The desire to attain ‘Moksha’ gives credence to faith, commands reverence for the Almighty and encourages one to lead a virtuous life. Devotees in order to attain liberation bow their heads at the threshold of several shrines, climb endless stairs, kneel down at many altars and trek through the most treacherous roads; the result is a memorable spiritual journey that is told to others mostly with pride. Amongst these unforgettable spiritual journeys is the Chhota Char Dham Yatra in India. Covering four sacred destinations in the state of Uttarakhand, namely, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, the holy journey to the Char Dham is not only about attaining Moksha but also as much about realizing the essential role of nature in our lives. Cleansed of your sins, you return home a transformed and wiser person. Ideally the pilgrimage is performed from West to East i.e starting from Yamunotri and ending at Badrinath.
Here is the detailed information on each destination for you to better plan your sacred journey that each year commences between April and November:
Said to be the seat of Goddess Yamuna (the daughter of Surya and sister of Yam), the sacred town of Yamontri is ideally the first pilgrimage destination in the Chhota Dham Yatra. Yamuna is considered to be the Goddess of Bhakti or devotion and originates from the Yamunotri glacier. The glacier is situated at an altitude of 6387m near the Bandarpunch Mountain. The major attractions of Yamunotri are the Yamunotri temple and the hot springs. Nestled between scenic landscapes, Yamunotri is simply divine.
Legend Related to Yamunotri: Yamunotri is believed to be the hermitage of Asit Muni, who used to bathe regularly in the water of both Ganga and Yamuna. During his old age, Asit Muni became unable to go to Gangotri and seeing his condition a small stream of Ganges miraculously appeared opposite Yamuna for him.
Yamunotri Temple: The temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna, whose black-marble idol presides over the shrine. Trekking is the only way to reach the temple; however now, horses, palanquin are available from Janki Chatti (6kms from the temple).
Temple Opening and Closing Schedule: The temple opens on the day of Akshay Tritya, which normally falls in the last week of April or in the first week of May. The shrine’s portals close on the day of the festival of Diwali. The idol in the temple is carried to Kharsali (Yamuna’s maternal home) during the winter season.
How to Reach: The accessible route for Yamunotri is Haridwar/Rishikesh-Dehradun-Mussoorie-Naugaon-Barkot–Hanuman Chatti. The distance between Rishikesh and Yamunotri is 212kms and the distance from Mussoorie to Yamunotri is about 139kms. The trek from the town to Hanuman Chatti is around 14kms. One can also take a shared taxi to Janki Chatti from where one has to only trek for about 5kms in total. However the trek is a strenuous one. One also has the option to hire a mule.
Where to Stay: GMVN Tourist Bungalow is available here. Other than this, there are a few budget hotels as well.
Other Attractions: Janki Chatti, Surya Kund and Divya Shila
Dubbed as the seat of Goddess Ganga, Gangotri is also the part of the Chota Chardham Yatra. Gangotri town is situated on the bank of the River Bhagirathi at an elevation of 3048m above sea level. The town is established around the Gangotri Temple that is visited by pilgrims during the Yatra. Located at a distance of about 18kms is Gaumukh Glacier which is supposedly the point of origin of Ganga.
Legend of Gangotri: Gangotri hasthe connection with the legend of descend of River Ganga to earth. Although there are a number of stories regarding how Ganga came down to earth, the most popular one is that of King Sagar. The legend has it that King Sagar was supposed to perform Ashwamedh Yagna (Horse Sacrifice) in order to attain power; however, Indra got envious of this fact and stole King Sagar’s horse. Indra tied the horse at the ashram of Sage Kapila, who was meditating for a very long time. King Sagar had 60,000 sons, whom he sent across the world to find his horse. When his sons found the horse tied at Sage Kapila’s Ashram, they concluded that Sage had stolen the horse. Sage Kapila was still meditating but when he heard this, he opened his eyes and due to it all the 60,000 sons of King Sagar were reduced to ashes. Since, the 60, 000 sons did not receive Moksha, they remained on earth as ghosts. Several generation later King Sagar’s successor Bhageerath performed penance and in return asked Shiva to send Ganga to earth to purify the ashes of his predecessors. Brahma agreed and asked Ganga to descend on earth. It is believed that Gangotri (Gaumukh) was the first place that the holy Ganga touched on earth and therefore this place became her seat.
Gangotri Temple: The holy temple is situated at an elevation of about 3200m above sea level and was built by Gorkha General Amar Singh Thapa in the 18th century. The sacred shrine is tucked between towering pines and deodars and is situated close to Bhagirath Shila, which is reckoned to be the place where King Bhagirath worshipped Lord Shiva.
Temple Opening Schedule: The temple opens on the day of Akshay Tritya, which typically falls in the last week of April or in the first week of May. Every evening at 8.PM, Aarti is held in the temple.
