Hello my friend !! Are you planning for a Char Dham yatra in 2021 ? Well I must say you have made a great plan because this journey would take you to a next level of devotion and spirituality. But hey do you know why this yatra has such an importance ? Do you know the exact time in the year to travel ? Do you have any idea where to start and where to end ? If not, don’t worry buddy because you are in the right place.
Char Dhams are the famous four holy places of Hindu Pilgrimages, which are situated among the lofty peaks of Himalayas in Uttarakhand. This yatra is believed to be highly sacred by the Hindu religion. It is believed to be the ultimate desire of every Hindu to visit the holy shrines at least once in life time to attain salvation (Moksha).
Before travelling to this sacred destination you need to have the complete knowledge and roadmap so that you can travel with full of confidence and belief on your journey and achieve the moksh that will take your mental peace to a next level. In my blog, you will get to know about all its history, its significance, the exact time in the year to travel, the locations you’ll meet and the guide on how to travel through the 4 sites.
What is Char Dham Yatra ?
Char Dham, also known as the ‘Teerth Yatra’, refers to the journey up the mountains to four sacred temples in the North Indian state of Uttarakhand. It is also referred to as ‘Chhota Char Dham‘ to differentiate it from the bigger circuit of Char Dham sites. The four temples that comprise Char Dham are listed below.
- Yamunotri, named after the Goddess Yamuna, is the first Dham of the yatra. A bath in the holy waters of Yamuna river is said to cleanse one of all sins and protect from untimely death.
- Gangotri, named after Goddess Ganga, the second temple that falls on the Chota Char Dham circuit, is the birthplace of the holy river Ganga.
- Kedarnath, known as the land of Lord Shiva, has the highest located jyoti ling. Situated on the banks of Mandakini River, the view of this temple against its snowy backdrop is resplendent.
- Badrinath, named after Lord Badri(Vishnu), is located along the banks of Alaknanda River. Also part of the bigger Char Dham circuit, it stands beautifully on Garhwal Hill, rearing its gold head and its red flags with Godly presence.
Why Char Dham Yatra is so significant for Hindus ?
The Char Dham Yatra is considered as a must visited pilgrimage tour if someone desires for salvation. Every year, more than 2 Lac tourists visit these holy shrines. In Hindu mythology, it is believed that the prehistoric Hindu philosopher Shri Adi Shankaracharya coined the term ‘Char Dham’. The literal meaning of this term is four abodes of God or Holy Destinations. These four shrines are in the region that is famous for the captivating mountains surrounded by a thick layer of snow and unadulterated atmosphere.
In India, the Hindus believe that the Char Dham tour opens the gates of salvation by washing away all their sins. It is also believed that this journey must be undertaken at least once in a lifetime. These four shrines have a great significance and place in Hindu mythology. According to this mythology, Shri Adi Shankaracharya acquired freedom from reincarnation in the Shri Badrinath Dham. The doorway to the Yatra is Yamunotri. Next destination is the renowned Gangotri shrine. Thereafter the pilgrim has to visit Shri Kedarnath Dham and finally Shri Badrinath Dham. After completing the Char Dham pilgrimage tour, the pilgrim achieves an absolute serenity of the mind.
Now lets discuss about the 4 dhams :
Yamunotri, the seat of Goddess Yamuna, is the source of the Yamuna River. The actual source and glacier is located at an altitude of 4421 meters above the sea level, about 1 km further up. But it is not easily accessible. For the same reason, the shrine has been located at the Yamunotri Temple at the foot of the hill. Pilgrims offer prayers at the temple itself.
History of Yamunotri :
Yamunotri is where the second most holy of river of India, the River Yamuna, takes birth. Situated in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Yamunotri Dham is the first stop in the pilgrimage. It is believed that bathing in its water cleanses all sins and protects from untimely and painful death. The shrine of Yamunotri is believed to be built in 1839 by the king of Tehri, Naresh Sudarshan Shah. Besides the Yamuna Devi (goddess), the idol of Ganga Devi too is housed in the revered temple. There are many hot water springs near the temple; Surya Kund is the most important among them. Devotees boil rice and potatoes in the kund and accept it as a Prasad of the devi.
Yamuna Goddess is believed to be Sun’s daughter and twin sister of Yama (the god of death). It is said that sage Asit Muni lived here and bathed in both Ganga and Yamuna. In his old age, when he was unable to go to Gangotri, a stream of Ganga started to flow across the steam of Yamuna.
Places to visit :
- Yamunotri Temple: Situated in the Garhwal hills at an altitude of 3291 meters above the sea level, the temple was built in the 19th century by Maharani Gularia of Jaipur. Goddess Yamuna is represented here in the form of a silver idol.
- Saptrishi Kund: The glacier is the actual source of Yamuna River and is located at an altitude of 4421 meters above the sea level. The strenuous trek to Saptrishi Kund involves a day for acclimatization at the temple.
- Surya Kund: It is one of many thermal springs in the region. The Goddess Yamuna is believed to be the daughter of Surya (the Sun god) and Sangya.
