The journey here takes you through awesome wilderness amidst snow- capped mountains and sprawling forests, to the shrine, sacred and mystical.
Every day of the year scores of devotees ascend steep pathways that cut across the hillside. A common faith among people is that goddess Vaishno Devi sends a 'call' to her devotees; and once heralded, the pilgrim finds himself compelled to march towards the holy shrine of the great goddess. It is believed that a supernatural power seems to draw pilgrims across the mountains, so they climb those great heights, step by step, chanting "prem se bolo, Jai Mata di". Even those who are unused to walking the slightest distances, accomplish the difficult ascent of innumerable stairs. Popular belief holds that anybody who walks the Himalayan trail to Mata Vaishno Devi's abode to ask for a boon does not return disappointed.
There are many who journey here year after year to pay obeisance regardless of their faith, creed or class, caste or religion, because Mata Vaishno Devi transcends all such artificial barriers.
Legends of Kailash
Thereafter Devi took the form of goddess 'Chandi and beheaded Bhairon Nath, whose skull was flung up the mountain by the force of the blow and fell at a place now known as Bhairon Ghati. Beheaded Bhairon now prayed to Mata for mercy and was granted a boon of liberation. She said, "My devotees will visit your place after they have come to me for 'darshan'." The desires of devotees will be fulfilled, if they visit your place. A temple has been constructed at the spot where Bhairon's head fell. Accordingly, the pilgrims visit Bhairon temple after offering prayers at Mata's cave.
At the Bhavan there is provision for bathing, and for keeping your belongings in safe custody, as leather items are not permitted. Blankets are also available at a refundable deposit.
Prasad, "chunari" and coconuts can be bought from shops situated at the entrance of the Bhawan. In case of overcrowding, you might have to wait patiently in a queue according to your batch number. Before entering the cave, the coconut has to be deposited against a token. The whole valley reverberates with the chanting of "Jai Mata di".
According to legend, the boulder at the mouth of the holy cave is the petrified torso of Bhairon who was granted divine forgiveness by the benevolent Mata in his dying moments. Inside the cave, there are three natrual pindis of Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Kali which represent the creative, preservative and destructive aspects of the divine energy images of three deities - Mahakali, Maa Saraswati and Maa Lakshmi. The holy Ganga's cold and crystal clear water washes the lotus feet of the Mata's 'Pindian'. Previously the shrine had only one natural entry cave, but now two more exit caves have been constructed. Remember to collect your coconut here.
Do's and Don'ts
Missing persons can be located through the public address systems from the counters at Katra, Banganga, Adhkawari and Darbar.
The entire 13 km route is quite wide and tiled. Besides, the whole path is lit up every night by powerful sodium vapour lamps. Avoid overstraining on the climb. The track is preferable to the stairs.
Receipts for all payments made to the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board as well as private vendors are available and should be insisted on. Official rate lists for all services are available. Use only the donation boxes provided at various places by Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. In case of donations at the donation counters of the Board at Katra (Central Office/ Vishram Ghar), Adhkawari, Sanji Chatt and various points at the Bhawan obtain a formal receipt. Note that donations to the Shrine are exempt from Income Tax under the Income Tax Act. Luggage and belongings should not be deposited with unauthorised persons or left unguarded at the bathing ghats. To maintain the sanctity of the place, please refrain fromn gambling, playing cards, smoking or chewing betel (Paan) at the Bhawan or en route. Do not stick posters or disfigure signboards, or litter anwhere. Containers have been provided for throwing rubbish and other waste. Please show all possible consideration to fellow pilgrims. Avoid playing transistors/tape recorders, or creating hindrance in movement along passage ways.
How to Get There
Tourist Reception Centre at Jammu.
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Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.