KATRA, JAMMU AND KASHMIR, INDIA.

Faith, mythical legends and the charm of walking on a well paved road winding up a Himalayan foothill with multiple facilities and breathtaking sights of the countryside makes Sri Mata Vaishno Devi both a popular pilgrim destination and a holiday option.

Indians, since ages, have believed the ancient cave that is the heart of the pilgrimage and now resides inside a massive temple complex to be the abode of a celestial virgin goddess venerated as Mata Vaishno Devi – the manifestation of three supreme female deities of the Hindu heavens, yet with a distinct identity and story of her own. The benevolent goddess is said to fulfill the wishes of those who come to visit her and each year folks from across the country participate in a twelve kilometer up hill journey on foot, palanquin, horseback or helicopter to pay their homage to the three ancient rock fragments taken to be the representation of the supreme deities whose virtues are vested in the Vaishno Devi. The year round pilgrimage while being a sanctum of Hindu faith is open for all communities and can be undertaken by any member outside the Hindu fraternity.

INFORMATION AT A GLANCE.

Destination: Sri Mata Vaishnodevi
Location: Katra, Jammu and Kashmir, India
Road: Udampur Jammu Highway.
Rail: Station at Katra and Jammu.
Air: Jammu Airport.
Popular for: Pilgrimage.

EXPLORE MORE ON KATRA

Katra in Reasi district, Jammu and Kashmir, India is a midsize hill town roughly 47 kilometers away from the city of Jammu. It is the main base camp for undertaking the uphill pilgrimage to the cave of the Vaishnodevi. Katra became a prominent place on the map as a result of the growing popularity of the Vaishnodevi and developments carried out by a dedicated Vaishnodevi committee that improved facilities and accessibility on the pilgrim road. As per a 2011 survey, the town has a population of 9,005 local inhabitants of mixed religious beliefs with Hindus making up the largest ethnic group.

Reaching Katra. Railway station: Present at Katra. Current train service – Sri Shakti Express service starting at New Delhi. For train schedule visit the Sri Shakti AC Express Page. Airport: Located in the city of Jammu. Bus service: Volvos and Sleepers. By car: Depending on the departure point, a tiring and long journey.

Accommodations. Numerous hotels for different budgets, ashrams (dormitories) that offer free lodging and rest houses available within the main town as well as on the pilgrim road. Even in peak season, travelers without prior reservation stand the chance to find available rooms. For more suitable lodging options, consider advance booking.

Dinning Facilities. Restaurants, street side vendors, and local eateries (Dhabas). Predominantly Indian menu and strictly vegetarian. More western style cuisines can be found at hotels.

Medical Facilities. Doctors, clinics and pharmacists. Larger and better equipped medical facilities likely to be found in the city of Jammu, a few hours driving distance from Katra.

Shops.Local outlets dealing in everyday provisions, ranging from grocery to cosmetics and electronics, mechanics, plus a large number of small shops where pilgrims can choose and select items that make up the traditional offerings.

Transportation. Autorickshaws operate within the town as do cabs. After dark autorickshaws charge a higher fare.

Registration Pass. A necessary must, the Yatra Registration Pass is a prerequisite to undertaking the pilgrimage. To get the pass visit the Yatra Registration Office located close to the Tourist Information center. For landmarks look for a circular fountain, a clocktower or ask for assistance. Few hotels include the registration pass as a part of their accommodation package and offer a drop service till the main gate.

Cellular Service. Prepaid cellular connection procured from outside Katra and nearby regions may be blocked when within the town and on the pilgrim road for security reasons. For outstation calls visit landline operators or the hotel you are residing in.

Weather. Hot in the afternoon, mildly chilly in the evening during summers. Cold to Freezing during winters. Ocassional thunder showers. Carry a light sweater in the backpack and drink plenty of fluids if making the climb in summers. Packaged water bottles, ice tea and beverages can be found at shops along the way. Heavy woolens for winters.

EXPLORE MORE ON THE VAISHNODEVI.

Out of all Katra’s tourist spots, the temple complex of the Vaishnodevi is the most popular destination in the region. Inside the temple is a cave that contains three rock fragments believed by Hindus to be the manifestation of three supreme goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. In lore, a certain priest by the name of Pandit Shridhar is supposed to have discovered the cave after the goddess Vaishnodevi in the guise of a young girl appeared in his dream one night. Lore also has it, upon descending the childless Shridhar is fortunate to beget a child by the blessings of the goddess. Among several other stories associated with the Vaishnodevi, is her beheading of an infatuated mortal (sometimes referred to as a Bhramin and other times as a giant) known as Bhairon nath – a man who lusted after her and wanted her to be his bride. However, in a strange twist of logic, was forgiven after death and granted his own altar of worship that lies two kilometers uphill from the cave of the Vaishno Devi, known as the temple of Bhairon Nath. Built where his decapitated head fell after being cut by an arrow shot by the goddess. Devotees heading up the road believe the pilgrimage is not complete without visiting both temples. Eight major destinations exist on the pilgrim road. Each symbolic and related to the goddess. To know more on what to expect on the pilgrim road see the Farbound.Net snippet: Mata Vaishnodevi.

Making the climb. On foot, horseback, palanquin or by helicopter. The helicopter service requires online booking. For more information see site page of Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Online Helicopter Booking. Electric auto rickshaws operate on the final stretch leading to the main temple complex till sundown.

Distance. 12 kms uphill climb to the Mata vaishno Devi Temple. 14 kms uphill climb to Bhairon Nath Temple – situated closer to the summit after the main temple complex of the Vaishnodevi.

Facilities enroute. The pilgrim road to the temple complex is a well paved road with refreshment stalls, restaurants, seating arrangements at different intervals. As well as storm shelters and steep fleet of stairs carved into hillsides at few places for shortcuts. At night high powered neon bulbs illuminate the path. Security personnel are present mainly at checkpoints.

EXPLORE VAISHNODEVI WITH PICTURES.