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MATA VAISHNO DEVI : THE PILGRIMAGE


THE goddess Vaishno Devi fulfils the desires of all her devotees ans has made her abode in the mountain of ‘TRIKUTA HILLS’ of J&K State, in a beautiful cave, in the form of three consecrated frock formation ‘Pindis’, namely Mahakali, Maha-Lakshmi and Maha-Saraswati. Every year, millions of people visit the holy shrine to attain and fulfil their desires. It is believed that an arm of Sati had fallen at this place, as per legend.

MATA VAISHNO DEVI SHRINE


KOL-KANDHOLI :
This ancient temple is situated about 9 kms away from Jammu on Jammu to Katra road near Nagrota. The first ‘darshan’ of Vaishno Devi pilgrimage is Kol-Kandholi. During ancient times, when people used to travel to holy ‘Darbar’ (shrine) on foot, this temple used to be the first and main pilgrim centre. Pilgrims can ask the driver of their bus to stop for a brief visit to the temple, usually buses don’t halt here now. It is said that mother goddess had played ball with the local girls here. While playing with the ball, girls felt thirsty. The divine girl gave them ‘Kol’ (sort of cup) which on shaking (Kandholine) near a dry sopt, delivered water and this place became famous ad Kol-Kandkholi.

DUJA-DARSHAN-DEVAMAI :
This place is situated at a distance of 4 kms from Jammu on Jammu-Katra road near village Numai. From Nubai there is a narrow pathway leading to Devamayi. This place is the second polgrim centre in the ‘Vaishno Devi Yatra’. An idol of goddesss is placed at this place alongwith a small trident, ‘Shali-Gram’, a small round shaped stone idol symbolising Narayana. When people used to travel on foot for the pilgrimage, this place was very popular. However, now very few people visit Devi-Mayi temple. The place is named after a devotee (Mayi-Deva) of goddess mother.

AGHAR BABA JITTO :
This place is situated at a distance of 4 kms from Katra on Katra-Reasi road. This is the birth place of Vaishno Devi’s ardent devotee Baba Jitto. The holy stream, flowing near the shrine, removes sterility of women. Devotees offer ‘Bhandara’ (food served in the name of Lord) to people, when their desires are fulfilled.

BUS STAND KATRA :
The journey on foot starts from this place. Nearby is the main bazaar ok Katra, wherefrom the pilgrims can purchase food articles and other things at reasonable prices. Several hotels, ‘dharmshalas’ and pilgrim rest-houses are also -houses nearby. A huge seven-storey builindg built by ‘Shridhar Sabha’ can accommodate thousands of pilgrims. It is essential for every pilgrim to get registration-slip from Tourist Reception counter, situated at far right corner of bus-stand. This slip is given free of cost and journey cannot be commenced without this slip.

SHRI RAGHUNATH TEMPLE, KATRA :
This temple is situated nearly half a kilometre away from Katra bus-stand. This temple has been built by Swami Nityanandaji. An idol of Shri Raghunathji is housed in the temple. A huge four metric ton idol of ‘Hanumanji’ is enshrined in the complex. A temple dedicated to Bhagwan Ashutosh and ‘Samadhi’ of Shri Nityanandji are also parts of the complex. Enroute to holy cave one can visit the temple.

BHUMIKA TEMPLE :
This timpleis situated at Panthal road, two kms away from Katra. At this place Shridhar saw goddess in the from of a girl, which confirms the story of Vaishno Devi in present age. Nearby is ‘Hansali’ village. Shridhar was a resident of this village and worshipped goddess daily in the form of girls. At the same spot goddess hosted a ‘Bhandara’ for ‘Nath’ saints and disappeared at the misconduct of ‘Bhairav Nath’.

‘DARSHAN DARWAZA’ :
The divine girl left for Trikuta Hills after disappearing at Bhumika through this place. This gate has been built in the memory of the goddess. The Trikuta mountain is directly visible from here. For this reason it is called ‘Darshani Darwaza’. It is one kilometre away from Katra.

BANGANGA TEMPLE AND BRIDGE :
When the girl goddess left through this place, ‘Veer-Langur’ was accompanying her. He felt thirsty. The goddess hit the stones with an arrow and the Ganges water gushed out and the thirst of guard was quenched. The goddess washed her hair in the same Ganga. For this reason this place is also called Bal-Ganga. This place is about 2 kms away from Katra and about 1 km away from Darshani Drawaza. A bridge has been built over the Ganges for pilgrims to cross-over. A temple is also nearby. Most of the pilgrims take a bath here.

