Dham, Arth, Kaam, Moksh. The four pillars of human contentment find culmination at the Holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. The journey to the shrine is in itself a spiritual experience and one can see people with ailments climbing up the holy shrine ignorant of their pain and miseries. As they say, nothing matters when ‘Mata calls’. So follow the call of Mata towards a path of revelation and cry out loud ‘Jai mata di’
Katra is the base camp of the shrine. It is situated 50 kilometers (31.06 miles) from Jammu. Thousands of devotees regularly throng Mata’s shrine in belief that Mata will grant their wishes, albeit in the righteous sense of the word. A pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi is considered to be one of the holiest in the country.
Pilgrimages to the holy shrine started many years ago. There is no official record to indicate the exact date of the start of the pilgrimage, just a geological study that proves the caves themselves are nearly a million years old.
First mention of Mata Vaishno Devi, the mother goddess is found in the Mahabharata, during the battle of Kurukshetra. Arjun, seeking victory prays to the Mother Goddess to be with him and make the Pandavas emerge victorious. Arjun addresses the Mother Goddess as ‘Jambookatak Chityaishu Nityam Sannihitalaye’, which means ‘you who always dwell in the temple on the slope of the mountain in Jamboo’, a possible reference to present day Jammu.
It is believed, after their eventual victory at Kurukshetra, the Pandavas undertook a pilgrimage to pay homage to Mata Vaishno Devi. At the time, they built temples at Kol Kandoli and Bhawan. These are also said to be the first structures of prayer and devotion towards Mother Goddess in the area. Adjacent to the Trikuta mountain (where the holy shrine is located) is a cave with five stone structures, believed to represent the Pandavas, drawing lifelong blessings from the Mother Goddess.
Katra is a small town and most places of interest are at a walking distance. The trek to the Holy shrine is 12 kilometers (7.4 miles). You can either walk or take a pony or pitthu (an indigenous equine), if required, to the shrine. The local authorities have made arrangements for electric cars that ply till adh-kuwari, but these are strictly for the physically challenged. For movement within Katra, cycle rickshaws are a good way to get around.
Tourist Traps in the City
Katra is a holy city and people are mostly hospitable. The most you will have to deal with may be a pushy rickshaw-wala or vendor. But bargaining is a way of life and you will find the populace to be friendly and accommodating.