Friday, February 4, 2011

Trip to Vaishno Devi

Today travel has become a fad.  An essential ingredient to our lifestyle.   The purpose could be anything. Every Friday the HT City is full of colourful holiday advertisements , enticing you to plan a  trip to one of the exotic locales to unwind with your family. From Honeymoon trips to popular domestic places like Goa and Kerala to International ones to South East Asia and  Europe. And for others,  the reasons could  be the thirst for wanderlust. A visit to a friend or a  relative.  To attend a wedding.  To celebrate your anniversary. A visit to your childhood town to trace your roots. For business. An official tour. A family holiday to unwind, bond and build happy memories.  And yet there is another reason for travel.  A Pilgrimage. Travelling for the sole purpose of visiting the presiding deity of  a place.  To be blessed and have darshan and come back rejuvenated. Last year i went with my family to Vaishno  Devi and the sole purpose Piligrimage. To have darshan of Mata.

It is a popular belief amongst Indians the world over, that one cannot visit the Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi near Katra in the northern state of J&K in India unless Mata calls you.. I love travel and have taken several holidays. The mandatory hill stations. An all women trip to Singapore and places of worship –Triveni sangam in Allahabad, Siddhi Vinayak termple in Mumbai, Shirdi, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dwarka, Mathura Vrindavan, Tirupati, Badrinath, Yamunotri. But I had never been to Vaishno Devi. We had made plans to visit  Vishno Devi in July 2008 . We made the hotel bookings and the helicopter bookings as well, but a few days before the due date riots broke out in Jammu and curfew was imposed in the city on account of Amarnath Shrine land issue. Sorely disappointed we had no option but to cancel the trip and get partial refund. But the desire to go to Vaishno Devi lingered at the back of my mind.

So early this year when we bought our new Xylo car the first thought that crossed my mind was that the first holiday we would take in the new car would be to Vaishno Devi.

On the scheduled day we hit the road at 4.20 in the morning. We tuned in to Radio Mirchi and were pleasantly surprised to hear them playing bhajans…… Shri ram Chandra kripalu…. Jai raghu nandan jai siyaram…. The one I liked most was Anup Jalota singing….. rang de chunariya. It was an auspicious start to the journey. We stopped at Sarandh for breakfast. My brother in law who was accompanying us sat in the front seat would inform us of the various towns we crossed. Khanna Ludhiana Dasua Uncha Bassi Jaalandhar Pathankot Kathua Samba and finally Jammu. We stopped at Pathankot for lunch and after fourteen hours on the road we checked into our hotel in Jammu.

The next day  we headed to Katra and reached there in two hours. As we stepped out of the car to take a few pictures we saw Pawan Hans and Deccan choppers in the sky. As J& K is a sensitive area make sure you are carrying valid ID and necessary papers of your vehicle in order to avoid any obstruction to your journey. We were stopped several times for checking. While in Katra you need not be deprived of good food. At the Main chowk there is Jewels. Kens Food Planet, Hills Food Planet and even Sagar Ratna nearby
The next morning I woke up at 4. 40 in the morning to the sound of the telephone ringing. It was my hubby calling from the adjacent room. Mausam kharab ho raha hai. Its raining…. Thunder and lightning. I was full of anxiety as already my trip had been canceled once and I know of a honeymoon couple who had to go back without darhsan.. But after breakfast as we headed towards the Katra helipad the weather settled down. The reporting time at the Helipad is one hour in advance and will be mentioned in your ticket. As you wait in the lounge you can enjoy the view of the mountains and see the choppers come and go. Once we got our boarding passes we went for security check. There is also a weight check prior to this since only 6 persons and a fixed weight can be allowed inside the chopper. The Pawan Hans escort asked me to tie the dupatta across in a double knot to prevent it from flying in the air due to the blast of the blades. As the chopper lands it halts for barely a minute, just enough time for the passengers to get down and the boarding ones to get inside. During the journey my younger daughter sat in the front seat next to the pilot and in return journey my elder daughter enjoyed the view from the front seat. The flight from Katra to Sanjichhat helipad is a thrilling 6 minute journey.

