Char Dham Yatra, Holiest Pilgrimage in Himalayas

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Char Dham Yatra is the holiest of journey for Hindus  in Uttarakhand  Himalayas, this pilgrimage starts with the opening of the doors (Kapat) of four temples,  are closed during the winters due to heavy snow , normally opening of doors is announced on Shivaratri.  This year 2016  journey starts from 8th May with opening of Kapats (Doors) 09 May Sri Yamunotri, Sri Gangotri 09 May, Sri Kedarnath and Sri Badrinath on 11May.

The Starting point Yamunotri
The journey starts from Rishikesh full day road journey passing through Dharsu, Sayanachatti and Barkot, entire route is full of beautiful view of snow capped Banderpunch Range, Pine forests and water falls, pilgrims stay at  Hanuman Chatti or Barkot, where most of the hotels, guest houses and dharamshalas are situated, it is also confluence of river Hanuman Ganga and river Yamuna . Next day one is to cover 6 Kms by Jeeps/SUVs up to Janki Chatti , there are guest houses with basic facilities at Janki Chatti the trek 6 Kms . to the Yamunotri Temple starts from here it is on the left bank of the river, a  hot water spring is near the temple the Surya Kund” ,  pilgrims tie potatoes and rice in cloth  dip in boiling hot water of Surya Kund , so cooked rice is taken as prasad back home, pilgrims take bath at  “Gauri Kund  which has hot water suitable for bathing. Prayers are offered first at the Divya Shila a Black stone slab   then in the Temple. The actual source of river  is further ahead 1 Km at  Champasar Glacier on Kalind Mountain, it is very difficult to reach there, people offer the prayers at the temple situated at the foot hill . Pilgrims return  same day and take rest for the next day onward journey to the Gangotri.

The next stop Gangotri

To reach Gangotri we have to returned to Dharsu and then drive to Uttarkashi to reach Harsil a 250 Kms drive, it is a small town famous for its natural beauty, apple orchards, trekking routes to lakes and undiscovered stretches of grassy meadows. One can reach Gangotri by road from here distance 23 Kms passing through pine forests ,  transport is available till the Temple dedicated to Goddess Ganga, on the banks of River Bhagirathi, the glacier mouth is further ahead 18 kms trek, towards Gaumukh, The Ganges is known as Bhagirathi here, it unites with Alaknanda at Devprayag to form Ganges. Temple is at a very picturesque location amidst high mountains , towards east is the Gaumukh Glacier. It is here  the  Bhagirath shila where King Bhagirath performed the tapasya to bring Ganga from the heavens to earth, water is ice cold here , it is difficult to stay in water for even half a minute. This place is at a height of 3142 meters . Those who want to trek to Gaumukh can spend two more days, which needs clearance from the local authorities, the trek passes through Chirwasa and Bhojwasa, Gaumukh is one of the Largest Glacier in the World, on the way one can find the Ibexes(Snow Goat) grazing on high mountains, the opening of glacier to from where it releases water to form Bhagirathi is a shape of Cows mouth that is why it is called Gaumukh. From here one can have a panoramic view of mountains, Shivaling (6540 meters), Meru (6660 meters) and Bhagirathi (6500 meters).

Ma Gangotri Temple

Sri Kedarnath – Lord Shiva’s Abode

Next place in Chardham Yatra is Sri Kedarnath,  Harsil to Uttarkashi is 69 Kms, then to Guptkashi is 230 kms, Total journey time is about 10 hrs. Passing through Srinagar, Uttarakhand, This route is followed by River Mandakini. Hotels, camps and guest houses at Guptkashi are available at a very reasonable price. Morning starts by a travel upto Gauri Kund , a motor able road or to Phata from where Helicopter Service is available to Kedarnath. Gauri Kund the starting point of Kedarnath trek is a hot water spring, here the Goddess Parvathi lived and performed sadhna to please Lord Shiva to finally got married to him. It is also the place where Lord Ganesha acquired the elephant head. 15 kms trek from here is very tough and takes about 4-5 hours.  Rambara . From Rambara the Yatris cross the River Mandakini to reach Limchuli and then to Kedarnath temple . It is at the height of 3585 meters situated near the head of river Mandakini, surrounded by snow capped mountains, it’s name is derived from the King Kedar in the Satya Yuga, his daughter Vrinda who is also an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, this temple existed in the Mahabharata period, when Pandavas performed tapasya (prayers) to please Lord Shiva. It was here the Adi Shankaracharya took samadhi at the age of 32 years,  soon after establishing the four sacred dhams, it is considered a must visit place, there is a small hot water spring which gives relief to the pilgrims from the tiredness of hard journey, there are dharamsalas, camps and small guest houses, the temple opens at 6 o’clock in the morning and closes in the evening, Kedarnath is the highest among the 12 Jyotirlings, it is built of massive stone slabs over a rectangular platform, here Lord Shiva who was evading the Pandavas hide himself as a bull, on being followed, he dived in the ground leaving behind the hump, the conical rock inside the temple is worshiped as Lord Shiva in his Sadashiva form, outside the temple there is a large statue of Nandi Bull as a guard. After the floods of year 2013 a big boulder named as Divya Shila is also worshiped as it saved the temple by obstructing the flow of flood water to cause any damage to the temple.

