Char Dham (or 4 Dham) Yatra is one of the holiest pilgrimage trails in India. Apart from their huge religious importance, the Char Dhams are also situated in the beautiful mountains of Garhwal. The four religious centers are so auspicious that pious Hindus believe a trip to these destinations is a must to pave their way to heaven in the afterlife! With this notion in mind, each year thousands of Hindu pilgrims and many travel enthusiasts head for the hills of Garhwal. And during the Char Dham Yatra, pilgrims get a scope to traverse through the scenic terrains of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
Any typical Char Dham Yatra tour package would provide ample scopes to explore the scenic beauty stretching from West to East Uttarakhand. The pilgrims pass through green meadows, breathtaking valleys and misty roads. The usual Yatra trail leads through the popular hill station of Mussoorie. If all walking is not a thing you like, then you can hire ponies or, even better, ride inside a decorated Palanquin like royalty! So, Char Dham Yatra (as typically projected) is not always about religious fervor. There are plenty of elements in this religious voyage that tickle the interests of a nature lover. And with that in mind we bring you highlights of this Yatra.
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Char Dham Yatra Route Map
This long spiritual journey begins from Haridwar. The pilgrims flock to Yamunotri to take a bath at holy Yamuna river, which is also the starting point of Yamunotri Glacier. Haridwar is considered to be the seat of goddess Yamuna (as per Hindu scriptures) and people pay their obeisance at the Yamunotri temple. After appeasing goddess Yamuna with their homage, the pilgrims head towards Gangotri where they take a holy dip in the Bhagirathi River. After cleansing their body and mind, the devotees perform poojas and other rites at the banks of the river. It has to be said in this respect that both the above mentioned rivers tend to have freezing water temperature and taking a dip in the ice cold water is a daring feat. But religious fervor seems to win over earthly pains in this case!
Now that the pilgrims have been cleansed, they head towards towards Kedarnath with the objective of paying their reverences to Lord Shiva. Once they have kept their appointment with Lord Shiva it is turn to head towards Badrinath and ask for Lord Vishnu’s blessings. It is believed that the pilgrims who are able to complete this holy journey get a reprieve from the cycle of birth and death as their soul attains Moksha!
Char Dham Yatra destinations
Dham 1: Gangotri
Gangotri holy site is situated in Uttarkashi district. Gangotri’s terrains are decorated with gushing fresh water streams and lush greenery all around. As per Hindu mythology, this is the source of River Ganga. The water here is supposed to stay fresh for many years. And scientific research has also backed this! The water from Gangotri is carried to Badrinath and Kedarnath, which are next stops on Char Dham tour package.
Places to visit in Gangotri
- Gangotri Temple: The white colored Gangotri Temple is thronged by lakhs of people every year. The Aarti here is a grand affair and is typically held at 7:30 AM. During the aarti, goddess Ganga is given a bath, and the temple gates are opened for pilgrims. It should be noted that the temple remains open from May till October (Diwali).
- Gangnani: Gangnani appears half way between Haridwar and Gangotri. Gangnani is a hot sulphur spring. The water here is not only soothingly hot, but is also believed to cure skin ailments.
- Submerged Shivalinga: If you happen to visit Gangotri during the winters, you can see a submerged Shivalinga. It is said that this is the place where Goddess Ganga first arrived onto the mortal Earth.
- Pandav Gufa: A short 1 KM trek from the banks of Gangotri River will land you at these mythologically important caves. Remember that episode in Mahabharata, where the Pandavas were banished from their kingdom and had to spend many years in solitary confinement. Well, the Pandavas spent those days in the Pandav Gufa. The caves are situated in the midst of thick forest cover.
Dham 2: Yamunotri
This holy town is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna. It is believed that River Yamuna originated from a spot in Kalindi mountains here. To reach Yamunotri, the pilgrims have to take a short trek from Jankichatti. However, you can skip the walk by hitching a Pony ride or journeying in a Palaquin. The costs of these two conveniences range between INR 500-1200. One of the customs of Char Dham Yatra is to prepare a potato and rice meal in the nearby Surya Kund hotsprings. This meal is taken to the Yamunotri temple and then carried back by the pilgrims as their Prasad.
Places to visit in Yamunotri
- Yamunotri temple: Situated on the banks of the Yamuna River, this holy temple is dedicated to goddess Yamuna. At the onset of summers (between April and May), the Yamunotri temple opens up for devotees. While during winters, the temple gates are closed and the idol of Goddess Yamuna is taken to the nearby Kharsali village, where the goddess is worshiped.
- Surya Kund: It is a hot water spring which is integrally associated with Char Dham pilgrimage. As a part of the pilgrimage the devotees tie potatoes and rice in cloths and immerse them inside this pond. the rice and potatoes get cooked up in hot water, which is then offered to the deity. The hot water spring has a temperature of 1900 F!
- Saptarishi Kund: This is the place from where Yamuna originates as a natural lake. Situated at 4421 metres above sea level, Saptarishi Kund can be reached by trekking a distance of 10 KM. Along the trekking route one can come across many rare species of birds and catch a glimpse of scenic landscapes.
- Janki Chatti: Janki Chatti is a trekking base to Yamunotri. A hub of hot springs and trekking, the place is situated amidst huge mountains. It is a trekkers’ delight and the sightseeing is at its best here.
