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Vaishno Devi Temple a Haven for Hindus and Tourists Alike

Jasmine Pathak, Asia correspondent

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In the beautiful land of India, the possibilities of things to do are endless. India is a rich, culturally diverse place, attracting millions of tourists every year. I’m sure that you are acquainted with the more popular destinations- the Golden Temple, or the wondrous Taj Mahal. But when I went to India last year, it was the breathtaking Shri Vaishno Devi Shrine- a temple in the state of Jammu and Kashmir dedicated to Goddess Durga- that left me in awe.

A pilgrimage to this temple is considered to be one of the most holiest among Hindus. The temple is situated in the folds of the mountain called Trikuta. It attracts more than ten million devotees per year, and is the second most visited shrine in India. The cave is situated at an altitude of 5200 feet above sea level. To first reach the cave, you must trek 12 km uphill from the base camp Katra. You can choose to walk it, or you can ride a pony to the cave for a fee. Helicopter flights have also recently become available.

My family and I started our pilgrimage at the crack of dawn. Since we were worried that some of my younger cousins couldn’t handle the hike, we elected to take the ponies for half the trip. I was apprehensive at first, but the ponies are attached to rope held by the guides who go with you. It was a bumpy ride, but the beautiful sunrise that we got to see made up for any discomfort. After 6 km. we finished the trip by walking. The pathway up is very scenic, with trees and wildlife. Along the way there are many tea and snack stations if you need to rest.

The shrine of the Goddess is in a 100 feet long cave with a tight opening. There is a point when we had to physically crawl through a tunnel to reach the shrine. After this we had to wade through the cold, clear, holy water that flows along the bed of the cave. Eventually we reached the shrine, where there were many other devotees and a priest conducting worship. Unlike most Hindu temples, the shrine does not contain any idols or pictures. It is a natural formation of rocks that is shaped like a base and has three heads at the top. These three heads represent the different manifestations of the goddess, and are worshipped. The shrine is referenced in the Vedas and other ancient Hindu texts.

The pilgrimage to the Shri Vaishno Devi Temple is a long yet rewarding trip for Hindus and tourists alike. The old, young, and the handicapped trek up the mountain to worship the goddess, motivating others to keep walking. The experience is spiritual regardless of your beliefs. If anything, the scenic beauty of the mountain and the wildlife is worth the journey.

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