The Vaishno Devi Temple is located in the folds of Tirkuta Hills near the town of Katra in the northernmost state of India in Jammu and Kashmir. It is recognized as one of the "Shakti Peeths" of Goddess Durga. This place contains three idols of Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi, and Maha Kali. It is the second most visited religious shrine in India, after Tirumala Venkateswara Temple. People from all the sections of the society from India and abroad come here to seek the blessings of the Goddess throughout the year in all the seasons.
The Shrine of goddess 'Vaishno Devi' is reached by an arduous climb. The scenic beauty, the beautiful nature, the landscape around and the constant chanting of 'Jai Mata Di', leaves a mystic effect on the devotees.
The shrine is situated at an altitude of 5300 feet and at a distance of approximately 12 kilometres from Katra. A rail link from Udhampur to Katra is recently completed to facilitate pilgrimage. The nearest airport is Jammu Airport which has very high flight frequency from different parts of the country.
From Katra, after getting the 'Yatra Parchi' (Journey Slip) for darshan, devotees can proceed to the Bhavan. The way to Bhavan is steep and requires a long walk uphill. Alternatively ponies and palanquins are also available. Helicopter service can also be taken for a large part of the trip. The Trust offers staying arrangements for the pilgrims.
Darshani Deodhi or Darshani Darwaaza
This is the entry gate from where the yatra starts. One gets a complete view of the Trikuta parbat (mountain) from here. There are two gates at this point; the older gate which leads to stairs for starting yatra. The newer gate which is recently developed by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board having parking facility for private vehicles. The Darshani Darwaaza is at a distance of about 1 k.m. from main stand. One can either walk up to this point and also drive his vehicle and park here.
Auto rickshaw is also available for transportation.
The main track has been renovated to great extent in the past decades. After the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board took over the management the entire track has been re-laid, widened, made pucca and tiled. The railings have been installed and a large number of parapets have been constructed. To protect the pilgrims from bad weather, more than 5 Kms of the track has been covered with rain shelters. More than 1200 high Pressure Sodium Vapour Lamps have been installed to provide illumination. A number of water points and water coolers have been installed enroute the track from Banganga to Bhawan to provide the pilgrims with drinking water. Sanitary facilities are also arranged along the track at regular distance.
This is the new track for covering the yatra which was made open to the public in 1999. This track was made keeping in view the highly increased influx of pilgrims and the congested width of the old track. Pilgrims also used to face the inconvenience due to the movement of ponies and the sharp gradient at Hathimatha. This new track has a very gradual gradient and no ponies are allowed on this track. It is also around 500 meters shorter and gentler than the old track and pilgrims prefer this track to older track for their yatra.
The alternate track starts from Adhkuwari near Inderprastha view point and ends just short of main Bhawan Complex. This track is much more wider as compared to the old track. A number of view points, sales outlet, refreshment units, drinking waterpoints and water cooler have been installed throughout the track. Sufficient number of Shelter Sheds are also available on this track. A zero-emission battery vehicle facility is available at Inderprasth (Adhkuwari) and Manokmana Bhawan for sick and handicap devotees which can be availed by paying nominal charges.