Visiting Vaishno Devi Temple in Katra, Jammu, India

There is a popular saying – “Mata needs to call you to visit Vaishno Devi… you just can’t buy a ticket and show up at her temple!”… Well, I am so grateful she gave me the okay to visit.  We visited during the month of July and this is what we were able to accomplish.

Day 0:  Travel day to Delhi

We reached Delhi late in the evening and settled into our hotel in the Aerocity area.  We had to catch an early flight the next day, so, we pretty much got to the hotel, settled in, had dinner and then called it a night.  One of the best ways to get to the airport is to hire a taxi via UBER or OLA cabs… they are a lot cheaper than the airport transfer taxis the hotels offer.

Day 1:  Reaching Katra to begin your journey to Vaishno Devi Temple

There are many ways to reach Katra.  It has good road and rail connectivity.  In our case, we flew from Delhi to Jammu City (the nearest airport) and then took a taxi to reach Katra.  We took a morning flight, so we reached Jammu by about 11 am.  The road between Jammu and Katra is very good, so the drive is easy and you get a nice introduction to the Himalayas in Jammu.  Along the way there are several pit stops where you can grab food as well.  We decided to have lunch at one of these pit stops.  We reached Katra around 1pm. 

Staying in Katra

There are rooms/dormitory beds available in the Bhawan area (near the temple on the hill) which can be rented in advance.  However, given the number of people who visit the temple each day, getting accommodation is not easy and should be planned well in advance.  One thing is for sure –  it is well worth it and I would strongly recommend doing this if possible.

Most people book accommodation in Katra.  One of the most popular itineraries that people follow is to reach Katra in the afternoon, rest till evening at a local hotel and then start their walk up to the temple after sunset.  The idea is to avoid the heat as much as possible.

We were lucky, we were able to get accommodation in the Bhawan area… so, we decided to start our journey as soon as we reached Katra.  Our hope was to reach the top early in the night so that we could rest the night at the top of the hill before heading down the next morning.

Reaching Vaishno Devi Temple in Trikuta Hills

There are many options available to reach Vaishno Devi Temple.  One of the most popular ways is to walk up the 13 kms from Katra.  Another option is to hire a pony or palki to reach Bhawan. Electric Vehicles are also available but we did not see them too much.  Our guide told us that they are not as common yet.  Finally, there is an option available to ride a helicopter upto Sanjhichhat and then walk the rest of the way.    

Walking up to Vaishno Devi Temple – Tarakote Marg vs. the Old Ban Ganga Route

Before starting, please make sure you register yourself at the designated kiosk.  We were given tickets which we later showed at the main temple while standing in queue.

If you talk to any porter near the entrance of the walking path, they will tell you to take the old route to reach the temple.  The reason is simple – porters, palkis and ponies are allowed on this route.  We ended up taking this route.  It was nice in the sense that there were many small temples and shops along the way.  And, seeing all the pilgrims walking up does motivate you.  However, there were many steep sections along the way and climbing is not easy. To complicate matters, ponies and palkis travelling in both directions leave very little room for pedestrians.  If your goal is to have a peaceful hike / walk up the mountain, then this route is not for you. However, if you want to have the option of hiring a pony or palki somewhere along the line, then take this route.

The old path also has stairs along the way that can be used as shortcuts.  Please use these stairs only if you are physically fit.  We used a combination of stairs and pathway to walk up to the temple.  During one such shortcut, pilgrims strongly suggested us to switch tracks at ArdhKuwari and take the new track up to the main temple.  We are glad we followed their advice.  Other than the occasional electric vehicle, no one bothered us on the new track.  We were able to enjoy a spectacular sunset as we walked up the last few KMs to reach Bhawan.  Because we were of average fitness level, we reached the top after 6 hours. 

Side note:  Before we switched tracks at ArdhKuwari, we registered our names at the temple and were allocated a group number to be used the next day for darshan at ArdhKuwari temple.

Once we reached the Bhawan area, we joined the line for darshan.  A couple of hours later, we had an amazing, peaceful darshan.  The new tunnel leading to the heart of the temple is very well lit and because the line is moving constantly, we did not feel claustrophobic.  At night, the Bhawan area is fully lit up and looks absolutely spectacular.  Luckily, we were able to get our accommodation after waiting for a bit and we settled into our room pleased with everything we were able to accomplish.  The few hours rest really did wonders to our body.  The walk down the next day was very easy.

