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Chota Char Dham Yatra - Yamunotri Gangotri Kedarnath Badrinath

Discussion in 'Destination Guides' started by Debapriya Deb, Mar 10, 2016.

  1. Debapriya Deb

    Debapriya Deb Active Member

    Apart from the original Char Dham yatra, consisting of Puri - Rameshwaram - Dwarka - Badrinath, as defined by the 8th-century Hindu reformer Adi Shankaracharya, there are four other abodes of Hinduism situated in the precarious terrains of Himalaya in the Northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. Referred to as the Uttarakhand Char Dham or Himalayan Char Dham, the four holy shrines situated at Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri are increasingly getting the recognition as a must visit pilgrimage circuit among the followers of Hinduism.

    Located in the higher reaches of the Garhwal region, the four shrines signify the spiritual source of four holy rivers - the Yamuna at Yamunotri, the Ganga at Gangotri, the Mandakini at Kedarnath, and the Alaknanda at Badrinath. Visiting these four holy shrines together is collectively known as the Chota Char Dham Yatra tour. The prefix of 'Chota' is used in order to distinguish this smaller holy circuit from the bigger circuit of Char Dham.

    On an average, more than 2,50,000 devotees take up the holy pilgrimage to the 'Chota' Char Dham during a particular season. Not only the Indians but even the foreign nationals are attracted to the natural beauty and religious significance of this Garhwal Himalayan region. Picturesque surroundings dominated by the intimidating Himalayan peaks, dense forests, and serene valleys, Uttarakhand Char Dham provides a breath of fresh air alongside a wholesome religious experience to savor for a lifetime.

    Visiting the Uttarakhand Char Dham

    Traditionally the Char Dham Yatra is done in a clock-wise direction from West to East. The yatra starts from the furthest Western corner at Yamunotri, then proceeds towards Gangotri and Kedarnath before culminating at Badrinath. This means you should visit them in the following order - 1. Yamunotri, 2. Gangotri, 3. Kedarnath, and 4. Badrinath.

    The Chota Char Dham Yatra includes archetypes from all three major Hindu sectarian traditions - Shakta, Shaivaite and Vaishnavite. While Yamunotri and Gangotri are the representatives of Shakta philosophy, Kedarnath is a Shaivaite site and Badrinath follows the Vaishnavite philosophy.

    Best Time for the Uttarakhand Char Dham Yatra:

    Unlike the original Char Dhams that can be visited throughout the year, the Char Dhams of Uttarakhand are open only at a certain period of the year. Perched at the altitude of over 10,000 feet above the sea level, all the four sites receive heavy snowfall during the winter season, making them inaccessible to the devotees.

    Usually the Chota Char Dham tour opens in the month of May after the snow clears at the foothills of the Himalayas in late April. The season lasts till October before the winter season sets in. Pilgrims begin the Char Dham tour as soon as the circuit is declared open in the first week of May. May to mid of June is the best time to plan your trip, as monsoon looms over the sky from the latter part of June. Monsoon often runs havoc, washes away the roads and causes landslides, making the access to Char Dham more difficult. Fortunately, rainy season is short-lived in this region and it usually bids goodbye within a period of one and half months. The later part of September is characterized by clear sky and pleasant weather. So if you are unable to plan your Uttarakhand Char Dham trip in the early season, then it is better to opt for the closing period.

    Planning for the Chota Char Dham Trip:

    There are basically two ways to plan your trip to the Himalayan Char Dham - either through a tour package offered by the travel agents or on your own. The Char Dham tour packages can be a convenient mode as all the arrangements for travel, accommodation and darshan are taken care of by the tour operators. On the flip-side, it may not provide you the flexibility that you might be looking for. Conducted tour packages have strict timings and you will have to follow their guidelines. You may not have the luxury to explore other opportunities except for the ones that are included in your tour itinerary.

