My trip to Vaishno Devi
18th April 2008 Katra - Banganga - Charan Paduka - Adkuwari - Himkoti - Bhawan (Vaishno Devi) - Himkoti - Adkuwari - Charan Paduka - Banganga - Katra
By 5 in the morning we were up and after a quick shower and packing, we were ready to start the trek to Vaishno Devi.
First job of the day was to deposit extra luggage at the cloak room located in the main square (next to the bus stand) and register for the yatra. (One needs to get registered at the Yatra Registration Counter, located in Main Square next to the bus stand. Registration is free of charge and is valid for 6 hours, during which you have to cross Banganga.)
After we registered for the yatra, we took an auto rickshaw from the bus stand to Banganga for Rs. 25.
As soon as we reached Banganga (7:30am), we started our trek to Vaishno Devi. An hour into the trek, we were feeling hungry (we hadn’t eaten anything) and decided to stop at one of numerous eateries along the road and ordered aloo ka paranthas (stuffed potato bread). But there was a surprise in store for us; paranthas here are made in the same manner as puris and are really oily and taste bad. Not recommended at all, unless you are planning to pay a visit to a cardiologist soon.
After the rather forgettable breakfast, we started again with a newfound energy and managed to reach Charan Paduka in a jiffy. After crossing Charan Paduka, I took my camera out and clicked a few photographs of the town of Katra, now visible in the valley below.
Just before Adkuwari we stopped at a restaurant run by shrine board, which are famous for cheap and delicious food and their special Rajma and Chawal. After having a delicious meal, we decided to skip the traditional route and took the new route which bypasses Adkuwari and Sanjichhat and goes through Himkoti. This also happens to be the route where the new electric vehicles are run for elderly and medically unfit people, though at times one can see perfectly fit people flagging these electric autos and bribing drivers to get a ride!
There is also a helicopter service now which is run every few minutes and ferries people from Katra to Sanjichhat for Rs. 1250 per person.
The good thing about this route is the fact that khacchars (donkeys) and horses are not allowed on it and it is not as steep as the old route. In fact one rarely climbs above the altitude of Bhawan.
Devi Dwar at the new route to vaishno devi bhawan
This enabled us to reach Bhawan by 2:30pm, where I got stuck in the security check queue for a little over half an hour. Once past security, we got the bhaint (offerings for the goddess) from the government outlet and got our darshan group number.
Entrance to Bhawan
However by the time we were finished with a quick bath and depositing rest of the luggage at the cloak room, our number had already passed! Thankfully there wasn’t a rush and security personal allowed us to get into the line.
While standing in the line, I realized I had got blisters on one of my feet and standing barefoot was proving to be quite painful. Thankfully the line wasn’t too long and in less than half an hour we were able to get the darshan of the Holy Pindies.
Holy Pindies (Photo curtsey: Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board)
After the darshan, we bought prasad from government run shop and went to the Bhojnalaya (restaurant) for lunch. After launch we got our luggage out of the cloak room and started looking for accommodation to rest for a few hours, before starting our trek back to Katra. However every thing, including the dormitories etc. were filled to the capacity.
We had initially planned to rest at Bhawan for at least 3-4 hours, however now the only place we could sit was either at restaurant’s uncomfortable chairs or by the road side. After a lot of pondering, we decided to start our journey back to Katra and finally started our journey at 6:15pm.
Bhawan in the evening
Due to the blisters I was having a hard time walking and had to take frequent breaks. When we finally reached Adkuwari at around 9:30pm, we were dead tired and there was a lot of rush. In fact it took me over half an hour to get food at the restaurant.
By the time we had our dinner and got out, it seem that the rush had actually increased. Add to this, from now on we not only had to jostle for space with the rest of the people trekking to the shrine but also with the horses being used by perfectly fit people!
As the time passed, our destination for the night (Katra) seemed further and further away. In fact it wasn’t until we reached the scooter stand at Banganga at 1:15am that I could believe that we finally made it back. From there we took an auto to the Galaxy guest house and got a room and soon fell asleep.