Where the Goddess stays!
The holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi attracts people from all sections and religions. It is said that no one can visit the holy shrine if the deity doesn’t want you to do so. Those who get Mata’s command to visit her are considered to be extremely lucky.
I have been longing to visit the holy shrine for a very long time. But the circumstances didn’t permit or as they say Mata’s command wasn’t there. And after many years, my wish got fulfilled in February this year, when I got the chance to visit the shrine. I had visited Mata Vaishno Devi as a teenager with my family and it was an awesome experience. The complete journey which was a combination of train and bus ride and then the complete walk up to the main temple was a thrilling experience. And it was more memorable given the fun time I had with my family and many friends we made en route.
And when I started preparing for my journey is when I realised the many changes that have happened in the past years to make the pilgrimage convenient. The base spot of Katra, as expected, was buzzing with action. But the biggest change that had come in these years was the rail connectivity till Katra. Earlier people had to travel till Jammu by train and then take a bus journey to reach Katra. This had not only cut short the travel time but also made the journey much comfortable for the people.
Katra, being the starting point of the trek to the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine is always abuzz and experiences an influx of tourists round the year. People have to get themselves registered here before heading on to the trek. The place has undergone immense transformation with a host of budget and star category accommodations available, apart from shopping malls, food courts, cinema halls. etc. One also gets to book the helicopter ride (depending on apt weather conditions), ponies and palki’s to the holy shrine, from here. I checked into a decent 3-star hotel to freshen up before heading on to my trek. With the help of the hotel staff I got my registration done for the trek and started off at about 4 in the evening towards the holy shrine. Mata Vaishno Devi Board has provided a lot of facilities to the pilgrims coming for the darshan with water taps, drinking water facility, food stalls and benches available after every few metres. I must add that I saw some very comfortable palkis on the way ferrying elderly and small children. On checking I got to know that recently few light weight comfortable palkis have been added to the ferrying options which are extremely convenient and comfortable for travel.
I reached the Darbar at around 5 am after taking my due stop overs in between my trek. It was purely a divine feeling and after the darshan I had a sumptuous meal in one of the many Vaishno dhabas available there. I was back in my hotel room around 4pm and was planning to check out when the hotel staff asked me if I wasn’t going to Shiv Khori. I hadn’t heard of that place earlier and was pretty curious to know more about it. They informed me that Shiv Khori is a natural 200-metre-long, one metre wide and about two to three-metre-high cave which has a self-made lingam which is unending. The main entrance is so wide and large that it can accommodate nearly 300 people but the passage to the inner cave is narrow and one has to stoop low, crawl or adjust the body side wards, something similar to what one experiences in Ardhkumari. I was pretty excited and asked for the way to reach Shiv Khori. The hotel staff again helped me in arranging a bus ticket till Ransoo which is the base camp of the pilgrimage.
Next morning, I was at Ransoo at about 9 am and started my 3 km (approx) trek to the shrine on the track created by the Shiv Khori Shrine Board. During the trek I came to know that there is also a Shiv Khori mela that takes place annually on Maha Shivratri and thousands of people from different parts of the country attend the same. It is difficult to explain in words the experience I had in the holy Shiv Khori shrine. The inner sanctorum has a 4-metre-high naturally created image of Lord Shiva. There are many other natural objects that have resemblance with Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesha and Nandi. The roof of the cave has snake formations etched on it with water tricking down through them on the Shiva Lingam. Like in the Amarnath caves, there are many pigeons around who present a good omen to the pilgrims. Such a beautiful and memorable view.
I was back at Katra by evening and thanked the hotel staff for suggesting me to visit Shiv Khori. The manager of the hotel shared that now people plan a good 2 nights 3 days trip to Katra to visit both the holy shrines and the stay usually gets extended during the peak festive seasons of Navratras and Maha Shivratri, though they have pilgrims visiting round the year. The rail connectivity to the town also aids in the planning as most of the trains arrive early morning and depart late evening. I thanked him once again for the hospitality and headed to the station to catch my train.
It was truly a memorable trip once again with Mata’s command to visit her shrine. And I hope that I keep receiving these commands frequently now. Jai Mata Di.