We were so focused on the greater heights that beckoned us that we literally forgot to take some very essential and erudite steps which are a must for any pilgrim taking up the Yatra. You have to register yourself at a counter specially designated for this purpose at Katra Bus stand by Mata Vaishno Devi shrine board. Registration is free of charge but one has to queue up for getting registered. There can be maximum of nine members in a group or family that can be registered in one slip. We were a total of seven persons and as one of us had used his contact at Katra to register us before we reached Katra, we saved time in standing in a ling queue. But one has to get registered maximum of six hours before reaching Katra otherwise the slip is cancelled. It being a weekend the average number of yatris had increased manifold.
We were happy at having crossed one hurdle effortlessly. I felt momentarily ashamed of having used a contact to get ourselves registered. I believe a pilgrimage is taken to get oneself rid of all those false notions that make us think superior to others. A pilgrimage is a great leveler as we all fellow-pilgrims tread together forgetting all distinction. But here we were taking/using services that many others could not. But we are humans after all and corrupt, in our own small ways, basically!
The Katra market road that leads to Banganga was full of all those items that a yatri might need. There were sticks, rough and crude, in large number outside every shop. I could not shame myself by buying a stick. I thought critically like a proud pahari woman who could jump and run on hilly terrains like a wild goat. These are not for us, I rued. There were canvass shoes as well which people were taking on rent. Some were taking shaded caps to ward off the golden rays of the evening Sun! We passed through these shops without buying any such item.
We reached the first checking post for the Yatris. All through I was feeling guilty for not standing myself in a long queue to get the registration slip but all my guilt feeling vanished when I looked at the long queue that awaited us as Banganga entrance where these slips were being checked. There was red color dominating everything else. I could see red ribbons, countless in number, tied to the sides of the road. It seemed as if all possible vacant space was used to tie red ribbons on which was written in golden color–Jai Mata di! My reflections on red ribbons were cut short by security persons asking all pilgrims, men and women, to queue up separately. We stood in queues waiting for our turn. We were frisked by the staff and let go off!
Walking a little more steps we reached Banganga, our first stop. A mere 1.5 Kms from Katra it was not a place that the pilgrims would want to stop at. But religious fervor makes some other decision for the pilgrims.
We had reached Banganga!
1 Take a stick.
2 Leave anything unessential at Katra.
3 Take your medicine kit with you.
4 Don’t carry water bottles and eatables, you’ll get en route in many shops.
…to be continued