Pilgrimage Destination Vaishnodevi,Katra,india

Published: 19th January 2011
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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.

Getting Around
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.

Local Custom
The first step to begin the Yatra is the mandatory registration with the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. Upon registration, you will be issued a slip to carry with you. Registration is possible online and at the Yatra Registration Counter (YRC) located at the Katra bus stand on Udhampur road. A second counter, called YRC II has been recently added at the new bus stand, a kilometer from the main YRC. Both counters are fully computerized and well equipped to handle even the seasonal rush. You have to register for the Yatra personally. Registrations at YRC are limited to groups of nine: each slip allows a maximum of nine names. If your group is larger, you may need to split up and register as separate groups. Or, head to YRC II for registration which allows registration for larger groups.

The registration slip is also your permission to embark on the trek. Slip in hand, you will have to report at/cross the first check post at Bhanganga within 6 hours of registration.

The next step is to obtain a group number once you have reached Trikoot hill. The Shrine Board regulates the number of visitors who can enter the shrine at any given time by issuing "��group numbers"��. Once you reach the bhawan, make your way to the counter and obtain a group number, which is your entry pass for the Darshan. The time between getting a group number and actually gaining entry will depend on the rush at the time.

Another custom to be followed is to cleanse oneself by bathing the holy waters. Ladies are offered the courtesy of closed bathrooms and privacy.

You must keep a few other things in mind. The use of any electronic gadget - mobile phone, digital camera, video camera, or any other device is prohibited beyond the first checkpoint. Along the route, adequate lockers and storage facilities have been provided.

Lastly, no leather items are allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum. All such items, be it clothes, handbags or purses need to be deposited in the lockers provided. Only money and handkerchief to cover the head are allowed inside.

Katra is a holy place and abode to the shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi. By the virtue of the sanctity of the place, Katra is a dry city. No liquor or cigarettes or gutkas are sold here.

Mata"��s prasad is the one main token that pilgrims take back from Katra. Apart from that, there are many small shops that sell shawls and woolen clothing like firan - a woolen tunic, caps, etc. Some shopkeepers also sell pashmina shawls, but you needs to be careful from where you buy to be sure that it is authentic pashmina. You can check out the State Handicrafts Emporium for such handicrafts.

All major cellular service providers, such as BSNL, Vodafone, Airtel, and Idea, provide connectivity. Though the signal may get weak at some points of the climb.

Landline phones and STD/ISD facility will be available at Katra. Similarly for Internet access.

Traveling to Katra by road, in a bus or a private car, is the most convenient, as you can head directly to Katra without necessarily halting at Jammu, which is a compulsion if traveling by trains or air. Travelers can take a by-pass from Kunjwani, 10kms off Jammu, and proceed to Katra.

State-owned public transport and private buses are ply from all major north Indian cities to Jammu. Both standard and deluxe buses are available. The roads are well maintained and the scenery beautiful.

From Katra, it is a trek of 12 kilometers (7.4 miles) to reach the Holy Caves. Though yatris traverse the distance on foot to prove their devotion to the Goddess, ponies and rudimentary palanquins are available for those who want to avail it.

One of the quickest ways to undertake the pilgrimage is by helicopter, which drops you 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the Bhawan, at Sanjhi Chatt. However, this option is also more expensive. It can upto Rs 1,225 for a one-way trip and Rs 2,450 for return. Electric cars are also available to take you from adh-kuwari to the Bhawan.

Jammu is connected to the rest of the country by rail. It is an overnight journey to Jammu from New Delhi. Additional trains ply during the summer season and holidays, when it is the peak season for paying devotion to the Holy Shrine. Jammu has trains to all the metros as well as superfast trains to Trivandrum, Kanyakumari, Ahmedabad and Patna.

It is recommended that you refer to the train schedule some days before your visit as the schedule keeps changing.

The nearest airport to Katra is at Jammu. All major airlines fly to Jammu from Delhi, offering convenient connections. The flight takes about 80 minutes from Delhi. Jammu is well connected from Mumbai and other metros as well. However, most flights will stopover at Delhi.

Hotels in Katra

For more information for this Destination please check india Travel Guide

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