CHARAN PADUKA TEMPLE :
The holy goddess had looked behind from this place to see if Bhairav was following her. As the mother waited at this spot for some time, a footprint was left behind. For this reason it is called Charan-Paduka. This place is about 1 ½ kms away from Ban-Ganga and is situated at an altitude of 3380 feet above sea level.

ADI-KUMARI :
The goddess appeared in divine from to a saint near a small cave situated here and hid herself in the cave for nine months in the same way as a baby stays in the womb of mother. The saint told Bahirav that the girl, he was following, was not an ordinary human but all powerful creator, ‘Adi-Kumari’. The moment Bhairav entered the cave, the mother opened a new path by the force of her trident and escaped. This small cave is called ‘Garbh-Joon’ and place is called ‘Adi-Kumari’. It is 4.5 kms away from Charan Paduka and 4,800 feet above sea level.

‘HATHI MATHA ASCENT’ :
The path from Adi-Kumari onwards is a steep ascent. The mountain is shaped like the forehead of an elephant and hence the name ‘Hathi-Matha’. It is better to adopt foot path than stairs. It is about 6,500 feet above sea level and 2.5 km away from Adi-Kumari.

SANJHI CHHAT :
After ascending Hathi-Matha the pilgrims reach Sanjhi Chhat. It is also called ‘Delhi-Wali-Chhabli’. After reaching this place the pathway upto Durbar (holy shrine) is either plain or descending.

HOLY-MOTHER’S TEMPLE AND CAVE :
The temple of the mother has been built over the cave mouth. The devotees wait infront of it in queue for entering the cave for holy Darshan. The cave entrance is very narrow. The first two yards of the cave have to be traversed in sleeping position or lying too low. One cannot stand upright inside the cave. The ice cold and neat water flows underneath upto ankle height. This is called Charan Ganga. The cave is situated at an altitude of 5,200 feet above sea level.

NEW CAVES :
A new cave was inaugurated by Dr. Karan Singh on 20th March, 1977. The tunnel was bored in the cave shape to bring down the pilgrim rush. The natural cave-entrance is too small to allow quick passage of pilgrims. So the new cave was constructed and used as exit passage. Now second tunnel has been bored in the cave shape to cater to the ever increasing rush of pilgrims.

HOLY BHAWAN AND DARSHAN


The Holy Shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is accessible only through a winding 12 km track that rises from 2800 to over 5200 feet. Every year over 60 lakh devotees cutting across caste, geography and age trudge up the mountain to receive the blessings of the Mother goddess.

TRACK :
Besides the 12 km original track, which has been paved, tiled and lighted with thousand of HPSV lamps, a new alternate track, gentler in gradient and shorter benefit of the aged and the infirm.

NEW TRACK FROM ADIKUMARI :
There are two routes to Bhawan from Adikumari. The old track is via Hathi Matha and Sanjhi Chhat and the new track is via Himkoti. The old track was mostly built on the traditional track Sanjhi Chhat is located at an altitude of 62000 feet. On the old rack, a pilgrim is required to climb upto Sanjhi Chhat and then walk downhill till Bhawan. Himkoti is situated at a distance of 2.75 kms from Adhikumari on the new track. There are three view-Points on this new track – Satya, Himkoti and Saket. Himkoti is one of the most beautiful spots on this track with scenic views of the entire valley.

CATERING :
Wholesome and hygienic food – both packaged and cooked is available all along the way at catering units called views points and restaurants called Bhojanalayas Milk for infants and essential first aid is also available at these view poins.

ACCOMMODATION :
Free accommodation for the devotees is available at Adkuwari, Sanjhichhat and Bhawan. Rented accommodation at reasonable rates is also available for yatries at Niharika (Katra), Adhuwari, Sanjhichhat and Bhawan.

MEDICAL FACILITY :
First aid is available at strategic places all along the track. Medical dispensaries, health centers and basic medical aid is available at Charan Paduka, Adhkuwari and Sanjhichhat. Round the clock medical facilities are available at Bhawan.

BLANKET COUNTERS/CLOAK ROOMS :
For the facility of devotees desiring to stay enroute, counters providing free blankets are functional at various locations and free cloak room facility is also available at Adhkuwari.

