Katra, lying in the foot of Trikuta Mountains, serves as the base camp for visiting the famous shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi which is approachable on foot along a 13 kms long well laid footpath. The scenery throughout the trek is pictursque.
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.
Air: Jammu, 48 kms from Katra, is the nearest airport
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.