Visiting the Vaishno Devi Shrine in Katra, Jammu is on the wish list of many people who love to explore the spiritual side of India. Katra, the starting point for the Vaishno Devi yatra is about 2 hours from Jammu City – the nearest airport. But, what should you do after you complete the Vaishno Devi Yatra? Depending on the available time, a lot of people either head towards Kashmir or south towards Punjab. My recommendation – if you have a day to spare, then use it to explore the Reasi District of Jammu.
Day 0: Katra – A place to chill before and after the Vaishno Devi yatra
Katra is a nice town. There are many decent hotels where you can rest before and after your Vaishno Devi trek. There are many temples within the city worth exploring if you have the time. One such temple is the “Shani Mandir”. After our Vaishno Devi trek, we visited several of these smaller temples before calling it a night.
Day 1: Exploring the Reasi District of Jammu
We decided to add a day to our itinerary so that we could travel further north and explore more of Jammu state. We started around 6:45am from our hotel and headed towards Shiv Khori. Along the way, our first stop was the Nau Devi Temple. Unfortunately, we were too early and the temple would not open for another hour. So, we decided to skip it and continue on. However, our driver told us that it is a very popular temple.
We traveled in July and the rains had already started. So, even though Baba Dhansar was on the way, walking to check it out was not feasible due to the on-ground conditions. So, once again, we had to skip this destination as well. But, do check out the beautiful pictures other travellers have posted on the internet… the place looks amazing.
Disappointed with how the day was unfolding, we drove on to our next destination – Bhimgarh Fort. As we drove through the hills, nature’s beauty unfolded in front us – lovely mist where the hills played peak-a-boo with us throughout… it was magical. Soon, we were able to see the fort at a distance. We had arrived quite early in the morning, so there weren’t any visitors yet. We freely walked around and explored the fort. Good, our luck was changing 🙂
Next, we crossed over the Chenab River. Since it had been raining for a couple of days, the water level in the river was significant and flowing fast. It was a spectacular sight. We decided to take a small detour and visit the Baba Siyad Waterfall. The waterfall descends from about 100 feet above, so the view is amazing. There is a small temple located on the base of the waterfall. The temple was closed when we went but was due to open soon. There was also some confusion about whether or not women were allowed to go near the temple. Respecting the local traditions, we decided to leave.
Shiv Khori Trek
Our main destination for the day was the Shiv Khori Temple. The drive from Baba Siyad Waterfall to Shiv Khori was absolutely stunning. Beautiful hills and valleys with villages scattered in-between. We could see rice fields everywhere. Our driver told us that most villagers grow their own crops.
Once we got to the Shiv Khori Trek starting area, one of the first things we did was grab breakfast – may be we were quite hungry by then, but, it was one of the best “alu paratha” breakfasts we had ever eaten – made from scratch right in front of our eyes! And, later, we were glad we had breakfast before we started the trek… we really needed the energy as well.
You need to get a ticket at the entrance before you start the trek. Once inside the gates, you can hire a pony or palki if you want. When we looked at the path, it looked very well laid – and flat. When we researched, we read that the distance to walk was about 5 kms…. not bad we thought.
The first 1.5 kms was relatively flat and easy. One of the points along the way is a hill that looks like the shape of Lord Ganesh from the side. Next, we saw a Ram Temple after crossing a small stream. Then the incline walking started. The next 3 kms consisted of walking up an incline with some fairly steep sections. At the very top, we had to climb about 30 steps before reaching the base of the cave temple. For most people, this may not be a big deal – however, after completing the Vaishno Devi Temple Trek just a day before, every step felt hard but doable! : ).
When we reached the base of the temple, we had to checkin our phones before proceeding further. There were 3 lines – labelled 1, 2 and 3. We asked the guard which line we should take. He looked at us, smiled, and asked us to go in line 1. After climbing about 3 more flights of stairs, we reached the entrance of the cave which was wide open. We went inside. Next there was a small entrance that we had to crawl through. The next 5 to10 minutes (or what felt like it) were probably the toughest minutes I have ever faced in my life. We had to navigate through tight spaces between two rock walls which eventually opened to a wide cave where the main deity is located. For someone who is claustrophobic, I was not the best companion that day. After having a nice darshan, we walked towards the wide cave exit… outside which the number 3 was written. The guard sitting there told us that it was the alternate entrance that people could take IF they did not want to crawl through the cave. So, please remember, #3 entrance on the right leads you directly into the large cave area!!
After spending some time in the temple premises, we started our walk down. Other than bumping to ponies and palkis, the walk down was uneventful. Once we reached the parking lot, we got back into our car and headed towards Jammu City before calling it a day. As we did not go to Jammu City via Katra, we did not get another chance to check out Baba Dhansar or Nau Devi Temple. However, the alternate route to Jammu City was absolutely stunning!
Shiv Khori is a very nice temple to visit during the Vaishno Devi yatra. May be because this temple is about 3 hours north of Katra, in a fairly remote area, there were a lot fewer people (maybe 10 to 15%) visiting compared to Vaishno Devi. However, the beauty of adding this temple visit to your itinerary is three fold: 1) you can see many interesting sites in Jammu State along the way in addition to visiting a famous temple, 2) you can see the beautiful Chenab River and the stunning Himalayan landscape of Jammu State, and 3) there is another route available to reach Jammu City – you don’t have to come back via Katra which saves you time and gives you an opportunity to explore more of the Himalayas.
So, if you can add a day to your trip – definitely go for it!