Char Dham

According to the Hindu scriptures, the holy centres of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath – collectively called the Char dham (meaning the four sacred spots) – are the most sacred of all the pilgrimages. Undertaking a journey to these places will not just wash away one’s sins but ensure release from the cycle of birth and death. The honour conferred on these places is not surprising. For one, they are all in the icy Garhwal ranges and regarded as the most sacred of all Himalayan ranges. It is also said that heaven and earth converge in these holy spots, and to be born or die here is a boon only the very fortunate have. The Chardham must be visited from left to right -beginning with Yamunotri, going on to Gangotri, Kedarnath and culminating the journey at Badrinath. This route follows the Hindu tradition of parikrama or clockwise circumambulation.

Yamunotri

 

YamunotriThe Shrine of Yamunotri, source of river Yamuna is situated in the direction opposite to Gangotri and the road bifurcates and goes to Yamunotri from Dharasu, a place between Rishikesh-Uttarkashi. Yamunotri can also be visited via Mussoorie and Barkot. Situated at an elevation of 3235 metres above sea-level, the shrine of Yamunotri is one of the ‘four dhams’ of Uttarakhand. The source of Yamuna lies about 1 km. ahead at the altitude of about 4421 metres. The approach is extremely difficult and pilgrims therefore offer pooja at the temple itself.There are hot springs close to the temple, a bath in them is very refreshing after a tedious 13 kms. trek from Hanumanchatti or 5 kms. from Janki Chatti.

The present temple was built by Maharani Gularia of Jaipur in the 19th century. However the temple was destroyed in 1923 and only the idols remained intact. The temple was rebuilt but was damaged again in 1982. A unique feature of Yamunotri shrine is the way the prasad is prepared. Raw rice and potatoes are tied in cloth bags and then cooked by dipping them in a hot water pool situated near the shrine.

Yamunotri is easily accessible by road from Rishikesh, Dehradun and Saharanpur. Rishikesh is connected to Yamunotri by a regular bus service. The nearest railway stations are at Haridwar and Dehradun while the nearest airport is Jolly Grant in Dehradun. The best season to visit Yamunotri is from May to June and from September to October.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Yamunotri Temple:The main temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna. The present temple was built by Maharani Guleria of Jaipur in the late nineteenth century. Once destroyed by an earthquake, it has been rebuilt. A holy dip in the nearby tank filled by hot springs and cooking rice in its water are common rituals performed by the devotees.

Surya Kund: One of the important thermal springs known for its very high temperature of 190°F. Pilgrims cook rice and potatoes here to offer to the deity in the temple.

Divya Shila: A huge rock pillar venerated before entering the Yamunotri Temple.

Hanuman Chatti: The confluence of Hanuman Ganga and Yamuna rivers forms the starting point for the scenic Dodi TaL Trek.

Sayanachatti: A scenic spot along the banks of river Yamuna that makes a lovely sight enroute the trek upto Yamunotri.

Chamba: A sylvan spot on way to Tehri that offers an excellent view of the Himalayan peaks. Situated at an altitude of 1,676 mts., Chamba is an ideal summer retreat.

Gangotri

 

GangotriGangotri (10,020 ft.) is the ritual source of the Ganges. This temple was built late in the 19th century by the king of Jaipur, and its primary deity, not surprisingly, is the Goddess Ganga. It is on the northernmost part of the state of Uttar Pradesh and is very near the Indo-Tibetan border. It is approximately 300 km from Dehradun, 250 km from Rishikesh and 105 km from Uttarkashi.

According to mythology, Goddess Ganga – the daughter of heaven, manifested herself in the form of a river to absolve the sins of King Bhagirath’s predecessors, following his severe penance of several centuries. Lord Shiva received into his matted locks to minimise the immense impact of her fall. She came to be called Bhagirathi at her legendary source.

Along the right bank of Bhagirathi stands the shrine of Gangotri dedicated to the Goddess. Perched at a height of 3042 mts., it was constructed in the early 18th century by a Gorkha Commander, Amar Singh Thapa. Every year, lakhs of pilgrims throng the sacred temple between May and October. By November, Gangotri is covered by snow. It is believed that the Goddess retreats to Mukhba, her winter abode ( 12 kms downstream ).

