The holy trail
"start of 13 km trek uphill"
Let me describe how one can undertake this yatra.We took a 9 pm train from Delhi reached Jammu the next morning,from Jammu station we took a taxi to Katra which is the town for people to rest and freshen up before and after the yatra.You can hire a taxi or take a bus [on the last trip we took a bus it was quite comfortable].Once we reach Katra one can book a hotel room and freshen up leave all the stuff back just carry a pair of clean clothes to change before entering the shrine(leather goods are forbidden).We reached Katra around 11 am by 1 pm we were ready to start for "the holy trail". One has to take an auto to reach the Gate ,where the army men will check the stuffs we are carrying.You get to see the hill we will be climbing and on the top is the shrine which is always busy with pilgrims throughtout day and night ,some people make it every year,people take their young children with them I wonder how they make some of them walk or carry them its a strain for oneself,carrying another load is beyond my thought process.However if you can afford there will be local people called 'pitthu" who will carry small children on their back for a price up and down the hill.
The climp uphill is quite tough especially if you are not in touch with physical fitness........you can walk slowly dont try to exert yourself from the start...you can take the stairs as well but i suggest do that while on return,your muscles are not used to that kind of strain,and you might experience an intense pain ...so keep to the wide rode uphill...the sight will be of people walking down hill.....you'll be so exhausted you will want to rest every few steps...there are alot of resting places some people prefer to sleep for a while some keep on walking...we reached ArdhKuwari in three hours...after you reach this place you can take a tokan to visit the gufa(cave) it is believed that if you are a sinner you will not be able to slide through this cave and many people have experienced such instances...however we were lucky enough to slide past easily.This place is the midpoint so most of the people rest here we had our dinner here in a bhojanalaya rajma rice rested for sometime ..the climb uphill is quite a strain after the rest so if you do not want to continus from here there is another option to take a left from Ardhkuwari,there is a passage and a road which is connected to the new road this way is not so steep....the above pic in which we can see lights in Katra awas taken from here...on my first and second visit we took the steep path my recent visit I took the new road which was much easier on the muscles......
the pic was taken on the way most probalby after 30 mins we started the trek......this trek fulfills two purposes firstly the spiritual quest and secondly the trek.All of us with just our bags and stick to support us.
"Food break at Ardhkuwari"
In front of sweet stalls trying to decide which sweet to taste...it was quite cold in the night so our jackets are also up....an advice please carry a cap if you intent to walk thru the night...as the dew in the morning hours can give you a bad headache.Its fun walking during the night there is lots of light on the way its safe and when friends are around you will not realise how far you have walked.
After 3 hrs or so we were nearing 'Bhawan' thats what people call the shrine,people sing the glory of the goddess on the way and its not unususl to join in when one group passes you...till the time you can catch up with them you sing along...though you dont find young people so interested in spirituality otherwise here you get to see from old to new borns..and its amazing to see how the goddess is so revered.Whole day whole night you find people walking up and down.
The pic is Basu after he collected prasad for all the group...potli baba...
Here we had finally reached the top from her one has to walk in a straight winding path...there might be slight uphill but not so much...you get this feeling now its going to come,though quite far,night was getting colder and all are bundled up in warm clothes....my brother right in front ,liza my friend next and my cousins at the back....
It was quite relieving to get the darshan of the Mandir from here...you can see the lights behind us.....all of were dead tired......once we reached the mandir people prefer to have bath so wash away the dirt and filth before entering the mandir,for the first two visits i did too...oh god the water is bone chilling cold,it will take your breath away...ha ha...so dont loiter around in the bathhouses,once finished we put our bags in a locker (at your own risk) then stood in lines to get darshan....the lines are long and slow moving as there are three types of line the vip lines,the army pass line and the general,luckily i did not have to stand in general lines,so we did not have to wait for very very long it was ok.....the darshan takes place very fast!!! so if you are a first timer just concentrate to have darshan of the goddess than to look around..as soon as you are infront of the statue there will be some volunteers who will pull you forward to give way to other people,space is very small so you have to be quick,the first time I dont remember what happened as soon as i had stepped in front of the statues i was pulled forward ..so how i had darsan I dont know what i saw it was blank!!!!it was so fast that my brain too could not register anything...felt funny or might be i was not entitled for it....but the last trip was worthwile,had some vip passes so got to stand in front of the shrine for 2 mins can u believe that,must be this bonus was for the earlier time i missed...i was happy so were all my group people.....after darshan we collected our belongings from the locker and stared for the Bhairon mandir(he is the demon Mata killed and he was given a boon by Mata that whoever comes to visit me will also visti you)So we started our hike further uphill might be 2 km ..once the darsan was over we started our downhill climb....
"Stairs while getting down"
you cant believe how many stairs there can be at a time some has more than 500..so its quite exhausting......the walk seems never ending...you feel this is the last bend and you are there but how many bends passes after that you cant count...ha ha...but finally everyone makes to the bottom...then we returned to our hotel after 17 hours of walking up na down hill (total time with darshan and rest as well)only to find they have not kept a room as promised........imagine the condition...somehow one person was starting for the yatra in the early houes and a room was vacated ,the linins were changes so we landed in the bed, on matress on the floor ... nobody know where..god the sleep was so welcome.....the ache was all over the body ,leg...we slept for some 4-5 hours ,then got up ,got ready to go to jammu to catch our night train back to Delhi....all of were ok no major pain accept for some muscle pull due to excessive walk in one day.....any the trip was fruitful and there are so many people who
do it happily to get the blessings of the goddess for happiness and prosperity.