- Kharsali: Just a short distance from Janki Chatti is the beautiful village of Kharsali. This sleepy little village is known for its Shani Dev Temple. This temple becomes the abode of goddess Yamuna during the winters (when Yamunotri becomes inaccessible due to high snowfall). Apart from the temple, Kharsali is gifted with many thermal springs, waterfalls and of course great flora and fauna. There is also an ancient Lord Shiva Temple here, which has beautiful stone and wood carvings.
Dham 3: Kedarnath
At a distance of 86 KM from Rudraprayag, in Guptkashi, lies Kedarnath. It is situated near Chorabari Glacier, which is the head of River Mandakini. Kedarnath can be reached by traversing through beautiful mountain routes, meadows, thermal springs, fabulous mountain peaks and lush greens. Out of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva, this is the most significant.
- Registration for Kedarnath visit: Prior registrations for Kedarnath trip are essential. Registrations can be done through physical registration counters or online. When you reach the counter you have to specify the yatra and the travel dates. You will be issued a trip card which must be carried throughout the journey.
- Medical Certificate: You can undertake this journey only after obtaining a medical fitness certificate from the medical centers at Guptkashi or Sonprayag. If the medical reports suggest something critical you might not be allowed to trek, however you can still reach Kedarnath by helicopter.
Places to visit in Kedarnath
- Kedarnath Temple: The Kedarnath Temple stands tall facing the Mandakini Valley. If legends are to be believed then the Pandavas had come here asking for forgiveness from Lord Shiva after the battle at Kurukshetra ended. A statue of Lord Shiva sits here, which is shifted to Ukhimath in winters as the entire place gets covered with a snow blanket. It should be noted that the holy Kedarnath temple opens in April or May every year. The trek to Kedarnath temple starts from the base at Gaurikund. Apart from walking, there are many other alternatives such as helicopter, Palanquin and pony services. Devotees willing to trek up to Kedarnath must start by 1:30 PM (latest) from Gaurikund.
- Bhairav Temple: To the south of Kedarnath temple is the temple of Bhairo Nathji. Bhairo Nath is the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva and the people of the valley believe that Bhairav Nath protects the valley from any troubles. You will get a breathtaking view of the Kedarnath Valley from here.
- Mahapanth: Mahapanth is atop the Satopanth and just behind the Kedarnath temple. Locals believe that this is the exact place from where the Pandavas went to heaven. Spiritual minded people also believe Mahapanth to be the gateway to heaven!
- Triyuginarayan Temple: This temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu was erected by the Pandavas. Legends say that Lord Shiva married Parvati here in front of a havan kund, which has been burning for three yugs or 3000 years.
- Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary: Flora and fauna lovers can visit the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. Some of the commonly spotted species here are musk deers, snow leopards and the Himalayan Black Bears. The sanctuary is open between April to June and again from September to November. You need prior permission, if you want to visit the park.
Dham 4: Badrinath
On the banks of Alaknanda River, nestled in the midst of the Garhwal Himalayas, lies Badrinath in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. The Badrinath town is home to the holy temple of Badrinath.
Places to visit in Badrinath
- Badrinath Temple: Badrinath temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is situated on the banks of Alaknanda River. Nana Parvat, also known as Kuber Khand (or the Treasure house of the Lord of Wealth) surrounds this temple. The temple has a small cupola on top, which is covered with a gold-gilted roof. There are several deities inside the temple and five rivulets pass by the temple. It is a calm and serene sight. There are a few things that should be kept in mind before you plan a visit to Badrinath. Firstly, only 1000 devotees are allowed inside the temple everyday. So prior bookings are essential. Secondly, you can hire a car from Joshimath to reach this temple, but all the cars would be allowed to Badrinath only at certain fixed timings (6-7 AM, 9-10 AM, 11-12 AM, 2-3 PM and 4:30-5:30 PM). Thirdly, if you are tired of waiting in queues and want a quick Darshan then head towards the ticket counter near Gate no. 3 and purchase a slip for Ved Path puja. It costs INR 2500 per person and allows a Darshan within 15 minutes. Lastly, the temple gates open between April to May and is closed from November onwards.
- Tapt Kund: Just below the Badrinath temple lies a pond with hot Sulphur springs. Temperature of the Tapt Kund remains around 50°C. The pond has medicinal value and the legend states that Lord of Agni was blessed by Lord Vishnu here. It is said that a bath in this pond relieves pilgrims of all their sins.
- Narad Kund and Surya Kund: These kunds also lie just below the Badrinath temple and on the banks of Alaknanda river. These thermal hot water springs have a special significance with Badrinath yatra, for it is a practice that pilgrims should bathe in these ponds before entering the temple.
- Brahma Kapal: It is a flat platform situated on the banks of River Alaknanda. You would find many people performing the last rites of their deceased beloved ones. It is believed that performing the last rites at this platform relieves the dead of all their sins and gives them Moksha.
- Bhim Pul: Bhim Pul is a natural rock bridge, that lies over the Saraswati River. It is believed that Bhim himself placed the bridge here. Legends believe that this structure will stand tall till truth exists on Earth.
Char Dham Yatra is a must partake and it has all the right components for a perfect trip. You have adventure, religious fervor, nature viewing and unique experiences all through the trip.
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