Char Dham Yatra, Places to visit, Best Time, Where to Stay – A Complete Guide
According to Hinduism, Char Dham yatra (four abodes) is a set of four pilgrimage sites in India. It is believed that a tour of these sites opens the door for salvation (Moksha). The four Dhams are Badrinath (North), Dwarka (West), Jagannathpuri (East), and Rameswaram (South).
However, the foothills of the Himalayas are home to smaller circuits of another four pilgrimages, namely Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. These are known as Chote Chaar and are located in the beautiful valleys of Uttarakhand. It is believed that every Hindu should visit the Char Dhams during one’s lifetime.
Nestled among the serene heights of the great Himalayas are these four pilgrim-destinations that draw the maximum numbers of pilgrims each year, becoming the most important hubs of religious travel in the whole of Northern India.
Importance of this Yatra
The journey begins from Yamunotri Dham, the source of the river Yamuna. Named after goddess Yamuna, is the first Dham en route to the yatra. A bath in the holy waters of Yamuna protects from untimely death.
Gangotri Dham falls next. The second temple that falls on the Chota Char Dham circuit, is the birthplace of the holy river Ganga. The bath in the holy waters of Ganga is said to cleanse your sins.
Kedarnath, known as the land of Lord Shiva, has the highest located Jyotirlinga. Situated on the banks of the 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 the Alaknanda River. Also part of the bigger Char Dham circuit, it stands beautifully on Garhwal Hill, rearing its golden head and fluttering its red flags with Godly presence.
Where to start?
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.
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 kilometers from the Gangotri Dham.
Kedarnath can be driven from Rudraprayag, which is about kilometers from Uttarkashi, followed by a 21-kilometer trek up the mountain. Rudraprayag is also just 160 kilometers away from Badrinath Dham, which is the final Dham in your yatra.
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 the valley, Bhauravnath Temple, Vasuki Tal, Chopta, Auli, and Hemkund Sahib. If you are not able to accommodate all four Dhams in your itinerary, Badrinath and Kedarnath Dhams are the recommended ones.
When to plan your journey?
Char Dham yatra opens on the auspicious day of Akshay Tritiya of Chaitya month and remains open until Bhai Dooj. May and June is the peak pilgrimage period. The weather at Char Dham is most pleasant from April to June.
Winters are very 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 woolen socks are highly recommended. Winters are usually avoided for the Yatra.
The monsoon season (July to September) can be quite dangerous as the rain makes the route slippery. If you are traveling in the rainy season, carry a raincoat as well.
Who can go for the tour?
There is no fixed age limit for Char Dham yatra but due to the strenuous demands, toddlers and grade-scholars, along with very old devotees or people with severe comorbidities should avoid it. The preferred age bracket is between 10 and 65 years.
However, a medical certificate validating your health conditions is a must. All Char Dham Camps are equipped with first aid boxes & oxygen cylinders, but carrying your own first-aid kit for the road is a good idea.
Understanding the Chota Char Dham
The Yatra commences from Yamunotri, then proceeding to Gangotri and finally to Kedarnath and Badrinath. Nothing spells devotion more than a visit to the Char Dham. Ganga, Yamuna, Vishnu, and the mighty Shiva exist in their purest incarnations up there. For a Hindu, it is the closest one can come to experience heavenly bliss.
Yamunotri Dham Yatra
Yamunotri is famous for its thermal springs and glaciers and is a part of the famous Char Dham Yatra. Yamunotri is the source of the Yamuna river. It is known to save one from untimely death, also known as ‘Akaal Mrityu’.
The best route to visit Yamunotri is via Dehradun and Barkot. Yamunotri is Well connected to Haridwar, Dehradun, Chamba, Tehri, Barkot, Hanuman Chatti, and Janki Chatti. The Yamunotri Temple is located 13 kilometers from HanumanChatti and a 6 kilometers walk from Janki Chatti.
Gangotri Dham Yatra
The origin of the holy river is at Gaumukh, set in the Gangotri glacier that can be accessed by a short 19 km trek from Gangotri. It is the highest and the most important temple of the river Ganga which is worshiped as a Goddess in India.
But according to Hindu mythology, Gangotri is the place where the river Ganga descended from heaven when Lord Shiva released the mighty river from his luscious locks.
Gangotri is easily accessible by road with most of the major cities of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and the NCR region. Gangotri is well connected to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehradun, Kotdwar, Roorkee, Chamba, Tehri, Barkot, HanumanChatti, and Janki Chatti via bus services.
Kedarnath Dham Yatra
Kedar means powerful. It is another name of Lord Shiva the protector and the destroyer. The beautiful ambiance around the temple looks like quiet peace in heaven causes a beautiful place to do meditation. The holy Shiva Temple is a popular Hindu shrine and pilgrimage, attracting devotees from across the globe.
Kedarnath is accessible to devotees only after a steep 18 km trek through a paved path from Gaurikund, which is connected by road from Rishikesh, Haridwar, Dehradun, and other important hill stations of Uttarakhand.
Kedarnath can be reached very easily via Helicopter services, which operate from various places in Uttarakhand. Some of the prominent places from where you can get a Helicopter to Kedarnath are Dehradun, Guptkashi, Sirsi, and Phata.
Badrinath Dham Yatra
Badrinath is a Hindu holy town and a Nagar panchayat in the Chamoli district in the state of Uttarakhand, India. It is located at an elevation of 11204 feet (3415 mts), in the shadow of Nilkanth Peak, and between Nar-Narayan Hills, Badrinath is a holy Hindu pilgrimage situated on the banks of the Alaknanda river.
Badrinath is the only Shrine that is part of both Chota Char Dham and Bara Char Dham. Badrinath is one of four pilgrimage centers in four corners of India.
The distance by a helicopter journey is hardly 100 km. There are many providers of helicopter service from Dehradun to Badrinath. Badrinath is easily accessible by road.
Regular buses operate from Rishikesh bus station to Badrinath and start very early before dawn. The last bus from Rishikesh leaves for Badrinath before dawn. The road is narrow after Joshimath and travel is not permitted on the road after sunset.
Therefore if one misses the bus for Badrinath at Rishikesh bus station, one has to go only up to Rudraprayag, Chamoli or Joshimath and spend the night there to take the early morning bus for Badrinath from that town.
What about Air travel and trains?
The nearest airport to all Chota Char Dham sites is Jolly Grant Airport, which is located just 26 km from Rishikesh. From the airport, the travelers need to take either a taxi or buses to reach the desired destinations.
The nearest railway stations are located at Rishikesh, Haridwar, or Kathgodam. The distance of each Dham varies from different locations. However, the journey via road travel is the only way left other than helicopters.
If you are traveling to Char Dham, you can always find ponies, pithus, or palanquins available for you on the treks. Booking from the authorized counters charges a fixed amount for them.
The journey might get a bit difficult, if you are not in pink of your health, as the air gets thinner at a great elevation. One must keep the first aid kit handy. Also, since a lot of trekking and walking is required, a comfortable pair of shoes is a must.
The Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand is not a tour, it is a world reminiscent of spiritual utopia – where Godly presence is not just perceived but strongly felt. It is all about experiencing that fantasy. The journey may be long, arduous, and not for the faint-hearted, but it is definitely rewarding – both spiritually and sensually.