Pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi in Katra

I go for a new adventure in the north of Jammu, in the mountains of Kashmir. I decided to go on a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi temple, one of the most important in India, in the very northern part of the country in Jammu and Kashmir. First, we missed the train because we were late. My friends claimed that there was an error in printing the ticket and the truth is that it just did not look clear.

Although it was still possible to see the last coach it was not easy to wait for the next one, since there is only one train a week. So we took a taxi to reach the train in another station, two hours from the city. But halfway, we decide it was better to fly to New Delhi. So we go back to Udaipur to pay and collect tickets for a flight that took off in three hours. We finally had the tickets and ran to the airport.

We reach Jammu at 2 in the afternoon of the next day. We only had to wait for the next train leaving in an hour to finally get to Katra, starting point of the pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi, but, it was not that simple either. The train was delayed and so it arrived after 5:30 pm and left the terminal after 6:00 pm.

Long before we arrived in Katra, the trip started on the train. A newlywed couple on honeymoon shares the berth across the way. The young woman hides her face. I see them sharing a meal in complete privacy. The neighbors opposite are two young sikhs, wearing the turban.

We reach the final destination almost at 9 o'clock at night.

Although I do not believe it, we just arrived at the place and saw the lights of the road. We entered an almost miraculous energy and an unappealable and urgent desire to raise once and for all, the last effort, we thought.

Day 2

The hotel makes us drop by car to the starting point. The state of Kashmir is riddled with police security in this busy place and we have to cross many checkpoints. The road is all paved. It is practically always a slope of between 30 and 45 degrees, although there are also stairs for the most trained.

The walk begins with a long journey of 14 km climb in alleys first lined by shops of all kinds selling medals, offerings, sweets, as well as the precious bottles of water. It must be said that at this time we are accompanied by a sun at 13 degrees. Further the route is quieter and the shops give way to beautiful mountain scenery.

The first half is shared with many horses that go straight and do not take off. The city of Katra shrinks at every turn and we meet horses and porters who bring back the most tired. Many elderly or disabled people are on their way to the summit, leaning on a stick bought some rupees lower. Only testimony of the accomplishment of the pilgrimage is a red dot on the forehead. After 6 hours on this obstacle course and almost without rest, we finally arrived!

The landscape at dawn is beautiful. It is a true caress to the soul that makes it feel that it has been worth it. My mind, which three hours earlier had been issuing unpronounceable characters, was also relieved and satisfied. I have some breakfast and obviously, we had to visit the temple and queue to enter, which almost is a kilometer long!

The difficult thing was not to make the queue, but to fight against those who got involved. It is a beautiful tradition that everyone comes to the queue on all sides, but not one or two at a time, but entire families. In the end, what could have been a wait of two hours maximum, became four.

After entering the temple everything is squeezed. Here, all eager to be close to the sculptures of the goddesses of the first two rooms, people only push towards them, without allowing advance or exit. The most bruised are the children who are lost among the half parts of the people and can not even breathe.

So, literally, we swim against the current, pushing back. The main altar in this temple is of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji, which means the mother who fulfills everything her children wish. We are in a cave surrounded by a huge construction.

Inside the cave is the appearance of the goddess Mahalakshmi, in the form of three small stones representing the three manifestations of the goddess of Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Saraswati. This place is hundreds of years old. In fact it is mentioned for the first time in the Mahabharata.

To enter the cave there is a tunnel where the water leaks. I do not know if it is of the drain or the mountain, but that does not matter to the faithful. They accumulate it in their hands and take it as holy water.

Already in front of the representations of the goddess, the security who guard them force us to pass quickly, also at the point of pushing. So there is not much time to see and pray. The photos there are forbidden. I finally meet the priest who after a few words puts a red dot on the forehead. So, in seconds, suddenly I felt very clear one thing of gratitude.

In the end, what does it matter what the goddess or god is called. What is undeniable is the profound bliss that gives the feeling of gratitude and we left. After the passage to the temple of the goddess, there remains 2.5 km climb to a second place erected following the attempt to intrude Bhairon Baba in his sanctuary. He was brought by Hanuman and Mata Vaishno Devi Ji cut off his head in this place. The goddess then decided that the visit of this second temple would be necessary to close the pilgrimage.

Many faithful come from all over the country to fulfill the words of their divinity. On the way of the cries of joys, songs, musicians, but also monkeys who roam freely, and many other animals.

After a little rest in the hotel, a short tour in the center of Katra and already it's time to head to the station and take the train back to Delhi. We return to flat land until 9 o'clock on the night of the next day from which we left, completing with this 20 intense hours of pilgrimage.
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