Helicopter Ride to Sanjichat.
Last week I visited Vaishno Devi, one of the biggest and sacred temples of India located in Katra at the Trikuta Mountains in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. And I am delighted to say that it was quite a beautiful and crowd-free darshan. I say this because there was absolutely no rush in the Bhawan and we were able to bow down and pray to the ‘Three Pindis of Vaishno Devi’ at our own pace. If there is an off season to Vaishno Devi, I can say this was it. There was no queue at all. Moreover, we were not even tired because we had decided to do the visit in a luxurious way by opting for the helicopter ride. It would have been tough for my parents to do the trek from Katra which is nearly 12 kilometers on either sides. This was my second time there but for my husband it was fifteenth visit. For the rest of the family members, it was a first time and we wanted to make it really special for them. No doubt, they thoroughly enjoyed the helicopter ride. My three year old niece still gets excited at the mention of it.
This was first helicopter ride for all of us and it almost felt like reliving a scene from Yash Raj films. The 4 minute ride on either way was absolutely thrilling. At the time of boarding and de-boarding, the pressure of air at the helipad imparted a sense of adventure. The raised hair and goosebumps on the body were enough to make us all happy with the excitement. It was thrilling to see the rotor blades of the helicopter turn it into a bird. One cannot be without marveling at technology and innovations. Within one blink it was gone too far. Until we were called for our ride at 11:45, almost 32 rides had already been done. I was impressed with the frequency of the rides. There are two companies offering the helicopter services and the prices are same for both. We had preferred to avail Himalayan services but there is no reason for preference. Both are good and provide safe travel experience. One can book the ride through the official website of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.
The online booking process is absolutely smooth. One can book as per their convenience. It is advisable to make bookings at least a month or two before hand else you may not get your preferred dates. The only details to be filled are name, age and identity proof which you plan to carry there. Against one credit or debit card, you can only make a maximum of 5 bookings. Since, we were 7 people, we made two separate bookings. 6 of us traveled together (maximum capacity along with the pilot). My Dad had to take the next ride.
You must carry the print outs of the online tickets.
You must carry the debit or credit card with which the payment has been made.
You must carry the same identity proof as mentioned while booking.
You must collect your yatra slips.
We started from Jammu at 9:30 a.m. (in our private car) in the morning to reach the helipad at Katra by 11:30. The car driver was a local and he suggested us to take a small halt at ‘Trikuta cafeteria’ for sampling their famous cheese and chilly pakodas. No doubt, it was a great idea and you must make it a point to stop here. On the way, you must also not forget to notice the four tunnels that one crosses through. The 4 lane toll has made the Jammu to Katra ride all the more smooth and steady. Once we reached the Katra bus stand, I was easily reminded of my last visit that happened eight years ago. The usual trekking generally starts from here. The helipad is closely placed and the driver dropped us just outside the gate. Just when we reached the helipad, a helicopter was taking off and my excitement knew no bounds. The buzzing sound of the rotor blades and the energy with which it took a leap in the air gripped our attention almost immediately.
The helicopter ride hardly lasts for 4 minutes. It gives a lovely birds view of the Katra town and but even before you get comfortable with the bird like feel, it gets over. I wish it lasted for at least ten minutes. The total to and fro is hardly eight minutes. After one lands at Sanjit Chhat by the chopper, we need to walk nearly 2.5 km to the Bhawan. It is quite an easy and comfortable walk for young but a little tedious on the return. However, my parents above 55 also did not have a problem tracing this route. The are other services for those who cannot walk all the way up. Ponyride as well as pithus (human carriers) are good option for comfortable journey of kids and elders.
The installation of Bose speakers with music playing throughout the way up makes the atmosphere musical as well as religious to the core. The entire walk way is covered with metallic sheets to prevent accidents due to landslides. (Below picture) Also, one cannot miss noticing the neat and clean path. Bins are kept at regular intervals and also there is delegated staff to do the sweeping at regular interval. I must say the board takes lot of efforts to make the visit extremely comfortable.
Once we reached close to the bathing area, we stopped at our designated locker room. The requirement is to submit all the add-on belongings. A handful of 50 steps and one reaches the main Bhawan. Here, one must not expect to see a huge statue in a temple like building but there are ‘Three Divine Pindis of Goddesses’. After seeking divine blessings, one may collect the belongings from the locker. I also like the fact that unlike many temples in India, there is no concept of pandas and looting of the visitors in the name of God or special darshan. Even the prasad is equal for all. There are three rates, Rs. 10, Rs. 25 and Rs. 40. One can go for one as per their wish and just offer to the main area in sync with the practice.
The temple sees a lot of footfall and it is perfect example of Spiritual Tourism. Recognizing the tourism that this location could generate, the govt. along with the Shrine board has done a commendable job.
For those who do the whole trek on foot (12 kilometers one way), there are pitstops at Charan Paduka, Adhkuwari, Himkoti, Sanjichhat and Bhawan. Last time, I had walked up and down all the way. This time, it was fun to do the helicopter ride.
A 7 day trip to Jammu
It was 7 day long trip and I had many agendas. But for anyone who is visiting Jammu, one shouldn’t keep away from visiting Vaishno Devi. I am still hungover the thrill of exploring the city though I would have loved to do more. Except the unfortunate Nagrota attack at the army base, overall it was a peaceful trip. There were three main highlights of my travel that made it a memorable trip. First, it was a family get together on my husband’s side for one of his cousin’s wedding and you know how Punjabi weddings are meant to be. Therefore, the celebrations overshadowed everything else and it also gave me chance to see wedding customs of the state. Second, I did a food trail in Jammu as well as explored the city for its tourist attractions. Lastly, it was a perfect ‘Mata Vaishno Devi Darshan’ for all of us. Rather, it just couldn’t be better. I am also super glad because I could take my parents for this trip.
The below picture was clicked on the stairs opposite to the Room No. 4 reception. This the room where they helped us with keys of the locker where handbags, leather accessories, mobile phones had to be left behind. Since we had booked the helicopter ride for our return journey as well, we were given a total of 2 and a half hours to cover the 2 kilometer walk to the Bhawan, darshan and the return. Hence to expedite the process, the helicopter passengers can avail quick darshan (VIP Darshan).