After two years of hiatus, good times have returned and we must savor them. Our travel plans have remained canceled for long, but now seems the safest time to get some trips in the diary. There never will be a better reason to explore the lengths and breaths of India and help the locals with some money. I showed courage by stepping out and doing a road trip to the newly opened Phato zone in Jim Corbett National Park, first. And soon after, I was boarding my first flight of the year to Jammu, the city of temples, to attend a family wedding. The events were supposed to last for two days and then we were supposed to return. But something felt amiss in the plan. That feeling of going on a trip felt incomplete without staying in a hotel and doing some of the touristy things. I decided to extend my trip to Katra and I am glad my husband agreed too. I wanted to visit Katra for two important reasons – Firstly, I wanted to be at a calming, spiritual place and nothing could be better than the abode of Mata Vaishno Devi. (One can never have enough of her blessings.) And secondly, I was hung up on one of the room views of Welcomhotel Katra and secretly wished to stay there. I had seen some of its pictures from the launch last year and the first impression had stayed. I know that sounds funny but believe me, the views are truly mesmerizing. Those who know me, are aware of the fact that I like staying in the finest hotels in India and around the world because I believe, hotels play a very important role in helping us savor our experiences and making our trips all the more memorable. I am glad I made these memories at WelcomHotel Katra.
The Room View at the Welcomhotel by ITC Hotels Katra
Who doesn’t love to wake up to the incomparable views and stunning panoramas of the mighty mountains, lofty ranges, incredible cityscapes, hues of blue and green waters and the picture perfect architectural marvels? Only aliens would say no. Right? Thus, when you wake up and sleep with the views of Trikuta hills and it looks over you all day, there is no such thing as view point, it becomes a part of your stay experience. This is what I felt about Welcomhotel Katra. I have no second thoughts about the fact that the club room (where I stayed) has the best views in the city and beyond. My room had uninterrupted vision of the Trikuta Parvat and the valley view along with Pir Panjal ranges shining gleefully in the top left corner. The twists and turns of the newly opened Tarakote route covered in blue, the base camp, the Ardhkumari, the Hathi matha, and the helicopters fetching devotees every few minutes, all of this stood in front of me in one frame. It was overwhelming and I couldn’t be more grateful to see it all from my hotel bed.
Smooth Check-in, Sattvik Food and Top-Notch Hospitality
After bidding goodbye to all our relatives, husband and I made our way towards Katra in the afternoon of 19th February. It was a smooth ride from Jammu and before the sunset, we were already at our destination. The highway is great and the clear blue skies, the tunnels and our chatty driver keep us entertained. In two hours straight, we were alighting at WelcomHotel Katra and my expectations from the hotel had doubled up along the way because our driver kept singing praises of it.. He was more excited than us about our stay in WelcomHotel.
(Info : The best mode of transport from Jammu to Katra is hired taxi and they charge Rs.1500. The hotel also arranges a pick up from the airport if you make prior requests. )
We were met by a very friendly staff at the front desk and the check-in was extremely smooth. In a few minutes, we were already in our room swooning over the picturesque frame that stood right in front of us. It was love at first sight and we couldn’t keep our eyes off it. This was just the beginning. Even after staying there for two days, I couldn’t get enough of it. We clicked some pictures and decided to rest for a while. The plan was to walk to the local market of Katra in the late evening but by the time we got up, we chose to go for an early dinner.
I was aware that the restaurant served only vegetarian food but I was pleasantly surprised that there was no use of garlic and onion (Sattvik). And yet, everything tasted great. We indulged in the starters, soup and the main course. The staff and services in the restaurant were one of the best that I have seen. ITC Hotels are always about top-notch hospitality and once again, I was glad to see the best. We also had a chance to interact with the General Manager, Mr. Rajesh Bathla, one of the most humble and friendly person. He not only insisted that we check out the local market of Katra the next day, but also suggested that we tried the local food – Kaladhi kulcha and nutri-bun. We really enjoyed our conversations with him as he filled us with information about the nearby attractions, especially Shiv Khori. And of course, we loved the food too. Before calling it a day, we conveyed our complements to the chef. In the next two days of our stay, we ate our heart full and also had a chance to taste one of the best koftas, ‘Anjeer and akhrot ke kofte’. Till date, it is the best kofta that I have eaten. The Nadru ke kebabs (lotus stems) were equally delish. And if you wish to indulge in local cuisine, don’t miss the ambal (pumpkin).