WHEN TO VISIT


THE ‘Yatra’ to the Holy Shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is open round the clock throughout the year. The summer month of May, June and July and the festival period of ‘Chaitra’ (Spring) and ‘Shared’ or ‘Ashwin’ (Autumn), ‘Navratras’ and New Year vacations witness peak rush. For those wishing to avoid the rush period, the monsoon and winter are good periods to plan a ‘Yatra’. The original Holy Cave of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is also open during the winters and ‘Darshan’ through the Cave is a unique mystical experience. Pilgrims can log on to the website of the Shrine Board www.helicopterbookings.com and check out the pattern and number of pilgrim visiting the Holy Shrine

CLOTHING


ONE needs to carry heavy woollen clothing during the winters. For the rest of the year, light woollens are needed. Even during hot summers, the main Shrine area known as Bhawan (situated at 5,200 feet above sea level) continues to remain on the cooler side especially during the night. Blankets are available in plenty, free of cost. RATES OF PITHUS (PORTER SERVICE) :
For carrying upto 20 kgs luggage or 2 children upto 9 years.

Destination Prices
Katra to Bhawan and back Rs. 250/-
Katra to Bhawan (One way only) Rs. 125/-
Bhawan to Katra via Bhairon (One way only ) Rs. 150/-


RATES OF PONIES/HORSES/MULES :


Destination Wt. of Adult Upto 75 kgs Wt. Betn. 75-100 kgs Adult upto 75 kgs + child upto 10 kgs or Adults above 100 kgs
*Katra to Bhawan 190/- 205/- 225/-
*Katra to Adhkuwari or Bhawan 100/- 110/- 125/-
*Katra to Sanji Chhat 160/- 175/- 195/-
*Bhawan to Katra Via Bhairon 215/- 230/- 270/-
*Bhawan to Sanji Chhat or Bhawan to Bhairon or Sanji Chhat helipad to Bhawan 70/- 75/- 85/-
*Bhawan to Adhkuwari via Bhairon 120/- 125/- 150-

RATES OF PALANQUIN SERVICE :


Rates are for 24 hrs return journeys.

Destination Upto 100 kgs (4 carriers) Above 100 kgs (6 carries)
Katra to Bhawan and back 1520/- 2140/-
Katra to Bhawan and back via Bhairon 1750/- 2420/-
Sanji Chhat Helipad to Bhawan and Back 600/- 850/-


SHIV KHORI : The Cave Shrine


THE Shiv Khori Shrine, purely dedicated to the Lord Shiva, is situated on a hillock. ‘Khori’ means a cave. ‘Shiv Khori’, therefore, means Shiva’s Cave. It is a double-chamber cave. The outer chamber is quite spacious and can hold some dozens of people at a time. The passage from the outer to inner chamber is very low and narrow. It is about 140 km towards north of Jammu City is tehsil Reasi, Udhampur district, Jammu region of Jammu & Kashmir State. It is nearly 90km from Katra. The buses and other traffic go up to the village Ransoo, the base camp. Ransoo is placed at a distance of 6 km from the main Reasi-Rajouri road. People have to walk nearly 4 km to arrive at the entrance of the holy cave. One can also reach the destination via Bhambla (approx. 75 km from Jammu), while enroute to Rajouri. The Shiv Khori cave is the largest among the other cave shrines in the state of jammu and Kashmir. This natural cave is nearly 1 km long, 1 m in width and 2-3 m in height, having a self made Shiv Linga, Aap Shambu. According to elders, this cave is unending and the point where it splits into two, one of them is believed to lead to Kashmir. It, however, now stands closed as some saints who ventured to go, never returned. UPTO 1960, only a few people Knew about the Shiv Khori Shrine. However, it has gained much popularity during last few decades. Nowadays, a big ‘three day fair’ takes place annually on the occasion of Maha Shivratri. Thousands of pilgrims now visit this Shrine from various parts of the country and aboard during Maha Shivratri festival. Maha Shivratri is usually held in the month of February every year, but sometimes it is celebrated during the month of March.

MORE ATTRACTION NEARBY


AGHAR BABA JITTO :
Approximately 5 kms from Katra, the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi Yatra, the Shrine of Baba Jitto is situated enroute Shiv Khori. Jitto, a revolutionary who led a campaign against feudal order. Here is a small pond (Baori), where the pilgrims take bath specially on a full moon day. It is believed that the holy waters of this Baori saves the pregnant women from obstetrical problems. A footpath from this place also leads to the cave of Mata Vaishno Devi. A temple and large size white stone statue of Baba Jitto can be seen here.

