The Char Dhams of Uttarakhand were earlier known as Chota Char Dham and they have gained mammoth religious and spiritual significance over the years. The journey to the four destinations of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath (the Chota Char Dhams) demands arduous trekking, steep climbs and expeditions amongst dizzying heights. However, the rewards are spiritually priceless as these places offer a priceless glimpse into eternity and promise to cleanse away all past sins. Thousands of pilgrims and spiritual seekers visit the Char Dham from across the world to bask in its holy aura.
It is believed that existence in this corrupt world constantly burdens the soul with sin and vagary, both of which takes the soul further and further away from its creator. Thus, humans remain trapped in the vicious cycle of life and death and are unable to attain Moksha or Salvation. The journey to the Char Dham of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath is a rare chance to wash away the sins acquired in this life as well as the past life cycles, thus paving the way for Moksha.
Even if one is not religiously inclined, there are plenty of medical and scientific reasons behind the popularity of the Char Dham tour. All the shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, Gangotri are all located in pristine high altitude hills and all the journeys require considerable physical exertion and exercise. The exertion encountered during these journeys flood the body with energy and helps shed off excess weight while re-vitalising all metabolic processes. Another great reason behind the importance of Char Dham Yatra is the chance to see unbelievable natural bounty with sparkling streams, lovely rivers and lofty mountains sprouting waterfalls. The combination of the beautiful scenery and sacred atmosphere infused with shlokas, holy chants and jingling temple bells floods the mind and soul with positivity and regularises the body. A visitor to the Char Dham will automatically feel the emotions of hope, positivity and love embracing his/ her mind.
Choosing the dates for commencement of the Holy Char Dham Yatra solely depends upon the Char Dham Temple Committee. It has been a tradition to choose the sacred Akshaya Tritiya as the starting date of this pilgrimage. The decision to open the Yatra season also depends upon the weather as the routes to Char Dham are snow bound during winters. In 2017, the Yamunotri and Gangotri temples will open on 28th
April and the Badrinath- Kedarnath temples will open on 3th
May & 6th
The opening and closing ceremonies of the temples are performed with great pomp and show by significant religious personalities. The temples will remain open for the next six months starting from the above-mentioned dates and will close around Diwali. As mentioned earlier, heavy rainfall and snowfall makes the roads difficult to manoeuvre post Diwali. The deities from the Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath are brought to their winter destinations (villages at lower altitudes) and the deities are worshipped and revered till the doors of the main temples open in the next year.
The journey for the holy Char Dham Yatra commences from the sacred town of Haridwar via either the city of Rishikesh or Dehradun and Mussoorie route. Spiritual gurus advise pilgrims and tourists to start this journey after taking a full dip in the holy waters of the mighty Ganges at Haridwar Har-ki-Pauri. It’s also highly recommended to bay obeisance at the famous temples of Mansa Mata and Chanda Devi at the beginning of the Char Dham Yatra as both these temples are supposed to possess wish fulfilling properties.
In case you are planning to embark on the Char Dham Yatra via the Rishikesh route then you need to seek the blessings of Lord Neelkanth Mahadev and the God Trimbakeshwar at their very own temples. The Ganga Aarti that happens every evening at the Triveni Ghat is supposed to be one of the most spiritually moving experiences a Hindu can experience. Make sure that you give your soul the benefits of divinity by listening to the cascade of hymns and chants around the Ghat as a thousand lamps flicker on the blue waters of Ganges.
In case, you have decided to take the Dehradun-Mussoorie route for your Char Dham Yatra, do not despair. There are plenty of spiritual and natural attractions on your way. The very first point you should stop at is the Sahastradhara; the holy spring. It is believed that the waters of this spring have strange healing powers which can suck away all the pain and agony from your body. If you are a nature lover, then the famous Kempty Falls at Mussoorie will surely bewitch you. This is the ideal place to take a bath, some beautiful photographs and create memories of a lifetime.
