One of the sacred, spiritual tours among Hindus in India is the Chota Charm Dham Yatra in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. The Chota Char Dham, meaning the small four abodes, incorporate the shrines of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.
Each of the pilgrimages have their own legends of mysticism.
As the first stop in the pilgrimage, at a height of 3,293 metres in the Garhwal Himalayas and located approximately 30 kilometers North of Uttarkashi, Yamunotri is where the river Yamuna is considered to have taken birth.
It is believed that by bathing in the rivers, people can cleanse their sins which protects them from untimely and painful death. Located in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, the place is known for its hot water springs.
Devotees also offer prayers and boil rice and potatoes in the Surya Kund located at the Yamunotri shrine as ‘prasad’ of devi. The shrine was built by king of Tehri, Naresh Sudarshan Shah in 1839.
How to get there?
One can reach there by air, road or rail. The closest airport is the Jolly Grant, Dehradun airport that lies at a distance of 210 kms from the town of Yamunotri. From Delhi, one can catch regular flights to Dehradun and take a cab to Yamunotri which would cost anywhere between Rs 3,000 and Rs 4,000.
One can also reach the sacred town of Yamunotri by state buses running to Hanuman Chatti (14 km from Yamunotri). While Dehradun is at 172 kms from Yamunotri, Rishikesh is at a distance of 213 kms.
By rail, after reaching the Dehradun railway station, a good number of cabs go to Yamunotri at a cost of around Rs 3,000.
Where to stay?
There are limited options for lodging but dharamshalas are available at Yamunotri. Some of the staying options are Ramanand Ashram, Kali Kamli Dharamshala, Kalindi Ashram and Kamli Dharamshala. But it is advisable to book in advance.
There is a travellers’ lodge in Janaki Chatti, where the road route concludes. Barkot, located on the banks of Yamuna river, also has a few places for accommodation. Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) runs a guest house and a dormitory in this area as well.
Budget hotels can be booked in advance like Hotel Kalindi (Contact: 01375-233385) and Hotel Himalaya (Contact: 233321), Hotel Chauhan (Contact: 01375-233309) and Hotel Ganga Yamuna (Contact: 01375 – 233301) at Rana Chatti, Hotel Mandakini (Contact: 094129-33148), Hotel Neelakanth, and the GMVN (Contact: 01375-224236) facility at Janki Chatti.
As the origins of the river Ganges, at a height of 3,100 metres, the place assumes a holy significance in the Chota Char Dham yatra. The tale of Gangotri is said to date back to centuries when Goddess Ganga transformed herself into the Bhagirati river to dissolve the sins of King Bhagirath’s forefathers after his penance. To reduce the impact of her fall, Lord Shiva gathered her into his matted locks.
Originating from the Gangotri glacier as Bhagirathi, the river is said to become Ganga once it passes Devaprayag and merges into the river Alaknanda.
From Yamunotri, one can reach Gangotri by coming back to Janki Chatti and then taking an early morning bus which would take six to seven hours considering the weather and road conditions. Even if a morning bus is caught at 6 or 7 am, one can reach Gangotri before dark.
The actual source of Ganga is at Goumukh which is another 18+18 km trail and requires minimum of two days. Instead, many devotees opt to pay tribute at the Gangotri Temple in the Gangotri town.
The remotest locations of the Chota Char Dhams, Kedarnath is located at a height of 3,584 metre above sea level. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is one of the ‘Panch Kedar’ and 12 Jyotirlingas of India. It is believed to have been built by Adi Shankaracharya in 8th A.D.
From Gangotri, a bus can drop you at SonPrayag. After obtaining the due medical certificate to walk the 14-km trail, one can take a shared taxi to Gauri Kund which is the place where the route from Gangotri to Kedernath concludes. From Gauri Kund, one needs to either walk or take a helicopter or a pony.
The route to Gangotri to Gauri Kund is the longest distance between any two Char Dham locations — 310 km and can take as long as 14 hours to complete. The buses leave around 4 am until 7 am after which there are no direct buses between the two locations. One may have to break the journey (Gangotri to Uttarkashi to Gauri Kund) and reach Gauri Kund.
As one of the most celebrated pilgrimage, Badrinath is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Situated at an elevation of 3,133 metres, it is believed that Adi Shankaracharya established it when he found the Saligram idol of Lord Badri immersed in Alaknanda river and installed it in a cave near Tapt Kund or ‘hot springs’ just before the Badrinath temple. These hot springs are considered medicinal and it is customary to bathe before entering the Badrinath temple.
The convenient and fastest way to reach Badrinath is to take a taxi.
Despite the four sites of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath being located pretty close to each other, the higher mountain regions makes it pretty impossible to have any direct road connection between them. That is why, longer detours and travelling longer distances are a routine.