- Divya Shila: It is a powerful rock pillar near the Surya Kund at Yamunotri. As a ritual, the pilgrims offer prayers to the pillar before entering Yamunotri.
Seat of: Goddess Yamuna
Altitude: 3291 meters
When to visit :
Opening hours: 14th May 2021 (6am to 8pm)
Aarti time: 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Gangotri – the seat of Goddess Ganga – is frequented by millions of pilgrims each year. The Gangotri Dham is set 19 km from Gaumukh – the place where Ganga River originates. From Gaumukh in the Gangotri Glacier, the river flows as Bhagirathi up to Devprayag. Here, it merges with Alakananda and forms Ganga as we know it.
History of Gangotri :
Gangotri Dham is dedicated to Goddess Ganga, who is said to have descended on earth to absolve the sins of human kind. The river originates at Gaumukh from the Gangotri glacier which is some 18 km from the town of Gangotri. Situated in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, the original temple of Gangotri was built by by Amar Singh Thapa, a Gurkha general, in the early 19th century.
King Sagar undertook an Ashwamedha Yagna and sent his 60,000 sons along with the horse. The horse was lost; tracing the horse to the Sage Kapila’s ashram, the 60,000 sons stormed the ashram and disturbed sage who was in deep meditation. Enraged Kapila opened his fiery eyes that turned all 60,000 sons into ashes. Later, on Kapila’s advice, Anshuman (Sagar’s grandson) started praying to Goddess Ganga, requesting her to come down to earth to cleanse the ashes of his relatives and grant salvation to them. Anshuman failed in his aim; it was his grandson Bhagirath whose rigorous meditation made Ganga to come down to earth. Lord Shiva tied Ganga and distributed its water in a number of streams to save the earth from its mighty force.
Places to visit :
- Gangotri Temple: Built in the 18th century by the Gorkha General Amar Singh Thapa, the temple is home to the shrine of Gangotri.
- Bhagirath Shila: It is believed to be the holy rock where King Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiva.
- Submerged Shivling: This Shivalingam is submerged in the waters of River Bhagirathi at Gangotri. According to the Hindu mythology, it is here that Lord Shiva sat to receive Goddess Ganga in his locks.
- Pandava Gufa: A 1.5 km trek from Gangotri takes you to the Pandava Gufa where the Pandavas are believed to have meditated and rested en route Kailash.
Seat of: Goddess Ganga
Altitude: 3048 meters
When to Visit :
Opening hours: 15th May 2021 (6:30 am – 2 pm, 3 pm – 9:30 pm)
Aarti Time: 3.00 PM to 9.30 PM
Located near the head of the River Mandakini in the Himalayas, Kedarnath is flanked by breathtaking snow-clad mountains. The city is named after King Kedar who ruled in the Satya Yuga. The saintly king is believed to be the ruler of the 7 continents. His daughter – Vrinda – is believed to be a partial incarnation of the Goddess Laxmi.
History of Kedarnath:
Situated in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, Kedarnath is the most remote pilgrimage spot in the yatra. It is believed that originally the temple of Kedarnath was built by Pandavas. And Adi Shankaracharya got the present structure constructed in the 8th century adjacent to the old temple site. The grey stone structure is an architectural marvel because of its imposing design and its ability to survive for so many centuries in such a harsh terrain.
Pandavas were searching for Lord Shiva to absolve themselves from their sins committed at the battlefield of Mahabharata. Lord Shiva was in no mood to forgive them so easily, so he converted himself into a bull and went to Garhwal side of Uttarakhand. On being found by the Pandavas, he dived into the ground. Different parts of the Lord came up at different parts – hump at Kedarnath, arms at Tunganath, navel at Madhya-Maheshwar, face at Rudranath and hair emerged at Kalpeshwar. Taken together, these five sites are known as Panch-kedar. Pandavas got temples made at each of the five places.
Places to Visit :
- Kedarnath Temple: Built in the 8th century by the Hindu philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, the Kedarnath Temple is known to be built in the same vicinity as the ancient temple built by the Pandavas. A conical rock formation inside the temple is worshipped by the devotees as Sadashiva, a form of Lord Shiva.
- Gandhi Sarovar: The lake is believed to the place from where Yudhishthir – the eldest Pandava – departed to heaven.
- Shankaracharya Samadhi: Located very close to the Kedarnath Temple, the place is believed to be the place where Adi Shankaracharya took Samadhi.
- Bhairon Temple: Located 1 km from the Kedarnath Temple, the Bhairon Temple is believed to be the home to the protector of the Kedarnath Temple and valley.
Seat of: Lord Shiva
Altitude: 3553 meters
When to Visit :
Opening hours: 16th May 2021 (6:30 am – 3 pm, 5 pm – 9:30 pm)
Aarti Time: 5.00 PM to 9.30 PM
The main deity here is the Lord Vishnu, worshipped in his aspect of Badrinarayan. This Dham is the only one that is a part of both the original Char Dham and the Chhota Char Dham circuits.
