Zorr se bolo…(JAI MATA DI)
Serendipities in life always have some purpose or significance that we often fail to understand. Its often hard to believe but some occurrences make you believe in the supreme power controlling us. One Such incident occurred while there was an ongoing discussion at our workplace regarding Rajma Chawal when one of our colleagues mentioned about how Vaishno Devi offers tasty Rajma Chawal en route. And thus, we did embark upon a new journey to the holy shrine to seek blessings of the Deities. It sometimes does seem like most of our religious beliefs are some sort of preconceived notions. But time proves it otherwise. Initially the plan was a weekend getaway of 11 of the team in the chilly month of December. But eventually, it turned out to be an unplanned visit of 5 of us (Shortlisted by the Goddess herself!!!). Various tumultuous scenarios forced the rest to cancel the trip. Inspite of that, in a split- second decision, we decided to go ahead come whatever may which ultimately proved right ( You will See, why!!).
It was 13th of December when we boarded the Jammu Rajdhani express From New Delhi to Jammu as a starting step to our Journey ahead. Whilst in the train, 2 of our mates Ishu And Panku (Names changed enlightened us about one of their historic journeys from Ambala to Mumbai wherein they travelled about 30 hours standing by the loo and we burst into bouts of laughter throughout the journey. The guys had got cards worth Rs 75 which we thought of utilizingin the journey itself. So, we played it throughout and finally dozed off to start the day afresh.
Jammu @ 5 am seemed fairly cold and busy; pretty moderate than our expectations (weatherwise). The ascend to the shrine had to begin From Katra, which was about 45 mins from Jammu by road. We took the cab from Jammu to Katra at the train station itself. Thanks to the Indian Govt., The route is now streamlined into National Highway enabling a smooth and fast ride to Katra. The enveloping hills of Jammu snow capped on both sides en route welcomed us promising tranquility and solace on our trip ahead.
We stopped by at a local restaurant for breakfast amidst the chilling cold and savored hot maggi, tea and parathas basking in the sunlight.
It is believed that the goddess while on her escape trail from the sage Bhairon Nath started from Banganga to Adhkwari and finally to the Hill top. While scaling the mountain to reach the temple, we came across these markers. It is also believed that she granted a boon saying that any pilgrim has to visit Bhairon Nath’s temple located on an adjacent hill after visiting Vaishno Mata temple to complete his prayers.
Having reached Katra by 7 am, we were looking out for accommodation for 2 hours after which we were to start the climb to The hilltop shrine Of Vaishno Devi Mata. Katra seemed quite evenly populated small town with a pious and serene wind across it. The Local markets seemed quite tempting though which we planned to explore after returning. We were ready to go after settling ourselves at Hotel Prem International, Main Market Katra. We booked rooms for the night halt at the Bhawan at the hilltop From the Niharika Bhawan with much difficulty.
Travel Tip 1: Take the new route with ramp for the ascend
The entire trail is replete with Food joints which was in fact a savior considering the huge foodies that we were. It is a sort of zig zag ramp pathway till the top with the option of staircases at certain locations. With enthusiasm at its peak, we steadily covered 2-3 kms gossiping all the way. Gradually it was getting tougher with each advancing km going uphill along the trail. The truss sheds and and seating areas at intervals provided a respite from the weather and the exhaustive walk. Pilgrims from all across the country travelling in groups could be seen at intervals.
It was half past six in the evening when we covered almost 5 kms slowly pacing ahead. The sun set on the horizon as the cold breeze rushed through us making the trip tougher than usual. The lights shone across the small town of Katra and the entire path to the top. We finally managed to reach Ardhkwari around nine. Fleets of mules filled the narrow road to the “Bhojanalaya” or the hall serving food to the pilgrims. The much awaited Rajma Chawal came into Picture. After filling ourselves with dinner, we marched ahead to complete the last phase of our climb. Slogans of “Jai Mata Di” got louder as we started approaching the Bhawan. As we got closer , it was even tougher to take a step more and thanks to Ishu and Panku, we were in Momentum and Teju’s jokes kept us awake in spite of the constant weariness.
Having offered our prayers, we returned back and had our dinner at the restos within the temple premises. Exhausted as we were, we went to our dorm in Manorama Bhawan (Prebooked) and got ourselves blankets for the night. The dorm was pretty clean and had a bunker bed system which was fun. However the swooping temperatures got the better of us. Since we were tired as hell, we finally managed to sleep late.
Travel Tip 2: Do Not Visit Bhairon Nath the same day.Keep it for the next day.
As the sun rose the very next day, we woke up to get ourselves ready for visiting the Bhairon Nath Temple. It was located across the hill at a relatively higher altitude. We decided to take the stairs this time. We hurried across the stairs taking brief pauses at intervals to reach on time. The trail up was enveloped with remnants of the snowfall which had taken place 2-3 days before. We however found the ramp covered with mule shit at some locations to which we raised slogans of “’Shit Alert!!!” and “Mule Alert” to avoid the mules and their shit in the trail.
We stopped for a coffee break to maintain the temperatures and treat our aching toes. Gradually we reached Bhairon Nath by 12 in the noon and found loads of monkeys at the entrance looking out for opportunities to snatch away the Prasad from the pilgrims.We hid the prasad in our jackets and moved ahead. Bhairon Nath temple was a small yet significant one with a Huge idol which was worshipped and we moved ahead to the exit in lesser time. In front of the temple, was a huge terrace giving a panoramic view of the hillscapes and the monkey fights of course!!. We literally sunbathed there for about half an hour which was indeed a respite from the cold.
At about 1:30 p.m., we decided to Descend Back to Katra taking the stairs this time to save our time. We descended flights of stairs at one go and paused for some time in between. After an Hour, we stopped at a food joint where we helped ourselves with Maggi & Coconut Water to keep us energized. After descending further, we came across the markets with Images of Vaishno Devi along with collections of Dry Prasad. We did shop for those for taking back for the people at office and then headed back. The Trail had some foot massage points at places for pilgrims who were in need. At about 4:30 p.m, Finally we managed to reach Banganga back and it felt like a milestone covered. We were definitely not the same as before, rather much stronger, more accommodating to situations and more sensitive towards people. Faith in itself supplements us with all the things that we lack in our persona. The Power And magnificience of the goddess was apparent in our entire journey and is now instilled in our soul forever.
" WHEN THE MOUNTAINS CALL, YOU HAVE TO BE THERE."