We got lucky with our darshan at Mata Vaishno Devi
If you are in Katra, there is a reason. As they say, “mata ka bulawa aata hai”. This means that the Goddess sends a calling for you. Our believe in this popular saying was reinstated with our own experience. We were blessed with one of the best darshan this time. Due to the lockdown restrictions, our trip dates to Jammu and Katra were finalized at the last moment and thus we were not able to book the helicopter tickets for the darshan of Mata Vaishno devi. When we reached Katra, we were not even sure if we will be able to do the trek to the bhawan, as we were tired from the celebrations. In my last visits, I had had the experience of both. So I was okay to let it pass but not my husband who has been to the top more than 20 times. He kept insisting that we must walk but I had a swollen foot. On the first night, we did begin to think of it but the weather was windy and chilly. We could not muster courage as we were not prepared with enough warm clothes. Next afternoon we went to the Ban Ganga, the Katra market and the Tarakote marg. The new route looked spic and span and very inviting. We also met a jawan there, who asked us when are you starting the chadai (walk). His words stayed with us for long and as soon as we hit the hotel, we began to plan. We had to return on the third day and it was urgent, thus all that we had was less than 24 hours but as they say when things have to work in your favor, they do.
At the hotel, we spoke to a staff member and he guided us perfectly. He suggested to take a shot at the current bookings of the helicopter by standing in the queue at 5.30 a.m. in the morning. One needed to have yatra parchi, id and vaccination proofs. We arranged all the printouts in the night, went there early morning, stood there for nearly two hours. It was very haphazardly managed but long story short, we did manage helicopter seats. The taxi service at the hotel was extremely prompt. They dropped us at the helipad as fast as they could and we were booked for a 8:45 a.m. helicopter ride. By12:30 p.m, we were back in our hotel after the darshan. And by 3:00 p.m. we were in the train headed back to Delhi. It was an adventurous day for sure!
Things to do in Katra and Places nearby!
We all know that Katra is one of the holiest and picturesque places in the foothills of Trikuta Mountains of Jammu & Kashmir. There is a small market around the fountain chowk, (old bus stop) where many colourful shops adorn the lanes here. Most of them sell traditional Kashmiri artefacts and handicrafts. This market is also the place for picking original high quality Kashmiri Dry Fruit, Almonds, Walnuts, garlic, prasad, souvenirs etc but don’t forget to explore, compare and bargain before shopping. The local market buzzes with energy all round the year. The month of February is usually off the radar of tourists and we were lucky to find it less crowded.
As suggested by Rajesh Sir, we also tried the popular Kaladhi Kulcha and nutri bun from one of the local shops which goes by the name – Kanhaiya Lal. For the uninitiated, I must share that Kaladi kulcha is a traditional dish from Jammu. Kaladhi is local cheese. It is not supposed to be eaten fresh. And nutri bun is the usual combination of minced soya and regular bun. This place should be marked on your ‘must do in Katra’. Kaladhi Kulcha was super yum and called for a second round.
Katra is popularly associated with Mata Vaishno Devi’s darshan. We often forget that one can make Katra as the base location and explore a lot of other neighboring attractions as well. Some of the places that you can visit from Katra are – Patnitop, Shiv Khori, Baba Dhansar, Srinagar, Jammu, Dalhousie, Sanasar. One of the places that I did not even know about is Shiv Khori, the place where you can visit holy Shivji Cave, 85 kilometers from Katra city. I would definitely plan to go there next time.
Rooms, Spa and Swimming Pool with a View
There are four types of rooms in WelcomHotel Katra, along with the suite but the club room happens to be the best because of the two sided views. Who doesn’t need a spa after the trek? And even without the trek, body massage always sounds music to my ears. WelcomHotel Katra offers spa from K by Kaya Kalp. It is equipped with sauna room as well. Personally, I had a nice experience.
And last but not the least, the swimming pool will be a hit as soon as it becomes fucntional. Who wouldn’t love to take a dip on the terrace pool, while sipping some coffee/tea and enjoying the stunning views of the Trikuta hills, the gorgeous sunset and snow laded Pir Panjal? I am totally in for it and I am definitely looking forward to returning to the hotel soon.
Highs of my stay at Welcomhotel Katra
- The picture perfect views from all corners.
- The hospitality and ever-helpful staff. The General Manager was extremely cordial and spared time to talk to us and guide us.
- The bed and pillows were extremely comfortable. The linen was absolutely neat. The washroom utilities (toothbrush, comb kit, etc) were biodegradable and sustainable. I could use them without guilt. That is where responsible luxury comes in the picture.
- The taxi services were on point. Both the drivers that we interacted with were well-mannered and extremely helpful.
- The restaurant food was amazing. The breakfast spread was great and beautifully presented. The dinner was just perfect.
- The hotel had a very happy and warm vibe about itself.
- The paintings were beautiful and when I asked them, I was told, they had been bought from an NGO which supports underprivileged children.
- The Covid guidelines were always in place.