Beauty is Magical and Magic is Beautiful. The sheer beauty of a person, a thing or a place can make us forget our worries and sorrows in no time. Monotony is truly boring. Given an opportunity, all of us would like to break away from our routine and get a dose of refreshment. The first idea of breaking a routine and heading for a refreshment usually tends to take the shape of a short trip with family or/and friends. Those looking for a little peace from the usual hustle-bustle and stressful lifestyle prefer to head for a place that works wonders in this regard – The Holy Shrine, Vaishno Devi
The beauty of the place is magical! Nested in the mighty three peaked Trikuta Mountain which is 61 kilometers North of Jammu, the Holy cave of Mata Vaishno Devi is located at a height of 5,200 feet above sea level in Jammu and Kashmir. Since Jammu-Kashmir itself is famous for its beauty and tranquility, being a ‘Heaven on Earth’, one can imagine the kind of aura the biggest place of Hindu pilgrimage can create up there! It surely promises an experience which is nothing short of heaven!
A trip to Vaishno Devi depends on when you get a call from Mata. The ones who have received it and have gone there are the luckiest on this earth. I got a golden opportunity to be called last year with my parents. No one realized when the idea struck, how the trip got planned and how we reached there. It all happened so smoothly. But once we reached there, all this reasoning seemed useless.
Once the plans are made, the journey starts and ends with Mata’s blessings and devotees do not have to struggle for it. Once you reach Katra, the resting base and also the starting point of the Yatra, which is a small town situated about 50 kms from Jammu, the purity and serenity of the place surrounds you. An un-explainable devotion and peace fills you. The local markets are full of and buzzing with all sorts of souvenirs of Mata Vaishno and other decorative pieces are also available. Some of the best Kashmiri weaved clothes; Pashmina Shawls – famous for their warmth and best wool quality throughout the world – can be easily shopped for at reasonable prices.
Tired devotees can try the wonderful kadai milk that is served steaming hot at a shop in the market. It works wonders in relieving your exhaustion more than any other medicine. There are numerous food joints where purity is given top priority as the town is located in the shadow of the holy shrine. No non-veg, onion, garlic and egg is added to the food there. Now, there are people to give you a leg-massage with their ayurvedic and natural oil in case you feel week or are exhausted. Katra is a town that invites you to just lie in the arms of the divine power of Mata and kiss goodbye to your problems. A very well connected city in terms of networks and transport to the rest of the state and the country, Katra has every facility one would want. Hotels, rest houses and all sorts of resting places can be easily booked at very reasonable prices as you enter Katra.
Once the eating, resting and shopping is taken care of and the devotees have made themselves comfortable, then begins the real devotional journey for the darshan of the Holy Shrine. From Katra, a trek of about 12 kms leads us to the Bhawan. The sheer beauty of the majestic mountains throughout the journey to the Bhawan gives immense strength and assures you that Mata is looking from above and protecting all her children. The trek is carved out of surrounding mountains and is hence in the form of curved slope circling the mountain which has to be climbed through a well-made concrete road in order to reach the destination. Now, a lot of facilities have been made available for devotees. Those having physical problems can easily hire a horse or other means so that they do not have to travel on foot. The board responsible for all the arrangements and development of the place is Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. Perfect arrangements are made throughout the trek and in starting as well for all kinds of refreshments and resting places. Water is easily available. There are numerous temples along the way. There are lots of shops selling cassettes, photos, souvenirs and other variety of things.
When one reaches halfway through the trek, at Ardhkuwari, there are perfect arrangements for resting, eating and relaxing before resuming. Recently, battery cars have been introduced on the new track halfway to the Bhawan which take devotees to their destination at minimal cost and in no time! The facility of going by Helicopter for the Bhawan right from Katra is very old and is very successful. A shop of the Shrine Board is located as one reaches the Bhawan. Devotees can buy all the desired offerings like the red chunari, coconut, saris, dry fruits to be offered inside the Holy Shrine to Mata. At the Bhawan, there are top class hotels for staying and getting fresh before going for the final Darshans. One can book a room and can stay comfortably. There are various food joints and in a way, a mini-Katra is situated up there as well.
It is said that after Vaishno Devi Darshans, one must go to the temple of Bhairav Nath. As old legends say, journey is considered complete and wishes of the devotees are fulfilled only when they visit the Bhairav Temple before returning from the Yatra. This journey is very short but little tough. However, when the devotion is so strong how can anyone refrain from going!
The place is very well connected to the rest of the state and country. In recent times, much advancement has been made in the mobility for the place. Anyone can easily reach Jammu from any part of India either by road (as feasible), rail or air. Various National Highways like number 1A passes through Jammu. Regular bus services are also easily available. Apart from this, numerous trains ferry thousands of passengers to and from Jammu form where a bus can be taken for Katra. Now, in recent months, probably by December 2010, a train will also reach Katra directly. Going by air, one can easily fly in with Indian Airlines and Jet Airways.
People sing and dance throughout. The Yatra or journey is an experience in itself. The divine power and the peaceful being engulf you, only to leave you wanting more. It is not easy to pull yourself back from this trance and return to the same monotonous schedule of life, minus the stress though. The bond, the connection to the place is natural and cannot be put down in words.
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/chris_radcliff/3818115495]