Generally we only understand divine grace in retrospect. I feel my fist visit to Vaishno Devi, is an apt example of the same. I had always heard stories about no one visiting the mother without her wish, to be frank I never had any inkling and did not think that I would ever visit the divine shrine. But, destiny always has strange ways!! It was on the birth of my first child, my wife a devout follower of mother, had promised a visit to the shrine.
After, much persuasion, I agreed to it, and we booked tickets on flight much in advance, surely to save some moolahs.
Well the date of the flight was sometime in October, and our booking was almost a month in advance. A few days before departure, we realized that the day of our visit coincided with the first day of NAVRATRA, an extremely auspicious day to visit the shrine. To be frank we had never anticipated it, as we got to know that navratra, is a real crowded day in shrine, and we had a small baby with us. We took it as a divine signal and decided to proceed, my wife came up with a bright idea of taking a pram along to carry baby (to be frank I really disliked the idea of moving up the mountain pushing a pram with a baby), however, i yielded to the idea.
We landed at Jammu airport in the morning and took a taxi to Katra, to start our walk to the sacred shrine. We got to the hotel and took a taxi to the foothill of the shrine from where the journey starts. I was amazed to see the motley of people and the sheer number of people gathered to have a glimpse of the mother. It did make me apprehensive, but somehow gave me the strength and sudden vigour to take up the walk.
After due security clearance we started off the uphill climb. Initially I carried my son along and my wife pushed the empty pram with us. I could see inquisitive eyes staring at us, it seemed pram was a novelty out there. To be frank it was the grace of mother that we did not realize when we reached the shrine. It took us almost 10 hrs to reach there, halfway we carried our baby on pram and half we kept him on us.
On reaching the shrine, we faced the problem of 4-5 hrs wait period to get our belongings in the cloakroom, this really disheartened me and we felt ti impossible to manage the baby, pram and indefinite wait for the cloakroom. The crowd was swelling by the minute. I got a bit irritated and did have a modicum of doubt that maybe after reaching to this level, we might have to return without the darshan. I had heard of ump teem stories of people even returning after almost reaching the shrine without darshan. We faced the practical problem of keeping the baby with us and looking around for storage space. I stayed with my son, while my wife said that she'll check out for storage space. As luck would have it and mothers grace, she came back to me saying that there is a florist who has agreed to keep our belongings with him, as he had a room to himself.
We had no other options as waiting for the cloakroom would have taken over 4 hours (not sure even then). We went to the florist and kept all our belongings with them, and moved towards the ultimate goal of Mothers darshan.
We did have a VIP pass (though at times I do feel guilty of it, esp when you see devotees lined up in serpentine ques), which did make things easy for us. We managed to get in the Short que and have the ultimate experience of mothers darshan.
After, that we got out, and put our son on the pram again and started the downhill journey. We thanked the florist for his help and hospitality. We took almost 8-10 hours to get back, but ultimately the darshan was complete and to be frank we were not that dead tired.
Today, when i look back at the trip the very thought of carrying a baby on a pram to such an uphill journey, makes me tired. But as you say, god's grace knows no bounds and it was truly a miracle in retrospect.