As promised to myself, it was due that I have to write an article over my recent trip to Vaishno Devi like the things, I experienced, the things like Do’s n Don’ts for this particular trip and pretty many things, which might be helpful to others planning for the same later on.
Choosing the date and booking the tickets: It always goes crucial as people say "Maa Call you herself". Even I felt so, as one of my colleagues was also on the same trip, but it went delayed in the last moment due to his father’s illness and I made it when the only stimulus for me was three days leave (14th ,15th ,16th August).
Do you think, it was a good choice? The holidays were not only for me, but for others as well and it seems majority of people from Delhi were heading to the same destination, means no availability in trains etc. I tried in Tatkal, but let me tell you, never rely on Railways Tatkal Reservation System in crucial periods as there connectivity goes pathetic, when it comes to handle heavy traffic (although being an IT person, I know it’s reasonable). Obviously, I didn’t have the booking in train for both the sides.
No options left and I went for booking through a travel agent. I wondered that even in the world of online bookings, Travel Agents still get some privileges due to experiences and special CRM provided to them. Although Travel Agent was not able to get tickets for train as we asked him at the last day, but he did arranged a Volvo (costing Rs. 1000/- per head from Delhi to Katra) for going and two AC2 Tier Tickets in Jammu Mail (Rs. 1150/- per head), which in turn happened to W/L1, W/L2, but even then were surprise to me as he booked by 3:30 PM, while Tatkal opens on 8AM.
Volvo guys and Travel Agents Experience: May be, we might been a little impatient, but it was sure not a very good professional tactics shown from Volvo guys (Libra Travels), what we got to see. Time was 6:00 PM and we reached Ram Krishna Ashram Metro Gate. Got the Volvo (Number ending with 5307) by 10 mins late and then the mess. The same seat number was allotted to many. As much I grasped the matter, it was like that Volvo people make it in unmanaged way, means tracking the count of people for one Volvo, not exact seat numbers, they will give Travel Agents any seat number and Travel Agent will give the same to customer, but actual seat numbers will be arranged in last moment. Although it didn’t went creepy, but was a pain in otherwise pleasant journey with Volvo.
Security Checking’s and Only Stop for dinner in the way: Although the Volvo was stopped for Ticket Checking’s three times, if I remember right, but for the dinner it stopped at Karnal, Punjab for a generous time slot of around one hour or little more. It was 2* motel (Restaurant cum Bar) named Eagle. Taken French Fries and Shahi Paneer+Butter Non over it. Not perfect enough, but it was very good in comparison to pathetic Dhaba’s, most of the times, you might encounter with.
Katra, Jammu and views from the window: I guess, we reached there by early morning 5-6 AM. Don’t know, how much sleep we might have taken, but it was enough to keep us in good spirit. Seats were comfortable and although we were needed sheets to counter the cold due to AC, but it was comfortable journey.
There were lots of snaps, but putting only a few here.
Cell Phone Network Reception: You will be very very disappointed on getting the reception since you enter in Jammu as far as Cell Phone Network is concerned. You are dead about communications as no network operator seems to be caring about his prepaid customers in roaming. Only Networks available are Airtel, Aircel, Reliance, BSNL. Vodafone, Tata Indicom, Idea not working even by chance except in case, you have a postpaid (I got Tata Postpaid working). I was unlucky as even on having Aircel SIM, I left the same at home as thought it as a burden to keep with me, while Vodafone, Tata and Idea were already with me. I was also made to seriously think that I should go back to postpaid. Although I seen ads of Yatri SIM from Airtel, but can’t say more as I didn’t tried to know and haven’t checked the same on their site yet.
Resting first and choosing a hotel: After the Volvo drops you in Katra, first job is to find a hotel. I was visiting the place after two decades as I visited once when I was child even though as much I remember of that time, it was never like the place its now. Every second building is a hotel and every third one is Travel Agent’s one. Finding a hotel was not hard, but finding an empty and affordable one in our dates was. Don’t know we got a good deal, but it was Rs. 1000/- per day taxes inclusive for a Non AC single room in Raj Palace.
Yatri Ticket for the Darshan: Yes! Another queue. You need to get a Yatri Ticket first to start the climbing and it will be needed to show up at places. Although it didn’t went like that in such a rush, where 3.5 lacs people were visiting in a day and more than 10 lacs in the month itself (highest of the year) even more than Navratris. Be it Man’s queue or Ladies’ one there was no relief. First it was much long to reach the building from queue and if somehow you break the laws (as many were doing), even then it was taking a complete three four hours literally inside. Anyway, we ended with W/L Group B tickets. Although later I got to know that this was in vein as the ticket was of no means for that day at least.
Although while writing this article, I did some exercise myself to know that what the alternates are and got to know that through their official website.
