In the times of coronavirus, I managed to steal some time away from the usual humdrum of the city life to escape to the mountains of Jammu to take darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi, whose Bhawan is ensconced in the Trikuta mountain range, surrounded by mountains on all sides as timeless as the mandir itself. I undertook the yatra before the self-quarantine regime had gripped the country.
The plan was sudden as the Mata must have surely BECKONED me (they say you only get darshan at Mata Vaishno Devi when you are ordained to, or the Mata calls you) to go pay homage at her shrine. I got a direct flight from Mumbai to Jammu (Go Air) which was a very comfortable journey that allowed me to take pictures of the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas. They are a complete delight to view from the aircraft while airborne.
On reaching Jammu, I took my pre-booked taxi to my hotel in Katra – the Ganpati Hotel. It is the right blend of style, comfort and homeliness. Although I had booked a shrine facing room and was expecting to see the shrine from my room, the view from my room when I arrived there took my breath away for a moment. It turned out to be much better than what I had expected – the French windows of my room were facing the mountain range with the view of the helipad at Sanjichat and Ardhkuari Temple – which comes on the way to Mata’s Bhawan.
Some moments in life are unmissable and you wouldn’t change them even if you had a chance to go back in time. My Mata Vaishno Devi yatra was such a moment in my life – it was a complete surrender of all thoughts to live for the moment in the beautiful and serene surroundings.
Mata Rani’s (as the goddess is fondly called) Bhawan (or shrine) stands in the lap of nature and inspires sheer awe. It is constructed in the midst of the mountain range, surrounded on all sides by dense forests, green trees, and picturesque landscapes – it is truly a moment frozen in time that makes up for beautiful memories to bring back home.
On arriving, I rested for a bit and prepared for the night as I was planning to climb up the mountain at night to get the darshan of the shrine and pindis early morning. The hotel staff was very accommodating and helpful in all ways in making me comfortable and providing all the information I needed for the yatra.
At around midnight, I took a bath and got ready to leave to start the climb up. Since it was my first time, I decided to go up on horseback, and so I took one near the bottom of the mountain at the Shrine Board registration counter from where one starts the climb (of 13 km – the total distance to the top).
We kept climbing up all through the night, my mare ambling up at the right pace, neither rushing nor too slow. Halfway up, we stopped at the Ardhkuari Temple for darshan and then carried on our journey to the pindis. We reached the top at around 4 am in the morning. I kept all my belongings in a locker and went inside the temple for darshan.
As we approached the pindis inside the Bhawan, the whole atmosphere was immersed in a quaint devotion that can only be felt but never truly described – it’s the thread that connects you with the God you pray to. Not only did the Bhawan seem to be floating amidst clouds and mountain ranges, but my feelings were afloat as well with a strange sense of satiation of having reached my destination after an arduous journey all night.
I took darshan of the pindis and the various temples and deities housed inside the Bhawan, came out and once again started my climb towards the Bhairon Mandir. As we made our way up and looked down at the Bhawan, the whole aura and atmosphere were one of bewilderment as the Bhawan lit up resplendently in the wee hours of the morning.
At the beautiful Bhairon temple, one can get a chance to click selfies and capture the beauty of the valley and the shrine from the top, from where it looks not just awe-inspiring but also nothing short of a wonder!
I had booked myself for a helicopter ride back and after taking darshan at the Bhairon mandir, headed to Sanjichat to take the copter back to Katra. The horse ride to Sanjichat was interspersed with musical aartis coming from the Bhawan through the various loudspeakers that the Shrine Board has installed along the way, making the atmosphere more delightfully serene.
The ride in the helicopter (my first one incidentally) gave a 360-degree view of the verdant valley and the cities of Jammu and Katra from the sky, well worth every penny spent on the ride. Not to mention the fact that it got me back to Katra in five minutes flat!
I had started my ascent at 1 am at night and was back at the hotel the next morning by 9.30 am, totally immersed in the atmosphere of bhakti and devotion which bring devotees from near and far to Devi Mata’s darbar (palace).
Truly blessed to have received the opportunity of this sacred ritual, I am waiting to visit other Goddess Durga shrines in the country.
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