The physical source of the holy river is at Gaumukh, 18 kms. further uphill, along the Gangotri Glacier. Several pilgrims trek upto the source to offer prayers either on foot or on ponies.The verdant valleys, dense forests and towering peaks offer excellent trekking and mountaineering opportunities for adventure enthusiasts.

PLACES OF INTEREST:Submerged Shivling: The natural rock Shivling, submerged in the river, is an amazing sight reinforcing the power of the divine. According to mythology, Lord Shiva sat at this spot to receive the Ganaga in his matted locks. The shivling is visible in the early winters when the water level goes down. The picturesque pilgrimage in the hinterlands of the Himalayas is the most sacred spot where Ganga, the stream of life, touched earth for the first time.

Gangotri Temple: The 18th century’s temple dedicated to Goddess Ganga is located near a sacred stone where King Bhagirath worshipped Lord Shiva. Ganga is believed to have touched earth at this spot. According to another legend, Pandavas performed the great ‘Deva Yagna’ here to atone the deaths of their kinsmen in the epic battle of Mahabharata. The temple is an exquisite 20 ft. High structure made of white granite.

Nandanvan Tapovan: An arduous trek along the Gangotri Glacier leads to scenic Nandanvan – the base camp for the Bhagirathi peaks, that offers a panoramic view of the surrounding Shivaling peak. A trek across the snout of the Gangotri Glacier leads to Tapovan known for its beautiful meadows that encircle the base of the Shivling Peak.

Uttarkashi (99 kms): An important pilgrimage centre, situated at an elevation of 1,150 mts. above sea level on the bank of river Bhagirathi. Some of the important temples worth visiting are – Vishwanath temple, Ekadash Rudra temple, Gyaneshwar temple and Kuteti Devi Temple. Nearby is the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. Every year, during the ‘Magh Mela’ people visit Uttarkashi to take a holy dip in Bhagirathi along with the image of their village deity.

Kedar Tal (18 kms): An enhancing lake, 4425 mts. above sea level against the splendid backdrop of mighty Thalaiyasagar peak. Accessible through a rough mountain trail, it is the base camp for trekking to surrounding peaks. The trek to Kedartal needs a local guide.

Gaumukh( 18 kms): The snout of the Gangotri Glacier and the source of the Bhagirathi river. Pilgrims trek upto the sacred spot on foot or on ponies to take a holy dip in the ice-cold water.

Dayara Bugyal (93 kms): A breathtakingly beautiful meadow, situated at a height of 3,048 mts. above sea level. A motorable road connects Bhatwari (27 kms. from Uttarkashi) with Raithal village, from where follows a 6 kms. long trek to Dayara. The famous Sheshnag Temple enroute is an attraction of the trek. From Dayara, one can also trek down to Dodi Tal (30 kms.). During winters, Dayara provides excellent ski slopes over an area of 28 sq.kms.

Nachiketa Tal (131 kms): A pleasant trek through lush green forests leads to this peaceful retreat. A small temple along the lake and lovely surroundings are an attraction.

Tehri (173 kms): Lying at the confluence of Bhagirathi and Bhilangna rivers is the former capital of Tehri Garhwal principality. It is the site of a giant hydel project.

Narendranagar (239 kms): The new capital of erstwhile Tehri state, offers a magnificent view of the Ganga valley of Rishikesh and the plains of Haridwar.

Kedarnath

 

KedarnathKedarnath is situated in the Uttar Kashi district of the northern state of Uttaranchal. Very close to the Indo-Chinese border, it is the source of the Mandakini River. It is couched in the scenic locales of the Garhwal Himalayas at 3583 meters above sea level. It is very cold in the winters with the ground being covered with snow. In the summers, the mercury barely crosses the 20°C mark. The place experiences about 150 cm of rainfall during the monsoons and so the best time to visit is between May and October. Kedarnath is near to Rishikesh (234 km) and Dehradun (250 km).