As you progress further on your journey to the Char Dham, you are bound to stop in your tracks by the splendid views of the Bandar Pooch peaks and bow your head at the revered Shiva temple at Barkot. The temple at Barkot is specially mentioned in Hindu scriptures and Vedas. From Barkot, you need to proceed further along to Hanuman Chatti to take the priceless blessings of the mighty Sankatmochana Hanuman Ji who resides at Hanuman Temple. Just a few km away, you will reach the Janki Chatti where there are thermal springs where you can take a bath. After Janki Chatti, you must Trek towards Yamunotri the first Char Dham on this route. Don’t forget to seek the blessing of Lord Shani in Kharsali village.
It is said that Yamuna Devi (Yama. The God of death’s sister) stays at Yamunotri and she originates from Champasar Glacier. A dip in the waters of Yamuna ensures a painless death but first sanctifies yourself by bathing in the Surya Kund and eat Prasadam cooked in the Kund. Next on your agenda is the Darshan of Divya Shila and take Darshan of Yamuna Ji. Post Yamunotri, the next stop is Uttarkashi that stands on the bank of Bhagirathi. Take a bath at Rishi Kund and spend some time in the luscious apple orchards of Dharali. You can also stop at Mukhba Village…the winter sojourn of Goddess Ganga. A little far away from the Mukhba you will reach the sacred village of Gangotri where Ganga/ Bhagirathi descends into the plains after her origin from Gaumukh after visiting Gangotri temple, you will move on to Bhagirathi Shila, Pandava Gufa, Suryakund Waterfall. If you can trek further up, then continue 18 km up to see the Gaumukh Glacier which is the source of Ganga river.
As you proceed further away on your Char Dham route you will reach Ukhimath by the choice of two routes. You can either take Srinagar-Rudraprayag-Agustumuni or the Uttarkashi-Tehri-Ghansali route. Ukhimath is a major attraction as it’s called the winter sojourn of Lord Shiva (the Madhyamaheshwar temple is particularly important). Post Ukhimath you ae about to reach Kedarnath and enroute you must visit Ardhanarishvara and Vishwanath temples in Guptakashi. The nearby attractions are Triyuginarayan temple at beautiful Sonprayag temple. Also, don’t forget visiting Gauri temple and bathing in Gaurikund. At Kedarnath you will be greeted by the triangular Jyotirlinga from Pandava era and the majestic Himalayan peak Swargarohini and Kedar. You can also visit the Bhairav temple which is the winter home for Kedar Lord.
You will now proceed towards the last Dham Badrinath and en route you can stop at Chopta Village that contains the Panch Kedar temple of Tungnath. From here you can see the mesmerising Chandrashila peaks and fields of bright Rhododendrons. You can also stop at Nandaprayag that is a holy site of Pancha Prayag. From here you will move towards Joshimath, Vishnuprayag and Pandukeshwar before reaching Badrinath.
Bathe in the sacred waters of Tapta Kunda and pray to lord Badrinath at the temple where priests will tell you ancient lores as you gaze towards the Vasundhara Falls. Later you will visit the sacred places like Augustmuni, Karnaprayag and Rudraprayag, Srinagar and Devprayag on your journey back to Haridwar. Feel divinity and purity flood your heart at the completion of the Char Dham Yatra.
Total Time Required for Yatra and preferred Time to Visit
A time slot of 12 to 13 days is sufficient for covering the Char Dham Yatra. You must plan your journey in a way that you are not under too much physical strain. The general aim is to cover about 5 hours of journey every day and this will give you time to relax and sights see.
The char Dham pilgrim temples open from April- May and closes around October-November. There is a major rush during the initial months so you might want to plan your journey somewhere in the middle. September is the recommended month as the Char Dams look serene and ravishingly lovely during these times. The monsoon months of July and august are avoidable as heavy rains and landslides may occur.
Transport Options for Char Dham Yatra
The government of Uttarakhand runs a fleet of standard as well as luxury coaches and buses from Dehradun, Haridwar and Rishikesh for the sacred Char Dham Yatra. Taxi services
can also be used from these areas. If you want to try the Chartered helicopter services to the Char Dham
then you can avail this option after completing the paperwork.
