The saying goes until you are invited you cannot visit her shrine. An incarnation of Shakti Shri Mata Vaishno Devi sits in her shrine at the top of the Trikuta hills near Katra in Jammu and Kashmir, at an altitude of 5200 feet and 14 kms from Katra. Some 8 million piligrims visit annually making Mata Rani the second most visited temple after Lord Venkateshwara.
Legend says Lord Rama found her deep in meditation and gave her the name Vaishnavi. The mother in turn fasted for 9 days on navratras and the practice of reading the Ramayanas during the navratras started from here. The more popular legend is that of the divine mother guiding her humble disciple Sreedhar to organise a grand feast and Bhairav Nath a tantric following her through Banganga and Garbh Joon, to her hilltop abode. The mother took on her Mahakali form to slay Bhairav Nath but granted him a boon that her pilgrimage will henceforth be considered complete only upon a visit to the shrine of Bhairav Nath, some 2.5 km from the holy cave temple.
My Yatra began at Katra and pilgrims have to cover 13 km. of terrain on foot to reach the Darbar. One kilometer away from Katra, you would find Banganga, place where Mata quenched her thirst and at 6 km., the holy cave at Adhkawari. Yatris are advised to obtain a yatra slip only from the Yatra Registration Counter at the Tourism Reception Centre, Katra Bus Stand and nowhere els.e. Without an authentic yatra slip, crossing of Banganga checkpost will not be allowed. The Yatra Slip is absolutely free but is necessary to commence the Yatra. You can obtain caps, canvas shoes, sticks etc. on hire for the Yatra. Those who have problems in climbing on the mountains, can hire the services of a pony or dandi (palenquin). Pithus can also be hired for carrying the children on shoulders. It is advised that you should avail of the services of only registered people be it the pithu, pony or the dandiwalla and keep his token for the period he is engaged.
The entire 13 km route is quite wide and tiled. Besides, the whole path is lit up every night by powerful sodium vapour lamps. The entire route is swept and cleaned from time to time throughout the day. Yatris are requested to keep the path clean. Shelter cum sheds and shelter cum cafeterias are setup throughout the route. Pure vegetarian food is available at these outlets. Price charts are exhibited at all these outlets prominently. Drinking water has been made available all along the route, with water coolers and storage facilities. Public utilities with automatic flushing systems along the track and at the Bhawan.
After 6 km. of trekking, you would reach Adhkawari, the holy cave where Mata meditated for nine months. Do visit the cave. After 9.5 km., you would reach Sanji Chhat where you can rest for sometime. Accommodation is also available at this place. Bhawan is just 3.5 km. away. On reaching Bhawan, show your Yatra Slip at the Registration Office and obtain the Batch no. provided on the slip. This number is important as it will determine your place in the queue for darshan. On reaching Bhawan, have a bath and change your clothes. Be sure to get your luggage and leather items booked in the cloak rooms and obtain the receipt. Book the valuables separately and obtain the receipt.
The journey was arduous but the temple trust has done a lot to make the way accessible. The path is paved, food and water are available all along the way, battery operated autos and mules and dolis make the journey easier for the very young and very old. Chants of Jai Mata Di reverberate along the hills day and night except for the peak winters. The cool weather of the hills is an added incentive for visitors. The journey can take some time on foot but the scenery and anticipation makes it worthwhile. It take about 6 hours on foot and another 4 to climb down and can be easily accommodated in a weekend.
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