Kedarnath is accessible after a steep 13 km trek over a paved path from Gaurikund. Untrained persons are likely to take all day for the walk. There are places en route like Janglechatti, Rambara and Garurchatti where you can rest a while or spend the night. Just one kilometer before Rambara is a high and beautiful cascading waterfall.

Kedarnath is a majestic sight, standing in the middle of a wide plateau surrounded by lofty snow covered peaks. The present temple, built in the 8th century by Adi Shankaracharya, stands adjacent to the site of an earlier temple built by the Pandavas. The inner walls of the assembly hall are decorated with figures of various deities and scenes from mythology. Outside the temple door a large statue of the Nandi Bull stands as guard. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the exquisitely architectured Kedarnath temple is said to be more than a 1000 years old. Built of extremely large, heavy and evenly cut gray slabs of stones. The temple has a ” Garbha Griha” for worship and a Mandap apt for assemblies of pilgrims and visitors. A conical rock formation inside the temple is worshipped as Lord Shiva in his Sadashiva form.

According to Hindu mythology, the Pandavas wanted to wash off their sins of killing their own brothers in the battle of Kurukshetra by seeking the blessings of the Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva continuously eluded them and took refuge in the form of a bull at Kedarnath. When Pandavas followed him to that place, he dived into the ground leaving behind his hump on the surface. The remaining parts of bull like the arms showed at Tungnath, mouth at Rudranath, navel at Madmaheshwar and hair at Kalpeshwar. All these places together with Kedarnath are known as the Panch Kedar. All of these (barring Kalpeshwar) are in mountain meadows at higher altitudes than Kedarnath. The climb to Rudranath is the most strenuous though worth the trouble, as this meadow is one of the finest in Garhwal.

The temple has a Garbha Griha for worship and a Mandap, apt for assemblies of pilgrims and visitors. A conical rock formation inside the temple is worshipped as Lord Shiva in his Sadashiva form.

Besides its affiliation with Shiva, Kedarnath is also believed to be the site of Shankaracharya’s samadhi.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Tungnath (90 kms.): Shiva’s arms came out at Tungnath. The Tungnath temple is at an altitude of 3,680 m and is the highest Shiva shrine among the Panch Kedars. However it is the easiest to reach from Chopta, the nearest road head.

Rudranath (142 kms.): Shiva’s face is worshipped at the Rudranath temple. It is about 2,286 m above sea level and is 23 km from Gopeshwar. 5 km of the distance is motor able and 18 km is on foot. The trek passes through wild orchards and picturesque bugyals (meadows) and involves trekking over high ridges (sometimes 4,000 m). The temple site provides magnificent views of Hathi Parvat, Nanda Devi, Nanda Ghungti, Trishuli and many other peaks. There are a number of holy kunds or ponds near the Rudranath temple like Suryakund, Chandrakund, Tarakund. The entire area is utterly enchanting and unmatched in scenic beauty. Anusuya Devi temple is located on the trek to Rudranath involving an additional trek of 3km.

Kalpeshwar: (160 kms.): Located in the Urgam valley at an altitude of 2,134 mts. above sea level, the temple is a 10 kms. trek from Helong – the motorhead on Rishikesh-Badrinath route. Here the locks (hair) with head of Lord Shiva are worshipped.

Shankaracharya Samadhi: Behind the Kedarnath Temple lies the samadhi or the final resting place of Adi Guru Shankaracharya. It is believed, after establishing the four dhams in India, he went for his samadhi at an early age of 32 years.

Chorabari (Gandhi Sarovar) (2 kms.): A small lake from where Yudhishthir, the eldest of the Pandavas, is believed to have departed to heaven. The floating ice on the sparkling waters of the lake is a fascinating sight. Vasuki Tal (6 kms.) A picturesque lake, 4,135 mts. above sea level is encircled by lofty mountains and offers a commanding view of the Chaukhamba peaks.

Gaurikund (14 kms.): The trekking base to Kedarnath. A temple dedicated to Gauri and thermal springs of medicinal value are noteworthy.

