Situated at Trikuta Mountain in Jammu and Kashmir. Vaishno Devi temple is the most popular pilgrimage in India. It is on the altitude of 5200 feet and involves a trek of nearly 12 km from the base camp at Katra. It is estimated that the shrine gets over one crore visitors annually, and more during the Navratras.
Vaishno Devi Yatra itself is on a paved path with a gentle slope. Time duration varies as per the weather, the crowds and your speed. The route owns shops selling souvenirs and devotional music, with pleasant views. You also have the option of climbing upstairs, which is shorter but much steeper and hence, more physically demanding. Key landmarks include Darshani Deodhi, Banganga, Charan Paduka, Indraprastha, Ardhkuari, Garbha Greh, Himkoti, Haathi Matha, Sanji Chhat Bhavan, Sher ka Panja and Bhairon Mandir. The mid-point is at Ardhkuari, from where you continue to Sanji Chhat, a scenic plateau that has been developed as a helipad and resting point. It is a comfortable two-and-a-half km walk to the shrine. Cleaner track (it doesn’t allow ponies) separates from the main one half-a-km before Ardhkuari.
Once you reach the shrine, wait for your turn — the waiting period is much longer during the peak season. The registration slip decides your entry into the inner sanctum. Instead of idols and pictures, the cave itself comprises of three natural rock formations or pindies which are immersed in water. A marble platform has now been constructed for easy access. The main complex, known as the Devi Bhawan, also has free and rented accommodation, vegetarian restaurants, a medical unit, blanket stores, cloakrooms, and shops selling religious offerings and souvenirs.
The small town of Katra serves as the base camp for Vaishno Devi Darshan. It is located 50 km away from Jammu, the nearest airport and railway station. Buses are available at the railway station and at the Jammu Bus Stand. Taxis cost around Rs. 1500 roughly. The 12 km trek from Katra to Vaishno Devi Darshan is on a well-paved road. If you’re unable to do the climb, you can opt for helicopter flights from Katra to Sanji Chhat, followed by a 2.5 km walk. These can be booked from the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board’s official website. Ponies, porters, and palanquins are also available for hire.
Good Time for Vaishno Devi Darshan
While the walk can be done throughout the year although, the peak season is during the summer (May-June), the New Year and the Navratra months in March-April and September-October. It is advisable to avoid the walk in the monsoon when the road becomes slippery. The route is very cold in December and January, so it is better to start the walk at dawn. All visitors need to register at the Yatra Registration Centers in Katra before leaving and carry a registration slip with them. Online registration can also be done on the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board’s official website. The trek begins at the Banganga check post, situated at the foothills. Video cameras and other electronic equipment are not allowed beyond this point, so leave them behind in Katra. It is advisable to travel as light as possible during the climb since food, water and blankets are easily available on the way. The maximum number of pilgrims is limited to 30000-35000 a day. During the peak season when the numbers exceed this limit, waiting slips are issued. To avoid inconvenience, register online and check your waiting status from the website before traveling.