One has to be careful while staying at night here because of low oxygen concentration at this altitude. Pilgrims are advised not to exert themselves too much and breathe normal. 
Staying overnight and performing poojas in the morning one returns to Gauri Kund and drive to Joshimath, there are two routes, one is which normally pilgrims take is driving through Rudrapryag, second is through Chopta which is the most beautiful, passing through dense forests of Mandal and Gopeshwar, from Chopta one can take a trek to Tungnath, it is Lord Shiva’s temple situated at about 4 kms trek from Chopta. Drive to Joshimath is about 7 hrs. It is better to stay night in Joshimath and take a morning drive to Sri Badrinath  a 44 kms distance is very rough  and takes about 4 hrs drive , on the way is Gobind Ghat from where trek for The Hemkund Sahib, Laxman Temple and Valley of Flowers starts.

Sri Kedarnath Temple Aug 2015

Sri Badrinath The Lord Vishnu Dham

Shri Badrinath Dham is the temple dedicated to lord Vishnu’s dual form Nara-Naryana, the temple is 15 meters tall with top covered with gold gilt roof, it is built of stone with arched windows, the main entrance is a arched gate, inside is mandapa a large pillared hall leading to the Garbha Griha. It is surrounded by Nara-Narayan peaks and in the backdrop is the Neelkanth peak. Legends says that to reduce the impact of Ganga on earth it was split into twelve rivers and one of them is river Alaknanda, the other legend is that the Pandavas passed through Badridham and to Mana village to ended their life by climbing the heights of peak Swargarohini, there is a cave near the village Mana where the Vyas Rishi complied  the Mahabharata. Before entering the temple, pilgrims must take bath in hot water spring at the Tapta Kund and Surya Kund fed by thermal sulphar springs, the boiling hot water falls into ice cold water of Alaknanda creates the steam over the water surface. North of the temple is a Bharama Kapal where Lord Bharama is said to reside, here the last rites of departed souls are performed. There are lots of other places around like foot prints of Lord Narayana on rock is about 3 kms called Charan Paduka, over a kilometer  on the other side of river is Shesh Netra, the eye of Shesh Nag on which the Lord Vishnu rests is seen on a rock, about 8 km. is the source of Alaknanda the Bhagirath Kharak and Satopantha Glaciers this place is called Alka Puri. One can return same day to Joshimath or stay one night to visit all these places. Sri Badri Dham is also referred as Badri Vishal thus giving the supreme status among the all Dhams.

Sri Badrinath Ji Temple

Returning Home

One may stay a full day at Joshimath , take an excursion to Auli which is at the height of 3050 meters, there are Taxis available to reach a famous winter sports destination for Skiing, there is a rare medicinal plants nursery and little above one can trek to Gorson, Tali, Kauri Pass, Khulara and Tapovan. One can have a panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range of Nanda Devi (7818 meters), Mana (7272 meters), Kamet (7728 meters), Mount Neelkanth, Mount Chaukhamba (6874 meters), Mount Hathi Ghora Palki. One can also visit Vishnu Pryag, the confluence of River Alaknanda and Dhauli Ganga from Joshimath .

Return journey starts from Joshimath passing through Rudraprayag and Srinagar, Dev Prayag  and reaching Rishikesh/Hardwar  a 250/275 km. journey for a night stay, participating at Aarti at Ganga Ghats and to leave for home next day.

