From Katra to Vaishno Devi Ji
1. Yatra Parchi
Once a pilgrim reaches Katra he has to obtain a yatra permit from the permit counter of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. The Permit counter is located adjacent to the Bus stand and the Taxi stand. The permit is known in local parlance as "Yatra Parchi" and the permit counter is known as "Yatra Parchi Counter". The counter remains open every day from 6AM to 10PM. About 18000 pilgrims are permitted to proceed every day on rush days from Katra to Vaishno Devi Ji.
A third counter is operated at the erstwhile Mulberry Nursery for the convenience of the pilgrims coming by chartered buses. It caters exclusively to such groups of pilgrims only. YATRA PARCHIS ARE GIVEN TO THE PILGRIMS FREE OF COST ON A FIRST COME FIRST SERVED BASIS. In case the number of pilgrims coming for Darshan on a particular day exceeds 18000, the remaining pilgrims are issued "Yatra Waiting Slips" from the same counters. Pilgrims carrying these slips are issued regular yatra parchis the next day. A maximum number of nine persons can be registered against one yatra parchi by the staff on duty. Each parchi contains the name of the leader of the party. His/her place of residence and the number of males, females and children in the group of nine. Children below five years of age are not entered in the Yatra Parchi.
A) From Yatra Parchi Counter to Darshani Darwaza
Once a pilgrim is in possession of a yatra parchi he/she is eligible to proceed for the Yatra. The distance from the yatra parchi counter to DARSHANI DARWAZA (it is so named because it is the point from where the yatra is really deemed to commence and thus becomes the doorway or Darwaza for Darshan) is one kilometer. Pilgrims cover this stretch either on foot, or on auto rickshaws or by the bus service which is operated by the Shrine Board free of charge for the pilgrim.
B) From Darshani Darwaza to Banganga
The motorable road terminated at Darshani Darwaza. From there the pilgrim has to go forward either on foot or on a pony or on a PALKI or DANDI (Palanquin). The holy Shrines is located at a distance of twelve kilometers from Darshani Darwaza. The entire track from Darshani Darwaza to Vaishno Devi Ji is laid with cement tiles which are very comfortable to walk on. The track is also lit with sodium lights at night. Drinking water points, toilets, rain and sun shelters, refreshment units and vatikas have been provided at frequent intervals for the convenience of the pilgrims.
The first station beyond Darshani Darwaza is Banganga. Ponies and Palkis are available for hire at Banganga on rates fixed by the State Government. The Shrine Board has an office at Banganga which remains open round the clock for attending to an resolving the difficulties of the pilgrims. The Shrine Board also runs a First Aid Centre at Banganga. The Police Department has set up a Police Post at Banganga. A large number of shops selling eatables and consumer items have come up at Banganga. They remain open round the clock. The yatra parchi is checked and stamped at the Banganga Check Post. This is done to prevent people who do not possess a yatra parchi from proceeding for the yatra. A PILGRIM MUST CROSS BANGANGA CHECK POST WITHIN SIX HOURS OF OBTAINING THE YATRA PARCHI. Banganga is only one and a half kilometre from the yatra parchi counter. The Banganga Check Post remains open round the clock.
C) Banganga To Charan Paduka
Two and a half kilometers from Darshani Darwaza at a height of 3200 feet above sea level is the place known as Charan Paduka. There is an impression of Mata's feet on a rock at Charan Paduka. A small temple has been constructed over this rock at Charan Paduka. A number of shops selling snacks and cold drinks have come up at this place. The State Government runs a First Aid Centre here. The Shrine Board has set up a MAHILA MANDAL here.
D) Charan Paduka to Adhkawari
Six kilometers from Darshani Darwaza at a height of 4200 feet above sea level is the place known as Adhkawari.
The Shrine Board has constructed a large complex at Adhkawari. Free Dharmshalas, rooms on rent, a post office, a medical dispensary, a chemist shop, a bank, a pony stand and a large number of shops are available at Adhkawari. The Shrine Board also runs a Bhojanalya at Adhkawari which is open round the clock every day. Hygienically cooked food at subsidized rates is available for the pilgrims from this Bhojanalya. Blankets are also available free of cost for the pilgrims at Adhkawari. A refundable security amount blanket has, however to be deposited. The security is refunded to the pilgrim after he returns the blankets. The State Government has also set up a Police Post at Adhkawari. The Shrine Board's office at Adhkawari is open round the clock. An Announcement cum Information Counter also functions round the clock in a room adjacent to the office. Regular Announcements are made from the Announcement Counter for the information of the pilgrims.
