The vaishnodevi yatra is the journey or pilgrimage of the Hindus to the famous shrine of goddess Vaishno Devi situated in the caves Trikuta Mountains of Kashmir. It is a popular religious centre and the call of the goddess has turned many non- believers to become staunch believers of the Mata. People coming here as mere tourists leave this place by becoming staunch devotees of her. It is said that no prayers go unanswered here in the shrine of the goddess and it is ultimate destination of the helpless and the disheartened. About 61 km. from Jammu, is the location of Katra from where passes for this yatra can be sought. March till July are the best seasons for this holy pilgrimage. It is very cold in the rest of the seasons. Another pleasant time for the visit is September and October. People prefer these seasons for the pilgrimage. It requires 13.5 km. walking or trekking from Katra to the top of the temple where this cave shrine is situated. It takes about four hours to reach the abode of the goddess. It is situated at a height of 17, 00 m above sea level.
Vaishno Devi can be reached by road, rail or air routes. Jammu is the nearest airport as well as the nearest railway station. From Jammu, there is a two hour journey by road to Katra from where the trekking starts. After walking for one hour from Katra, the pilgrims reach Dakshini darwaza. Here is situated the Bhumika temple from where the three peaks of Trikuta mountains (abode of the goddess) is visible. It is believed that the goddess disappeared from here and reached the Ban Ganga temple. It is said that the holy river Ban Ganga sprung from a stone when the goddess shot an arrow on it. She did so because veer langur was thirsty. The goddess washed her hair here so it called Ban Ganga. Pilgrims can also take their bath here to purify themselves. It is here that the slip bought from Katra is shown to move further. This place is around 3 km. from Katra. About 1.5 km from Ban Ganga, there is a place where the ‘holy footprints or charanapaduka’ of the goddess is seen on a stone. This place is called charanpaduka.
Now comes the half-way point between Katra and the shrine. This place is called ardh kuwari and many pilgrims stay here overnight to take rest. The goddess had hid herself for about nine months here in cave called garbha joon. It is 15 m long cave and the pilgrims have to crawl inside it to cross it. It is 4.5 km from charanpaduka. After ardh kuwari, the pigrims have to cross very steep paths for about 2.5km. This increasing slope is called the Hathi Mata ascent. This is so called as the mountain is shaped like the forehead of an elephant. The footpath is a better option than the stairs here. It takes another 15, 00 ft climb to reach the Sanjhi chatt. From the Sanjhi chatt, the cave is at a distance of 4 km. very close to the Vaishno Devi caves is the Sri Ram temple where the pilgrims climb 125 steps downstairs to pay their homage to a Shiva lingam situated here.
Then finally the devotees reach this beautiful cave where the goddess is present in the form of three pindis. ‘Maha saraswati, maha laxmi and maha kaali,’ are the three forms of the mother durga. It here the demon Bhairon was slain by the goddess. After visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine, it is the custom for pilgrims to visit the bhairav temple situated about 2.5 km from the main shrine. This is the final destination of the Yatra. It is believed that the goddess fulfils the desires of her devotees who visit this temple after paying homage to her. So the Yatra is a very hard climb for the pilgrims though pleasant.