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Helicopter Charter Chardham

We all gathered at Dehradun on a hot summer day, but comparatively cooler than Delhi. Stayed night at Hotel Pacific which is one of the best in this city. It was a nice Chinese dinner after a long time , we had to retire early as next day we were to be at helipad early in the morning.

Helicopter at Yamunotri , Kharsali helipad 

 

Senior Citizen pilgrims in Doli/palki from Kharsali helipad to Yamunotri

 

It was a nice day with a pleasant weather at helipad but little haze in the mountains. With lots of excitement we took off at 0800 hr. from Sahastradhara helipad for Kharsali , hovering over the green steps fields , small villages here and there.  In about 40 minutes we were at Kharsali helipad, recevied by our local representative Mr. Rajpal Rana, he lives next to the helipad and owns a peice land around and Janki Chatti it is on the left bank of River Yamuna approach is through a dirt road, the old bridge is closed as main road collasped and not yet repaired, a parallel small hanging bridge is being used to cross the river.

Janki Chatti bus stand and foot over bridge at Yamuna from Kharsali

 

When local people cross the river they pay their respect by bowing their head to the river. We had to hire the Palki or Doli, a light wodden chair carried by four men on their shoulders  from the helipad I hired a mule for 6 km a steep climb of 800 meters from Janki Chatti  to Yamunotri trek which is on the right bank of river it is narrow at many places the passage is cut through the rocks one is to take care of head due to low height of passage there are many tea and cold juice vendors, on the way people from all age groups walking and chanting “Jai Yamuna Maiya Ki”

Senior Citizen pilgrims carried in a basket chair on way to Yamunotri

Steep climb treak from Janki Chatti to Yamunotri after the bridge

I could see the faith on their faces in spite of tiredness due to difficult  climb , it took us about 2 hr to reach the main shrine the temple of Maa Yamunotri River which is on the left bank of stream comming down from the Kalind mountain the Champasar Glacier. This temple is tall  pyramid style structure painted yellow a strong contrast with surrounding, we performd the puja at Tapt Shila  which is just over a hot water spring the floor where we performed the puja was of white marble stone we could sit comfortable on warm surface had a darshan of Yamuna Maa in the temple after the puja , the water at hot water spring was boiling hot and pilgrims were cooking rice tied in a cloth  dipping it in the hot water, there is one more hot water spring whose water is less hot and pilgrims were taking bath before coming in for the puja at Tapt Shila.

Yamuna decending down from Kalind mountain and Yamunotri Temple

 

Tapt Shila , before the Yamunotri temple poja is first performed here

 

Soon after we started our journey back to Janki Chatti to take our chopper flight to Gangotri , on our way back mid way it started drizzling which is quite unpredictable, by the time we reached the helipad it started to pour we took shelter at Raj Singh’s house next to the helipad  there I got a call from the control room that  Choppers are stuck up in bad weather at Phata and Dehradun  there is no chance we were to be picked up from Kharsali for our onward destination  Harsil helipad , it started raining heavily  at Janki Chatti  Promark Travel representative Raj Singh arranged for two rooms with western toilets  Raj Singh also arranged the Doli for the us  transported from helipad to the guest house as it was pouring and the dirt road became slippery with out light it bacame more dangrous but the passage from Janki Chatti to Yamunotry we were told is always illuminated with high-powered lamps.

We spent our night in a small guest house called Modi Bhavan owned by one of the priest at Yamunotri temple , had our dinner just opposite the guest house it was pouring and cold but we enjoyed our hot simple dinner in candle light as there was no power but the trek to Yamunotri was well illuminated after the dinner we decided for next day to fly for Kedarnath instead of Gangotri if time allows we may do it after the Badrinath visit, I informed the headquarters about the change I was told the chopper will be there  at 0600 hr. to pick us up , it poured the whole night but early morning the chirping of birds assured me of clear weather before I could look out from the window.

We had a hot water in buckets for bath got ready, our porters were waiting for us they loaded the luggage and picked up the three dolis while I prefered to walk up to the helipad , Captain Ahluwalia was in time entered the valley and landed at the helipad he didn’t  switched off the engine and got us in the cabin and took off , we had a nice clear view of Bander Punch mountains and flew over the Tehri Dam on the way we were informed that there is no parking place at Badrinath helipad we may have to either wait at Gauchar or Phata helipad .

View of Bander Punch from the helicopter cockpit  

View of Bander Punch range from Helicopter

We landed at Phata where we changed the helicopter and took off to Badrinath after getting the clearance it took about an hour to reach there on the way had a beautiful view of Nanda Devi peak, Hathi Ghora Palki , Chukhamba peak , flew pass the beautiful entrance to the Valley of Flowers.

