People find it amazing when you tell them that you stayed in Delhi for years and did not go Vaishno Devi. So as soon as my di asked if I would be interested I said yes. Best thing was that Bhanju the great was also coming so four of us (both dis, jiju me and kiddo) boarded a bus and started our journey to Jai Mata Di. The best part of the journey was about to come, the conductor started a movie we would have never expected in our wildest dreams - Nache Nagin Gali Gali, by God what a movie it was. Thanks to him that I got reminded of my college days as I started shouting 1-2-3-4 "band karo ye atyachar" (stop this torture). Finally after some resistance from me he had to give up and he stopped the movie (huh!). The rest of journey was smooth.
Around morning when we were passing Jalandhar the weather became awesome, it was rainy and green all around. The rest of ride was great, the roads in Jammu were in good condition and I felt like driving too. I knew it was a long shot so I didnt ask the Bus driver to let me drive :P. We reached around 1:00 PM and checked into a hotel. We had to leave next day morning but we didnt find any bus that leaves for delhi in morning so we ran out of options. We got all whacky ideas around 3:00 PM to take a chopper on both sides (to n fro) to the Bhavan and take the evening bus back :P which amused me beyond limits.
Well, we left the plan and just went for lunch in 'Jewel' Restaurant which offered good food and choices. Best thing about Vaishno Devi was Self service in all restos. We reached the helipad around 4:15 and were told that we had to wait for 2 hours :P. Now we had almost nothing to do so both dis and kapil got busy with Kaaku and I got immersed in music. The views from the area were great but funny thing was that we
ended up with no camera (my cam had US charger so I didnt bring it and Kapils cam just didnt work huh!). We finally took the chopper around 6:30 and within 5 minutes we reached the Bhavan which 'ideally' had taken atleast 5 hours if we had gone by foot. We got entry in the army gate 3 and were done with the darshan around 9 o'clock. We had dinner and were decently tired when these people had finalized on not
going to the Bhairon Mandir which a friend had told me to go for sure as darshan is incomplete if we dont go there. So finally I ditched these people to visit Bhairon Temple and Dis n jiju started on their way back to Hotel.
I was told that the way up to Bhairon Temple is 'very' tiring but umm it really wasnt. I took one small break and reached in no time. I just went inside the temple and came out as I didnt know what to do inside and didnt really want to find out ;). I started on my way back to Katra which was supposed to be a good 12.5 kms away. I found three people from haryana on the way and we became friends and we came down together. The electricity had gone and nothing was visible at all. People were just using their cellphones to guide themselves (God! Thanks to mobile phones).
After taking few breaks and short cuts (including more than 1000 stairs) we finally reached Katra at 2:30 AM and after bidding adieu to the Haryana folks I went to my hotel. Much to my amazement nobody opened the door of our room on repeated knocking. I thought dis and jiju would be in deep sleep so I went down to check with the hotel manager but he didnt have extra keys. Nobody picked the phone also when we called the hotel room. Now I got worried. Where the hell were these people at 3:00 AM in the night. I came out of hotel looking for nothing in particular when I saw them walking towards me :P. Dis n Jiju had come half way walking and half way on horses ('pitthu'?) but they reached after me :P. We went to the room and ordered tea and toasts and finally slept around 4:00AM.
After having a good meal in morning we took a taxi (god damnit its expensive - 7k to reach delhi one way) and came back to Delhi more tired then probably we had ever been. Finally I can tell people that yes! I have been to Vaishno devi. Jai Mata Di.
More Info: Comfortable buses/Volvos go till Katra everyday at good frequency from Delhi. Most of them start after 6:00 PM or so. Buses stop only twice so do take few munchies to enjoy on the way. Chopper saves time and can be booked before hand through websites but I still recommend to take an extra day and go those 16kms by foot. Plan your return before hand as well because buses start from Katra or Jammu only after 6:30 and there are NO other options other than hiring a Taxi (better take one from Delhi itself or better so, drive!).