    If you are a laid-back person who would like to move at your own leisurely pace, then a self-arranged trip can be the best option for you. Initially, you may have to work hard to arrange your travel modes and staying options, but if you plan it out early (and properly) then it can be a rewarding experience.

    Popular Char Dham Tour Operators:

    There are many travel agencies, including Government as well as private operators, that offer Char Dham tour packages. The trip duration is around 9-12 days. Listed below are a few of the most popular choices at your disposal.

    1. Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam - It's a state government undertaken initiative that organizes guided tour to the char dhams. Rishikesh serves as the base point for the trip and the devotees are required to report at the base one day prior to the scheduled start date. You can find more information about tour packages and pricing structures on their official website.

    2. Leisure Group - It's a private chain of hotels in the Garwhal region that offers comfortable transportation, posh accommodation, and convenient arrangements. The tours are operated from their head offices at Haridwar and Rishikesh.

    3. Char Dham India Tour - Another private operator which offers a wide range of tour packages for the char dham yatra. Besides the regular road transportation option, they also offer helicopter tours and is a preferred choice for those who are looking for convenience and luxury.

    Planning Chota Char Dham Trip On Your Own:

    Uttarakhand Char Dham Yatra can easily be covered from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehradun using public transport services. It is also possible to complete this trip driving your own vehicle. Gangotri and Badrinath can be accessed by motorable roads, while for reaching Yamunotri and Kedarnath, one has to trek on foot for the last 10-15 kilometers.

    Nearest Airport:

    Jolly Grant airport at Dehradun is the nearest airport for those who are traveling by air. The airport is located at a distance of 20 KM and 36 KM from Rishikesh and Haridwar respectively. Dehradun airport has direct flight connectivity with Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Chennai and Lucknow. Major airlines operational at Dehradun airport are Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet.

    Nearest Railway Station:
    Haridwar, Dehradun, Rishikesh - all the three places have railway connectivity. Rishikesh is relatively a smaller station with limited trains, but Haridwar and Dehradun are well connected to the rest of country by a number of mail, express and super-fast trains.

    Access to the Char Dhams of Uttarakhand:

    Given below is the detailed overview of each of the char Dham shrines and the ways to access them from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehradun.

    1. Yamunotri:

    The Yamunotri temple lies in close proximity to the origin of the Yamuna River. Perched atop a ridge on the Bandar Poonch Peak, the shrine is located at an altitude of 10,750 feet. The actual source of water for the Yamuna river is a frozen lake, the Champasar glacier, about 1 KM further up from the temple.

    The tiny flow of ice-cold water from the Champasar glacier passes right next to the temple. The temple was constructed on the left bank of the river and the deity is a black marble statue of Goddess Yamuna. Every year the temple opens for the devotees on the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya, which falls between the last week of April and the first week of May. The pilgrimage season continues till the Diwali festival in the month of October. From November to April, the shrine is inaccessible due to heavy snowfall.

    How to Reach Yamunotri?

    Route: Haridwar/Rishikesh - Dehradun - Mussoorie - Naugaon - Barkot – Hanuman Chatti - Janki Chatti - Yamunotri.

    Yamunotri is situated at a distance of 222 KM from Haridwar, 212 KM from Rishikesh and 181 KM from Dehradun. Buses are available from Haridwar (or Rishikesh/Dehradun) to take you to the village of Hanuman Chatti. The bus journey lasts for around 9 hours from Haridwar. From Hanuman Chatti, you can take a shared taxi/jeep to reach Janki Chatti, which is another 8 KM away. From Janki Chatti, the only mode to reach Yamunotri is by trekking via Kharsali village. The trek route is very steep and precarious at times with narrow stretches. Depending upon your fitness level, it can take around 2-3 hours to reach Yamunotri from Janki Chatti. If you find it difficult to climb, then there are mules and palkis to help you out.