BABA DHANSAR :
Appeoximately 7 kms from the Shrine of Baba Jitto, comes Baba Dhansar, on the same route. Here, a spring emerges from the hill-side and further becomes a waterfall. A natural Shivlinga attracts a colourful fair on Shivratri day. On the Shivlinga, drops of water trickle continuously. Many people have tried to find out the source of tricking-water, but failed. A temple dedicated to the ‘Serpent God’ is also built, where the serpent shaped idols are offered by those who get their desires fulfilled.

DERA BABA BANDA :
Situated 25 kms from Katra, is a major Hindu-Sikh pilgrimage-Baba Banda Bairagi was Guru Gobind Singh’s favourite ‘saint-soldier’, who founded a Gurudwara, famous for its wall paintings. This spot is situated on the bank of the river Chenani, wher Baba Banda spent the last days of his life.

REASI FORT :
Reasi, 45 kms from Katra, is known for its Bhimgarh Fort, which Zorawar Singh, the celebrated Dogra General, built after repelling the Chinese from Ladakh. Kali Mata temple is nearby.


KALIKA MANDIR


POONCH distric n the north-west of Jammu and Kashmir State is also a lovely area. Most of it is under the occupation of Pakistan. But the town of Poonch lies in the area that is with us. It contains a number of temples and mosques. The most important temple of the strategic border town is the Kalika Mandir. This stone temple rising some 60 feet high is located in a crowded area. It was erected by Raja Moti Singh, an able administrator who is still remembered for his benevolence and public works. The temple houses a black marble image of Kalika, stated to have been brought from Jodhpur in Rajasthan. It is dead that the image could not be put up immediately and remained uninstalled for about six months, when a raging pestilence swept the area. Raja Moti Singh who was then in Kashmir hurried back. Medical aid was arranged and prayers offered n temples and mosques, but to no avail. Moti Singh was greatly upset. He was advised, in a dream to get the image installed at once if he wanted his realm to be rid of the malady. This was done and the pestilence subsided. The temple miraculously escaped damage and destruction in 1947-48 and 1965 A.D., when Pakistanis aimed their guns on the town. The temple kalasa stood out prominently and was made the special target by Pakistani gunmen but all their attempts ended in failure.

SURAN VALLEY – THE SCENIC BEAUTY OF POONCH


A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Surankote, a prettiest party of district Poonch of J&K State is a very charming valley surrounded by snow covered mountain peaks, green forests with shrill sound of birds and the melodious flow of sweet water of river Suran is really a paradise on earth. About 18 km from Surankote is the beautiful waterfall of Noori Chhamba, a 75 feet fall originating from Kotora Sar and then merges with river Sun. It is said that Emperor Jahangir had named this fall after the name of his wife Noor Jahan as Noor Chhamb which with the passage of time changed to Noori Chhamb. Jahangir died in between Noori Chhamb and Rajouri in 1629. Chandimarh viz. chand and Marh means few Mughal residential places. Mughals took rest in these places during their journey from Lahore to Srinagar. Places like Dughran, Behramgala road, Bufliaz were the base camps of Mughal.

Surankote is connected with Chandimarh via Bufliaz which is the only means of communication. Road from Bufliaz to Mandi via fazalabad is under construction. Due to lack of bridge facilities, the eastern portion generally remains cut off during rainy season. There is no small or large scale industry. In case of marriage ceremony Lagan and Nikah are different rituals. Though Hindu, marry as per Sanatan Dharma and Muslim, as per Islam, but the various functions related to marriage ceremony are celebrated by both Hindus and Muslims together. Prior to marriage ceremony both Hindus and Muslims go for invitation from bride and bridegroom site to invite relatives and friends. The shrine of Molvi-Habib Shah Sahib at Pamorote, the shrine Baithak Pir Ghulam Shah Badshah at Lassana, Darga of Daro Sheed Ji at Barimang Samote, Shlik Ahmed Krain Ji at Pirulgali, Sayed Baker Ji at Salian, Dajid Zirakh Sahib Ji at Behremgala, Sayed Saiden Shah Ji Jabber at harri, Syed Fazal Shah Ji at Fazlabad (Falbad is named after his name) Syed Karian Shah Ji at kalar Kattal, Mahakli Mandir at Dhundak, Shiv Narayan Khori at Bhater, Shiv Mandir and Samadhi Baba Bankhandi I at Baheemgala, Krishna temple. Jamia Masjid and Imam-Bargah at Samote are the places of worship. The teachings and blessings of these shrines and temples have dept this valley free from evils of hatred and communal disharmony.