History of Badrinath :
Badrinath is considered one of the most holy places in Hindu religion. One of the 108 Divya Desams, Badrinath temple is part of both Char Dham and Chota Char Dham. Adi Shankaracharya found the idol of Lord Badri in Alaknanda River and put it up in a cave near the Tapt Kund. In 16th century, a Garhwal King got the temple erected, which has been renovated many times as a result of natural calamities. Sandwiched between Nar and Narayan peaks, the beauty of Badrinath Dham is further enhanced with the glorious background of Neelkanth peak.
As per one of the legends, the indulgent lifestyle of Lord Vishnu was criticised by a sage, after which Vishnu went to meditate as an act of penance, over here. Goddess Laxmi (his wife) became a berry tree to shade him from the sun and other harsh elements of nature. Another divine tale states that Badrinath used to be the realm of Shiva. Vishnu tricked Shiva into leaving the site and established himself instead.
Places to Visit :
- Badrinath Temple: The story goes back to the time of Shankaracharya who discovered a black Saligram stone image of Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Badrinarayan. He enshrined the same in a cave near Tapt Kund hot springs. In the 16th century, the king of Garhwal moved the stone idol into the present day temple.
- Neelkanth: The ‘Garhwal Queen’ is a snowy peak that forms a pyramid-like background to the Badrinath Temple. The peak, 6597 meters above the sea level, is the first place to receive the sun’s light in the region.
- Tapt Kund: The abode of Lord Agni, Tapt Kund is a hot spring that is famous for its medicinal properties. Surya Kund and Narada Kund are also present in the vicinity.
- Vasudhara Falls: The 400 feet high waterfalls are located 4 km from Badrinath in the Mana Village. It is believed that the water of the falls will turn away from the visitors who are not pure at heart.
When to Visit :
Opening hours: 17th May 2021 (4:30 am – 1 pm, 4 pm – 9:00 pm)
Aarti Time: 10.30 AM to 11.00 AM
Where and how to start and end the Yatra ?
Char Dham yatra opens on the auspicious day of Akshay Tritiya of Chaitya month and remains open until Bhai Dooj. The complete yatra will take you 11 to 12 days. If time permits, there are a lot of other diversions such as Gaumukh, Tapovan, Along valley, Bhauravnath Temple, Vasuki Tal, Chopta, Auli, and Hemkund Sahib. You can choose to start your yatra from Delhi, Haridwar, Rishikesh, or Dehradun, according to your convenience. Delhi, being the capital, is connected to all major cities. It is also just a 4-hour train ride away from Haridwar.
Char Dham yatra begins with a visit to Yamunotri Dham after a 36 km drive from Barkot, followed by a 7 km trek. Barkot also connects to Uttarkashi which is just about 100 kms from the Gangotri Dham. Kedarnath can be driven to from Rudraprayag, which is about 180 kms from Uttarkashi, followed by a 21 km trek up the mountain. Rudraprayag is also just 160 kms away from Badrinath Dham, which is the final dham in your yatra.
From Badrinath, there are a number of routes that will lead you back to Delhi via Haridwar. If you are not able to accommodate all four dhams in your itinerary, Badrinath and Kedarnath Dhams are the recommended ones.
You may choose either GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd.) or private agencies. Leisure Hotels is a popular and reliable luxury Chhota Char Dham tour operator. They provide customized packages according to your budget. For accommodation, the best options are Char Dham camps in the form of Swiss cottages which are located reasonably close to the shrines, and are well equipped with all the basic necessities. There are other deluxe and budget options including GMVN’s tents.
How to prepare yourself for the Yatra ?
There is no fixed age limit for Char Dham yatris but due to the strenous demands, the preferred age bracket is between 7 and 65 years. You will, however, require a medical certificate to validate your health condition. All Char Dham Camps are equipped with first aid boxes & oxygen cylinders, but you should also carry your own first aid kit. Char Dham yatra consists of two treks – a 6 km one-way trek from Jankichatti to Yamunotri, and a 21 km one-way trek from Gaurikund to Kedarnath, so comfortable shoes with a good grip are a must! Ponies, Pithus, and Palkis are available for those not willing to or unable to trek.
The weather at Char Dham is mostly pleasant from April to June. Winters are cold but have a zero percent chance of rains and consequent landslides. The air gets thin and cold, and so, warm jackets, sweaters, gloves, and woollen socks are highly recommended. If you are travelling in rainy season, carry a raincoat as well.
This was all you need to know if you are planning for Char Dham Yatra in 2021. I personally believe every person should go on this trip at least once in a lifetime. Char Dham yatra is all about experiencing the fantasy. The journey may be long and tiring but it is definitely rewarding – both spiritually and sensually. If a person is not religious also, this trip would be very rewarding for the person’s health. The climb, lush greenery and mountain air is a huge health motivator for a lot of people.
So all the best for your upcoming journey of exciting adventure and spirituality. Kick start your journey with full of positivity and confidence and may the almighty bless you and your family. Don’t forget to share your experience with us after the trip. You can write it down in the comment section. We’ll be happy to know.
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