Few days ago, I read a tweet that said,"best memories are those that can never be explained." I completely agree to it and to be honest, it is difficult for me to write about my favourite place, the place where my heart resides. Calling it favourite would be a small word. I love the place with my every nerve. But I am writing it because my best friend insisted me for writing on this topic. So, not taking much of your time, I would love to tell you that the special place is Vaishno Devi which is in Katra, Jammu.
|Maa Vaishno Devi Shrine|
The sacred shrine of Vaishno Devi is 14 km up the hills from Katra. We can go up either by opting to walk, or by taking a ride on ponies. The helicopter service is also available but they require online booking in pretty advance and their flying is determined by the weather. We usually go up on Ponies and return on foot. It is such a delightful walk that people forget their pain of walking so long, that too on steep hills.
I went there recently and it was the eleventh time I went there. If someone gives me a choice between going on a world tour or a trip of mere three days to Vaishno Devi, I would definitely choose the latter without giving any second thought. I am a deep believer of Maa Vaishno Devi, and I can go to her shrine again and again. The place is so divine and beautiful. I feel close to God and nature when I am there.
As I said above, we usually go up on ponies the next day we reach katra, and return on foot. But this time we made a different plan. We began the journey the same night we reached Katra. After a road journey of about 9 hours, we rested for some time in hotel, took dinner and began the pilgrimage.
The pony I had got was white with brown spots over it. The ponies are so very well trained by their owners that they moved flawlessly even when there was a power cut at some places and it was completely dark. They didn't stop even for a second and made way through the darkness. Anyway, back pain is sure to hit you if you ride 14 km on a pony on steep hills. Ponies take a 30 minutes break after about 8 kms. This is from where I clicked this image on beautiful Katra at night. I had seen this view of Katra at night for the first time and could not resist capturing this beauty.
Next morning, after aarti and darshan, we had to head back to Katra that meant 14 km down the hills. Most of us were dead tired due to first 10 hours road trip, followed by four hours on ponies and hardly one hour of sleep at night. I didn't sleep even for a minute though.
We had two choices either take the ponies again or walk. Well, let me warn you, if you take ponies down the hills then please forget your back for at least a week because it pains so much and its more tiring than walking. Somehow, a friend of us managed to get the chopper tickets, which was otherwise over-booked and had waiting for hours. I so wanted to return on foot but looking at other's tired faces, even I was happy for the first time to see the tickets, as else, I used to be the only person to say 'no' to chopper. But it was such an experience. I am glad I didn't deny this time.
Our family members were divided in two groups, numbered 35 and 36. Me and my cousin had 36 and other family members were in 35 group number. I wasn't happy of being with some other family in the next round. But still I pretended I was alright. At the very last moment, when the crew called the group number 35 people to get to waiting line, they said one person is lacking and told me that the 35 was written in a hurry and it looked exactly like 36. I was jumping with joy when I heard that, though I did feel sad for my dear cousin because I did not want him to be left the only one in the other group.
Next, they told me that I would be sitting in the front row, with the pilot in the cockpit. That moment of mixed emotions. I was scared but soon the excitement took the place of fear as the chopper landed. I took out my phone, just before switching it off, to take a picture of it and I am sure if I would have gripped the phone a little lightly, it would have blown somewhere down the helipad, which is named Sanji chhat.
|Sanji Chhat Helipad|
I was finally inside the chopper, taking my seat next to the pilot. I had heard that pilot asks everyone, who sits next to him, to not to touch anything on the dashboard. I was waiting he would instruct me too, but he didn't. As if he sensed I already knew that. He handed me over the seat belt. "What do I do with that?" I thought, because I really didn't know where to insert it as there was no buckle. Thankfully, a crew member outside the chopper took it and plugged it, wherever it had to be. I still don't know where its buckle was. Then there was an iron bar between my seat and that of pilot. He gestured me to hold that grip. I didn't understand. I thought I had to stay away from it so it would not trouble him and I actually shifted by an inch or so. He took my hand and placed over the bar. I held the bar tightly. "Why on the earth are you on silent mode today?" I was thinking continuously. But he was a man of about 50-60 years, so respect. I must say it was an unexpectedly smooth journey of one minute. His experience of flying spoke out loud, even though he didn't speak a single word. I could see the beautiful Katra from the windshield of the chopper. It was majestic. The green mountains, followed by roads and finally the helipad where it landed. I loved the whole experience and I am no longer scared of flying in choppers. Above all, I loved their quick service, how they manage to get passengers in and out of the chopper within seconds and avoid any kind of delay.
Post-lunch, we slept for 5-6 hours and then roamed in the markets of Katra at evening and saw a movie after dinner. The multiplex is hardly at a 15-20 steps distance from the hotel Swing High (The hotel we were staying at.)
Next day we had to return home but the family friend (I mentioned above) insisted on visiting his home which lies on the opposite side on magnificent Mansar Lake. The lake is about 62 km from Jammu. I got to see these giant fishes (compared to the size of fishes we once had in our aquarium) there.
His home was like a dream house. Mountains in the background, farms in foreground and lake on the opposite side of the road. Simple, sober yet amazingly beautiful. Best part was his six months old cousin, who didn't cry even once seeing new people around. Rather, he looked at me and smiled. A baby's smile is a pure bliss. So, that was a cute end to a memorable trip to Vaishno Devi.
I am appending the link to a song through which you may know more about Vaishno Devi pilgrimage.
Link: Main Pardesi Hoon
P.S.- Things have changed and improved a lot over time there than those seen in this video, as this is quite old now. But this is my ever favourite song. The Shrine board does amazing and appreciable work to make the pilgrimage as convenient to the pilgrims as possible.