16 My Vasihno Devi tour -2 (final)

Finally got the time to pen down my experience of Vaishno Devi Tour of January 23rd 2009. After getting down in Delhi in early morning of 21st January 2009, I did finish some of my pending official work by 13:00 hours, went to Bahadurgarh and return back at 09:30 PM to catch Delhi Jammu special train. I was the 4th passenger in AC third tier and luckily the person just above my berth was a Sardardji, a man in early twenties just settled in Bangalore. He kept reading “five point someone” until I requested him to switch off the light, which he did without any argument.

I slept for the rest of the night without bothering what is happening in the other parts of the world. When I woke up, the train already reached Jammu station. In fact my co-passenger woke me up just before the Jammu station. It was 10:00 AM, I had not taken dinner last night and I was feeling too hungry. Rajma chawal and puri Rajma was available in almost all shops of Jammu station. I had taken one plate, it turned out tasteless later which appeared very yummy at first glance. Had it not been a good quality of desi chaay in the thatched hut outside the station premises, I would have kept regretting the taste of rajma chawal.

After initial observation for next one hour of the security arrangement and surroundings of Jammu railway station, I purchased the bus ticket from the designated counter and boarded the bus for Katra. It was a very good ride from Jammu to Katra. The landscape around the road was awesome, yet there was no steep curve. I enjoyed the entire bus ride in the best possible way. I was missing my wife, yes, whenever I see the beautiful things of the life, I wish my wife to witness the same.

The moment I landed in Katra, I was surrounded by the touts offering various services. Most of them were brokers of hotel. The effect of global meltdown was present on their face, giving the traveler a desperate look to have the business. They wanted me to at least keep my luggage in their shops and purchase the prasad from their shops. Some of them were persuading me to give them money so that they can arrange a security pass for me. I decided to do it by myself. There were several security counters. I put myself in one of the queue and got the security pass after paying Rs 25. It was 04:00PM by that time. I had put my luggage in one of the prasad shops, barring heavy duty sweater, camera and some food stuffs. The actual trekking started from Banganga which was 1 KM away from the bus station. There were several shared autos available there. I paid Rs 5.00 to reach Banganga. T-series langar (free meal distribution camp) was available. I had heard a lot about this and so I had taken free lunch at 04:30 PM just before starting the trekking.

The security arrangement during the entire route was placed after every 1 or 2 KM. We had to show the Yatra slips at each barricade to ensure that everyone was registered at the base camp. It avoids the possibility of someone joining in route. Traveler needs to return back if he lost the yatra slip. The security personnel were very cooperative otherwise.

The slope was very high, and so only after initial 2 KM I got tired. I took rest for next 10 minutes. There are always two types of route to the destinations. One by normal roads and others by stairs. Though the stairs reduces the total distance between source and destination, however it is very hard to climb on that. Everyone I enquired with, before the travel, told me that it is not advisable to climb via staircase while going up. However, I started climbing a staircase with 518 stairs, for, it reduced a distance of 1.5 KM. I was too enthusiastic to do that. There was no way I could have estimated my potential, my ability the physical stamina to climb 518 stair at one go. I started with intense zeal and got defeated only after 75 stairs or so. I had to cross 6 times more distance what I had already crossed. Anyway, I thought I will do it in 6 sequential efforts and I will take rest after every 75 stairs I have crossed. I did it the same but only after 3 efforts, I started believing that 75 stairs at one shot is not possible at all. I reduced it to 50 stairs with the understanding that I will take rest after every 50 stairs. This was not even feasible in next round. I kept reducing the number of stairs to be climbed between two halts. It reduced to 40, then 25 and after that 10 stairs. I had to cross 5 stairs at a time when around 50 stairs remained to climb. There was a moment when I was dizzying and I felt I will fell down and I had to stop there for 30 minutes. The veins near my ears were palpating at maximum possible amplitude. Anyway, I crossed those 518 stairs. I will never recommend any common man to go via stairs. I took rest for another half an hour and climbed the hill where ardhakuwanri temple was situated in multiple but sequential effort. I had to purchase ticket for darshan and the famous passing through the cave.