    Staying Options at Yamunotri:

    Basic accommodation facility is available at guest houses and lodges. There is a GNVM Tourist Bungalow which is by far the best staying option here. There are a few more budget hotels at Janki Chatti and Hanuman Chatti.

    Places of Interest Near Yamunotri:

    1. Surya Kund - A natural hot water spring renowned for medicinal properties.

    2. Divya Shila - A rock pillar which is believed to have divine powers.

    3. Kharsali - A lovely picnic spot with unmatched scenic beauty. There is also an ancient Shiva temple with beautiful wood works and stone carvings.

    4. Saptarshi Kund - A natural lake situated at an altitude of 4421 meters. The place attracts many trekking enthusiasts.

    2. Gangotri:

    Gangotri temple has a special significance to the religious followers of Hinduism for being the spiritual source of the holy Ganges river. According to mythology, it's the place where River Ganga touched the earth for the first time as a result of King Bhagirath's severe penance. As such, the river is also known as Bhagirathi at her source of origin.

    Set amidst rugged mountain terrains of Himalaya at an altitude of 10,300 feet, the shrine receives more than 3,00,000 devotees during a single pilgrimage season. Similar to Yamunotri, Gangotri opens for the pilgrims on the Akshaya Tritiya and closes down right after Diwali as winter sets in.

    How to Reach Gangotri?

    Route: Haridwar/Rishikesh - Chamba - Uttarkashi - Bhatwari - Gangnani - Harsil - Gangotri

    Gangotri is 268 KM away from Rishikesh and 287 KM from Haridwar. The best route is the one that goes through Uttarkashi. Both bus and jeep services are available from Rishikesh and Haridwar. Jeep takes about 8 hours while buses may take 11-12 hours to complete the journey. Gangotri has motorable road till the temple, so there's no trekking or hiking involved.

    If you wish to visit Gangotri from Yamunotri, then you can hire a jeep from Hanuman Chatti. The distance is around 120 KM and it takes around 4.5 hours. Another option is to take any Rishikesh/Haridwar bound bus from Yamunotri and get down at Uttarkashi. From Uttarkashi, you would need to board another bus to reach Gangotri.

    Staying Options at Gangotri:

    Gangotri has decent staying options. GMVN group has a few tourist guest houses around Gangotri and Harsil. GMVN Bhaironghati is the most popular choice, followed by GMVN Gangotri Yatri Niwas. Harsil Char Dham Camp is an upmarket option, while Hotel Himalaya and Hotel Shivalik can be the perfect choice for budget travelers.

    Places of Interest Near Gangotri:

    1. Gaumukh - The glacier from which River Ganga originates. It has an elevation of 3892 meters. Situated at a distance of 18 KM from Gangotri, one has to trek through rugged hilly terrains to arrive here. Ganga gushes out from a cave like structure that resembles a cow's face, from which the name Gaumukh has been derived. It is the second largest glacier in India after the Siachen glacier. The trek from Gangotri to Gaumukh is very scenic and the difficulty level is easy to moderate.

    2. Bhairon Ghati - A scenic spot near the confluence of Jat Ganga and Bhagirathi river. The place is also famous for the Bhairav Nath temple situated amidst dense forests.

    3. Submerged Shivling - It's a natural rock formation that resembles a Shivling. The rock remains submerged in the water. As per mythological beliefs, this is the place where Shiva received Ganga in his 'Jata' (matted knots of hair)
    4. Nandvan & Tapovan - Famous for their unmatched scenic beauty and a very popular trekking destination for hard core trekkers and mountaineers.

    5. Kedartal - Also known as Lord Shiva's Lake, Kedartal is a glacial lake situated at an altitude of over 4750 meters. Gangotri to Kedartal trek is one of the prime attractions among adventure seekers.

    6. Harsil - Situated on the banks of Bhagirathi, Harsil is a picturesque village popular among the tourists seeking peace and serenity.

