Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vaishno Devi trip

This was one of the most rail intensive trips done in recent times. 5 trains, 4 nights in trains out of 6 days of travel.

  • Pune - Hazrat Nizamuddin by Karnataka Sampark Kranti
  • New Delhi - Jammu by Uttar Sampark Kranti
  • Jammu - Ambala Cantt by Uttar Sampark Kranti
  • Ambala - Chandigarh by bus
  • Chandigarh - New Delhi by Kalka Shatabdi
  • Hazrat Nizamuddin - Pune by Duronto Express

The trip was became possible on short notice thanks to Vaishno Devi tour package of IRCTC. The reservations are full during this time of the year for almost all trains. Same was the case with trains to Jammu which are anyway overflowing. However, there was a package available for Vaishno Devi including return tickets to Jammu. Once got a go ahead from office, immediately booked it. The package was mere 1300/- for a person on double occupancy basis including return ticket to Jammu by Sleeper accommodation in train, to and fro bus transfer to Katra, hotel in Katra and drop up to Banganga. This was value for money, no frills but less hassles as well. The booking to and from from Pune was thanks to VIP quota in trains.

Pune to Hazrat Nizamuddin was slow due to single line route from Pune via Daund, Manmad, Bhusawal etc. The train reached late in Nizamuddin by two hours. We had packed all meals of the day breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks, so did not have to order from outside. So, journey was comfortable in AC three tier. For New Delhi to Jammu travel, we arrived an hour early to collect the train tickets and itinerary from IRCTC representatives. They were very helpful but probably they can do a bit more clinical by putting a temporary booth on platform and more professional attitude. However, there was no hassles. There we ate the "Janta Khana" which is 6 "pooris" and "aloo subzi" for Rs. 10/- along with "masala" corn and juice. IRCTC has really put catering on stations. The coach got crowded with all sorts of unreserved passengers including army men inconveniencing the reserved people. They all congregated around gate, toilet and slept even on the vestibule. Anyways, since the journey was only overnight, so it was OK. I pointed this to one of the patrolling policeman, who replied with a helplessness citing that reserved passengers don't utter anything. I am not sure how can reserved passengers without authority ask unreserved passengers to push over. Anyways, the train was really fast and kept time throughout.

At Jammu station, we were asked to come to bus-stand outside where local buses were ready to go to Katra. IRCTC probably chooses any one bus on time and ask passengers to board. The bus was manned by an irritating conductor who was out to ensure that he is not shortchanged. He argued with almost all the groups in the bus including us. Not sure why was he so pissed. I was having pity on him and was a sour start of the tour. Anyways, our spirits were brightened when we checked into the hotel. It was a decent double occupancy room with running hot water and working TV etc. We were expecting some dormitory or shabby accommodation thinking how would IRCTC make money but room was above expectation. After freshening up and gorging on "paranthas", we set out for the visit. We had befriended one family from Delhi and we had common "Yatra" ticket. They were veterans of Vaishno Devi trip visiting it every year so they guided us very well and we did not have to ask around much.

We were dropped up to Ban Ganga by hotel which was also included in the package. We then started on foot. First few kilometers had all the shops like eateries, drinkeries, selling prasad and other paraphernalia. The sun was out full but heat was not intense and we walked without much discomfort. After few kilometers newly built plain road started where ponies are not allowed. This stretch was leisurely walk without much incline. We took regular breaks. For food we had staple diet of this region, "Rajma-Chawal". It was tasty and economical for Rs. 25/per plate. Soon we reached the "Bhavan". There was enough facilities of bathing and locker. Soon we were in the queue for "Darshan". To relief of our aching soles, we did not have to stand in queue for long and Bhavan was almost empty. We walked up to the coveted tunnel in the sanctum-sanctorum and had good 10 seconds in front of the deity. There was no rush or pushing. We had probably the best Darshan according to out companions who come here every year. After that we sat in the precincts outside for full 5 minutes savoring the peaks around. It was a beautiful sight alas we could not capture it on camera. It is said that the peaks around Bhavan get snow in winters. The policemen there shoved us away after that. We collected our "prasad" and coconut and came out. Now it was time to visit "Bhairon Ghati" without whose "Darshan" the trip is not complete. Though the route is just 1.8 kms but it is quite steep. We took stairs to save time and walk. We were exhausted after climbing up to Mandir. Just in front of Mandir, there is platform built for devotees to rest. Due to rush in the Mandir, we decided to rest a bit. This platform was a vantage point for valley beneath hosting Katra and villages beyond. It was an emerald carpet of lights and cool breeze blowing at this height made it a chilly spiritual spot. It would have been a lovely romantic spot had it not been overwhelmed by spirituality.

