Experience and knowledge on helicopter services to reach Maa Vaishno Devi.
Gone are those days when the only option to visit the holy shrine was to go by walk. Today we have helicopters doing the job for you. I mean the option of traveling by a chopper was always there but how affordable was it? This time it is simply affordable to common people.
I had been to the Holy Shrine of Maa Vaishno Devi recently. I chose to fly by the helicopter as I didn’t have much time to spare and wanted to return the same day. I explored the official website of Vaishnodevi shrine. There you have the option of booking the Helicopter ride tickets online, in advance.
There are currently two operators – Pavan Hans aviation and Air Deccan. The cost of ride per person for one way is Rs. 1250/- You can also go for on-the-spot booking but there is no guarantee that you would get one. Please reach the helipad at least one hour before the departure time that would be allotted to you once you have the confirmation of ticket.
Photo copyright: http://www.matavaishnodevihelicopter.co.in
The base camp for the shrine is at Katra which is around 70 kms from Jammu. The helipad is at about 2 kms distance from the Katra bus stand. The rickshaw ride would generally cost around Rs. 60/-.
Once at the helipad, you have the usual checkin-procedure which involves measurement of weight and of course waiting. The frequency of rides is pretty good. The journey time is only 4 minutes which means every 8 minutes you have the chopper ready for the next ride. In every trip, the chopper can accomodate 6 persons, five at the back and 1 in the co-pilot’s seat.
I chose to book through the Pavan Hans operator. I was lucky that I was asked to sit at the co-pilot’s seat. It was my first ride on a helicopter. The pilot gets the best view one can get from the aircraft. The front and bottom in the cockpit are made from a totally transparent material and hence you can enjoy the view from all the sides while airborne.
It gets totally windy when you approach the aircraft. You know, filmy style. Once I was inside, the pilot didn’t waste anytime – quickly raised the accelerator or what ever it is and in no time we were at the elevation of around 2000+ ft from the ground. It was a fantastic experience for me. I could get a fine view of the villages nearby Katra and the dense flora on the hill.
Once you are on top, you land on a relatively small helipad called Sanji Chhat. The shrine, also called as the Bhawan, is around 2 kms from here. Another important thing to remember is, a special priority darshan slip will be issued to all those who travel by the helicopter and you get to stand in a separate queue which is usually way shorter than the normal one, plus you get a separate locker facility. You need not register at the base camp where you declare the details of pilgrims (this is mandatory for those who go by walk).
I was lucky for the second time as I could get the darshan in less than 10 minutes time. I don’t think it was off season but surprisingly at that time of the day (around 1 pm), there wasn’t any crowd. And I chose to walk on the return trip. It took me around two and a half hours to cover the distance of 14 kms to the base camp.
I would suggest that if you have do not have much time and plan to cover this place in less than one day, go for the helicopter ride. It is fun and at the same time affordable.