There were three important processes to follow in ardhakuwanri. First we had to take darshan slip from the designated counter, we had to keep off luggage and shoes again to designated area and then once our batch number is displayed, we had to join the queue. I had taken the darshan slip and as far as I remember we had to pay Rs. 6.00 for that. It was already 08:00PM by that time and I had got a time slot to join the queue for darshan at 11PM. I deposited my shoes and small luggage in the designated area and proceeded to find the place where I could spend next 3 hours. I walked down in the streets and witnessed another set of example proving the flatness of the world. There were numbers of corporate level snacks bar and restaurant. Café Coffee Day, Nescafe coffee shops were few of them. Mobile phone tower were still showing the full signal, meaning that there were towers in the neighborhood. I paid Rs. 45.00 for a cup of coffee in the CCD. Later, 25.00 for Maggie.

Three hours is never a small time interval. I kept wandering in the streets till I found a group of young men in their early twenties. I am known to mix with the people of all age groups. I started talking to them the development and ceiling of delhi. Exchanged few information with them mingled with them for all unsolicited reasons. They were also very good in reciprocating. For a moment, I forgot that I will be soon experiencing the mid-life crisis for all good reasons.

Anyway, there is no time interval which cannot be passed; we need people which can make every moment interesting. We were five and all of us had a common quality, we were very talkative. After 3 hours, I found myself at the tail of the long queue leading towards the famous ardhkuwanri caves. There were groups of people in two queues each one of male and female separately. Before these two queues starts people were chanting jai mata dee, pyare bolo jay mata dee, mil ke bolo jai mata dee. Though there were two different queues, but the leader of the people chanting those holy slogans remained one at any moment of time. I found one lady, seemed to be from Hariyana chanting most loudly from the veil. She became the natural leader, teaching me you should be loud, if you want to be a leader. The lady used to point her attention towards group of young men, giving them the impression of teasing, whenever the voice became feeble due to lack of enthusiasm in them. Suddenly, I found someone tapping on my shoulder, asking me to move ahead, so that he can lie down on the ground. In the very next moment he started shaking his body like shakeera, his eyes grown pink then red. He started shouting. The lady from other side started touching his feet in honor. It was assumed by most of the people in the queue that Maa vaishno devi has incarnated herself in his body. I was not touched, affected or impressed by him. How can a holy and divine soul come into a cheap young man. In the darbaar of maa Vaishno Devi I was not able to believe her, what rest of the people were believing at that particular moment of time. I didn’t touch his feet. I kept moving in the queue. It took around 2 hours when I found myself in front of the famous cave.

The cross sectional area of maa ardhkuwanri cave was not more than one square foot. One need to literally squeeze himself in the cave pushing himself with maximum force. Thanks to the friction applied by different people after every 10 second continuously for last one century, the surface of the cave was so smooth that it gave impression that I will fall down. But the moment I came out from the cave, I was feeling very energetic. It was 01:00AM at that moment.

Very next moment I collected my shoes, mobile phone, other luggage and started towards main temple. The other four young men were with me. I had a bamboo stick with me. Now, I was very intelligent. I decided not to go by stairs. The main temple was 6 KM from that place and Sanjhi Chat, a place to take rest was 3 KM from that place. In the day time, there was a provision of electric auto rickshaw for elderly and disabled. I enquired about the same, but the authority gave a weird look, seeing my 33 years age. I was ashamed and decided to move ahead. Initially, I used to take rest after every half kilometer with other young men. Though there were continuous flow of devotees even in at that time, but I learnt that the crowd was not even 30% of the regular morning or evening time.

After certain time, when I started taking rest after every 100 meters and I have seen that my team was annoyed with that, I told them to move ahead and let me go at my pace. I recommend other traveler, to practice at least 45 minutes jogging every day, at least one month in advance. This will help them taking rest after half KM instead of 100 meters. There were plenty of food stalls, tea shops, small Café Coffee Day kiosk. I used them very well. The Katra town was looking very beautiful in that early morning.