    3. Kedarnath:

    Kedarnath is the most isolated abode among the Uttarakhand Char Dham. At the same time, it is also considered by many as the holiest of them all. The temple is situated at an altitude of over 3584 meters on the banks of Mandakini river. It has the most important of Lord Shiva's 12 Jyotirlingas. Flanked by breathtaking snow-capped peaks of Himalaya, Kedarnath temple is an imposing sight, standing in the middle of a wide plateau.

    The original temple of Kedarnath is believed to have been built by the Pandava brothers of Mahabharat. The current temple was constructed in the 8th century by Adi Shankaracharya. Right beside the temple, one can also visit the samadhi mandir of the great Hindu reformer and philosopher.

    How To Reach Kedarnath?

    Route: Haridwar/Rishikesh - Devaprayag - Srinagar - Rudraprayag - Agastmuni - Gaurikund - Kedarnath.

    The only way to access this isolated temple is on foot. The nearest motorable road ends at Gaurikund - 14 KM away from the temple. Buses and jeeps are available from Rishikesh and Haridwar to take you upto Gaurikund. From there, it's a strenuous uphill hike that leads to the temple. It can take around 7-8 hours to complete this trek with a couple of short breaks in between.

    It is also possible to opt for helicopter service to Kedarnath. Pawan Hans operates 6-seater Bell 407/ Ecureuil B3 helicopters from Phata to Kedarnath. It can be a convenient mode to travel to Kedarnath especially for the elderly people. For more information on Kedarnath Helicopter Service, please refer to Charter in North East | Helicopter in North East | Dauphin helicopter.

    If you are visiting Kedarnath from Gangotri, then there is an alternate trekking route. It's an old pilgrimage route which is in use since the days of Shankaracharya. The trek passes through parts of Gangotri National Park and there is a good possibility of sighting wildlife during your journey. From Gangotri, one has to first reach Malla, which is jeep connectivity. The actual trek starts from Malla and it goes through Sauri-Ki-Gad, Belak, Buda Kedar, and Panwali before concluding at the Kedarnath temple. Tented accommodations are available along the trekking route and most of the travelers prefer to settle the distance in 2-3 days with night halts at the remote villages en-route. The entire stretch is unbelievably scenic and you will be amazed by the unparalleled beauty of the alpine meadows.

    There is another challenging trekking route via Khatling Glacier which has two high mountain passes, Auden's Col and Mayali Pass. This is one of the most strenuous trails that requires expert level mountaineering experience. Since the trail is extremely dangerous, it is advisable to hire the services of a local guide with first-hand knowledge of the trek.

    Staying Options at Kedarnath:

    There is no hotel or guest house near the Kedarnath temple. The Uttarakhand government has constructed around 100 tent colonies to accommodate the pilgrims, which is the only staying option at your disposal. Apart from that, there is a GMVN Tourist Rest House at Gaurikund which has decent accommodation facility.

    Places of Interest Near Kedarnath:

    1. Vasuki Tal - A high altitude natural lake set amidst picturesque surroundings of lofty Himalayan peaks. Situated at a distance of 7 KM from Kedarnath temple, Vasuki Tal attracts a number of trekking enthusiasts. The trek is moderately demanding.

    2. Shankaracharya Samadhi - The samadhi mandir of the great 8th-century philosopher Adi Shankaracharya. It is located right beside the Kedarnath temple.

    4. Badrinath:

    Badrinath is the only shrine which is included in both the original Char Dham Yatra as well as the Uttarakhand Char Dham Yatra. This Vaishnavite shrine was originally established by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century. The current conical shaped and brightly colored temple complex was constructed by the Garhwal kings in the 16th century. It has a surprising similarity to the architecture of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. The brightly painted facade, golden colored cupola, ornamental stone carving and exquisitely designed pillars are the highlights of Badrinath temple. The deity is a four-armed avatar of Lord Vishnu carved in black marble.

    How to Reach Badrinath?

