Nestling on top of the Trikuta Hills at a height of 1,700 mt is the sacred cave shrine of Vaishno Devi, the mother goddess. At a distance of 61 kms from Jammu, the cave is 30 metres long and just one-and-a half mt high. At the end of the cave are shrines dedicated to the three forms of the mother goddess – Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasarasvati. Pilgrims have to enter in small groups through a narrow opening and walk through ice-cold waters to reach the shrines. According to legend, the mother goddess hid in the cave while escaping a demon, whom she ultimately killed.
The shrine of Vaishno Devi is approached through Katra, which lies 13 km from the shrine and is the base for the pilgrimage. From Katra, pilgrims climb one km to Banganga, where the goddess is believed to have stopped to drink water; six km further is the cave shrine of Ardhkunwari, where it is believed she meditated for nine months.
The last halt before the actual shrine is the Bhawan, where there are arrangements for wash- and- change, accommodation and for depositing luggage and valuables.
When to go
The main season for visiting the shrine is from March till July. The area’s very cold through most of the year, so this is the best time to visit. Even during the summer, the temperature’s not exactly high, so take along light woollens just in case it gets cold.