Pilgrimage to Mata Vaishnodevi shrine #2: Adhkwari to Bhawan

Trek to Mata Vaishnodevi shrine is an arduous pilgrimage and often tests the endurance of the devotees to its limit. Yet year after year millions of devotees undertake the trek with unflinching devotion for the divine mother. Most devotees divide their journey (at least psychologically) into 2 parts – Ban Ganga to Adhkwari and then Adhkwari to Bhawan.

In the first part, I shared the experiences of my maiden trip to Mata Vaishnodevi shrine where I described my journey from Ban Ganga to Adhkwari. Below is the link to the first part:

Mata Vaishnodevi shrine at Katra #1: Ban Ganga to Adhkwari

In this post, I would share the enthralling experience from Adhkwai to Bhawan followed by the Bhairavnath temple. As mentioned in the last post, we decided to visit Adhkwari while returning so we collected out token and proceeded towards Bhawan. It was about 3 AM and it was freezing cold. We decided to take the Himkoti route as it was less steep and also 1 km less than the traditional Hathi Matha route. After walking about 500 mts along the Himkoti route, in contrast to our trek from Ban Ganga to Adhkwari, we found ourselves mostly alone and the track deserted with very few devotees en route. Many devotees had stayed back at Adhkwari perhaps to rest and resume their journey early morning. We also missed the poor horses and mules (until now we had been despising them) who were not allowed on this route. The Himkoti route is devout of private eateries and at 3 AM there were only a few cafeterias run by the shrine board which had limited menu. Walking ahead, we found ourselves in the company of monkey troops perched on the steel railings to the roof shade trying to beat the cold by cuddling up to each other. Continuous bhajans and mantra chanting in the speakers provided much needed support in the cold night and we kept pushing ourselves amidst intermittent stops.

Night view of Katra from the Trikuta Hills

At about 3 kms to Bhawan we got the first glimpse of it. Set on the slope of the Trikuta hill and illuminated against the darkness of the night, it was a scene to behold – the destination was finally visible.

Night view of Bhawan

The sight of Bhawan made us ecstatic, our legs found a new vigour and we started to walk faster. From 3 km, there are milestones at every 250 meter showing the distance to Bhawan. Our excitement grew with every passing milestone. At 500 mts to Bhawan, the yatra parchi is stamped again; make sure you don`t skip this. On reaching Bhawan, there are cloakrooms, lockers, dormitories and shoe stands. The first cloakroom you come across is Locker # 3. If you are not planning to visit the Bhairavnath temple, you can deposit your bags, shoes and other items here as it is less crowded than the other cloakrooms. However, if you have planned to visit Bhairavnath temple, you should deposit them at Locker # 1 or Locker # 2 as they are close to the main temple premises. Since Locker # 3 is farther from the main temple premises, you would have to return and collect your belongings before making the onward journey to Bhairavnath temple.

We reached just in time as the temple gates were about to be closed for preparation of morning aarti. The temples gates are closed and darshan is suspended for about 2 hours during the aarti time which happens twice a day. If you are visiting, its advisable to refer to the shrine board website to have an idea about the aarti timings and time your trek accordingly.

On learning that the temple gates were about to be closed we had to rush to the cloakrooms for which we had to descend and reascend 60-70 steps which were too painful for our fatigued legs. We deposited our mobiles, camera and shoes at Locker # 2 which is adjacent to Locker #1. Remember you are not allowed to carry anything except wallets (even ladies purse is not allowed). We reached the gates and went in after a security screening. We passed through an extensive system of corridors and staircases to reach the cave.

Bhawan at dawn

Outside the cave, there is a beautiful golden idol of Sherowali mata (mata Durga perched on a Lion – her mount). We entered into the holy cave through a long white marble tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was the sanctum of Mata Vaishnodevi where she has manifested in the form of 3 rock formations called the pindis, representing mata Laxmi, mata Saraswati and mata Mahakali. As the crowd was comparatively less, we had darshan of the pindis from very close quarters for about 30-40 seconds which is rare. After offering our obeisances and seeking the divine blessings of Mata Vaishnodevi, we came out of the tunnel. Outside I found many people tying red chunris which is a custom. On the exit way, we collected free prasad and khajana packet distributed by the shrine board. At the end, it was an extremely satisfying darshan which made the arduous trek worth it.

After coming out we were completely exhausted, sleep deprived and hungry. For long we deliberated whether to continue our journey to Bhairavnath temple or terminate it here and return. After lots of consideration, we decided to complete the journey and visit Bhairavnath temple. As per the benediction given by Mata Vaishnodevi to Bhairavnath, the journey to her shrine is deemed to be complete only if it is followed by the darshan of Bhairavnath. By then we were too tired to trek further. Hence we decided to hire ponies. The pony prices are highly variable and subject to bargaining. We settled for Rs. 900 for each pony which would take us to Bhairavnath temple and back to Ban Ganga. Taking the helicopter from Sanji Chhat is another great option.

We had breakfast and started on our ponies to Bhairavnath temple which is 3 kms from Bhawan. It is a small temple where the severed head of Bhairavnath is worshiped. There is a vantage point from where you get an excellent panoramic view of the Trikuta hills. After darshan of Bhairavnath we started our downward pony ride and reached Ban Ganga in about two and half hours. You can have the Gulshan Kumar langar here. We hardly had any energy left and the only thing in our mind was to reach the comforts of our hotel rooms as early as possible. We took an auto rickshaw to the Katra bus stand from where we boarded our bus back to Jammu.

Bhairavnath temple

It was an extremely enervating yet equally amazing trip and the experiences will be etched in our memories forever. Next day we left for Amritsar from Jammu which was the last destination of our trip. You can read about the Wagah border retreat ceremony of Amritsar here:

Soaking patriotism at the Wagah border 

I hope you liked this post. Please share your experiences, queries and feedback in the comments section below. Bolo sachhe darbar ki…. JAYYYYYY…… जय माता दी!

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I absolutely love your writing style…