You may get the ticket online as well. Moreover, if you are coming by plane, then at airport, you may get priority pass as well. I also got to know that why this Yatra Parchi is important. It includes a 1 Lac INR insurance cover in case of majors and 25k in case of minors. Moreover, the obvious aim is to keep the crowd controlled coz it’s a limited mountain resource, which can’t hold things beyond certain natural limits. If want to know additional details about this purchi, then check this article.
Starting from BarhGanga: I am writing this article for the people, who might be little aware of the place and trip that’s why not mentioning the history and meanings behind the names as its easy and more reliable to Google them up. As I knew that my train is a bit early means by 4PM on the day next, so I knew that I have not much time. Taken meal and then rest for a couple of hours, did shopping for Prasad and then started by 6PM.
It was raining, which continued till we returned back by day next. That made it tougher. Bought Barsatis to counter the same as everyone was doing and many people were selling the same in Rs. 10-15/-. With a little rest in between, enough washrooms and tea-coffee stalls and shades in way, it was sure not without arrangement trip from Government side. Only irritating thing was Pithus. They seems to have no control over them and we were only to tolerate them since the start. Too many of them shitting all over and rain making it worse. They were crossing you from behind any time, no matter how narrow place it might been or how tired you might be, but you were asked to run as Pithus can’t make it slowly or managed.
I felt really irritated over people, who ask for Pithus just for sake of convenience. It was for people, who can’t make it due to their illness or age or anything else. But not for everyone, who could afford. If you want to go in this way, then better to buy CDs and watch all the things from home.
I was not able to snap many pics due to continuous heavy raining. After half the way, you reach a stage, where there are two ways, one to right and one to left. Left one bypasses visit to ArdhKunwari and it was only choice left to us as there was construction going on that site and actual one was not open.
Bhawan: the Destination: We reached by 11:45 PM, I guess, that too because we were desperate for not resting much due to our tight schedule, still we got a literal six hour long queue, which at times seems to be not moving due to irritating crowd, which constantly trying to sneak into the queue and then the Pithu’s. For God sake, can’t the official stop Pithu’s from some distance before the Bhawan, before the queue?
The six hour long queue almost broke all the bones after such a tough walk since Katra. The major hurdle was, you were not allowed to carry anything including cell phones and purse. I could understand the need, but it could have been intimated in Katra by means of poster etc or enough locker room facility could have been provided. Can you imagine, the individual offering to care your luggage in this emergency for an hour were costing how much? Rs. 300/- for a bag and two pair of floaters. Pathetic! And sometimes fatal if someone novice came up till here without knowledge of these things.
Anyway, Darshan from inside was pretty fast as it was in form of continuous moving queue. Took only 25 mins inside the Bhawan.
Coming back: Without a single minute rest. We started walking down and it was a real brave attempt as our legs and body told us later on. We kept on walking without taking rest through steps preferably and reached down by 10:45 AM and it was sure seemed much longer than it seemed while climbing for obvious reasons. We were dead tired. 😦
Here was another catch. Check out time for each hotel was 12PM, means not much time to rest. Neither we were going to as timings of train were 4:15PM and Jammu Railway Station was 2 Hours away from the Katra.
Anyway, we taken rest, check out from hotel, taken lunch, bought Prasad in bulk and got a bus to Jammu Railway Station.
There was minor trouble in midway, which delayed the journey for half an hour more. A Traffic Jam due to two troubled Trucks in mid of the way and you know you can’t do much in such a case, when this is a hilly road. So, lesion is that "Never rely on schedule". Anyway, we managed as we kept a generous time slot left for us and in the mid way got the good news as well that the last ticket, which was pending in W/L got confirmed as Chart got prepared by 3PM (In place of 12PM schedule).
Reached station and got the train in 15 mins. Also got switched the births by a guy, who got a birth in AC2 Tier due to auto up-grade scheme and finally the seats were together.
Have to comment on Railway policy here. I got ticket confirmed at some birth numbers, although PNR No. was accounting for one more remaining. Logic says that if any place is free in consecutive birth numbers, then it should have been allotted to us, but funny is, that birth could be given to Auto-upgrade scheme, but our rest birth will be provided in next coach. Great na!
Anyway, rest of the journey was pleasant enough and I was back in Delhi by 5:25 AM. Perfect on time. Although the whole body was aching like anything, but there was a pleasure in mind, we are done with
A Great Trip to Vaishno Devi.
For sure, get all tickets booked and specially Yatra Parchi and if possible then even the hotel in advance through online booking.
You could rely on Travel Agents sometimes in emergency, if no options left. In my case, Agent was much helpful.
Remember most importantly, currently only Airtel, Aircel, BSNL, Reliance working there in Jammu, except Postpaid ones, no other network by any chance.
Don’t take anything while walking up to the Bhawan, not a single baggage. Just Prasad and Cash without Purse or cell phones.
Avoid the journey in peak days, otherwise, your will has to be tested.
*Updated to add summery on night of 18th August 2009.
*Updated to add info about Cell Phone Network on 19th August 2009 eve.
One more good source of info with details could be found here