Thursday, 5 April 2012

Vaishno Devi Shrine Katra

At the slightest pretext and opportunity, I like to escape from the stress and madness of a demanding city like Delhi. Or perhaps it is the nomadic strain in me since childhood, that urges me to seek respite from a monotonous life. So when the kids' school closed for a session break, we packed ourselves off to Katra- an overnight journey from Delhi to Jammu and Kashmir.
    Katra is synonymous with Mata Vaishno Devi, the presiding Goddess whose blessings are sought throughout the year. There is a continuous stream of the devout, who arrive at this small town for their spiritual journey. We did the same.
       The shrine is nestled in the Trikuta hill and there are various ways to approach the Goddess. For those who would want to make an arduous journey,there are the steep steps or a walk along the gently inclined roads. For the others, there are palanquins, ponies and Helicopter services for hire. A commercial cosmos seemed to have sprung to facilitate the pilgrims' needs. You will find the interesting stories of Her glory and how this place came to be, here.
    What I found interesting was, you could visit the Goddess without any demands made of you, by the  touts that have tarnished the sanctity of  many religious destinations. As we walked around the main and only market of Katra, I came across tired but satisfied people walking down the hill. They came from all walks of life. There was a look of relief written large on their faces. A culmination of probably, long anticipated moment of making this journey.

Fawwara chowk
      We came to the Fawwara Chowk, named after the lone fountain that struggled to assert its presence amidst the louder commercial kiosks and various modes of transportations and their agents.  

Shrine in a shop
All your needs for the trip uphill
      There were shops that rented out slippers, shoes and even crudely made walking sticks! And there were shops with replicas of the sanctum sanctorum installed  to lure the tourists into buying their wares ...Stores after stores selling memorabilia, prashad,red strips of sequined  cloth to carry back for family and friends...And kiosks after kiosks for the hungry pilgrim.
     It is this small settlement at the foot hills that brings you back to your mortal self and realities of everyday life ..for when you begin the journey, there is serenity and peace.The journey up the hill, lets you reach out to your inner self. The air punctuated with cries of jai mata di, cajoles your  focus on the Divine, just in case your thoughts have wavered with the aches endured and vistas spread before you.
   After the darshan, once back at Katra, there are other places to visit if you have the time. There is Shivkhori around 85kms from Katra , a cave  enshrined with a naturally formed Shivling. People also love to move onto Patnitop and beyond for a taste of the beautiful Kashmir. And if you are moving towards Udhampur, you must try the rajma-chawal combo at Pida. It is the best! Even people who never liked it ( my father- in- law, for instance), vouch for it!!!  I was also told of the ruins of a fort at Reasi that was hardly 25kms away. Maybe you could try it. I've kept it for my next visit :)
   I decided to stay at Katra and not oscillate to and fro to too many places. Looking at the distant snow clad Pirpanjal mountains and taking in the crisp freshness of the air that only hilly areas can give you, was enough for me. Reading a book with the rolling hills around and the setting sun, is my kind of a break.
    It  is faith that draws multitude of people to shrines such as Mata Vaishno not only in the Divine but somewhere down the line, faith in oneself for which we seek Divine support... In the evening, as I look at the Trikuta hill, the twinkling path leading the weary soul to the shrine, and the stars above seek solitude and introspect for a better self.


Twinkling Trikuta