles and take it along with them for purification purpose and curing various diseases.
Prasad counter: Beyond Amrit Kund lies the Prasad counter. The blessings of mother goddess in the form of Prasad pouches are handed over to the devotees by the temple priests. This pouch consists of small sugar candy or the mishri, blessed coin with image of Goddess and Khazana coins or the good luck coins given to devotees, which the pilgrims keep them in cash boxes, homes or offices.
Other Darshan Inside the cave : The holy cave is around 98 feet long. Besides main darshan of pindies inside the cave, there are various other darshans outside and inside Holy cave around Holy Pindies. It is believed that Darshans of 33 crore million God and Goddess are present in the Holy Cave. As per the belief, at some point of time all these Gods and Goddess have worshipped the Mother Goddess inside the cave and left their mark inside.
Other Darshans at Bhawan : Other Darshans includes Lord Shiva's Shivling, Mata Durga, Lord Shiv, Shri Ram with Mata Sita and brother Lakshman, Lord Hanuman etc. Sign boards are put up at Bhawan to guide pilgrims to these temples.
Bhairon Ghati : Bhairon temple is next mandatory halt for all the pilgrims after visiting Holy Shrine. This old temple is significant as per legend after beheading Bhairon nath repented for his mistake and sought solace in Mata's feet. The Almighty Goddess forgave him and blessed him by granting the boon that the yatra would be complete only when pilgrim visits Bhairon ghati and pay obedience at Bhairon temple on return from holy Shrine. Returning to Katra, it is the track to Sanjhichhat which was earlier a hazardous track but now after Shrine board took over the task of its development; the track was made broad to ensure convenience to the pilgrims. The place commands awesome view point of Chenab and Tawi rivers that shine around the horizon of sunlight. The hills of Shivalik range that are merging with plains are breathtaking views from this point that mesmerizes the mind and soul of the onlookers.
On the way to Mata Rani Bhawan: The oldest and the first route to Mata's bhawan was pot holed, kutcha and littered with loosely laid stones before 1986 prior to the takeover of the management of shrine by the Board and after this period the track was widened, made pucca and tiled. Work has been done to provide convenience and protection to all the pilgrims. Sharp gradients have been improved and made gentler at many stretches. One can see large numbers of parapets and railings all over. Rain shelters have been constructed on the area of more than 5 kms track to protect the pilgrims against harsh weather. Lighting has been done with sodium vapour lamps and to ensure potable water to devotees about 20 water coolers have been installed from Banganga to Bhawan. Also sanitary benefits have been provided along the track. As the number of pilgrims paying homage to the Goddess is increasing day by day, new track is been constructed in the year 1990s which was open to the general public in 1999. This track is much spacious as compared to the older one which was congested. This track no ponies are allowed is shorter and gentler as compared to the older track and has been widely appreciated by the pilgrims. This track starts from Adhkuwari and terminates just short to Bhawan complex. This track is 500 meters shorter to the older track. This track has lesser gradient and has uniformity in climbing and has sufficient number of shelter sheds to provide convenience to the devotees. Also one has option of zero emission battery vehicles plying on the track. Good numbers of shelter sheds, spic and span public utility services and edible rating joints are available in this new track. You will get all facilities as packed foods, dispensaries, chemist shop, street food, home decor items, prashad, refreshment, dry fruits etc. on the way to Mata Rani Bhawan.
!! Jai Mata Di !!