After Darshan of mandir it was time to retreat back via Adhkuwari where there is a tunnel from which people have to crawal out. The downhill was little better to sore legs. We took break for dinner where there was no chole bhature but Rice, "daal", "rajma" and "kadhi". This time we tried "daal" and "kadhi". At Adhkuwari, it was very crowded with pilgrims coming up and those taking rest or waiting to go into tunnel ("gufa"). For "gufa" entry one has to take a token which for would have taken next day, so we skipped and just had darshan of the mandir. It was around 12AM in the night. After this we decided to return back to hotel. We walked and walked which seemed to be endless walk due to aching legs. We finally came to Ban Ganga where the vehicle was there to receive us. We gladly packed in and reached hotel and crashed into bed. We walked almost 25 kms on foot which was a feat for both me and my wife. Though I have walked this much before but for her it was a lifetime record.

Next day woke up at around 10 AM and lazily did the chores and got ready for 2:30 PM departure to Jammu. The journey was uneventful though it became hot by the time we came to Jammu station. Since, there was 2-3 hours of time for our train, so we decided to wait in the station. The station was teeming with people like I have never seen before. There were devotees, army and other security personnel and security sensitive area made the atmosphere of the station tensed. We managed in the waiting room which was on big hall with people spread out the floor. We got into the train which left on time and was quick. We de-boarded in Ambala Cantt to visit one of our acquaintance in Chandigarh. We reached there at 4:30 AM and slept. In the evening we had booked our journey by Shatabdi. My wife was traveling for the first time in Shatabdi so was pleasantly surprised to see the ambiance and service in the train. We had nice comfortable journey till we reached outskirts of New Delhi. It being a hotbed of train traffic, we crawled from signal to signal for more than 30 minutes to finally reach New Delhi station. We had booked ourselved in Ginger Rail Yatri Niwas hotel, double occupancy for 999/- which was worth. The room was modern with AC, TV and clean interiors though slightly compact. Anyways, the easy walk to hotel from station and quick check-in is what was required. After a warm bath we went to sleep. This hotel was worth value for money being close to station in the heart of Delhi with such amenities and easy booking over internet.

Next morning it was time to head back to Pune by Duronto express which leaves from Nizamuddin. We started early but everything was quick, checking out, getting an auto and drive to station. We reach an hour early. Our reservation was not confirmed but found that it is confirmed. So, heaved relief with this and considering that it would be a Rajdhani-style hourney with less journey time and catering on board. The train food is all so predictable and taste alike be it loaded in Chandigarh, Delhi or Ratlam. We got a paneer subzi, daal, two paranthas, curd and rice on all three occasions. The train however didn't disappoint and was getting green signal throughout. It was speedy throughout and reached all the stations like Kota, Ratlam, Vadodara on time and eventually Pune 10 minutes early. The route was unexpected for me as I did not find out about route. It went through Vasai Road, Kalyan and over Bhor ghats to Pune. The last hour run from Lonavala to Pune was spectacular. We had slept tight in the night so we were not stiff in the morning.

After a quick auto-ride with metered fare we were home well before 8 AM.


~~ N ! T ! N ~~ said...

Very detailed narrative...Glad to know that you had super smooth Daarshan

sreedhar babu said...

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