Pilgrims first go to the temple at Adhkawari and then enter the narrow cave known as Garbh Joon. At most places the cave is not more than two feet wide. Inspite of this people of all sixes are able to crawl though it.
E) Adhkawari to Sanji Chhat
Nine and a half kilometers from Darshani Darwaza lies Sanji Chhat at an altitude of 5870 feet above sea level. It is a delightful little plateau which affords a panoramic view of the Pir Panjal Range and the Chenab river wending its way majestically to Pakistan. At its feet, as it were, lies sprawled the town of Katra, the base camp of the yatra. Dharmshalas providing free accommodation, a shopping complex and a Bhojanalya of the Shrine Board are available here for the convenience of the pilgrims. Sanji Chhat also has a First Aid Centre. A very large hospital has also constructed for the shrine Board by the Sagar Suri Trust at Sanji Chhat. Two helipads have also been constructed at Sanji Chhat.
F) Sanji Chhat to Bhawan
Twelve kilometers from Darshani Darwaza and two and a half kilometers from Sanji Chhat lies the Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi JI. It is located at an altitude of 5200 feet above seal level. The climb up the mountain ceases at Sanji Chhat. The track levels out and the pilgrims have to trek over a flat stretch for almost tow kilometers before they begin to descend. The descent carries on for almost half a kilometre till one reaches the area of the holy Shrine - the destination of all the pilgrims who throng to Katra in thousands every day. There are a large number of Dharmshalas at Vaishno Devi Ji which provide free accommodation to the pilgrims. Blankets are also available for the pilgrims free of cost. Security has, however, to be deposited for taking the blankets. This security is refunded as soon as the blankets are returned to the blanket store. These blankets are regularly washed in the automatic laundry plant that has been installed by the Shrine Board at Vaishno Devi JI. The Shrine Board also provides a few rooms on rent to the pilgrims at Vaishno Devi Ji. A large number of privately run shops serve food and snacks to the pilgrims. In addition, the Shrine Board runs a Bhojanalaya at Vaishno Devi Ji which is open rounded the clock. A medical dispensary, a chemist shop, a post office, a telephone exchange, two banks and a Police station also function at Vaishno Devi Ji. The Shrine is open for Darshan round the clock every day except for two hours in the morning (from 6AM to 8AM) and for two hours in the evening (from 6PM to 8 PM) when the AARTI is performed.
What to wear
The holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is located at an altitude of 5200 feet above sea level. Enroute one has to cross Sanji Chhat which lies at an altitude of 5870 feet above sea level. If a pilgrim decides to return to Katra via Bhairo Temple he has to climb to 6500 feet above sea level. All the three stations experience heavy snowfall during the months of December, January and February. Consequently, it can become extremely cold during winters Pilgrims are advised to carry heavy woolen clothing with them if they wish to perform the yatra during winters. In fact,Heavy woolen clothings should be carried by pilgrims from October to March. April is an unpredictable month. The weather can turn quite cold if it rains. So it is advisable to carry light woolens during this month. May to September are very pleasant months. One can get by with cotton clothes. Since the journey has to be performed primarily on foot it is advisable to wear canvas shoes or rubber soled shoes as they are comfortable to walk in. It is also useful to carry torches, raincoats and walking sticks. Canvas Shoes, Torches, Raincoats And Walking Sticks Can Be Hired from a large number of shops at Katra.
Light woollens are required at night even during summer. During the remaining parts of the year heavy woollens are require.
How to reach
Jammu, 48 kms from Katra, is the nearest airport, railhead and inter-state bus terminus. Buses leave for Katra at 10 minute intervals between 5:30 a.m and 8:30 p.m. During peak season, additional buses are pressed into service.
Taxis are available both at Jammu and Katra for the journey. In Jammu city, these can be hired from the Jammu airport, Jammu railway station and the Tourist Reception Centre. A number of travel agencies conduct tours to Katra regularly from Delhi and other major cities of India. There are also daily scheduled services to Katra from a number of cities and towns of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.