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Located in the Garhwal region of the state of Uttarakhand, ‘The Char Dham Yatra’ is an important Hindu pilgrimage in the Indian Himalayas. Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath are the four destinations or Dhams (meaning ‘abode of’) and the great Hindu philosopher and reformer Adi Shankaracharya initiated the Char Dham Yatra in an attempt to revive Hindu religion during the 8th century. All these locations are believed to be highly sacred by Hindus.
Yamunotri, is the source of the river and the abode of Goddess ‘Yamuna’. It is famous for its thermal springs and glaciers. Gangotri is the source of river Ganges (called Ganga by Indians) and is considered the abode of Goddess Ganga. Right on banks of the river Bhagirati, the goddess is worshiped every evening and pilgrims make it a point to stay for this spectacle. The whole mesmerizing view of hundreds of lamps floating on the river leaves you truly spellbound. Kedarnath is home to lord Shiva and Badrinath is home to Lord Vishnu. The yatra generally follows the sequence in which the Dhams have been described. It is said that the best season for the Char Dham Yatra is between May and October but Travelshanti team recommends that one should leave out the Rainy season, i.e., July and August because of the possibility of Torrential rains which could lead to flash floods, cloudbursts and landslides in the hilly state.
Kedarnathji is the abode of Lord Shiva and the climb up the mountainous terrain though not tricky is tiresome for the not so physically strong. One can invoke energy from within by focusing on the joy of seeing the famous shrine and seeking blessing of Lord Shiva by chanting ‘Om Namah Shivaye’ to make the journey pleasant. The view up there is majestic and the focused devout would feel the presence of supreme power there. It can get really cold near the last few days of October and proper warm clothing is required all the time. To reach the Dham one can walk, ride a pony, hire a Palanquin or fly by chopper.
Badrinathji, the abode of Lord Vishnu is relatively a much easier access and a terrain hospitable to all. One could get dropped by a vehicle within a kilometre of the temple. Many pilgrims like to take a holy dip in the natural thermal springs on the banks of the river Alaknanda—the Tapt Kund, before offering prayer in the temple. The water of the Kund is believed to have medicinal properties.
Around the Sanctum Sanctorum is a large courtyard which is used for religious ceremonies and hymn singing by devouts. One can also simply mediate here if the place is not too crowded or noisey which does happen some days. If you have the time then partaking Prasad from the community kitchen is a blessing. Pilgrims also visit the Sheshnetra Ashram which is just 1.5 km away from the Badrinath temple to pray at the sacred Shiva Linga, which some say is frozen ice that has solidified over the years.
With the visit to the four temples your yatra would be complete. It is customary to distribute food to the poor and if you can afford, some money as well. However, do not fall in to the trap of committing to large sums. It is the gesture which counts. One needs to carry woollens all along. All the above locations have basic hospitality facilities and a guide helps.