Once you reach Sanjichhat, you have to collect your privilege pass for entry to the Bhawan from Gate No 5 from SMVDSB (Shri Mata Vasihnio Devi Shrine Board ) counter. Once there you have the option of going by foot or by horses. We opted for horse and it took us 25 minutes to the reach the point where horses stop at the Bhawan entrance. The remaining part of the darshan is by foot to the gufa for Pindi Darshan. We bought Bhaint for Mata fro Rs 35. In this amount you get a nice jute bag with Prasad, nariyal and a small Mata ki chunri and the sacred red thread called 'mauli'. We deposited our footwear, purses, mobile and cameras in the cloak room and proceeded for Army Gate No 5. You save time in the line here but beyond a point you merge with the remaining devotees. We offered the nariyal to Mata and got a token for Prasad. As you head toward the gufa the passage is full of bells hanging and the whole Bhawan reverberates with the sound of devotees ringing the bells. A little further and you enter the gufa. The gufa is beautifully maintained. It is covered with stones and lit up at the top. It is a narrow 2 path with railing on both the sides. You can see water trickling on the sides from the gufa. And within a minute the moment arrives. You finally get the Pindi Darshan.

The holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is unique as it contains the holiest of holy Pindis manifesting Mata in her three forms which are Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati. Each of these forms represent particular attributes. Maha Kali represents Tam Guna : Tam stands for darkness or unholiness. In her attribute of Maha Kali, Mata is constantly endeavoring to vanquish the forces of darkness. She blesses her devotees by giving them strength to never lose heart and constantly battle the forces of darkness till they prevail upon them. Maha Lakshmi represents Raj Guna : Raj stands for sustenance, prosperity and well being. In her attribute of Maha Lakshmi Vaishno Mata blesses her devotees with wealth and prosperity and thus makes their life more comfortable and happy. Maha Saraswati represents Satva Guna : Satva stands for purity and goodness. In her attribute of Maha Saraswati, Mata blesses her devotees with pure thoughts and a high intellect. This enables them to distinguish between the good and the bad, between righteousness and unrighteousness and helps them to adopt the correct path in life. A combination of these three attributes in a single Shakti is known as Mata Vaishno Devi Ji and this unique combination is what makes her revered all over the world. Each person on earth contains the attributes of Tam Guna, Raj Guna and Satva Guna in some degree or the other. His or her behavior is therefore, conditioned by the attribute that is predominant. However, to lead a full and meaningful life a balance has to be struck amongst the three. This balance is extremely difficult to achieve. It needs divine blessings. It is only at Vaishno Devi Ji that such blessings are possible simultaneously from a single source of Shakti . This is what makes the holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji unique in the world.

As I turned to get out of the gufa after the darsahn a feeling of immense joy happiness and contentment pervaded me. Mata had granted darshan to my entire family. Since we had to take the flight back to Katra we didn’t spend much time there and headed for Sanjichhat helipad via horses. We had boarded the chopper at 9.30 and we had the darshan at 11.30. Hats off to SMVDSB for making such excellent and foolproof arrangements, taking care of every small need of the devotee.

As we reached our hotel in Katra I heaved a sigh of relief. It had been an arduous journey from Faridabad where I live. But Mata ka bulawa aya aur darshan bhi huye. It doesn’t matter how you make you go for the darsahn. By foot, by palki if you are a senior citizen, horses or by chopper as we did. All that matter is Aastha. Faith.

As i end this blog i would like to add an important piece of information. Since we went for the darshan by chopper we did not require any registration, but if you are going to do the chadai by foot it is mandatory to get yourself registered with the Yatra Registration counter at Katra chowk. It is free of charge but you'll be asked for the registration slip three times during the yatra.

Thanks to my hubby for a wonderful holiday and fulfilling a long cherished wish.
Jai Mata Di!

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