The first thing that catches our mind while thinking about the place Jammu is none other than the Holy Shrine Vaishnav Devi. No doubt, this is the first and the predominant source of attraction about the region but other things like its ethnic wear, the sweet dialect, its cuisine, the gala etc. are equally alluring, which makes this place more winsome. So are you ready to proceed for the pilgrimage to the Goddess Vaishnavi. Let’s commence this soulful journey with a loud idolized chanting of Jai Mata Di-
Well, if you are approaching Jammu for the first time either by air or by train then hire an auto available right outside the gate of your landing station and ask the driver to drop you at Bus Stand. However, the direct train facility to Katra is also there. You would see the buses and small passenger vehicles readily available for Katra at Bus Stand Jammu and accordingly get into the vehicle of your choice and proceed further. It will take you almost one and a half hour to reach Katra main market from where your pilgrimage actually begins. If you are carrying extra luggage, you can deposit the same into cloak rooms available at Katra by the Shrine Board. Once you land on the main market Katra, you will get a gaze of the attractive market surrounded by the Trikuta Hills. Your ears will be purified with the glorified chanting of Goddess – Jai Mata Di….Jai Mata Di along with the Bhajans played by local shopkeepers everywhere. Before you start, you need to register yourself at the registration counter of the shrine board near bus stand Katra. So initiate your pilgrimage by extolling the dignity of Goddess in a loud and revered chant of Jai Mata Di.
The total distance from Katra to Bhawan, situated at the Trikuta Hills, is 13.5 kms which can be covered through different modes of transportation like Ponies, Electric Vehicles, Paalkhis (carried by four persons), Helicopter (available upto Sanjichat). Despite of these transport facilities, devotees prefer to go on foot, whooping in delight “Jai Mata Di” repeatedly throughout their entire path till they reach Bhawan. The entire path is decorated and illuminated by the inexhaustible shopkeepers, selling Prasad and all the related and imperative items that will for sure fascinate and entice your eyes. However, the Restaurants (Dhabas) are also available throughout the way despite having a free Food Shop (Langar) of Gulshan Kumar near Ban Ganga.
Although, some devotees take a dip in Ban Ganga River, which is at a distance of 1 km from Katra, as it is believed to be the legendry and miraculous water of Goddess but others don’t halt there and proceed upwards to reach to the next destination, where Goddess’s foot prints are imprinted on a rock slab called Charan Paduka, which is about 1.5 kms away from Ban Ganga.
Devotees pay obeisance there and move further by chanting with joy the Jai Mata Di continuously. To facilitate the devotees, the shrine board is having its own medical unit there at Charan Paduka. However, in this long hilly terrain, you can opt either stairway or concrete curved pathway, alternatively as per your convenience. To your surprise, you will notice some devotees are carrying their pilgrimage by facing their body to the road due to which their body gets injured but it’s their profound faith on the Goddess Vaishnavi that they could accomplish such harsh and painful pilgrimage successfully upto the Bhawan. Looking at their will power and faith, you will get more energy to continue your own journey with zeal and enthu. The coming destination is Adhkunwari which is almost 3.5 kms far from Charan Padhuka.
Before you actually land on Adhkunwari, you get to hear the continuous announcements from the Shrine Board’s Booth for all the relevant information in favour of the devotees. It is believed that Goddess Vaishnavi, in the form of a little girl, meditated inside the womb shaped cave (Garbh Joon) at Adhkunwari for nine long months to get spiritual discipline. It is said that Bhairon Nath approached to the cave in search of her because she got disappeared from the Bhandara organized by Pandit Shridhar at his residence at Katra. In her deep meditation, she got the awareness of his arrival hence; she throws her trident to the other side of the cave from where she exits and proceeded upwards to the Bhawan. However, the entrance of the cave is comfortably broad but gradually you got to crawl to pass through this long cave, as it is so narrow inside that only one person at a time can pass through it. As the Goddess Vaishnavi has attained her spiritual discipline (Tapasya) in the cave, hence it is said that one who passes through it would get freedom from all the sins and his soul would become pious again.
Though there is no religious or traditional significance; therefore Himkoti, situated at a distance of 2.75 km from Adhkunvari, is the encampment for devotees. To enjoy the beauty of the place and to facilitate the devotees, the Shrine Board has developed a meditation centre, an artificial pond, an appealing garden and a toilet block there at Himkoti. However, there are many such toilet blocks available throughout the path.
The next station is Sanjichhat, at a distance of almost 0.5 km from Himkoti. This is the highest yet the last uphill climb point on the track. This place is also significant because of having the helipad station there. Devotees, who want to take a nap and rest, can accommodate themselves into the rooms and dormitories available there by the Shrine Board. Apart from this, a Hospital and a Souvenir shop along with other shops are also featured there. From this point onwards, devotees need to walk downhill to reach the Bhawan, which is at a distance of 3.5 km from Sanjichhat.
Finally, landing on the pious Shrine, the Bhawan, you will find serenity, charisma, unanimity, benevolence, harmony, magnanimity all around. The ringing of bells, chanting, auroma and the aura of the Bhawan makes you forget everything but to feel a sense of belongingness with the Holy abode of Goddess Vaishnavi. You need to get a shower, once you reach Bhawan with the natural yet chilled sources of water in the bathing area available separately for men and women. After you are done with bathing, you just have to get in a prolonged queue, holding the Prasad and a coconut in your hands, separately meant for males and females, to wait for your turn to have a view (darshan) of Goddess situated right inside the Trikuta Cave, well developed by the Shrine Board with marble flooring and illuminated with lights. The sight (darshan) of Goddess Vaishnavi is in the form of Holy Pindies on a natural rock, immersed in water with three heads; which revelators itself as Mata Maha Lakshmi (in the centre), Mata Maha Kali (right side of the viewer) and Mata Maha Saraswati (extreme left of the devotee). Due to a prolonged queue, you got to have a soulful view of Mata Vaishnavi, just for a moment, where the Pandit Ji would notify about the darshan of Goddess.
You will find a Shiv Temple beneath the road after you come out of the Trikuta Cave. This Shiv Temple is also in a natural cave with natural source of water falling over the Shivling.
Having the sacred view (darshan) of both Goddess Vaishnavi and Lord Shiv, you are supposed to move upwards to the Bhairon Ghati, which is situated at the top of the Mountain with a distance of 1.5 kms from Bhawan.
As per the mythology, it is believed that the pilgrimage to Vaisnav Devi is incomplete without visiting the Bhairon Temple. The devotees prefer to hire Ponies from the Bhawan to reach the Bhairon Temple. Yet the road is hilly so you would get entangled with monkeys on the pathway. Once the devotees accomplish all the rituals of worship there at Bhairon Temple, it seems grueling and challenging for them to get back to Katra but because of the Goddess’s divine blessings, the devotees walk down the entire track back to Katra with the same energy and zeal chanting Jai Mata Di.
Many devotees find it difficult to continue their travel back to their home once they arrive Katra main market; after the knackered and puffed pilgrimage, so they prefer to take rest at any of the Luxurious Hotels or in the accommodations provided by the Shrine Board there at Katra.
Hope, you got the glimpse of Goddess Vaishnavi, while going through my write up. Please feel free to share your experiences in comment box below.