Maa Vaishno Devi : Plan Your Trip with Indepth Info

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Though it's an unsolicited advice, can't help putting it here for the larger good.

I have been to Vaishno Devi several times. Have tried all options i.e. horses, ponies, pitthoos(for carrying luggage), helicopter and also by walk. I have found walking the entire route the best option (even if you do it at a snail's pace). Unless one has a serious limitation, one should prefer going to the shrine by walk...the joy and satisfaction is unparalleled.

For doing the entire route by walk (leisurly), one may consider the following itinerary (from Delhi):-

- Decide the date of visit to the shrine ( *D day*). The preparation for the visit starts two months in advance. 

- *D-60*. Book an accommodation at the Shrine (on top) online (through shrine board website ). Booking opens 60 days in advance and the rooms get exhausted within seconds/minutes. Charges are around 1000/- per room. One person can book only one room and for one day only. Keep Aadhaar, Credit Card handy prior to proceeding for the booking. Though it sounds daunting, it's not. Last 5-6 visits of mine, have been done this way. 

- D-60. Once the booking of guest room at the shrine is done successfully, book train tickets as follows: Train should reach katra on the morning of D-day, and for return journey, leave Katra in the evening of D+1

- *D-1*. Take the train to Katra (e.g. from Delhi one can take Shri Shakti Exp (NDLS - 1905h). You will reach Katra early morning (0540h). Take an auto rickshaw from the station to the central market (charges - Rs. 150/-)

- *D-day*. Check in a hotel for around 2-3 hours for freshening up. Charges for a reasonably good & clean hotel would be around 800-1000/-. We had gone to Vaishno Devi on 19 Sep 23 and had checked in 'Hotel Jai Deva Residency' near central market. They charged us Rs. 800/- for 3 hours.

- D-day. After freshening up, leave maximum luggage at the hotel. Take the bare minimum along with you which will be required on top. 
- D-day. Go to Army post near Banganga (managed by 16 Corps) to collect Yatra parchi (Yatra Parchi in the form of RFID card nowadays). Dependents should carry their dependent cards.

- D-day. Start your journey by around 9-10 am. You may take the new 'Tatakote Marg'. This is a new route opened in 2019. It will not have any horses and ponies enroute. This route is about a km longer but easy to walk. (Rickshaw charges from central maket (hotel) to Army post and from Army post to Tarakote Marg start point - Rs. 300/- total)

- D-day. If you are in a group having ladies and kids, walk leisurly. You will take around 6 hours to reach the top (half an hour per km). Don't forget to have 'Rajma Chawal' or 'Kadi Chawal' enroute in the restaurants run by the Shrine Board. You will also find McDonalds, CCD, Bikanerwala etc. enroute.

- D-Day. You will reach the top by around by 4-5 pm. Report at reception at Gouri Bhavan and take the authorisation slip of your room booked. Check-in your accommodation. Freshen up. Try to reach the temple by 6:30pm. After 6:30 pm, entry of visitors is stopped for evening aarti. If you miss to reach the temple by 6:30 pm, then the entry of new visitors again start at around 9 pm.  

- D-day. After Darshan, take rest that night in the guest room.  

- *D+1*. Check-out of the guest room is by 1000h. After getting ready, leave your bag in the locker provided at the guest room (basically, vacate the guest room). The guard at the guest room will help you (Will give you the lock and key for the locker).

- *D+1*. Head for the ropeway terminal (nearby). Take ropeway tickets for Bhairon temple (ticket price 100/- per person, to and fro). Go to Bhairon temple by ropeway. Comeback by ropeway. 

- D+1. Collect your belongings from the locker. Handover the lock to the guard of the accommodation. 

- D+1. Have breakfast. Sagar Ratna is a good restaurant at the Shrine. Serves all type of foods - south Indian as well as north.

- Post breakfast, start walking back (should start by 11 am).

- Reach Katra by 5 pm.

- Do shopping (buy prasad, dry fruits etc), have dinner. Collect your luggage from the hotel. 

- Reach station by 10 pm.

- Shri Shakti Exp starts from Katra at 2300 h. Reaches Delhi at 1000h the next day.

-  So, if you are not hard against time, the above itinerary can be followed and the trip can be done in three days in a leisurly way. 

P.S. With helicopter, I had a bad experience once when the helicopter got cancelled during retrun trip. Came to know about the cancellation at the last minute at helipad. We were about to miss the train, somehow managed to reach in time.

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