The most challenging & revered circuit
Char Dham Literally means "The four abodes and the purpose of the Char Dham Yatra of the Himalayas is pilgrimages to the heavenly abode." Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, all in the beautiful mountain state of Uttarakhand, are the pilgrim's focus. Not to be mistaken with the longer Char Dham Yatra to the prilgrimage of Jagannath Puri, Rameshwaram, Dwarka and Badrinath shrines that are located at four different comers of India. Badrinath is the only site which features in both Yatras.
The Char Dham Yatra generally starts at Haridwar as the 'gateway to Himalayan pilgrimage' and moves from west to east. The pilgrim's first halt is Yamunotri and then they proceed to Gangotri, onto Kedarnath, and then the yatra finally ends at the holy site of Badrinath.
Yamunotri is the place of origin of the sacred river Yamuna. The temple of the goddess is situated here.
Gangotri is believed to be the origin of the river Ganga, the holiest of all rivers, through the glacier from which the river originally gets its water lies a little north at Gaumukh. At Gangotri, which is accessible by vehicles, temples are sprinkled across the landscape and the aarti performed at the banks of the river is mesmerising.
Kenarnath, the third venue in the Char Dham Yatra, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Kedarnath is one of only twelve jyotirlingas (Where Lord Shiva is supposed to be permanently residing) and is of one the holiest sites for Hindus. The temple, it is believed was built in 8th century AD by Adi Shankaracharya himself.
Badrinath: The last destination of the Yatra is Badrinath, the shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The small town and temple lie at a height of approximately 3,750m from sea level. The legend goes that when Lord Vishnu was residing in this place, goddess Lakshmi, his wife, took the form of Badri, a local berry tree, to protect Vishnu from the direct heat of the sun. Pleased, Vishnu pronounced that his temple would be named after the goddess; hence the name Badrinath for the temple.
While the longer Char Dham is dedicated only to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, the Himalayan Char Dham also includes the third important section of Hindu spirituality i.e. Shakti(goddess) in the form of Yamunotri and Gangotri.
Apart from the main four attractions of the Yatra, there are other picturesque villages and tourist spots nearby.
Barkot, adjacent to Yamunotri, is fast gaining its place as a natural tourist and adventure spot. Sprinkled with apple orchards, it sits at 1,200m, offering awesome views of snowcapped Himalayan peaks, the most prominent of which is Bandarpoonch.
Guptkashi, another abode of Lord Shiva, lies en route to Kedarnath and is known for its ancient Vishwanath temple, which shares its name with the one in Varanasi. Another temple, the Ardhanarishwar, also dedicated to Lord Shiva, houses the delty in the form of half man and half woman, resonating the Hindu concept of the co-existence of Shiva (Universe) and Shakti(Energy).
GauriKund, on the way to Kedarnath, is one of the most important pilgrimage, for Hindus, Legend has it that Parvati, also kn own as Gauri, did penance here to win over Lord Shiva, Shiva finally accepted her love and married her Lord Ganesha is believed to have got his elephant countenance in this place, which makes the site extremely important for Hindus. Pilgrims throng to the hot springs here too.
The entire Yatra takes ten to eleven days to complete. For mystics and pilgrims who prefer to travel on foot, it may take longer.
The ideal time for the Yatra is from May to July and from September to October.