Katra is a small town located at the foot of the Trikuta hills. It is the gateway to the holy Hindu pilgrim site of Mata Vaishno Devi. This is one of the most popular shrines in northern India and one of the three most visited temples in the country. The shrine lies in a cave and is devoted to goddesses Maha Kali, Maha Saraswati and Maha Lakshmi. Katra lies 48 kms from the town of Jammu and receives thousands of devotees every year.
Location : State/District
Katra is located in the Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir in nortern India.The latitude of Katra is 30° 25' 35" N and its longitude is 77° 58' 32" E.
The shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi which is accessed from Katra is a very important pilgrim spot in the country. Nestled among the majestic mountains of the Himalayas, it also attracts nature lovers.
Popular Hindu Pilgrim Center
Pilgrims often form large groups and walk to visit the temple of Vaishno Devi. Families are most common. You will be able to find people of all ages visiting the shrine.
Katra is located 2500 ft above the sea level in the Himalayas while the Vaishno Devi caves are located at an altitude of 5200 ft. Hence these regions experience cold to very cold weather. Summers are cool but often with bright sunshine. Rainfall is sparse and is concentrated in August and September. Heavy snowfall is common in winter. You can travel to Katra any time of the year except the winter months from November to February when the road is often blocked by snow.
Indian citizens can travel up to Katra without any special documents or permits. Foreign nationals must have a valid passport with Indian visa. However, once you have reached Katra, you will have to carry out a registration process before you can proceed to the main shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. This registration is mandatory for all and is carried out by the Yatra Registration counter set up by the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine board. Every pilgrim is issued a Yatra registration card. Once you get the card you need to cross the first check point located 1.5 kms away within six hours. After this the slip expires and if you have not crossed, a new slip is issued. If there is heavy rush of pilgrims, the issue of Yatra slips are temporarily suspended.
Places to Visit
The most important attraction of Katra is the Vaishno Devi cave which can be reached from here. This cave is 98 ft long and is supposed to be excavated by the Pandavas. You have to crawl through a long tunnel to reach the inner sanctum. This tunnel is decorated by the carvings depicting various Hindu gods and goddesses. The mouth of the cave is guarded by the symbols of Vakra Tunda Ganesha, Surya and Chandra while inside the symbols of Vishnu, the five Pandavas, Shiv, Parvati, Brahma and Hanuman are seen.
On the way to the shrine of Vaishno Devi at a distance of 75 kms from Katra lies Shiv Khori. It is a naturally formed Shiv Linga which rises to 4 ft. It has iommense religious significance and attracts devotees from all over the country during the festival of Shivaratri.
Dera Baba Banda is a beautifully constructed Gurdwara on the bank of the River Chenab. It is located 30 kms from the town of Katra and is regarded as a holy destination by both Hindus and Sikhs.
A close second to the religious significance is the beautiful scenery of Katra. It is located in the Himalayas and the vista of snow covered peaks lure thousands of nature lovers to this spot every year.
The most important thing to do in Katra is to undertake the yatra to the Vaishno Devi caves. This is a 13 km long trek. Though the road is broad and easy, it is often full of pilgrims and the progress is necessarily slow. However, you can enjoy the beauty of the scenery on the road. The amazing mountains and the beautiful wildflowers that bloom during the spring season make it a very attractive trekking for adventure seekers and nature lovers.
If you are looking for a novel experience and do not want to undertake the trek, you can be carried up to the shrine in a palanquin. Though it sways, it will definitely give you a novel experience. Many people also use horses to cover this distance.
In recent years, helicopter service has been started from Katra to the shrine. This saves you the short trek on a route which, though picturesque, is heavily crowded. The helicopter ride not only saves time but is also an once in a lifetime experience not to be missed.
In addition to the Vaishno Devi caves, there are many other spots that you can visit near Katra. Baba Dhansar is a serene and pleasant spot with verdant greenery and a calm water body. It is located at a distance of 10 kms from Katra and is a popular picnic spot.
For those who are highly religious minded, a visit to the Amarnath caves may be recommended. These are 5000 years old caves which are located 146 kms from Katra. The shrine is devoted to Lord Shiva and the ice lingams are the major attraction. The yatra takes place in the months of July and August. It is a long and difficult trek, but helicopter ride is available to the caves.
The popular hill resort of Kud is located 73 kms from Katra. It is a beautiful picnic spot and also offers a number of trekking options.
Kol Kandholi is located 33 kms away from Katra and is regarded as the first stop for darshan in a yatra to the shrine of Vaishno Devi. According to legend, the goddess played here like a village girl. Devotees hang symbolic swings on the tree here to commemorate the girlish incarnation of the goddess.
The Shudh Mahadev temple has a black lingam and has strong mythological connections. It is located 75 kms from Katra.
Food & Accommodation
There are several good clean eateries in Katra. Mostly North Indian dishes are available. Vegetarian food is served. It costs around Rs 100 to 150 for the meal of one person. The Punjabi Haveli, Kens food planet, Manoranjan dhaba and Prem lahori Vaishno Dhaba are some good options.
There are a variety of hotels in Katra. Luxury hotels like AMR Lords Eco Inn, Anurag, Atrium on the Greens, Country inn, Bali Resort, Hotel Asia Vaishno Devi charge from Rs 2000 to Rs 6000 and offer beautiful accommodations. On the other hand, budget accommodations are provided by Hari Resort, AP Broadway, Arya, Ashiana, Atul Regency etc which cost around Rs 1000. Cheaper accommodations at lower prices are also available.
Safety and Security
Vaishno Devi caves are located high in the Himalayas. Though the yatra is generally safe, accidents on the steep mountainous roads are not entirely unknown. The level of security is also good, but every religious place has touts who should be avoided. Booking of helicopter rides should be done online beforehand. Otherwise, you may be charged exorbitant rates.