Mata Vaishno darshan is very convenient now after Shrine Board has taken over the command. Devotees of all age groups can come and pay visit to the holy shrine as per their comfort levels.
To begin you need to first reach Jammu which is easily accessible by Flight or Indian Railways. Once you reach Jammu railway station, you will need to catch a bus to reach Katra. Katra is the base from where you start the ascend for Darshan.
Once in Jammu you can take a cab also for better comfort. Otherwise right opposite to the railway station is the bus stop from where buses ply at regular intervals. There should be luxury buses also available but their plying frequency is low. The journey from Jammu to Katra takes about maximum 2 hours. In a private transport it will surely be less than that.
If you land at Jammu airport, you can hire a cab which should take least possible time. The bus tends of stop at their pet eating place for probably free lunch and commission. The hotel in Katra where you will be staying can also arrange for a pickup from airport.
Katra is where the bustling is due to all the hotel presence, restaurants and all kind of devotional services. Depending on the level of comfort you prefer, you can get it. We stayed in Hotel Orchid which was a 5 star rated hotel and is very comfortable. In case you have any elderly person with you, I would recommend it.
Any hotel in Katra will be happy to drop you at the place from where the actual climb starts. To climb the 12 km you have 5 options. Further 2 km up is Bhairon temple which is little steep but can be done slowly and steadily. I have been there on foot only so not much idea on other means of transport to that destination.
The 5 options for first 12 km are:
- Walk all the way up
- Pony ride
- Seat ride. In this mode you sit in a small box kind chair and 4 people will lift you till the top.
- Battery operated green vehicles
- Helicopter ride. This is till mata vaishno devi cave and not to Bhairon. It will cost you about 1500 per person and is a 10 min joy ride. Best for people running short of time or any other physical challenge.
Whatever you plan to do decide at the base that you need to do the full 14 km or skip the last 2 km journey to Bhairon temple. This will make you mentally prepared for the complete journey.
You can start the climb at any time of the day and come down also any time. The route is busy 24X7 and you will find lot of people of your way up or down. For night times at the Darshan, carry some woolen clothes. Climbing up in day time might make you sweat but the night time can get little chilly. Darshan is open 24 hours and hence night trek is also possible through all 5 means mentioned above.
Once you have reached the top at 12 km, you need to get in a queue which can be long of festival times and summer vacations. You can carry some general medicines otherwise the altitude is not that high to cause any problems. In case any irritation or any other problem comes up, there are health check centers at some distances on the route up.
At Katra, there are hotels/lodges/rooms at all price levels ranging from probably Rs 500 to Rs 10,000. I have stayed at vanilla rooms as well as 5 star rooms. You pay for the services you are expecting. The economical ones are operated by Shrine board but they are the first ones to get filled. Also they are the preferred ones among political folks.
More information about Green Vehicles (Battery operated ones): They are shared Tempo service colored in green due to their operation by battery. The charge would be around 100-150. It might have gone up and nothing to worry as they are operated by Shrine Board itself.
I have written about the experience with some photos in this pdf document for download as a reference.
Wishing all you travelers a happy darshan. Jai Mata di!