This cave temple has a very popular following from people of all faiths. Among the most revered of shrines, and the oldest in the region, it entails a 13.5 km trek from Katra which in turn is 50 km from Jammu. The route up to the shrine consists of both tiled paths as well as steep staircases, and the devout often walk barefeet up the Trikuta mountain. Several shrines, wayside stalls for snacks and beverages and water-points dot the route. An important temple, midway at Adhkunwari, marks a major centre of obeisance where the goddess is supposed to have spent nine months on her journey up the mountain.
Vaishnav Devi Temple at Katra, Jammu
The cave shrine is narrow and pilgrims have to walk through a running stream of cold water Charan Ganga to get to the sanctum sanctorum. Within, three rock-cut idols of the goddesses, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati are venerated canopies of silver and gold. Coconuts and red scarves are offered.Legend has it that Vaishno Devi took the cave for her home upon being chased by a demon, Bhairon, whom she slayed outside the shrine. A visit to the temple dedicated to Bhairon who was absolved of his sin before he died, is an obligatory part of the pilgrimage.
Vignettes of a 'yatra' to Vaishno Devi
All pilgrims are required to get passes at Katra for the 'yatra' which continues round the year. In the winter, snow can often block the route, but summer nights are ideal for the uphill ascent. To facilitate pilgrims the entire route has been electrically lit, and there is overnight accommodation available at the shrine.