Our trek to the 13 km away Vaishno Mata Shrine started at about 6:30 in the evening as we wanted to do the trek when the climate is not too hot to climb.
Read the previous blog on preparation, arrival and local visit to Katra here
Although most part of the trek is sheltered and there are provisions for rest and drinking water all along the route, still trekking at day time in June would have been more exhausting. Our hotel was about 2km away from Banganga, the check post and entry point to Vaishno Mata trek. So our trek actually started from our hotel. When we neared Banganga we saw a long queue , which was about 1 km long, on asking ,we came to know that it was the queue for entrance, so our prediction for mad rush to the holy shrine was correct . There were separate lines for man and women. The queue for women was comparatively shorter; you need to carry your Yatra slip and ID to show at the checking.
Once you are through the check post the actual trek upwards starts. There are options of pony and palanquin for those who can’t walk or don’t want to walk and pittho –man to carry your luggage and small children. We had two toddlers with us, but they refused to go to the pitthos , it would also have been difficult to match with their pace and leaving child with them was not advisable.
There are number of shops along the trek till 3km which offer you shelter, eatables, prashad and things that you might need on the way. After three 3km shops are scattered at some distances. There are a number of restrooms and water filters along the way.
There were thousands of people trekking to the shrine and the route was crowded at most of the part. There were people climbing up, there were people coming back and there were ponies crossing your way. Some people were getting irritated by the ponies because there is no separated route for them and they often cross you from behind without being intimated by the owner.
You see people of different age groups climbing their way to visit their venerable Goddess and this keeps you spirited, people were chanting “jai mata di slogans”, there were drum-men at frequent distances playing the beats and youngsters were dancing on them.
Since there were toddlers with us, this hindered our pace of climbing. We were taking rest frequently. It is not easy to trek such a long distance upwards with a baby, difficulties with toddlers are
• They are not small enough to be put in baby carriers
• They are not big enough to walk such a long distance on foot
• Since they recognise their parents and hate strangers they would not go with anyone else
• They often get cranky and show tantrums when they are out of their comfort zone
Hence I and my husband swapped terms with carrying baby, it was my husband most of the time, and by the time we reached the shrine we were totally drained out. Though our baby slept for some time when we were about 4km away from the shrine, this was when we were able to call for a pittho, but about 1 km away from the shrine he again woke up and did not go to the pittho again.
Our first halt war Ardhkuwari, but we decided to give it a miss because first there was a long waiting at Ardhkunwari for temple visit, we were already on slow pace, second we decided to take turn at Himkoti which saved us about 1.5 km trek. The trek from Himkoti was steady , I think ponies are not allowed from this route, since we hardly saw one. Some electric autos also run from Ardhkunwari to the Bhawan(Shrine) till 11 pm, but they are only for olds and needy.
Bhawan is 5.5km away from Himkoti which took us another 3-4 hours to reach there, this is where our baby finally slept and we were able to do a pithoo for him, but he woke up midway. When we finally reached Bhawan there was again a long queue at the main entrance to get your Yatra slip stamped and approved, I think they to it to keep track of Visitors. After getting the Yatra slip stamped there was a long queue for Prashad also.
One person from the group stood in the queue to get Prasad for everyone, other two went to get a locker to keep our stuffs when we get in for Prayers. You are not allowed to take your phone, cameras and any leather stuff inside you can keep them in the locker. Rest of us found some space among the crowd to take some rest, the children were sleeping on our laps.
Finally after getting the Prasad and lockers we had to make our ways to the Ghats to change clothes, the shrine was madly crowded and at one point there was hardly any space to even move. Somehow we reached the Ghats managed to change and get ready for the morning Aarti. After another checking inside the Bhawan , we got to sit inside for the Aarti, which was rejuvenating, After Aarti in the hall we went through the tunnel in the cave for darshan of the Goddess . They hardly give you time for the darshan and it generally is in a hush, this is understood as they have to manage the huge crowd.
Finally by the time we came out of the cave after Darshan it was 9am, it was an entire wake up night and we all were exhausted, but then there was another temple of Bharav Nath to visit which was 2 km from the shrine. We got some energy from morning tea and breakfast at shops situated outside the shrine and went for Bhairav Baba Darshan , this time our baby easily went on the pitthoo, so it was a bit easy for us.
After the temple visit we decided to go back on pony, after a little negotiation the pony owners agreed to take us down for INR 850 per person. It was surprising to see how these pony’s listen to their master, the journey back was quite smooth on pony, my baby enjoyed the horse ride, but sitting on horseback for continuous 2-3 hours can take a toll on your back.I was wondering if these ponies every get to rest. It was a relieve to rich Banganga in about 2.5 hours. They drop you about one km away from the main gate. After walking that 1km we got an auto to the hotel.
While returning I saw another long queue at the main market towards a building, I asked the driver what was this queue for, and he told that it was for the Yatra slip. I imagined that it was going to be a crowded day too, at the same time I wondered why have they not done it online rather than standing in a queue on this scorching sun, may be they were not aware of the online facilities. Chek for online details here
When we reached out hotel it was about 5 in the evening, the rest of the day was spent resting in the hotel. We spent the next day in shopping and exploring the market of Katra, which is quite interesting. I like the wooden work specially varieties of baskets available here. You and take lovely souvenirs home, there are scopes of bargain if you are good at it.