Vaishno Devi, also known as Mata Rani and Vaishnavi, is a manifestation of the Hindu Mother Goddess or Durga. Vaishno Devi Mandir is a very popular Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu Goddess, located at the Trikuta Mountains within the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. More then 10 million pilgrims visit this shrine every year.
Mata is form of Shakti or Parvati. She is depicted as very beautiful and dressed in red. Her eight arms hold trident, bow, arrow, lotus, mace and sword and a hand in abhaya gesture. She rides on a tiger.
Bhairon Temple is located at a distance of 1.42 km from the Bhawan. The temple is situated at the highest point of the adjacent hill at an altitude of 6,619 ft. This temple also involves a steep climb which can be undertaken by foot, ponies or palanquins.
It is believed that the journey to Mata Vaishno Devi is not complete without the darshan in Bhairon Temple. According to the legends, Bhairon Nath was killed by Vaishno Devi and while seeking an apology, was given a boon of being the last link of the pilgrimage.
Adhkunwari is located about 6 km from Katra, at an altitude of 4,800 ft. It is a half way mark to the journey to holy cave. Adhkunwari is considered to be one of the most important darshans where Mata Vaishno Devi is believed to have meditated for nine months.
An exit on the other end of the cave was created by Mata with her trident, when Bhairon Nath approached the cave. The cave is shaped like a womb and is very narrow. Only one person can pass through this cave at a time
Sanjichhat is a beautiful spot located at a distance of 3.25 km from Adhkunwari. The beautiful view of the valley and snow covered peak of Himalayas can be seen from this spot. It is the highest point on the old track and an end point to the uphill climb. To reach the Bhawan, tourists have to walk downhill from Sanjichhat.
Banganga is located just after the police check post and Yatra Parchi Check Post. This river is said to be associated with the miracles and legends of Mata Vaishno Devi. Water remains in the river throughout the year except when there is an acute shortage in rainfall or snow during monsoon and winter seasons.
It is believed that Mata Vaishno Devi on her way to holy cave created this river with an arrow from her quiver. Being sacred, devotees take a dip into this holy water before proceeding their journey. For this purpose, two ghats have been built.
Himkoti is visited by tourists as the sight gives a beautiful view of the entire valley. It is situated at a distance of 2.75 km from Adhkunwari on the new track. The sight does not have any traditional or religious significance but is visited only because of its natural splendour.
The Shrine Board has developed a view point and is categorised with restaurants, dosa counters, cooked meal shops, medicare shops and cassette counters. Devotees find this place adequately spacious to rest, relax and enjoy the scenic beauty. There is also an artificial pond, a garden and a meditation centre in Himkoti.
Charanpaduka is located at about 2.5 km from Banganga at an altitude of 3,380 ft. It is believed that the imprints of Mata’s feet are engraved on a rock slab.
It is here that Mata stood after disappearing from Pandit Sridhar bhandara to see if Bhairon Nath is following her. To further proceed the journey, tourists touch the footprints of Mata to seek her blessings.
This holy cave is nearly a kilometre long and houses a 4 ft high, naturally formed ‘Shivling’. It is considered second only to the shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi in religious importance. There are stalactites & stalagmites dripping milky limestone water from the ceiling. Situated at a distance of about 100 kms from Jammu and about 75 kms from Katra, Shiv Khori hosts a major fair on Shivratri day every year.
Just 5 km away from Katra is Aghar Jitto, the Shrine of Baba Jitto, a devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi and a revolutionary who led a campaign against the feudal order. According to legends, a dip in the holy spring water, flowing in front of the shrine, does miracles to pre-natal women for safe delivery of children. A path from here leads to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi.
Dera Baba Banda
At about 30 kms from Katra lies this major Hindu-Sikh pilgrimage centre. Baba Banda Bairaagi was Guru Gobind Singh's favourite 'Saint-soldier', who had the gurudwara constructed on the banks of river Chenab, where he spent his last days.
Located 10 kms from Katra (1 km on foot) is Baba Dhansar, a beautiful and cool picnic spot. Here, a huge spring gushes out of the mountainside in a thick grove of trees and forms a number of small waterfalls before flowing into the holy Banganga. Next to the spring in a small grove in the rock face is a naturally formed ‘Shivling’ on which droplets of water fall naturally all the year round. A major ‘mela’ (fair) is held here during Shivratri.