There are many places of pilgrimage in Northern part of India. The most important of all is the temple of Vaishno Devi. Many people of all castes from all over India visit this holy place and consider them very fortunate that they could visit this holy place during their life time. This temple is located at a place called Katra, around 36 miles away from Jammu, winter capital of state of Kashmir. Jammu can be easily reached by train from all over the country. It has also an airport. You can reach directly here by air from Delhi. Jammu airport is around 5 miles away from the city. You can also reach Jammu by road, as it is situated on national highway number 14. There is a full fledged enquiry counter for all the tourists at Jammu railway station and also at the air port. You can make reservations here for your onward journey to Katra by bus. The buses for katra start from Jammu bus station. There are all types of hotels available for stay at Jammu ranging from Rs. 50 ($1.3) to around Rs. 3000 ($70 app) per day.
Katra is the base village for starting your climb to the famous temple of Vaishno Devi. There is an uphill walk of around 7 miles from Katra to the main temple. This temple is located at 5300 feet height on the mountain Trikut. The walkway is recently made new and hence, it is quite comfortable to climb to the temple. The credit of this good walkway and all the facilities on the way goes to Gulshan Kumar of Hindi cinema world. He has arranged lots of facilities here. The ponies and the dolies are also available for the people who cannot walk this distance of 7 miles from Katra. The temple of Adi Kumari comes at the half way. It has been said in Hindu Shastras that the Vaishno Devi was originally produced here. All the pilgrims perform puja of Kumari Mata at this place with lot of faith. All the pilgrims reach to the cave of Devi Mata at 5300 feet height. All the people have to crawl on their bellies as the entrance to this cave is very small and narrow.
The water spring named as “Banganga” flows through this cave at the holy legs of Mataji. As soon as you pass through this cave, you will enter the temple of Vaishno Devi. There are statues of 3 goddesses namely, Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, and Mahasarswati. People have to perform darshnas by standing in the holy spring water up to the knee. The people have a strong belief that by coming over here and doing Darshna of Mataji, their all wishes will get fulfilled. There is a big mela every year here at this temple during the Navratri days, just prior to Diwali days. The pilgrims in thousands and millions come to this temple during those days. The morning and evening artis of this temple are really worth attending in spite of heavy rush at these times. As such pilgrims keep on coming continuously to this temple all through out the year and it may take around 3 to 4 hours for the darshana in the temple. The best season to visit this place is in October/November and March. The months of April/May are quite warm. The walk way to the temple is kept open all through the day and night. The lightings are arranged on the walk way and it becomes very convenient to walk during the night, particularly during the summer. The weather becomes quite cool in the winter months and at times a snow fall also takes place during December and January.
It takes around 5 hours to climb from Katra to the temple and around 2 hours for coming down normally. However, this time varies a lot depending upon the rush of people. In extreme case of rush, it may take around 10 hours to climb up and 6 hours to come down. There are many free meals and drinks served on the way by various organizations. It is really not necessary to buy any food items on the way. It is advisable to drink mineral water and take some healthy food items like fruits and biscuits on the way. The journey is as such safe but it is advisable to remain in a group while walking up to the temple. It is suggested to take good care of all your precious belongings as you have to travel some distance on your belly in the cave. The walkway presents the most beautiful scenic view of the complete range of Trikut Mountains. If you wish to stay at Katra, there are many hotels available. It is suggested to come first here at Katra, complete your yatra of Vaishno Devi and then, you can proceed to Shrinagar for your visit to Kashmir as Katra comes in the way from Jammu to Shrinagar by road. You will only need to stay around a day here at Katra for visiting this famous temple.
Most of the Indians and particularly North Indians have a big faith in this temple and they keep on visiting this sacred and holy place as and when any big event is to be celebrated in their families. Make sure to visit this lovely place when you are in India next time.