The day finally arrived. I don’t remember the exact date, but I well remember those moments, when I, along with my parents and elder sister, went for a visit to Mata Vaishno Devi Temple just after our annual exams. I consider myself lucky as I got to visit the shrine at such an early age.
We flew to New Delhi, spent the first night there, went for a day-long trip to Haridwar the next day, and finally, took a train to Katra from Haridwar. The train moved through tunnels and curvy tracks; and with each turn the train took, I got more excited. We reached Katra at around 9.30 a.m., kept our luggage in our room, had a simple breakfast, and started our journey to the shrine.
The hills lining the road, the curved path were an eye-catching sight. Echoes of devotees chanting ‘Jai Mata Di’ excited us to such an extent that we forgot the pain that had started to develop due to the trekking. The weather was pleasant, too.
After a few hours, we reached the Ardhkuwari Temple, situated midway to the main shrine. Legend has it that the darshan isn’t complete until we pay homage at the Ardhkuwari Temple. But, we couldn’t get tickets and the bookings were complete.
In the late afternoon, we stopped at a small eatery for lunch. Though I wasn’t having Rajma Chawal for the first time, the thrill of having it atop a mountain in a totally unknown place was something else altogether.
We proceeded with our journey. The sky was slowly darkening and cold wind started to blow. After a few more hours, we reached the hilltop. Here, we were to keep our belongings in the locker room. It was getting more thrilling now. However, standing in the queue was tiresome; it was almost 11 p.m. when we reached the main entrance. And we had to stand in another long queue to reach the sanctum sanctorum.
There was a surprise awaiting us there, though. We started talking to a CRPF jawan on duty, and soon learnt that he hailed from my father’s hometown! He helped us get through the queue faster and we thanked him profusely for the help.
As the queue moved forward, we saw the life-size idols of the nine forms of Goddess Durga. The whole shrine was decorated with fresh flowers. We finally reached the sanctum sanctorum.
The Goddess was in the form of pindis, depicting Goddesses Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati and Mahakali. We sought blessings from the three pindis and I promised myself that I would visit the shrine again as soon as I can in the future.
After eating at a joint nearby, we started another uphill climb towards the Bhairo Baba Shrine. It is said that a visit to the shrine completes the journey. It was almost 3 a.m. when we reached the Bhairo Baba Temple. We paid our homage to the deity, and started our climb downhill. Though the route was shorter, it was steeper and, as a result, we were finding it more difficult to walk. I was very sleepy, too, and my father had to hold my hand to help me continue walking. At last, by 7.30 a.m., we reached our room, and I jumped into the bed and fell fast asleep, without even washing my feet.
We had our lunch and walked through the shops nearby, buying souvenirs, during the rest of the day. Next morning, we boarded the train back to New Delhi, and after spending a day there, we flew back home to Guwahati.
Meghna Sarma, Class-V,
Holy Child School, Guwahati.