Posted by: Neeraj | November 9, 2008

The Pilgrimage

I regularly go out on a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi – once a year at least and at the most. It absolves me of my sins and my conscience of the ever nagging thought that I don’t remember Him too often. I always try to choose the time of the year very carefully so as to avoid any mad rush on the way.

The journey

I took a train from New Delhi; which leaves late in the evening and reaches Jammu early in the morning. From there it is a 1.5 hour ride on the vehicle of your choice – I chose a bus as it is more airy and less claustrophobic. It was supposedly a deluxe bus – a euphemism which is often used to extract more money from the traveler (I came back at 60% of the cost). The driver was a regular so he knows very well when trains full of tourists arrive and the absence of locals on the bus helped him make a neat profit on this.  The bus was dirty to say the least with the covers on the head rests turned inside out to make them cleaner.  The bus stopped at a particular restaurant – though for such a short journey we did not need a break; again I believed they must be making a neat sum because of bringing the hungry tourist to the restaurants. The bus had almost 40 seats and the people on the bus more than 50 – handsome sum again because what they would be paying to the bus owner would only be for the 40 seats. The bus also dropped newspapers and vegetables at stoppage points on the way. What I could figure out in the short journey was that the bus driver and his partner were running several small parallel businesses to supplement what they earned from the bus owner. Shady but necessary!

The Arrival  

Katra is a very small sleeping town from where you start the 25 odd km journey (back and forth) to ‘The Bhawan – where you get to see the three different pindis which you have come to see from so far off.’ Strangely, Katra does not eat onion – a departure from the traditional North Indian style of cooking, leave apart stuff like eggs and the more sinister meat. I guess it is more to do with the image than any actual religious belief. And since the whole town thrives on the religious tourist for his living nobody is willing to take the risk. I have been there in the late seventies as a child (and honestly I remember very little of it) but from what I hear from my friends and relatives the place has taken off in a big way and is now recognized as one of the holier religious places with a daily turnover of between a few thousands to more than 50 thousand people depending on the time of the year you are visiting. Earlier there was no lighting, the roads were not paved, fewer kiosks on the road but all this has changed for good. The Vaishno Devi Shrine Board has done its bit. You will get affordable food all along the way with fixed prices, clean drinking water, neat road, lighting and since my last two trips cell phones have started working too though they were banned earlier too. I could also spot a few people with Cameras too. And all the big brands are investing heavily there too realizing the huge potential the place has to offer. The only thing that I found missing on my earlier trips was good food (with an overdose of a particular type of food – fried paraanthaas and rice). This has been addressed to some extent this time with food courts opening up at both the half point (crudely translated) and at ‘The Bhawan.’

 

The Bhawan

For the believer, the Bhawan is the realization of his religious dreams. If you are a first time visitor you need to be very careful because there is a good chance that you will miss seeing the right pindi in the ‘not more than a few seconds that you get there’ – I missed the Pindi completely the first time I went there way back in 1996.  This visit was more relaxed with fewer people there on account of festivals being around the corner. The Pandit was generous with his advice too pointing you to the right Pindi and I got more than my share of time. The place is guarded like a fortress and you feel really secure that there are so many people from the CRPF guarding ‘The Bhawan.’

The Conclusions

A very well run machinery with every cog of the wheel doing the bit its supposed to do. There are a few small lapses here and there but they are more an exception to the process than the rule. People are honest in their dealings but with very little leeway from the system that is the way it should be. The only place where you need to be careful how you spend your money is the bazaar in Katra where you need to be careful with the price of what you are buying. The locals have a hard life in whatever they may choose to do – be it an individual Pithoo, or a part of the team of four carrying the Paalkee, or the guy who runs the auto (you need to be wary of him as he can overcharge too seeing the extent of tiredness  of your body). Anybody can undertake this trip whether young or old, healthy or disabled with a lot of solutions available to facilitate your trip. In short, a pilgrimage worth taking at least once in your life!

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Responses

  1. Good account of the Yatra. About Onion not being used, I searched on net a year back and in many other traditions (Chinese being one) food is divided in 3 categories. Satva, Rajas, Tamas. Red Onion come into 3rd one and said to diminish the good aura or you may say feel good factor. May be thats why this tradition of not eating onions by Swamis became religious. This case was only with red onions.

  2. Interesting observation!! I’ve been to Vaishno Devi when i was very young, so i don’t really remember it that well (infact i don’t remember it at all). I just remember that my father had to carry me for a kilometer or so in the end. I’ve made a promise to my father that i’ll take him to Mansarovar one day (when i have enough money). For me that trip is going to nothing short of an adventure :).

  3. Things have changed a lot since you would have visited about 30 odd years ago 🙂 Does going to Mansarovar cost a lot of money? I thought all pilgrimages are not costly. See I replied very fast.

  4. 30 years ago i was not even born. I was talking about my visit in this life. Yes the trip to Mansarovar is expensive. Mostly because it is organized by private travel companies and also because the trip takes you across three countries!! The pilgrims are made to stay in makeshift camps as most of trip is through areas where there is almost zero infrastructure.

  5. I have never been to Vishno Devi but will certainly go there next year.

    What is this thing about missing pindis? and what do you think is best time visit and yet not uncomfortable?

  6. Thanks Poonam for visiting. The most auspicious time to visit is in the Navratras, but probably, the most uncomfortable. The best time would be just after the Navratras in October. Reach there Friday morning to avoid the weekend traffic and you are back in town by Sunday morning. So, will get enough time to rest as well. As for missing Pindis, the point I wanted to make was that you get very little viewing time inside the cave. So, unless you are prepared, you would miss the place where they are placed.


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