How to Reach: The best way to reach Gangotri is via Rishikesh (267kms). A bus or a jeep is the most convenient way to reach here.
Where to Stay: GMVN Tourist Bungalow is available here. Other than this, there are a number of budget hotels as well.
Other Attractions: Gangotri Glacier, Bhojbasa, Submerged Shivling, Bhageerath Shila, Uttarkashi
Tucked in Garhwal Himalaya, Kedarnath is the most remote pilgrimage destination out of all Char Dham sites. Kedarnath is perched at an elevation of 3584m above sea level near Chorbari Glacier. The nearest roadis at Gaurikund and from here the trek to Kedarnath is 14kms. Pilgrims used to throng the famed Kedarnath Temple (now demolished by flash-flood), which was dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Legend of Kedarnath: According to Hindu mythology, the Pandavas undertook pilgrimage and on their journey they reached Kedarnath to ask for penance from Lord Shiva. But Lord Shiva hid himself from the Pandavs and transformed into a Bull. However, Bheema saw the Bull and realized that it was no ordinary bull, so he followed it. Lord Shiva, who was in the disguise of the animal dived in to the ground but before he could escape Bheema pulled him by his tail. The face of the bull came offs from rest of the body and reached Nepal, whereas the body or hump remained in Kedarnath. From the back of the bull appeared Jyotirlinga and through it Lord Shiva gave Darshan to Pandavas. Shiva also decided to stay in Kedarnath in the form of a triangular-shaped Jyotirlinga. Ever since, Kedarnath became a place to seek penance from sin and a way to salvation.
How to Reach: The route to Kedarnath begins from Rishikesh and heads in the same direction as to Badrinath, and then it branches off at Rudraprayag. From Rudraprayag one has to take a road leading to Gaurikund. There is a trek of about 14 kilometers from Gaurikund to Kedarnath. Ponies are available from Gaurikund, and so are porters that help carry luggage. The most convenient way to visit Kedarnath Temple is by helicopter. Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd. (owned by the Indian government) and Prabhatam Aviation (a private company) are two options. A one way helicopter trip takes only 15 minutes.
Where to Stay: Since the town is in its revival period, there are quite a few options for accommodation available; however the Uttarakhand government has assured that before the commencement of the yatra, accommodation facility will become better.
Other Attractions: Gaurikund and Vasuki Tal
Dubbed as the most important site of the Chota Chardham Yatra, Badrinath is the seat of Lord Vishnu. Located at an elevation of about 3100m above sea level, Badrinath is situated between Nar and Narayan mountain ranges and its backdrop is complimented by the Neelkanth Peak (6596m). This sacred town is located on the bank of Alaknanda, which is considered to be a source of holy river Ganga.
Legend of Badrinath: The town is believed to be named after the tree Badri or Ziziphus that is found here in abundance. The legend has it that after being rebuked by Narad for indulging in worldly pleasures, Lord Vishnu went to Badrinath to meditate. While Vishnu was meditating, his consort Lakshmi transformed into a Badri Tree to provide him shade. The term Badrinath came from two words Badri (Ziziphus tree) and Nath (Lord of), thus Badrinath means the Lord of Badri. Now, Badrinath refers to Vishnu as the lord of the land of Badri trees (Badrinath) and Vishnu as the Lord of Lakshmi (who transformed into a Badri tree).
Badrinath Temple: Badrinarayan or Badrinath Temple is where thousands of devotees perform pilgrimage. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this sacred shrine is one of the 108 Divya Desams (Premium Temple) for Vaishnavite cult. There are about 15 idols other than Vishnu in this concinal-shaped temple. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Vishnu, who is worshipped in the form of Badrinarayan. Also, there is a black stone statue (Saligram) which is reckoned to be one of eight swayam vyakta kshetras, or self-manifested statues of Vishnu. The head priest or Rawal of Badrinath temple is anointed from the Nambudiri Brahmin sect of Kerala.
Temple Opening and Closing Schedule: Badrinath opens in the last week of April or in the first week of May and closes by the end of October or the beginning of each year.
How to Reach: The easy route to Badrinath is Haridwar-Rishikesh-Devprayag-Srinagar-Rudraprayag-Joshimath-Badrinath. Traffic is only allowed to depart from Joshimath and Badrinath at fixed times of the day, and is stopped at the half-way point of Pandukeshwar. The fixed departure timings are 6-7 am, 9-10 am, 11-12 am, 2-3 pm, and 4.30-5.30 pm.
Where to Stay: The Sarovar Portico and GMVN Tourist Bungalow are amongst the best options. There are many budget accommodations in Badrinath as well.
Other Attractions: Tapt Kund, Panch Shila (Narsingh Shila, Varahi Shila, Markandeye Shila, Narad Shila and Garud Shila), Adi Kedareshwar Temple, Adi Shankaracharya Temple, Mata Murti Temple and Mana Village (last Indian village).