Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine at Katra, Jammu is visited by over 1 crore pilgrims and tourists every year. The shrine sees high rush during summer vacations and Navratris, when it becomes very challenging for the shrine board to manage the yatris effectively. And any failure to do so, results in big discomfort to yatris.

So, if you are planing to visit Vaishno Devi this Navratri or Summer Vacation then you must think again especially if you are visiting with your aged parents or infants and are expecting good arrangement as you see in normal rush days at katra.

Last year during monsoon season, I visited vaishno devi katra with my old mother, wife and one year old son and had a horrible experience. The experience was so bad that my goody-goody impression about vaishno devi shrine board’s management has changed completely.

The trouble started from the begining of journey when I tried hiring a pony/horse for journey from Katra to Adhkwari/Adh-kumari. There were horses available from the first entry point of vaishnodevi track when you undergo first security check but I preffered walking to the pre-paid pony booth at Chetak Bhawan so that I get one at a reasonable price as fixed by the shrine board.

But to my surprise, I found that people at pre-paid booth were not issuing any tickets and were just sitting there and tourists were left to deal with pony walas on their own. The result? Pony walas were charging amount they wished on their own terms and there was no one to check them.

Further, the ponny walas were not talking to local pilgrims, they will only negotiate with “out of state” people. Its unbelieveable to think that shrine board officials are un-aware of all this. But yet they are’nt taking any action. It makes me think why they are allowing all this in shrine?

As per shrine board’s website: https://www.maavaishnodevi.org/palkis-ponis.aspx the charge for hiring a pony/horse for journey from Katra to Adhkwari/Adh-kumari ranges between Rs 200 to 240 but this August, pony walas charged every tourist between Rs 500 to 800 for Katra to Adhkwari/Adh-kumari and upto 1600 for Katra to Bhawan.

Clearly taking full advantage of rush, bad weather, suspended helicopter service and poor management of shrine board and Muncipal Committee Katra. Interestingly this amount is far more than what one pays for helicopter service to bhawan!

While I did read some where in media that ponywalas were demanding a raise in amount they charge for their service but the shrine board should have insured that tourists don’t suffer in the intrim while the two parties reach an agreement. This unfortunately has not happened and caused damage to shrine board’s otherwise good reputation.

Anyways, I could have forgotten this episode if this was the only uncomfort I went through. But this was not the last but just 1st of several bad experiences to come. Next I found that electric cars were not available to general public and those who needed them the most. The booking window was closed with notice that said “todays booking full” but yet I found electric cars travelling at half the capacity (i.e. Electric cars travelling from Adhkwari to Bhawan with only 2-3 pessangers.

When I asked driver of one of the cars to take my old, senior citizen mother along, he refused asking me to get a ticket from the ticket counter that was closed!! Soon, we lost the hope of getting electric car service and continued our journey on foot. It was fun for me and my wife but not for my mother who was in pain but had no choice.

After several hours we finally reached bhawan to find a large crowd moving here and there, some lying/sleeping on road side, and some standing in a long queue that extended beyond the official bhaint shop. This was probably the heaviest rush I had ever seen at Vaishno Devi Bhawan.

Soon, we sneaked through this crowd to reach the gate no 5 where we decided to take some rest. I started exploring paid and free accomodation options but found none. Even the stairs, corridoors and roads were occupied. There was’nt even a 3 feet space available anywhere. After few hours of finding place to lie down, luckily I found one person getting up from corridoor and I did not take any time to grab that space! Now it was the time to get blankets. I went to the blanket counter and I was offered 6 blankets that were wet!.

To this I asked the person incharge to provide dry ones but he replied that there are’nt any dry blankets available as it was raining for past 2 days! Again I had no choice but to take the wet blankets. But did they solve any purpose? The answer is no because wet blankets only make you feel more cold! After our attempts to sleep in wet blankets did not succeed, we decided to take a bath and perform darshans. So, we went to bathing ghats and took bath and then headed to cloak room near Gate No 5 to find that it was now closed and new cloak roams were located several meters away from bathing ghat, near gate no 3 and near starting point of new bhawan-adhkwari track.

So, We headed to cloak rooms 1 & 2 near gate#3 only to find a long queue there. But that was expected seeing the crowd at bhawan. I kept waiting for my turn standing in the queue but soon I noticed that it wasn’t moving even when there were cloak room incharges sitting in the counter.

On inquiring from others I found that all cloak rooms were full and people were getting a locker only when someone was emptying one. Again an example of bad management of sri mata vaishno devi shrine board. At that pace I would have waited 10 hours in that queue to get a locker.. So, I left that queue and we decided to perform darshans in two batches. But then we had only one yatra parchi for all people accompanying me.

So we explained the situation to the CRPF jawan on duty and he was kind to understand the situation and agreed to allow us to visit in two batches. So, two of us visited cave first while my mother kept our belongings, bags etc with her. When we returned, she went to the cave and we kept watch on our belongings.

So the darshans that could have completed in 2 hours took 5 hours as we had to visit in batches. Now, the shrine board really failed to manage the rush, manage pony walas, provide sufficient lockers and dry and usable blankets.

In summary the shrine board failed at:

  • Managing Rush: Why did shrine board allowed so many people to visit shrine by issuing yatra parchis when they knew there were’nt sufficient lockers available and the blankets were wet.
  • Managing Electric Cars: If electric cars are meant for the old senior citizen and handicapped, then why electric car counters are mostly closed and all passengers found riding the vehicles looked young and influential.
  • Scarecity of lockers: Lockers ideally should be located near bathing ghats but these have been moved far from bathing ghat. Additionally, they should ensure the availability of lockers to everyone. If there aren’t sufficient lockers available then increase their number and in the mean time decrease the number of yatra partchis being issued. Or depute some people to help yatris perform yatra in two batches with same yatra parchi when there is shortage of lockers so that people don’t waste time waiting in cloak room queue after having sleepless journey.
  • Overcharging by Pony, pitthu and palki walas: The Shrine Board should be strict with these pony walas and cancel their licience for over charging and start the pre-paid booth system again that currently is in dormant state.

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