Sonprayag (20 kms.): The confluence of Son Ganga and Mandakini rivers. The road to Triyuginarayan diverts from here.

Triyuginarayan (25 kms.): A 5 kms. trek from Sonprayag, it is the mythological venue of the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.An eternal flame, which is said to have been a witness to the marriage, burns in front of the temple even today.

Guptkashi (49 kms.): The temples of Ardhnarishwar and Vishwanath are noteworthy.

Ukshimath (60 kms): Winter home of the deity of the Kedarnath Temple and the seat of the Rawal of Kedarnath.

Agastyamuni (73 kms): Famous for the temple dedicated to sage Agastya.

Chandrashila (93 kms.): The Chandrashila peak provides a rare view of snow-clad peaks. The rhododendron Forests and alpine meadows dominate the trek fromTungnath to Chandrashila.

Deoria Tal (68 kms.): Sari village is the last bus terminus on Chopta-Ukhimath road from where a 2 kms. trek leads to Deoria Tal. This beautiful lake at an altitude of 2,438 mts. gives the spectacular reflection of snow capped peaks in the lake water. Ideal spot for angling and bird watching.

Badrinath

 

BadrinathBadrinath is one of the four dhams of the country and situated at an elevation of 3133 mts. above sea level, guarded on either side by the two mountain ranges known as NAR & NARAYAN, with the towering NEEL KANTH PEAK providing a splendid back-drop. This revered spot was once carpeted with wild berries, which gage it the name “Badri Van” meaning forest of berries. Facing the temple at the back of Alaknanda river there is a hot water spring known as TAPT KUND.

It lies in the north Indian state of Uttaranchal and is one of the Char Dham. The other three Dham are Yamunotri, Gangotri and Kedarnath. The journey to Badrinath, most likely from Haridwar – Rishikesh, is through Rudra Prayag. From Rudra Prayag the road to Badrinath is a single way route, passing through mountainous ranges with ever changings vieuws on the snow-clad peaks. The meandering River Alaknanda and the innumerable milky water falls adds to the scenic beauty of the entire route. The distance from Rudra Prayag to Badrinath is 160 km. The travel time depends greatly on weather conditions and number of passengers enroute.

The temple of Shri Badrinathji on the banks of the Alaknanda river, dates back to vedic times. The present temple is believed to have been built by Adi Guru Shankracharya – an 8th century’s philosopher-saint, who also established a ‘math’ here. Also known as ‘Vishal Badri’, Badrinath is one of the Panch Badris. The present temple was built about two centuries ago by Garhwal Kings. It is a conical structure, 15 m. tall and has small cupola of a gilt bull and spire. There are 15 idols in the temple complex, each sculpted in black stone. The principal idol represents Vishnu in a meditative posture and is flanked by Nara-Narayan. Legend dates it prior to the Vedic age though it is believed to have been re-established by Adi Shankaracharya, an important Hindu saint in 8th century A.D. Some of the other images include Laxmi (Vishnu’s consort), Garud (Vishnu’s mount), Shiva & Parvati and Ganesha.

Legend has it, when the Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help suffering humanity, the earth was unable to withstand the force of its descent. Therefore the mighty Ganaga was split into twelve holy channels. Alaknanda was one of them that later became the abode of Lord Vishnu or Badrinath.

PLACES OF INTERESTTapt Kund: Devotees take a holy dip in the natural thermal springs on the banks of the river Alaknanda, before entering the Badrinath Temple. The water of the kund is believed to have medicinal properties.

Hemkund Sahib(43 kms): Near the Valley of Flowers is the holy lake Hemkund- an important pilgrimage of the Sikhs and Hindus. Along its shores is the sacred Sikh Shrine where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru unified with God after prolonged mediation in his previous birth. Nearby is the Lakshman Temple where Lakshman – the brother of Lord Rama performed his penance. The reflection of surrounding snow-clad peaks in its placid waters offers a scenic sight.

Brahma Kapal: A flat platform on the bank of river Alaknanda where Hindus perform propitiating rites for their deceased ancestors.