Day 2:  Visiting Bhairon Ghati and walking down to Katra

Since we reached Bhawan at night, the ropeway to Bhairon Ghati was closed for the day.  We really did not have the energy to walk up the 2.5kms to reach Bhairon Ghati.  So, we decided to wait until the next morning and take the ropeway up which opened at 7am. 

The next morning, at 6:30am we headed to the ropeway area and stood in line.  The counters opened around 7am and it was close to 8:15 am by the time it was our turn.  We were scared that the line would be long once we reached Bhairon Ghati.  However, we were pleasantly surprised   that the line moves quickly and we were able to complete the darshan within half-an-hour.

The ticket you purchase for the ropeway is a two-way ticket so, you can come back to the Bhawan area if you want to once your Bhairon Ghati darshan is completed.

The walk down

Instead of going back down via Bhawan, we decided to walk down directly from Bhairon Ghati.  As a result, we were able to enjoy the spectacular views at Sanjichhat.  We reached Ardhkuwari in good time.  Unfortunately, we still had about 6 hours wait time left before our group would be called inside the temple.  We made the decision not to wait and continued our walk down.  We reached Katra around 2:30pm and settled into our hotel in Katra and called it a day!

Day 3:  On to our next destination after a very satisfying visit to Vaishno Devi Temple

Thoughts on the Vaishno Devi Yatra

  • Helicopter or the path? – Depending on how much time and how much energy you have, you can pick your option.  However, please note that the number of helicopter flights is limited and their operation is completely weather dependent.
  • Walk or Pony / Palki upto Bhawan?  It all depends on your fitness level.  If you are confident you can climb up stairs and steep slopes, then definitely try the walking option.  Ponies and palkis are also quite popular if you feel you cannot walk up the hill.  However, please be aware that if you are not used to riding ponies, then it may prove to be hard on your knees.
  • Old path or new Tarakote Marg?    Many people we met on the old route on the way down told us that the Tarakote Marg was much better because you did not have to share the path with horses/ponies and palkis.  There were times during both our climb up and climb down where we had to wait on the edge of the path until a group of ponies cleared the path, which can be nerve wrecking at times.   The only disadvantage of the new path is that there are no short cuts and thus ends up being a bit longer.  We were so glad that we switched to the new path at Ardhkuwari on the way up.  IF I were to ever go back for another visit, I am pretty sure I will pick the new path the whole way.
  • Ardhkuwari Temple – On your way up, ask for the wait times when you get your group number.  If visiting this temple is very important, then check if you can wait and do it within a short time before continuing on your journey.  We were told that evenings are usually a little lighter… but, you need to check as it depends on the day of the week and time of the year.
  • Bhairon Ghati Temple – The ropeway to Bhairon Ghati is a boon indeed.  Even though we had to wait to use the ropeway, it was well worth it.  The temple visit was easy compared to the main Vaishno Devi and Ardhkuwari temples.
  • How much time should you allocate? – When we were planning the yatra, we allocated upto 9 hours for the climb up (although it took us only 6 in reality), 6 hours waiting time, 2 to 3 hours for Bhairon Ghati and 6 hours for the walk down.  There are people who walk up and complete the darshan and then start walking back down immediately.  This is a very difficult option as without any rest, the walk down can become quite tiring.
  • Perfect time to start the walk from Katra – Morning, afternoon, evening or night?  When is the best time to start your walk up to Bhawan?  Many people start their walk up in the morning after a good night’s rest at Katra.  The problem with this approach is that you might hit some open sections during peak day temperatures.  Some people prefer starting in the evening or night because the weather is much cooler.  The problem with this approach is that you have no idea of the surrounding hills and might miss the beautiful views (of course you can enjoy the views on the way back down).

In our case, we decided to start in the afternoon as soon as we reached Katra because we were lucky enough to get accommodation in Bhawan and felt we could reach the temple by night.   It worked out beautifully.  We were able to complete our walk up in about 6 hours given our average fitness level and enjoy a beautiful sunset along the way. 

  • Fitness preparation – For those of us who do not workout regularly and have the urge to walk up to Vaishno Devi temple from Katra, I would strongly recommend becoming comfortable walking up 3 to 4 flights of stairs without exertion.  This really helped me.  What I thought would have been even better was if I practiced walking up inclines for a couple of weeks before embarking on the journey.

Important note:  There are many stairs to climb and steep slopes to navigate throughout the journey to Bhawan and Bhairon Ghati.  Even if you travel by helicopter, pony or palki, there is still a fair bit of stair climbing to do … so please be mentally and physically fit for it.

Bottomline

It is absolutely true – when you receive the call of Mata, nothing can stop you.  With some planning, you can have a truly magical experience!

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