We went to Vaishno Devi in June 2013, here's a summary of our experience:
The procedure to get yatra parchi and other formalities are well described at several places, so won't repeat these here.
1) Unlike usual perception, Jammu/Katra can get terribly hot - comparable to Delhi
2) Horses cost 700 each way (total 1600 if going to Bhairon also). Though you may have negotiated with the horses for a to and fro journey, they will leave you when you reach the top as the time taken for darshan can be very long, so just get a horse one way, and search again while returning.
3) We started the ascent at 10 PM, and reached by 3 AM, at that time there was not much line for darshan, we thought we were in luck, but then we had to face the following:
4) We wanted to take bath and change to fresh clothes before darshan. but their bath space is very tiny (just 4-5 pipes jutting out of the wall with water pouring out) and littered with trash. just taking bath for 4 of us (2 males, 2 females) took us 1hour.
5) After bath one has keep all the belongings including camera, phone, any leather article, watch, comb, wather bottle, chappals etc in the locker. Though three are supposed to be 2 locker rooms, 1 is near the queque entrance for darshan and is most commonly used. the other one is near some dharmshala.
6) the queue to deposit our belongings in the locker took 2 hours. when we finally reached the lockers saw that 40% of the lockers either had doors broken or latches missing, no wonder it takes so long to get a locker.
7) by the time we got done with the locker business it was almost 6:30 AM, by that time the line had swelled a lot and we had lost all time advantage of reaching there at 3 AM.
8) Anyway we were let in through the serpentine queque for darshan at 7 AM, then the Aarti started - this lasts for 1.5 - 2 hours !!, give me a break! it is not even an aarti, it has bhajans, pravachan, aarti of every single god. All the while hundreds of extremely tired devotees are standing in the narrow line with caged fences on all sides out in the cold/rain without any access to water or civic ameneties.
9) While regular devotees are waiting endlessly, others (so called "VIPs") are being let in through the side gate as they have paid Rs 3200 each. Shameless shrine board has made this pious shrine a money minting venture. Jai mata di!
10) Several people got disgusted and came out of the line without darshan, several exausted devotees collapsed (including me)
11) finally when the line does move and you reach the actual shrine, the shrine is just a 1 m wide platform on your left side, one may even pass it by without realizing that it is what they came here for!, one gets hardly 8-10 seconds there before the guard and the devotee behind you makes you move ahead.
12) Overall a fair experience. But do keep a few things in mind:
13) Do not depend on taking bath when you get up top. take bath and change into fresh clothes before starting from Katra.
14) Do not carry anything at all with you, just your yatra parchi, some cash (without wallet) and wear a footware which you don't really need to keep in the locker. when you reach the top, just put your footwear in some corner and proceed directly for the queue entrance - bypass the whole bathing locker room sequence. do not carry camera, mobile, belt or any thing else mentioned earlier.
15) Remember that regardless of whether you go by helicopter/horse/paalki, the devotees must walk the final 1.5 - 2 km.
Jai Mata Di!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.