The mountains in the Himalayas offer some of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring views for tourists, pilgrims and travelers. Here is my account as a traveler in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. The state of Uttarakhand is divided into 2 divisions namely the Garhwal Division and the Kumaon Division. I explore the Garhwal Himalayas in this write-up and take you through a descriptive and photographic journey along the famous Char Dham Yatra (or journey) which lies in this (Garhwal) Division.
The Char Dhams in the hill state of Uttarakhand encompasses Yamunotri-Gangotri-Kedarnath-Badrinath. These are different than the Original Char Dhams of India which comprises of Puri in the east of India, Rameshwaram to the south, Dwarka to the west and finally Badrinath to the north of India. The pilgrimage sites in the state of Uttarakhand were known as Chota Char Dham to differentiate them from the bigger circuit of Char Dham sites. But after the mid-20th century they have been also referred to as the Char Dham.
The Char Dham (Dham literally meaning abode/seats) circuit is also based upon the origins of the River Ganga and its tributaries. The journey can be started from either the city of Haridwar or Rishikesh. Traveling by road is the only option as there are no railway stations or airports upwards Rishikesh. The first Dham to be visited is Yamunotri and we reach Jankichatti to start with the journey to Yamunotri.
Situated at an Altitude of 2,650 m/8,695 ft, is the town of Jankichatti. The trek to Yamunotri Temple starts from here which is approximately 6 kms on foot. Horses/Mules are also available to the Temple. It is an easy trek and the trek path is well cemented with greenery along the route.
How to Reach
There are 2 ways to reach Jankichatti; one is through Rishikesh (via Dharasu bend) and the other goes through Dehradun (via Yamuna bridge). We take the first route starting from Rishikesh covering 241 kms and passing through Narendra Nagar, Chamba, Dharasu Bend and Barkot and reach Jankichatti (the last motorable town on the route).
Situated at an Altitude of 3,291 m/10,797 ft, is the town of Yamunotri. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna and has a black marble idol of the goddess. It is located on the backdrop of the Bandarpunch mountain and the river Yamuna originates nearby. Yamuna is the longest tributary of the river Ganga. Yamunotri means ‘Yamuna-utri’, utri meaning descended.
From Yamunotri, we have to come back to Jankichatti and make our way towards Gangotri through the towns of Barkot and Uttarkashi.
Situated at an Altitude of 3,415 m/11,204 ft, is the town of Gangotri. The Bhagirathi river flows through here which is the one of the main tributaries of the Ganga river. The origins of the Ganga river is slated to be from here while the source of the river lies through a trek of about 20 kms from here to Gaumukh.
How to Reach
Gangotri is situated at a distance of around 228 kms from Jankichatti or around 265 kms from the town of Rishikesh.
From Gangotri, we move towards Kedarnath. To reach, one has to travel to Gaurikund or Sonprayag.
Located at an Altitude of 3,583 m/11,755 ft, is the Kedarnath temple. The temple is is dedicated to the Lord Shiva. It is surrounded by very high mountains while the river Mandakini flows through here. Mandakini is another tributary of the Ganga river. The temple here is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. To reach Kedarnath, one has to trek around 17 kms from the town of Gaurikund. Horses/Mules are also available to the Temple.
How to Reach
There are 2 ways to reach Kedarnath from Gangotri. The first one is coming back to Uttarkashi (via Chamba) which is the longer route and is around 400 kms in distance. Whereas the other route also cuts through Uttarkashi (via Lambgaon) and this route is around 345 kms in distance. Rishikesh is located at a distance of around 210 kms from Gaurikund.
Please note:- All pictures of Kedarnath are prior to the 2013 flash floods.
From Kedarnath, we move towards the last destination in the circuit i.e. Badrinath. The road to this destination is pretty straight forward.
Situated at an Altitude of 3,133 m/10,279 ft, is the Badrinath or Badrinarayan Temple. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and located on the banks of the river Alaknanda. The river Alaknanda is another tributary of the Ganga river while its source located upwards. It is also famous for Tapt Kund (natural hot springs). The last Indian village in this part of the country called Mana is located at a distance of 3 kms from Badrinath. At Mana, one can visit Bhim pul (pul meaning bridge) and the river Saraswati flowing beneath it.
How to Reach
There are 2 routes to reach Badrinath from Gaurikund. The first one is through Rudraprayag covering a distance of around 225 kms while the other one is through the very beautiful and scenic route of Chopta. The Chopta route is through a distance of 210 kms. Alternatively, Rishikesh is situated at a distance of around 300 kms.
Best Times to Visit
These places are open to visit during the months of May through November (dates varying each year) and closes during the winter months due to heavy snowfall. These sites are very crowded during the month of May and June whereas during the months of July and August there are chances of roadblocks due to heavy rainfall. So, the best time to visit is from September onwards till the closing dates.
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