KeaWeather Travelogue | Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth (J&K)


by Rohit Santhosh - Keablogger

Travel Date: June 2016. Travellers: Rohit Santhosh and 2 office colleagues


I visited Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir this weekend, and I wrote a travelogue about it. Do take some time to read this and enjoy!


It was a rather dull Thursday afternoon in the office, and that prompted me to take a prolonged coffee break. That was when I overheard two of my friends at office planning to go to Vaishno Devi for the weekend! I couldn't resist asking them if I could join, and ten minutes later, my tickets were confirmed.. In such short notice!

Come Friday evening and I was all excited about this trip! We left office early so that we could pack up for the 3 day journey to the northernmost state in India. So we met after a while at Noida City centre metro station and we caught the metro to Kashmiri Gate metro station; from there, interstate buses are available. So we caught a bus to Katra at 10pm on Friday night, which is the base station for the yatra to Vaishno Devi Mandir.

The bus journey was nothing like I had ever experienced before. It was a Haryana Roadways bus, and their drivers consider themselves the king of the highways, driving at insane speeds and overtaking like cats chasing mice!( Why, the bus might have even broke the sound barrier! :P)

And so the bus speeded across Haryana and Punjab overnight, and at dawn the bus was passing through the northern end of Punjab, which is really beautiful. It was nothing like I had ever imagined of Punjab, it was literally heaven! Fields and plantations are all that you see there, crossing a small town here and there occasionally. Soon, the bus reached Pathankot, which is a transport hub in the northern tip of Punjab. From there, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Pakistan are not more than 100km away. The surroundings became more and more picturesque as the bus went on..

Very soon, the bus got caught in some traffic. I peeked out of the window to see what was causing it, and ahead was a big toll plaza saying


"Welcome to Jammu & Kashmir"


Not long after crossing the border from Punjab to Kashmir, my mobile network went blank. I was later told that prepaid connections don't work in JK( due to security reasons the rules are very stringent there ) So from that point my phone was performing the function of a camera and nothing else.

And so the bus passed through Jammu, the summer capital of J&K. The town of Katra, from where the yatra starts, was 78 km away from Jammu, which took another two hours. But these two hours didn't feel that long at all, because the landscape was changing drastically.. from Plains and fields to Hills and mountains in the distance... it was simply mesmerizing. Driving from Jammu to Katra is one of the things you should have in your bucket list if you love driving. Winding roads, hills, cattle here and there with the highway often cutting rivers and valleys, and the cool breeze.... wow. What a place indeed.

On Saturday morning, the bus reached the small but busy town of Katra at 10 am, which was buzzing with activity. It was the weekend and moreover it is "the season" which meant we had to deal with a LOT of crowd, pouring in from all parts of the country, and from different walks of life. After that we went helter skelter and soon found and booked a room in a small lodge where we can rest for a while and refresh ourselves, and to prepare for the long yatra up the mountain.

Soon after we were ready, all geared and packed up for the shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi, which is a 14 km trek up the mountains. The three of us bought headbands saying"Jai Mata di" added a religious touch to our looks. We headed to Banganga, which is the official starting point of the long uphill trek.

And so we started our long journey up the hills. The path was a long and winding winding ramp, often intersected by flights of stairs, which could also be used to climb up the hill. It was 2:45 pm when we started our climb. Initially, the ramp was sidelined by shops selling all sorts of Vaishno Devi paraphernalia. After a distance, the shops got more and more sparse, and the climb, steeper.

There are also horse services that you can avail to go to the top, but at a hefty price. We, along with all other fellow yatris had to frequently give way to these horses going up and down the ramp. After a while we were so used to it that if we hear the clip-clop of horses walking, we unconsciously give way.

At about 6km from Banganga, is a rest stop called Ardhkuwari. Here you can find many restaurants and eateries for refreshment. Hotel rooms were also available for those who wanted to take up the trek more patiently and for those who chose to stop there for the night. We had our tiffin there. Even though we were famished, I made it a point not to eat a lot, as there was a good portion of the trek still remaining and it would bring in laziness and eventually, sleep. After we had food , we rested there for a while and then continued our trek.

As we were heading up, every now and then, we stopped to take a break, and boy, did we love it. Literally any point there was a view point. You could see the rolling landscape with hills and farms, and along with that, the quaint old town of Katra. At one point, at about 7pm, the sunlight bathed the majestic mountains at the perfect angle for some amazing photos. We cashed in on the opportunity and took as many good photos as possible. We were so engaged in taking photos that I had to drag my two friends along and resume the climb!

At 9.5 km from Banganga, is another rest stop called Sanjichhat. It's not as vibrant or welcoming as Ardhkuwari; but the main attraction of the place is the Helipad. Yes, helicopter services were also available from Katra to Sanjichhat, and that's where they land.

By this time, the sun has started to set. And it sets really late there. As late as 7:40 pm. And it rises at 5:20 am. The days are quite long. And even though the sun sets as late at 7:40 pm, it does not get very dark until 8 pm. It's amazing to see the sun set that late. So much so that it's actually mislead me to think that it was only 7pm, as that was the time when I'm used to seeing the sky like that. And then I reminded myself that I was in the state that receives the most hours of sunshine in India during summer.

It was as late as 12 pm when we reached the Vaishno Devi shrine, about 13 km from Banganga. We were already exhausted from the climb, but it would be pointless if we weren't able to see the deity. And so we fought our way through the wild crowd to get into the long queue into the shrine. We eventually got to see Shri Mata Vaishno Devi. We could see the deity only for a second before we had to move out. We offered our prayers and left. It was 2am by the time we got out of the shrine.

After this lay the most taxing part of the trek. A further climb of 3.5 km to Bhairon Baba mandir, situated at the very peak of the mountain. It is said that the yatra would be incomplete if one does not visit Bhairon Baba Mandir after visiting Vaishno Devi. We were already panting and delirious from exhaustion.. and we had to finish the last leg of the climb.

It was 2:30 am when we started climbing yet again. It had become pretty cold by then, and the fact that we had no woollens made the climb all the more difficult. However we pushed on, but slow as ever.

Finally we reached Bhairon Baba mandir at 4 am and we immediately got the darshan. We were so drained out that after the darshan, we sat on whatever bench we could find and lie down to sleep. You cannot expect any proper accommodation due to the massive crowd there. We had only one bedsheet for protection, we wrapped ourselves in it and slept for however long possible.

The dawn cracked less than an hour after this, at 4:45 am, and this didn't let us sleep for long, let alone the cold weather. And so we woke up at 6am, Sunday morning from whatever little sleep we could get, and started the 17 km climb down to Katra.

It went surprisingly fast; we were amazed at how fast we were progressing. We jogged down the hill and reached Katra in just a little over 4 hours, at 10:30 am. We had breakfast and made our way to Katra railway station, and caught a train to Jammu at 2pm. On the way were humbling views of the mountains we climbed. Only then we got a real idea of how much we had actually climbed.

Later that night at 10pm, we caught the train to Delhi from Jammu, and we slept, extremely tired but victorious; our thoughts flooded with pleasant memories from the heaven on earth, aka Jammu & Kashmir.