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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My Yatra Chardham by Helicopter

Yatra Chardham in Uttrakhand Himalyas is one of the wishes of any Sanatan Hindu, it is the salvation of soul , our life of birth and rebirth is free from this cycle after making prayers at these places, the soul rests in peace or it attains the “Moksha“. Reaching by road to all four Dhams is long journey , difficult treks at Yamunotri and Shri Kedarnath , road journey from Joshimath to Shri Badrinath is very tiring . The opening of Helicopter services to all these places have cut down the journey from 12 days to 2-3 days it is a boon for the old aged and people with time constrain can fulfill their wishes.

The helicopter used in this tour were state of art BELL407 four seater along with the Pilot and Flight Engg. From Dehradun Sahstrdhara helipad, it takes 35 minutes flight to Kharsali , helipad is on the left bank of river Yamuna there is no motor able road from helipad one is to walk across the foot bridge to reach Janki Chatti, from Janki Chatti there is a 6 km. steep trek one is to climb from 2650 meters to reach Yamunotri temple at a height of 3293 meters, one can take a horse or Palanquins a chair which is carried by four porters . One can perform the puja and return to Janki Chatti and then crossed the river to helipad at Kharsali in 4 to 5 hours. There is a oldest Lord Shani Dev temple at Kharsali which is constructed like a fort made of stones and wood it is also called the Someshwer temple .

Flight from Kharsali to Harsil is of 30 minutes located at a height of 2623 meters from sea level , Harsil the Maha Prayag of nine rivers in to Bhagirathi and a temple didicated to lord Vishnu, place where lord Vishnu is in form of Shaligram at the confluence of river Jalandhari , Vishnu Ganga and Bhagirathi, we stayed at Harsil Retreat cottages next to the confluence , the Mah Prayag at river Bhagirathi, a beautiful village Dharali the last village on Indian side on Indo-Tebitean border is about two km from Harsil

Rishi Markandey Ashram which is marked by a white temple didicated to  Ma Bhagwati on the right banks of river Bhagirathi where he wrote the Durga Saptshati the first ever written text on the Godsess Durga .

After the night stay early morning we took a car arranged for us from Uttarkashi , road to Gangotri is 24 Km drive along the river Bhagirathi which crosses the Asia deepest Gorge near Bhairon Ghati , road is good, passing through dense pine forest and Apple orchards, except for few rough patches , before the temple there is an arched gate from here the main shrine is about 600 meters this temple is at a height of 3120 meters from sea level was built by Gurkha Army commander in early 18th century. the actual source of river Ganga is at Gaumukh which is a climb of a beautiful 18 km trek at a height of 4120 meters the Bhagirathi glacier which is fed by three glaciers namely the Raktvarn , the Chaturangi and the Kirti , the impressive Aarti is performed at Gangotri temple it is a stately affair on the banks of rushing holy river  Bhagirathi here, we return to Harsil for the night stay . Harsil is beautiful landscape full of Deodar and Pine trees with apple orchards and nine rivers ( Jalandhari, Vishnu Ganga, Bhim Ganga , Telangna, Lakshmi Ganga, Him Ganga, Pawan Ganga, Khir Ganga and Hatya Harini ) criss crossing and joining the Bahgirathi to form a Maha Prayag , from here there is a beautiful view of Mayank Parwat and Banderpunch range.

Mayank Parvat

Next morning after the early breakfast we reach the helipad at Harsil on the banks of river Bhagirathi it took a 45 minutes of flying over the Tehri Dam a lake a massive water body fourth largest in the world ,we change the helicopter at Phata and flew over the Mandakini river in a narrow valley to reach Kedarnath situated at a height of 3553 meters surrounded by snow-capped mountains , the main temple is about 600 meters from the helipad , one is to be careful not to walk fast here because of thin air low in oxygen can result in head ache and breathlessness.

deepest Gorge in Asia near Gangotri

Kedarnath is one of the twelve Jotirlings of Lord Shiva , the present structure is built by Adi Shankarcharya at the site which existed at the time of Mahabharta , Lord Shiva is worshiped of his Hump over ground at the entrance there is a Nandi Bull , it is also one of the Panch Kedars the body parts of Lord Shiva others are Tungnath , Rudranath, Madhmaheshwar and Kalpeshwer are in Uttrakhand while Pasupatinath is in Nepal. This temple is a massive rock stone structure fixed without the mortar surrounded by high snow covered mountains standing on a plateau in a glacier , there are several Kunds (pools, tanks) are known for their religious significance – Shivkund , Retkund, Hanskund , Udakkund, Rudhirkund are the most important. A little away from Kedarnath is a temple dedicated to Bhaironathji who is ceremoniously worshipped at the opening & closing of Kedarnath temple . The belief is that Bhairavnathji protects this land from evil during the time when temple of Kedarnath is closed in winters . just behind the temple is the Adi Shankaracharya samadhi , it is said that after establishing the Dhams The Shankaracharya at the age of 33 took the “Jal Samadhi” here. There is a priority darshan slip for the pilgrims arriving by helicopter at the main shrine .

It took about an hour and half to have darshan and to perform the pooja , we took our flight back to Phata where helicopter for flight for Sri Badrinath ji was waiting , 35 minutes flight over Rudra Pryag, Joshimath and having the view of Nanda Devi peak, Choukhamba peak and Hathi , Ghora, Palki peak we landed at helipad after taking a circle of the main temple which looked beautiful, from helipad the main temple is a small distance passing through the street with restaurants and shops on both sides, after crossing the Alaknanda river bridge is the main shrine , from out side the Blue , Red , White and Golden colour of main entrance, impressive gate look like a Budhist Mutt ,

This temlpe is about 1200 years old built by the Adi Shankaracharya to re establish the Sanatan Dharma which was being over took by Budhisim and Jainism , we were taken inside and seated just in front of the main deity for 15 minutes with the help of main pujari to perform the pooja The image of Badarinarayan here is made out of Saligram. Sri Badarinarayan is seen under the Badari tree, flanked by Kuber and Garuda, Narad, Narayan and Nar. Mahalakshmi has a sanctum outside in the parikrama Lord Badari Narayan (also called as Badari Vishal) is armed with Shankh (Conch) and Chakra in two arms in a lifted posture and two arms rested on the lap in Yogamudra.The principal image is of black stone and it represents Lord Vishnu seated in meditative pose.

We were overwhelmed after completing the pilgrimage which is one of the life time wish of a devout Hindu in a short time of just two days which normally takes 12-14 days if done by road , the flight back to Shastradhara was an hour flying over the river Alaknanda ,

confluences at Karnpryag , Rudrapryag and Devprayag from here it is known as the Ma Ganga , flows onwards to its journey to Rishikesh and down plains of North and East of India as a holy mother giving birth to the civilasations and making the land most fertile in Asia before entering into Bay of Bengal at Ganga Sagar , making a world famous delta in the Sundarbans with mighty Bharamputra river .

All above arrangements were handled by M/s PROMARK TRAVEL SVCS PVT LTD NEW DELHI  phone 09810506646

About the Author

[author]
[author_image timthumb=’on’]wp-content/uploads/authors/madhu.jpg[/author_image] Mrs. Madhu, Joint Director, Govt of Indiais currently in Parliament House Secretariat.She loves to travel to Religious Places in India.
[/author]