Mata Vaishno devi temple is located in Trikuta hills of Himalaya in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and is one of the most revered Hindu shrines in India. In this article, I am going to share my personal experience with you and hope it will help in planning your visit to this holy place.
It is said that you can't go for Vaishno Devi Yatra until and unless there's a calling from divine goddess herself.
Actually it was my wish to visit Maa Vaishno Devi Mandir with my husband as soon as I get married, since I have a huge devotion in Maa. So, I started planning for this trip right after my engagement in April 2013.
We travelled by Jammu Tawi Exp (train no. 13151) from Lucknow City on 18th Novenber 2013. Train left Lucknow at 10:40 am and reached Jammu Tawi at about 8:30 am the next day. Getting off the train in the early hours of a cold but fresh morning was a relief. Nowdays train service is available till the 'Katra' station as well, which reduces the journey cost and time. Plus for the travellers.
Outside the station, we could easily locate the taxi stand just a few meters away. The nearest town in the foot hills of Mata Vaishno devi temple is Katra, about 50 kms away from Jammu. We booked a round trip private taxi for jammu to katra and back the next evening. (http://www.indiamike.com/india/jammu-f149/taxi-rates-jammu-to-katra-vaishno-devi-t83171/ )
We started at around 9:15 am by our taxi, admiring the hills and the beauty of nature, thanking God for giving me an opportunity to visit the holy mountains. On the way to Katra, our taxi halted for a short tea-break. We had a hot cup of tea with pakoras. Around 11:30 am, we reached Katra where our room to stay was already booked at hotel Bhawani's Paradise (http://www.bhawanizparadise.com/). After taking some rest , we were all set for the "Pad Yatra - Walk to the Shrine". The first thing was to take the 'Yatri Parchi' from a center located close to Katra bus stand. Most of the hotels provide cab for pick and drop till this point for their guests.
BanGanga Checkpost: This is Yatra's starting point and we started around 3 pm. We had just a small backpack holding a set of fresh clothes, water-bottle, camera and medicines. Rest of our luggage, we locked up in our hotel room. Many guest houses provide cloak rooms to keep your belongings safe for some nominal charges. There are plenty of shops and kiosks available throughout the way to eat, shop and refresh yourself. It is an interesting journey and you won't feel tired, if you are walking with the true spirit of pilgrimage in your heart. One can find many pony-walas and other means to reach the shrine. We preferred to walk 14 km long way mounting up to the Bhawan.
ARDH-KUWARI : Around 8 pm, we reached Ardhkuwari temple, midway to the bhawan. Ardhkuwari is a very narrow "gufa" which is believed to be the hiding place of Mata from the bhairav. It is said that the Vaishno Mata darshan is incomplete without passing through the ardhkuwari tunnel. Here, you have to take a numbered token and wait for your turn through announcement . Many people wait enthusiastically for their turn, to go in the tunnel, singing bhajans in praise of Maa. It was a very pleasant experience. We had Rajma Chawal in the Mata Vaishno Devi Trust restaurant there which is the most liked dish there.
People should quickly get their numbered tokens as there is long waiting queue.
TIP: Try interacting with fellow travellers and they might give you their earlier numbered token, if they don't want to wait & are moving ahead to the main shrine.
BHAWAN : After the ardhkuwari darshan, we started our journey ahead. We took several tea and coffee halts on the way and finally reached the bhawan at around 12:30 am, Then we started searching for a room to spend the night, since we were to attend the early morning Aarti which we booked a month prior to our visit. https://www.maavaishnodevi.org/aarti.aspx
Since it was November, the peak season, so most of the hotels, dharamshalas were full. After wandering for about an hour, we finally managed to get a room in the Vaishnavi bhawan maintained by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. These rooms can be pre-booked online also. https://www.maavaishnodevi.org/booking-information.aspx
MORNING AARTI : We took our Aarti pass from the office in the Kalika Bhawan, by showing the online booking receipt. The morning aarti is performed just before the sun rises, for which you have to assemble outside the main temple half an hour prior to be seated in the darbar in a proper manner. You are not allowed to carry mobile phone, wallet or anything inside the temple. It takes almost two hours to complete the whole Aarti procedure. It is the time while Darshan is not allowed so it remains suspended.
Very Important: Do not forget to carry the debit/credit card used for booking the aarti. if you do not have it, your aarti booking will be cancelled with no refund.
After completion of the aarti, we went in queue for having darshan of Holy Cave and Vaishno Devi Maa who is believed to be in the form of the "Three Pindis". It was a very divine experience.
BHAIRAV Ghati. : After Darshan, I came to the room again, picked up our bag and started for Bhairav Ghati. This route is very tough and so we took a pony and reached there in 30 mins. One has to be very careful while carrying any eatable or prasad here, as there are a lot of monkeys roaming around.
BACK DOWN TO KATRA : After the bhairav darshan, we started on our way back from Bhairav Ghati to BanGanga. It is advisable not to take the stairs route as it is more tiring and strenuous than the normal sloppy one. We reached down at around 4 pm and were picked by our hotel cab.
People who are tired can take rest at various nearby ashrams and also can enjoy the 'Foot Massage' being done by locals at nominal rates (Bargaining is required).
if you visit this shrine once, only then you will get to know the true feeling of divinity and inner peace. There is something in the wind there that infuses loads of positivity inside you.
All the best to all who plan to visit this holy pilgrimage !!!