Warning: Heavy floods in Uttarakhand on the 13 till 17 June have caused flooding in these areas. Thousands have died and many are still trapped. Please cancel your trip if you have been planning to make the Char Dham pilgrimage.
Dhams are religious places revered by Hindus of India. The word “char” denotes four seats or abodes of shrines of great spiritual significance. The concept of visiting these religious places is to remove all sins from one’s life. The central dogma of the Hindu religion is to attain “moksha” or “nirvana” which is to become free from the recycle of birth. Hindus believe that the ultimate religious goal of an individual is to attain moksha and become closer or part the ultimate being (God). One such way to attain moksha other than doing good deeds is to visit the “Char Dhams” or “four abodes” and become one with God. The pilgrimage to these four important sites not only washes away all the sins but frees one from the recycle of birth.
These four abodes are located in Himalayas namely Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The Char Dham (Chardham) yatra or journey starts in the month of April when the snow in the Himalayas melt which is the source of the water that feed the four holy rivers namely Yamuna (at Yamunotri), the Ganges (at Gangotri), the Mandakini (at Kedarnath), and the Alaknanda (at Badrinath).
Badrinath and Gangotri Dhams can be reached by road from Dehradun, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Kotdwara. To reach Yamunotri you have to trek from Janki Chatti village about 230 kilometres from Rishikesh and to reach Kedarnath trek begins from Gaurikund about 210 kilometres from Rishikesh.
The best time to visit the Char Dhams is between May and June also known as the peak period. But it can be visited any time between the months of April and November. The monsoons are not the best times as long uphill treks and walks on the banks of the rivers can be dangerous. Although, visits to the Chardhams can be arranged individually, trips can also be arranged by tour operators. One such operator is the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam operated by Government of India that organises tours from 4 to 10 nights starting from either Rishikesh or Delhi. Prices range from about Rupees 7000 for 4 a day tour and Rupees 32000 for a 10 day tour.
Let us look at the Char Dhams
The Yamunotri Dham is usually the first leg of the yatra located about 4500 meters above sea level in Garhwal Himalayas close to the Chinese border in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand state.
It is here that the river Yamuna starts to flow and there is a temple dedicated to worship the goddess Yamuna called the Yamunotri temple. The Yamunotri temple built by Maharani Guleria of Jaipur in the 19th century has a remarkable black idol of goddess Yamuna. The temple has been destroyed multiple times by snow and flood and rebuilt several times. The temple is difficult to reach. Those who are fit enough to walk can trek 13 kilometres from the town of Hanuman Chatti or 6 kilometres walk from the village of Janki Chatti. However the temple can also be accessible by horses or “palkhi” (a chair like carrier carried by 2 or 4 porters).
There are two hot springs at Yamunotri called the “Surya Kund” that has boiling hot water, while “Gauri Kund”, had fairly warm water suitable for bathing. It is said that the water is hot enough to cook meals in it. Some of the meals for the devotees are cooked from the water taken from these springs.
It is though that Gangotri, one of the main four Dhams is the source and seat of the River Ganga hence the origin of the name Gangotri. The Gangotri temple was built by the Gurkha general Amar Singh Thapa on the banks of the river Bhagirathi. The origins of the holy Bhagirathi River that later acquires the name “Ganga” (Ganges) is located at Gaumukh near the Gangotri Glacier at a 19 km trek from Gangotri itself. According to Hindu mythology, it is said that Goddess Ganga took the shape of a river to remove the sins of King Bhagiratha’s predecessors, who underwent severe penance for several centuries. It is said that those who visit the place will also have their sins removed. Sites of interest include the Gangotri National Park, the Bhavishya Badri Temple and the Gangotri Temple.
The temple at Kedarnath is considered as one of the holiest of all Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, the destroyer or transformer of the Hindi trinity of gods who is often depicted consuming intoxicant such as “som” or bhang. “Kedar” is another name of Lord Shiva, the protector and the destroyer who has manifested in many forms.
The Kedarnath temple was built by Adi Sankaracharya who interpreted the Hindu Holy Scriptures for the common man. The temple is of high religious and historical significance as it has stone edifices of unknown dates along with Pali inscriptions on the Temple steps. It is thought that Shiva himself appeared as a column of light at the location and the location has been mentioned in the Mahabharata. It is said that a journey to this temple removes all sins and purifies the soul and body.
The Kedarnath temple is located on top of the Garhwal Himalayan range located near the Mandakini River in Kedarnath in Uttarakhand state. The location is of very harsh terrain and hence the temple is open only between end of April till around autumn time. It’s not easy to get to the temple. Those who are fit enough can always trek 14 km uphill from Gaurikund. In the winter, the idols of the temple are brought down to Ukhimath (another pilgrimage site in Rudraprayag district) for about 6 months.
The Badrinath Dham located along the Alaknanda River in the hilly town of Badrinath in Uttarakhand state is the last leg of the Chardham yatra. The Badrinath temple also known as Badrinarayan temple was established by Adi Shankara who found the Badrinarayan idol in the Alakananda River. Today the temple is one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism that is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is considered as the supreme being in Vaishnavism, the major branch of Hinduism. The Rig Veda, the sacred ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns has described Vishnu as the supreme deity.
Due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is only open for 6 month between the months of April and November. However it is the most accessible of the Dhams hence is one of the most popular. Badrinath can be reached via a steep mountain road from the town of Joshimath. It can also be reached from Dehradun, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Kotdwara by road. The best time to visit this Dham would be during March to June when the climate is moderate.
The chardham yatra will be a great spiritual journey. The trips will allow you not only to view breathtaking scenery but also understand Indian spirituality and discover yourself.
7 Wonders of India: Char Dhams