Uttarakhand Char Dham Yatra Places
The helicopter took off, circumnavigated the Himalayan Mountains, flew parallel to the Mandakini River, skirting the treetops, and while we began expecting a safe landing, there came a twist in the tale, in our Char Dham Yatra. We landed back at the Sersi helipad, from where we had taken off.
Poor visibility and nasty weather made conditions go from bad to worse. Cancellation of the flight tickets remained on the cards. An 18kms arduous trek became the only other option. Thanks to excellent help from the aviation company, we got lucky to take wings the next morning.
Kedarnath yatra got held back by a day, but we held back our breath as suspense grew. We landed in a brand new look temple town, on a helipad that’s only 1km away from the temple. It won’t be long before the temple town gets its vibrant life back to carry forward fresh memories.
About Kedarnath Temple
Positioned near the head of Mandakini river source of Chorabari Glacier and abutted by the Kedar and Swargarohini peaks, the Kedarnath temple, at 11755 feet, is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in the country.
The Shivling you see here isn’t the familiar shape, but it’s the back hump of the Nandi avatar of Shiva who hid inside the ground, unwilling to bless the Pandavas who came in search of him after the Mahabharat war.
Today the much revered Bhim Shila (a huge oversized boulder with a tinge of pink color) at the rear of the temple remains the relic of one of the several such boulders that came crashing during the 2013 deluge. Providentially it got firmly planted there, saving the temple from an imminent disaster.
Char Dham Yatra – Different Strokes in our Journey
Through Uttarakhand, the road journey has its set of revelations for visitors as radiant flora all across the region. On one side of the coin, it is a click-worthy scenario at every turn, and the cameras kept capturing the cloud formations, the colossal mountains, the dense forests, the green valleys, the people, and the vegetation.
However, on the other side of the coin, we hit a village or a town only after long hours, driving through endless mountainous terrains, long winding roads, and hairpin bends. It takes 3-4hrs for the shortest journey and 10-12hrs for the longest journey. We’ve spent more time on the bus than elsewhere for the entire duration of the trip.
The passage by the road stayed risky, for you never know if a large loose boulder would fall right on your path. All along the way, earthmovers, JCB in popular parlance, stood from precarious positions on mountainous terrains, working their way. Landslides are most common, and it’s a way of life for those who live here.
Today came our day to face the truth of this life. At the Lambagad/Lambagarh area (a known landslide zone between Pandukeshwar and Jaypee Camp, Shivpuram), all traffic on either side halted. A huge queue of buses, cars, jeeps got parked on the narrow stretch of the road.
Soon, we sensed the road ahead got blocked because of a landslide, forcing us to navigate our way to BADRINATH on the other side by our means. Our choices stood limited. Or better put, no choice.
Regardless of the risks of boulders rolling over from the hills on our walkway, the spirit of the Char Dham yatra held our nerves, letting us feel adventurous. We crossed the sludge for 1km via a temporary rock debris bypass facility. On the other side, the local jeeps emerged as the transportation of choice to the temple town.
About Badrinath Temple
Badrinath temple, at 10170 feet, surrounded by Nar Parbat, Narayana Parbat, and Neelkanth Peak, has had a chequered history. The Vishnu idol, made of Black Saligram stone, sits in Padmasana (a meditative pose) since He did penance here. The worship at this place finds mention in Bhagavatha Purana in the name of Badrika Ashram (ashram around Badrika [indian dates] trees).
But once Buddhists took over the place, all traces of such worship disappeared until Adi Sankaracharya in the 8th century AD found the idols in Narad Kund and enshrined them in a cave near Tapt Kund for prayer. Ramanujacharya, in the 11th century AD, moved the idols from the cave to the temple.
The temple complex got destroyed and rebuilt several times, first during an avalanche between the 16th and 17th century AD and again in an earthquake in 19th century AD. The present temple got rebuilt in the early 20th century AD.
Arriving at Jankichatti, near Kharsali village, our first destination in our Char Dham journey, we found many pony owners and dholi handlers surround our bus, touting their services. They wouldn’t stop and wouldn’t take no for an answer, causing quite an unbearable level of noise. In 5mins they got on our nerves.
After one of them suddenly announced he had got our contract for the day, a fight broke out. We gathered our wits and discussed amongst ourselves before picking a team that would safely carry us on the trek. A few of us trekked the distance at YAMUNOTRI.
A serene scenic route formed part of the 6km trek from Kharsali village. It offered magnificent views of enormous rocky mountains, dense mountain forests, freshwater streams, tall gushing waterfalls all along the steep trek route, but the lack of oxygen at such heights made us gasp for breath.
About Yamunotri Temple
Yamunotri Temple, at 10800 feet, got built in the mid-19th century with locally available granite stones. The temple has two idols, Goddess Yamuna in black stone and Goddess Ganga in white stone. Hot water springs, namely Surya Kund and Gauri Kund, and cool Yamuna waters are part of the Yamunotri temple complex.
