In Uttarakhand, up in the Garhwal region of Himalayan ranges, lie four most important Hindu pilgrimage centres called 'Chhota Char Dhams' which means 'four small abodes.'
Yamunothri, Gangothri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath are the famous temples in the Chota Char Dham circuit. As per Hindu religion, one should visit these sites once in their lifetime to attain 'moksha' or salvation.
Located at an altitude of over 11000 ft, Chota Char Dham shrines are closed in winter due to snowfall and reopen for pilgrims with the advent of summer, every year.
The name Chota Char Dhams is used to differentiate it from 'Char Dhams' – Badrinath, Dwaraka, Puri, and Rameshwaram which is a bigger circuit spread across India.
Chota Dhams are popular not only for their sacred atmosphere but for the natural beauty of the majestic Himalayan mountain ranges, rivers, and waterfalls and the climate, in general. This journey rejuvenates your soul and refreshes your mind for a brand new start. Closing date for this season is soon approaching. So what are you waiting for?
When to visit
The temple and the place opens every year on the auspicious day of the Akshaya Tritya, which generally falls during the last week of April, or the first week of May.
Every year Gangotri and Yamunotri Temples close on Diwali and Kedarnath on Bhai duj. The closing date of Badrinath is announced on Vijaydashmi (Dushhera). Closing dates of all will be near the last week of October 2019.
There are chances of roadblocks due to heavy rainfall in late July and August. In May and June, tourists flock in large numbers. So, there is very little time offered for 'darshan.' It is best to take the Char Dham Yatra in mid May-July and September-October.
How to reach
Access to the pilgrimage is either from Haridwar, or Rishikesh, or from Dehradun.
Helicopter rides are also possible.
Gangotri and Badrinath are well connected by roads and public transport. But Kedarnath requires a 21-km trek and Yamunotri a 7-km trek. To make it easier to get around, palkis and ponies have become a widely popular choice for tourists and pilgrims. A Palki ride will take place in a palanquin with four people carrying the passenger.
Helicopters are best option for visitors who are on a time crunch as well as those who find it challenging to do the trek. Five-seater helicopters are operated by different tour companies.
Tradition: The temples are visited in such a manner that you start in the west and then move on towards east. The tradition is to visit these pilgrimage sites in the following order:
Yamunothri – Gangothri – Kedarnath and Badrinath.
This is the starting point of the dham yatra. Yamunotri is the source of the Yamuna and seat of the goddess Yamuna in Hinduism. Pilgrims take bath in Yamuna and it is considered the salvation from sins.
This is the second stop in the circuit. Gangotri is the source of the Ganges and the seat of the goddess Ganga. Gangotri is the place where, according to Hinduism, river Ganga descended from heaven as Lord Shiva released the mighty river from his luscious locks.
The abode of lord Shiva, it has the highest located 'jyotirling.' Situated on the banks of Mandakini, the view of this temple against its snowy backdrop is breath taking. Dedicated to Shiva, it worships him as 'Kedar Nath,' meaning the master of Kedar Khand – a name by which the region was earlier known. The present temple at Kedarnath traces its origins to the 8th century, having been resurrected by Adi Guru Shankaracharya. It stands adjacent to the site of an ancient temple built by the Pandavas.
Badrinath, the abode of lord Badri (Vishnu), is located along the banks of Alaknanda River. Also part of the bigger Char Dham circuit, it stands beautifully on the picturesque Garhwall hill. This is the last stop in the circuit. Devotees have to visit all the 4 temples to complete the pilgrimage.
Hemkund Sahib is a pilgrimage for Sikhs, located in this region.
What to carry
Light rain jackets
Trekking shoes (water resistant)
Sun and woollen cap
Mini medical kit
Travel light as tour companies allow only limited luggage per person on helicopters. The limit is usually 5 kg per person.
Closing date for this season is soon approaching. Visit Chota Char Dhams. It's worth a lifetime!