Mount Hathi Ghora Palki view from Helicopter on way to Sri Badrinath

 

Before landing at helipad the chopper took a circle of the Sri Badrinath temple the bright blue, red and golden painted entrance  more typical of a Buddhist temple is a contrast to the surrounding , it was clear sky but at a height 3133 meters from sea level and surrounded by Nar and Narayan peaks with Neelkanth peak in the back it was cold and windy out here our local representative Vineet was there to pick us up in a car to the main shrine which is about a kilometer from the helipad , passing through the shops and restaurants we crossed the bridge over the river Alaknanda.

Ariel View of Sri Badrinath temple on banks of Alaknanda

 

On the right bank of river is the Brham Kapal and the two hot water springs the Tapt kund where before entering the temple pilgrims take bath, we had the arrangements for a priority darshan which is with a fee paid to the shrine board , within few minutes we were allowed to enter the temple seated in the enclosed just opposite the main black stone statue of lord Badri Vishal representing lord Vishnu seated in a meditative pose along with Garuda and Godess Mahalaxmi, a ten minutes  puja with Sanskrit shlokas was performed by the priest who offered us the Prasad and the green Tulsi leaves garland of lord Badri Vishal as blessings, my heart was full of gratitude we came out in the market and informed Capt Ahluwalia to pick us up for our onward journey.

The main entrance to the Sri Badrinath Temple

We waited for about an hour at helipad finally sighted the chopper entering the valley it landed and we boarded the chopper within two minutes without switching off the rotors again we took off for a 45 minutes flight to Phata , we had to change to a six seat chopper for Kedarnath , it took off and within minutes we were in a narrow valley flying over the river Mandakini I can never forget this 15 minute  flight as it gave me a feeling of a 3D movie show .

Entering the narrow valley from Phata to Kedarnath flight over Mandakini

 

Flying in the narrow valley to Sri Kedarnath 

We landed at the height of 3384 meters from sea level helipad and wanted to walk up to the shrine but one of the lady felt breathless due to thin oxygen we waited and hired two porters to carry the old ladies on their back for a distance of  800 meters , we showed the priority darshan slip to the office just next to the main temple  were escorted by a  priest,  lots of pilgrims were inside and it was almost free for all with no control over the crowd , facing the  main entrance is the big statue of the Nandi the bull , the main temple is made of big blocks of stone and one wonders as to how without facilities this construction job would have been done without using any kind of mortar to grip the stones together 1000 years ago . we entered the first room where there are statues of the five Pandavas brothers and the Dropdi ,after crossing the narrow door with stone foot steps  in the Garbh Griha is the main Sadashivam lord Shiva in a form of conical rock is worshiped , we sat there for a while performed puja I offered almonds which I had carried with me from Delhi , came out and took a  parikarma of temple , there were lots of sadhus devoties of lord Shiva each one a unique in appearance bare foot nominal or no cloths on body , the weather was clear and warm but with chill in the air the small dhabahs serving pakoras and samaosa tempted us to have it with tea while waiting at helipad , we took off and flew back to Phata where our chopper was waiting for us, we inquired from the captain if he can take us to Gangotri , he informed that it was not the right time as the weather can change any time in the afternoon there .

Sri Kedarnath temple view from the main street

We decided to return to Sahastradhara / Dehradun flying over the Rudra Pryag, Karan Pryag , Srinagar watching the confluences of rivers Alakhnanda and Bhagirathi  to form river Ganga finally at Dev Prayag , at Rishikesh an hours flight we turned right  in the direction of Dehradun leaving behind the river Ma Ganga  landed at Shastrdhara helipad , we had to wait for some time for our car to pick us up to our hotel as roads were blocked due to felling of trees on the previous days hail storm, we had a nice diner at hotel slept with fond memories of a life time wish fulfilled.

 

About the Author

[author]
[author_image timthumb=’on’]wp-content/uploads/authors/anil-rajput.jpg[/author_image] Anil Kumar Rajput – Managing Director at Promark Travel, is in the travel trade since 1980. For more Info Do Visit (promarktravels.com) which caters all the travel needs of it’s clients. Connect with him on Facebook (htttp://www.facebook.com/anil.k.rajput) and Twitter (@PromarkTravels)
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