Interestingly, the actual source of the river Yamuna isn’t the Yamunotri. The river starts at the Champasar Glacier at the Saptarishi Kund, in the Garhwal mountain range 14-18kms away. Because of the inaccessible route to the glacier, the temple complex got constructed at the earliest accessible point to the Yamuna River source near the Surya Kund and Gauri Kund.
The thought of venturing to the Bhagirathi Riverbank at Uttarkashi (our pit stop before Gangotri) for a quick evening walk crossed our minds. Being round the bend at a distance of only 1km away from our resort strengthened our resolve. The road down to the river bank had loose small gravel, uneven, slippery steps, and muddy slush ground, all caused by the river currents at different times.
The River flowed quietly this evening, encouraging us to sit on the large fragmented boulders and let our feet feel the chilly waters. Twilight fast approaching, the skies turned dark, more quickly than we thought it would. With no other tourists around this vast stretch of deserted area, each passing minute gave us a hunch that it isn’t safe to linger around for long.
The next morning, bathing in the Bhagirathi River near its source at Gangotri gave us the sense of cleansing our souls. With friends pushing each other’s limits to bathe in the icy waters, you can imagine the excitement in the air.
About the Gangotri Temple
At the height of 10200 feet, the original Gangotri temple, on the western Garhwal hills, got built in the late 18th or early 19th century. River Bhagirathi, which flows beside the Gangotri temple, originates at the Gangotri glacier at Gomukh 18kms uphill trek from Gangotri temple.
The “BHAGIRATHA SHILA” located close to the Gangotri temple, stands where King Bhagiratha brought the Ganges from the heavens to wash away his ancestors’ sins. Therefore, the firm belief that a dip in the Bhagirathi river absolves sins in life.
The folklore tells of Pandavas meditating at “PANDAVA GUFA ” located 1.5kms from the Gangotri temple, while on their way to Kailash for Mukti. They chose this place to meditate since their father, King Pandu, too, had meditated at this same place.
Dev Prayag (Source of Ganges)
Panch Prayag Sangam Yatra
With Char Dham Yatra done, we left to see Panch Prayag, the five holy river confluences. The mighty Ganges originates at DevPrayag, the most sacred of the river confluences in Uttarakhand. Alakananda flows in calmly from the left, whereas the Bhagirathi flows in vivacious from the right, tough to keep eyes on one. At DevPrayag, our instincts pressed us to take a dip in the Ganges.
“Go deeper by 5 odd steps and have a greater feel of the Ganges,” motivated the purohit, encouraging our venturing spirits further. But seeing the force of water from all sides, we discerned it’s safe to stay at a distance and live the moment by showering handfuls of the holy water on ourselves.
It turns out to be a holy place to offer prayers for the departed souls. With this done, we went uphill to have a bird’s eye view of the confluence, which gave us a sense of fulfillment of our presence at DevPrayag.
About Panch Prayag Sangam
The Alakananda river (from the Satopanth Glacier), one of the two source streams of the Ganges (the other one Bhagirathi river from the Gangotri Glacier), carves on its long westerly route five river confluences called Prayag.
First at Vishnu Prayag (joined by Dhauliganga river), second at Nanda Prayag (joined by Nandakini river), third at Karna Prayag (joined by Pindar river), fourth at Rudra Prayag (joined by Mandakini river), and finally at Dev Prayag (Alakananda river joins Bhagirathi river) forming the mighty Ganges.
After that, the Ganges flows towards Rishikesh and Haridwar at Uttarakhand before turning its journey eastward to Prayagraj and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
Rishikesh Ganga Aarti at Triveni Ghat
It became a moment of connection with the Gods, witnessing the devout purohits standing in a line on a platform, wearing red and white robes, and performing the sacred Ganga Maha Aarti.
With oil lit lamps and dhoop loban cups, they performed the Aarti in a well-choreographed, symmetrical manner, on cue from the chants of Vedic hymns and bhajans.
The accompaniment of the conch’s sounds, the bells, and drums’ beating, made the divine atmosphere at twilight electric. It remains one of a kind of transcending experience.
Our religious experience got further enhanced by the lighting of Diyas and seeing them spring to life on flower-filled leaf boats and floating them along the Ganges.
Hundreds of such floats with the lamps twinkling away on the Ganges stayed a treat for the eyes. The fragrance of the flowers and incense sticks multiplied the charm and aura at the place.
Legend of Triveni Ghat Rishikesh
A connoisseur of detail would not escape observing the Chhatri or memorial archway of Mahabharata chariot depicting Krishna’s Geethopadesam built at Triveni Ghat.
Legend has it that Krishna met his end at Triveni Ghat. Krishna cleansed himself in the Ganges here after he got hurt by the arrow of Jara, a hunter. The belief that Krishna’s funeral also took place in Triveni Ghat stays part of the folklore.
The Triveni Ghat Rishikesh became our last destination in our Char Dham yatra.
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