    Route: Haridwar/Rishikesh - Devprayag - Srinagar - Rudraprayag - Joshimath - Badrinath.

    Badrinath has frequent bus service from all major parts of Uttarakhand. You can either take a bus or a shared taxi from Haridwar and Rishikesh to arrive at Badrinath. Buses usually leave in the early morning hours and arrive at Badrinath by the evening. The journey would take around 10-12 hours.

    In case you are planning to arrive at Badrinath directly from Kedarnath (without returning to Haridwar/Rishikesh), then you need to go via Rudraprayag. You can get bus/jeep services from Gaurikund to Rudraprayag. There are lots of vehicles that ply between Rudraprayag and Badrinath on a daily basis. Moreover, all Badrinath-bound vehicles from Haridwar and Rishikesh go via Rudraprayag, so you can easily catch a bus/jeep for arriving at Badrinath.

    Staying Options at Badrinath:

    Badrinath has a decent number of hotels and guest houses to cater to every budget. Among the posh, upmarket options, Sarovar Portico is perhaps the best. GMVN Tourist Bungalow is a pretty decent option as well. Jagirdar Guest House, Snow Crest Hotel and Hotel Narayan Palace are the other preferable staying options at Badrinath.

    If you are traveling during the peak season and unable to find an accommodation at Badrinath, then Joshimath can be a good alternative.

    Places of Interest Near Badrinath:

    1. Vasudhara Waterfalls - Located just 8 KM away from Badrinath, the Vasudhara Waterfalls is a spectacular sight formed by the river Alakananda. If you are a trekking enthusiasts and a nature lover, then you should not miss out on visiting this spectacle.

    2. Vyas and Ganesha Caves - If mythology is to be believed, then Veda Vyas had dictated the entire story of Mahabharat to Lord Ganesha from the Vyas Cave, while Lord Ganesha wrote the script sitting in the adjacent one, known as the Ganesha Cave.

    3. Tapt Kund - Tapat Kund is a natural hot water spring famous for its medicinal properties.

    4. Nanda Devi National Park - One of the most scenic wildlife reserves in India. Also popular by the name of Valley of Flowers, it's a must visit place for the nature lovers.

    5. Auli - Auli attracts a huge number of adrenaline junkies with the prospect of skiing. Located at a distance of 25 KM from Badrinath, this is a charming hill station that can appeal both the nature lovers and the adventure seekers.

    Important Tips & Things To Carry On Your Chota Char Dham Yatra:

    • Do carry a first aid box with pain killer tablets, antibiotic medicines, cough/cold remedy, antiseptic cream, hand sanitizer, cotton rolls and bandages.

    • Carrying a torch light is important, as electric supply in these areas are often cut off due to power cuts or faults.

    • Always keep your mobile phones, camera batteries and other electrical instruments fully charged as you never know when and where you can get them charged again.

    • Mountain sickness can be experienced due to the high altitude. So if possible, spend a couple of days acclimatizing with the elevation at either Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehradun.

    • If you have asthmatic issues, then carry your medicines all the times and if possible, a small oxygen cylinder as well.

    • Keep some dry fruits, biscuits, glucose, chocolates and drinking water with yourself.

    • Carry enough cash. ATMs are rare and even if you manage to find one, there is no guarantee that it would be in working condition.

    • Alcohol and nonvegetarian food items are strictly prohibited at all the four dhams. Don't hurt local sentiments by carrying any controversial things.

    • If you are traveling in your own vehicle, make sure to service it properly before embarking on the journey. Always carry all relevant documents and permits.

    • Carry woolens and warm clothing as the temperature can be pretty cold even during the summer time.

    Prakriti and Chahal like this.

  2. Prakriti

    Prakriti New Member

    Very informative article. Physical fitness is very important to consider before planning a visit to these high altitude locations. Do get a thorough medical checkup done before you embark on your spiritual journey.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 4, 2017