Finally, I reached the main temple. The bamboo stick helped me a lot. I suggest other future travelers not to forget about this. The liberty shoes, I purchased for this occasion was really very helpful. I will again suggest everyone else not to use very fancy sport shoes, it will spoil your journey. Here, I would like to write something unusual I have. I have seen lots of bearded Muslim in that area. After little interrogation, I learnt that they were poor people working as a ponnee rider for the young ones of rich devotees. Those porters carry kids in the age group of 1-5 years on their back and leave them before the entrance of the main temple. They were not allowed to enter the temple premises.

At the Bhawan, the nick name of the main temple, it is the ritual to take bath before entering into the main cave. I abandoned the idea of bath, it was too cold. Almighty must have understood my problem. In hindu mythology everything is allowed. You can be a super devotee, you can be a great devotee, a better devotee and a common devotee. You can be not so great devotee, you can be devotee with a little amount of devotion. One thing was sure, I was not a super devotee, the best superlative degree added to it, but I do believe in the almighty and it was my faith which brought me to this place. Not being the super devotee, had given me liberty not to take bath. Anyway, I deposited my mobile phone, valet, belt, shoes and of course the bamboostick which helped me so far, in the designated area. I washed my legs with the cold water joined the queue. It was already 02:30 AM and there was waiting period to join the queue. The movement in the queue was very fast. I kept moving at a constant pace and then at the entrance of the main cave, I found couple of rude security personnel. I was down with their behavior, then thought since they have deal with variety of people and their professional duty make them rude. I didn’t find any issue with it.

The main cave usually are open only in extreme winter and it was the penultimate week of month of January so luckily it was opened. It was a small cave with chill water flowing through it. The opening of the cave was so small that one can not easily believe passing through it. The chill water flowing through it made it more uncomfortable. It was then that security personal asked me to push my body through the opening of the cave. I hesitated momentarily but I had to follow what they were instructing me. I pushed myself into the cave. It was not like the cave which we found at ardhkuwanri. At least at ardhkuwanri one can crawl like snake pushing himself upward. Here crawling was not possible. I had to bend my structure at 120 degree to the ground in anticlockwise direction just fitting my structure in the cave. My feet in the chilled water fearing that head will collide with the upper wall of the cave. The cave, I believe was not less than 100 meter long. I kept walking with keeping my structure at 120 degree in anticlockwise direction till I found a priest sitting at the other gate. The priest was relatively young; there were very clean and pure environment. The crowd was very thin and I was not able to believe it was the main deity for which I have came from Bangalore. I offer my puja for more than required time until again rude voice ranged in my ear. It was again another set of security personnel instructing me to keep moving. I was done. In 2005 november, I promised that my wife struggling in the ICU after delivery of my son Ayachi if came out from that situation, I will visit Vaishnodevi. I spent almost 30 second thanking to the god, for giving me such a wonderful family. I came out from the cave, it was already 03:00 AM, collected my belonging and I called my narrating the wonderful and energetic feeling after offering my puja. She was very happy.

I went to the nearest hotel which was adjacent to the main temple. Though I didn’t book the room, Initially I planned to stay in that hotel and then climb down in the next morning. When enquired there were no rooms available. I will not suggest the future traveler to stay there after so long trekking unless or until you are a trained athlete. For, your feet will stop responding if you will take rest after sustained draining of your energy for 14 KM of trekking. Keep moving until you return back. I had no other option but to return back. I order a cup of special tea had it and set out for a trekking of another 13 KM on the downhill.

I travelled for next four and half hours. There was nothing so special to mention in this downhill travel. Except the fact that each step forward was getting tougher. I used stairs which was not so bad. If you are young you should use it. Only precaution to be taken to put your feet firmly on the steps. In any case if you are dizzying, you should take rest. Take adequate fluids, tea or coffee. The last moment of my journey was very painful. There was a time when I felt that now I cannot move forward. When I reached Katra, I slept for the rest of the day. Touts were offering me foot massage, which I politely refused.

Walking 28 KM in a stretch is not so easy even on plane surface. I walked, rather climbed up and down in the hill, but I managed. I remembered how my wife was struggling in the ICU for 11 days in 2005. I thanked to almighty including Ma Vaishno Devi for giving my wife back to me. I thanked god for giving me a cutest son of the earth to me. I thanked them for giving me such a wonderful family a beautiful adobe to live in. I chanted prem se bolo jai mata dee, milke bolo jai mata dee.


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