The Vaishno Devi temple is dedicated to Mata Rani/ Goddess Vaishnavi/ Trikuta, who is the manifestation of the Hindu mother goddess, Durga. The holy cave temple of Mata Vaishno Devi is located in Katra (Jammu and Kashmir) at the Trikuta Mountains, at a height of 1,560 m above sea level with shimmering clouds as its crowning glory.
Every year, thousands of Hindu devotees flock to the temple, which has a cave with the idols of Vaishnavi Devi. The Temple, or Bhawan is 13.5 km from Katra. The Bhairon temple, dedicated to Lord Bhairava, who is considered to be a form of Lord Shiva, is further 1.5 km away from the Vaishnavi Devi shrine.
The Legend Behind the Holy Cave Temple
As per mythology, a devout priest named Pandit Sridhar of a village named Hansali had organised a Bhandara – food prepared on a large scale – as a religious offering to god. Goddess Vaishnavi was pleased with Pandit Sridhar’s devotion and appeared before him as a young girl with blessings, only to disappear again.
The priest was saddened by her disappearance and vowed to fast until death, hoping for the Goddess to reappear.
Goddess Vaishnavi then came in his dreams and gave him instructions on the way to her abode in the cave at the Trikuta Hills. Pandit Sridhar found the Holy Cave with great difficulty where Goddess Vaishnavi appeared in her true form and blessed him with four sons. She also gave him the boon of being the official custodian of the Holy Cave. To this day, the Holy Caves are in custody of the successive generations of Pandit Sridhar.
How to Reach Vaishno Devi –
- The nearest railway station to the pilgrimage is Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra railway station, which is 20 km away.
- The nearest airport is the Jammu Tawi airport, which is 46.7 km away via NH 144.
- Bus, independent taxi as well as shared taxi services are available from Jammu Tawi, New Delhi, and Amritsar, etc., to Katra.
- Within the vicinity of the temple it is best to commute in taxis.
Once you reach the Katra station, it would be best to check into a hotel to rest for the day. People generally begin the trek in the evening and depending on the speed and stamina, it can take anywhere between four-to-six hours to reach the shrine. Once the darshan is over, the trek downhill is easier but that too, will nearly take about three hours.
While private accommodations in the form of hotels are available in Jammu as well as Katra, the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board provides clean, well-maintained and very economical accommodation. The accommodations are available at:
- Jammu (at Vaishnavi Dham and Saraswati Dham, near the railway station);
- Katra (at Niharika Yatri Niwas and Shakti Bhawan situated at the bus stand);
- Dormitory accommodation: At Trikuta Bhawan, Katra is available near the second Yatra counter (YRC II);
- Accommodation is available at Adhkuwari, Sanjichhat and at main Bhawan also;
- The accommodations are both air-conditioned and non- air-conditioned and available in the form of rooms, huts, suites and beds (dormitory accommodation);
- In all the accommodation units provided by the Shrine Board, there is an additional facility of a hygienic, no-profit, no-loss Bhojanalaya besides a souvenir shop and a free cloak room;
- Accommodation for all Shrine Board guest houses/ dormitories can be booked (subject to availability) at the reception of these guest houses, or at the Enquiry and Reservation counter at Niharika Complex. Online booking is also possible through this website: https://www.maavaishnodevi.org/planyatra-room-reservation.aspx
Registration and Yatra Planning
On reaching Katra, pilgrims have to register for the yatra. Its registration is carried out at the Yatri Registration counter (YRC) near the bus stand of Katra. Now bookings online are also available for you to plan your yatra. Pilgrims can now obtain all bookings including yatra registration slip, room bookings and poojan bookings online through Online Yatra Registraton.
Thousands of devotees visit the shrine every year. The traditional and still most popular method of reaching the shrine at a height of 1,560 m is a religious 13-km uphill trek. The entire route is decently paved with shops selling food and beverages at regular intervals. The best part of the trek is strangers encourage each other to keep going with cries of “Jai Mata Di”! Pilgrims shout slogans and sing songs in praise of Vaishno Devi the entire way.
However, the trekking may be difficult for those who have medical conditions; even for children and elderly people. For such devotees there are various modes of transportation available to reach the Bhawan, including ponies, palanquins carried by two-to-four persons, and electric vehicles. Now helicopter services have also been introduced, which are available up to Sanjichhat – 9.5 km from Katra.
There are two tracks leading up to the Bhawan. The old track, which is steep and unpaved, is the original track. The new track is an alternate route to the Bhawan with a gentler gradient, wider and shorter with paved pathway.
The trek up the Trikuta Hills from Katra to Bhawan will take you through the following Holy spots:
- Darshani Darwaaza: Where Mata Vaishno Devi met Pandit Shridhar in the form of a girl child;
- Ban Ganga: This is a small rivulet at a height of 2,700 ft and the first major station for those on a trek;
- Charan Paduka: This is again an ancient temple in veneration of Vaishno Devi;
- Adhkuwari: Meaning, the Eternal Virgin. This is where Goddess Vaishno was supposed to have worshipped Lord Shiva. This is the midpoint of the yatra;
- Himkoti: One of the most beautiful spots of the trek, the breathtaking view of the entire valley is visible from here;
- Sanjichhat: The final destination of the Holy Bhawan housing the Sanctum Sanctorum. The Holy Cave is about 2 km from here;
- Bhairon Ghati: The temple devoted to Lord Bhairava, is the next halt for pilgrims visiting the shrine of Vaishno Devi.
Helicopter to Sanjichhat
You have the option of booking a helicopter up to Sanjichhat at the “Current Heli-Ticket Counter” or online through Online Yatra Registration. The requirements for booking a helicopter are as follows:
- Yatra Registration Slip is mandatory.
- ID proofs of all the members of family planning to avail the ride.
- Proof of travel documents (by Air/ Train/ Bus/ Taxi).
- Rate of ticket (one side) Rs 1,170/- per person.
Best Time to Visit
While the Vaishno Devi is open throughout the year, the best time to visit the holy shrine is between the months of March and October. Navaratras see the maximum crowd in the temple.
- A block hospital with a 24-hour charitable dispensary running under the aegis of the Shrine Board is available at Katra.
- Emergency medical care facilities are available at Banganga, Adhkuwari, Sanjichhat and Bhawan.
- Oxygen cylinders and emergency drugs are available.
- The Bhawan also provides a dispensary and a 24-hour ICU.