Neelkanth: A Pyramidical-shaped snowy peak towering above Badrinath, popularly known as the ‘Garhwal Queen’.

Mana Village (4 kms): Inhabited by Indo-Mangolian tribe, it is considered to be the last Indian village before Tibet on this route. Nearby are Vyas Gufa- the rock cave of saint Ved Vyas, the writer of Mahabharata; Bhim Pul- a natural bridge over the Saraswati river and Vasundhara Falls- a 122 mts. high waterfall- all forming and important part of the pilgrimage to Badrinath.

Mata Murti Temple (3 kms): On the right bank of Alaknanda stands the temple dedicated to the mother of Sri Badrinathji.

Alka Puri (15 kms) : The source of Alaknanda river from the glacier snouts of Bhagirath- Kharak and Satopanth glaciers.

Satopanth (25 kms): A three cornered lake with a circumference of about 1 km., situated at an elevation of 4,402 mts. above sea level. It is named ater the Hindu triad- Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, who are believed to occupy one corner each of the lake. The trek is hazardous with dramatic landscapes. An experienced guide is advisable. Govindghat (25 kms.) The confluence of Alaknanda and Lakshman Ganga rivers. It has an imposing Gurudwara named after Guru Gobind Singh.

Joshimath (44 kms): The winter home of Shri Badrinathji is situated on the slopes above the confluence of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga. It is one of the four ‘maths’ established by Adi Guru Shankaracharya.

Panch Prayag: The five important confluences- Deoprayag, Nandprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag and Vishuprayag, form the Panch Prayag.

Deoprayag: The confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers. Ancient stone scriptures are found here. Important pilgrim spots are Shiv Temple and Raghunath Temple.

Rudraprayag: The confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers. The temples of Rudranath and Chamunda Devi are noteworthy.

Nandprayag: The confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers. The Gopalji Temple is worth a visit.

Karnaprayag: The confluence of Alaknanda and Pindar rivers with temples of Uma and Karna.

Vishnuprayag: The confluence of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers. An ancient temple of Lord Vishnu stands here by a pool called Vishnu Kund.

Srinagar: The old capital of Garhwal, it is an important cultural and educational centre. Places to visit include Kamleshwar and Kilkeshwar temples and the Shankar Math.

Panch Badris

 

PANCH-BADRISBesides the main temple of Badrinath there are four other smaller badri temples. These are collectively called the panch badris or five badris. Very few pilgrims however, visit the other four Badri temples.

Yogadhyan Badri (1920 m): Closest to the main temple of Badrinath lies this tiny, sleepy hamlet which remains unnoticed by most pilgrims and is the winter home for the idol at Badrinath. Pandukeshwar is also an important archaeological site. Some years ago, four ancient metal foils engraved with a description of several kings in the region were discovered here. Believed to be over 1500 years old, these foils are kept at Joshimath, 30 km downstream.

Bhavishya Badri (2,744 m): The bhavishya or future badri is situated at Subain near Tapovan, about 17 km east of Joshimath. According to Hindu belief, when evil is on the rise in this world, the two mountains Nara and Narayan at Badrinath will close up on each other and destroy the route to the present Badrinath. This would also mark the end of the present world and the beginning of a new one. Lord Badrinath will then appear at the Bhavishya Badri temple and be worshipped here instead of at the present one.

Bridha Badri or the ‘Old Badri': Bridha Badri or the ‘old Badri’ is the third temple about 7 kms short of Joshimath, on the main Rishikesh-Badrinath motor road at Animath. It is believed that Badrinath was worshipped here before its enshrinement by Shankaracharya at the main Badrinath seat. The temple of Bridha Badri is open throughout the year.

Adi Badri: Adi Badri is the farthest from the other four badris. It is approachable from Karnaprayag by a motorable road enroute Ranikhet. The temple complex has 16 small temples with intricate carvings. Seven of these temples belong to the late Gupta period. Local tradition assigns these buildings to Shankaracharya. The main temple is distinguished by a pyramid shaped raised platform, with a black stone idol of Vishnu.

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