One of the most visited pilgrimage destinations in the country and a revered site for Hindus, Vaishno Devi is located in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. The hills of Vaishno Devi are home to the famous Mata Vaishno Devi Temple, and the nearest town is Katra.
Located at an altitude of 5200 feet above sea level and at a distance of approximately 14 kilometres from Katra, this is the second most visited religious site in the country. More than eight million devotees visit the temple every year.
The Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi which is a narrow hilly cave is in a part of the lower Himalayas called Tirkuta Hills. The shrine contains images of three deities Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati who are all reincarnations of Goddess Durga. The Mata Vaishno Devi Temple is acknowledged as one of the Shakti Peeths of Goddess Durga.
To visit the shrine one has to trek up the mountains. The original cave is quite narrow and takes time to reach the Sanctum Sanctorum. A new tunnel has been constructed, which is 200 metres long to facilitate the large influx of pilgrims visiting the destination for Darshan. However, the original cave is open for devotees during the lean season, traditional festivals or ritualistic occasions.
With so many visitors all round the year; Vaishno Devi is very well connected. The nearest airport is the Jammu Airport which has regular and frequent flights from all major domestic airlines.
Earlier, a visit to Vaishno Devi was done on foot and devotees walked to the caves of Mata Vaishno Devi at a distance of 61 km from Jammu which was quite strenuous. Even now, many devotees prefer to walk, although carts and horses are also available to carry visitors to the mountains. Helicopter services are available which shuttle devotees to the shrine on a daily basis.
Due to its high altitude, the weather in Vaishno Devi is quite cold and during winter the temperature goes down below 0° Celsius. It is best to avoid travelling to Vaishno Devi during the winter and rainy seasons. The best time to visit the site is during the summer season and when there is no rainfall.
Apart from the shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi, there are also quite a few other pilgrimage sites on the way, like the Bhumika Temple, Kalika Temple, Shiva Goompha, and Ban Ganga Temple with the spring of the holy river Ban Ganga.