For people who have limited time, the helicopter service is a good option. You can book chartered helicopter rides to Dehradun from Sahastradhara (ear Dehradun) till Kharsali. From here you can ride on pony back to Yamunotri. Similarly, you can charter a helicopter ride from Kharsali to Harsil and Gangotri is about 30 km away. Also, you can get helicopter rides to Badrinath
from Phata near Guptakashi. A good travel agent can get you great deals on accommodation and travel and these must be done in advance.
Where to Stay in Char Dham Route
There is a lot of accommodation options that range from lodges, GMVM Tourist stays, budget hotel and 3-4 star properties. Resorts and luxury hotels are not easily found but there are many luxury camps where you can soak in the beauty of nature and purify your mind and soul. You will find such camps enroute to Harsil, Gangotri, Gupta Kashi and finally on the path to Kedarnath and Badrinath. These camps are a perfect blend of modern amenities and nature experiential living. If you talk to an experienced travel agent, you might be able to strike a good deal in your preferred accommodation option.
Top Things to Remember on your Char Dham Yatra
- It’s best to physically prepare yourself for the Char Dham Yatra some weeks in advance. Start walking at least 3 to 4 km every day and acclimatise yourself to walking up on inclines. Remember, on your Char Dham route, you must manage walking on rough inclined terrains.
- Its best to book accommodation, travel options in consultation with a good travel agent as these are remote areas and you wouldn’t want to inconvenience yourself or face any glitch in your spiritual journey. Ask a trusted friend or relative for contacts of tour operators and can also search the internet for the same.
- Get yourself medically checked for issues like high blood pressure, cardiac problems, diabetes and asthma and proceed with the Yatra only if you are fit enough. Anyway, you must produce a fitness certificate when you embark on the Badrinath-Kedarnath-Gangotri-Yamunotri route.
- It’s very important to carry your medical kit from home and this kit should carry sufficient quantities of your regular use medicines as well as medical emergency pills. Carry antipyretics, anti-inflammatory pills and ointments for insect bites and rashes along with band aid, disinfectant etc.
- Remember that you will be travelling on high altitudes throughout your journey and hilly terrains aver unpredictable climate, Carry sufficient woollen garments, thermal inner wear, umbrella, raincoat and good quality trekking shoes.
- You will be exposed to breath-taking scenery on your Char Dham Yatra so make sure that you pack a good quality handycam. Other essentials you might need are extra batteries, torch, lighter etc.
- Don’t carry too much jewellery especially precious metals and gemstone jewellery as they might get lost while you are trekking. Wear only inexpensive costume jewellery.
- Carry plenty of cash. You never know whether cash will be available at any of the sparse ATM’s on the Yatra route.
- Jot down all the helpline numbers in your phone and diary as they might come in handy at some point.
- In case you are not going via a well-known tour operator, your bookings must be done well in advance. You wouldn’t want to get involved in last minute delays and cancellations.
- Keep a sharp eye on the weather forecasts and consider diverting your route if you hear predictions of torrential rains or landslides. Remember that the weather can fluctuate violently on the hills
- Only hire ponies from operators holding a valid license
- Carry very light luggage containing only the essentials
- You will feel hungry and exhausted during your hikes. Munch on dry fruits, energy bars and glucose sachets along with you and keep yourself hydrated.
- Wear strong and hardy hiking shoes and wean them before you start off on your Yatra. You would not like to encounter shoe bites during the Yatra
- The Car Dham Yatra is best undertaken in a group. If you fall ill or have low morale or are simply lonely, there must be a fellow pilgrim to give you hope and company. Ideally look for a group of 4 to 5 people for your Char Dham Yatra journey
- The shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri are highly revered and sacred. They will have some rules as set by the temple committee. Make sure that you respect those rules as following them is a way of respecting the divine spirit
- Make sure you don’t click pictures at places that have “photography not allowed” written on them otherwise your camera might get confiscated.
- Remember that the Char Dham Yatra is your Yatra and treat the pilgrimage spots and route with sanctity and respect. Do not litter and spread uncleanliness around you.
- Pay attention to personal hygiene and cleanliness