Yamnotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath – The Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand is about to open soon for public visit. With the announcement of temple opening dates began the flood of travel queries from readers and friends with the biggest underlying emotion being – I am not the religious type, is Char Dham Yatra for me? So, this time, I thought of encapsulating all my Uttarakhand travel experiences into this blog and bust the myth for once and all J
For the uninitiated, I stayed in Uttarakhand for almost 3 years courtesy my travel partner who was responsible for maintaining the Char Dham roads. So, my love for Uttarakhand and exploration of the offbeat track is quite well known.
I always pondered that why all the beautiful location of India mostly have a religious connection, I was answered by a revered personality with logic – In the olden times, travel was not a priority so to bring the people out of their mundane routines, scenic places were given religious connotations to motivate and cajole them to travel. Now, everything made sense to me and the exploration with non-religious mindset of Char Dham began. Also, if we just rename Char Dham Yatra to Char Dham Trail, will it be more convincing to you?
And, I discovered 9 things beyond religion to experience at the Char Dham route:
Pro-trekkers always swear by Uttarakhand for the ultimate trekking experience.
The Route From Mukba To Gangotri
When the Gangotri temple closes for winter, the Goddess is shifted down to Mukhba. This is an ancient trail (20 kms) that amazes you with the tall pine trees and trees with girth as wide as 3 to 4meters indicative of their age. As you trek along the Jadganga River, you come across many hill stories of ghosts and Gods. Enjoy it with a pinch of salt! If you are keen to explore something really offbeat then take a detour towards Naga, Nelang and Jadung valley from Bhairoghati. The 3 hidden and lost valleys of Uttarakhand needs special permit to enter and has a wooden bridge precariously hanging amidst stoic mountain that was used by silk route merchants. Yes, that old!
Gangotri to Tapovan via Gaumakh
18 Km treks from Gangotri to Tapovan is laden with glaciers, hill animals, hidden caves and exotic flaura & fauna, the serene quiet of this trek route has already pulled in many renowned saints and leaders who are known to stay here for months together. Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati , Shri M are some of the spiritual seekers who have graced the place. Enroute, you will find origin of Ganga River at Gomukh where you can hear nothing but just the loud gurgling to shake up one from inside.
In Search Of Origin Of Yamuna River Towards Saptrishi Kund
Once you reach Yamnotri, the real trek begins post that in search of source of sacred Yamuna river at Saptrishi Kund. Amidst deep jungles, slippery route, straight hills and tough climb, this trek is rewarding at the end of it.
Gaurikund To Kedarnath And Beyond
A mandatory trek to reach Kedarnath (except if you take helicopter to reach Kedarnath) is well-maintained trek with public conveniences, paved route, fence and all requisite arrangements. A moderate level trek route, it was rebuilt after the 2013 devastating floods. Resplendent with scenic beauty it is a trek that connects you with Nature.
For the pro-trekkers, go beyond Kedarnath on the path to Vaisukhi Taal, which is the origin of Mandakini River. The taal is 1 kms in radius and the water is so sparkling clean that the bottom slabs can be seen. At a commanding height, it surely gives you a panoramic view, an unbelievable adrenalin rush and a chance to imagine how heaven might look, if it was real.
The Swargrohini Trek – Beyond Badrinath
“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.” “If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here,”
Mythology states that this was the route taken by Pandavas while in pursuit of heaven. In today’s world, the heavenly beauty is still intact. The landscape is surreal. We crossed the Mana village which is the last Indian village and also enjoyed, India’s last cup of tea as cutely branded by a tea shop. Next stop, Vasundhara fall, is mesmerizing interplay of Nature. It was intriguing to see a Banyan tree, also known as bodhi vriksh at such an altitude. Where human mind fails, Nature succeeds.
A few more kilometres and you can see the Satopant lake from where the Swargrohini ranges are clearly visible. To go beyond this point you should take expert guidance of a bakharwal, the mountain guides.
Valley Of Flowers
Valley of flowers is a popular trek, very widely subscribed during the month of August and September as the valley is in full bloom. First part of trek starts from Govindghat to Ghangaria (10Km), there are chopper services available till Ghangaria but then the choice is yours. Ghangaria is also base for hemkunt Sahib, a revered place for Sikh Community. The footpath to both these location is very well made are the walk is very comfortable.
2. Adventure Sports
If trekking into Himalayan range wasn’t adventurous enough then enroute Char Dham you can also participate in innumerable adventure sports like:
- White water rafting at Rishikesh.
- Water sports like jet skiing, parasailing, rafting and boating at Tehri Lake, a 70 Km long catchment area with turquoise blue water nestled amidst mountains.
- Extreme snow biking trails organized by Tilak Soni of Where Eagle Dares
- Mountain climbing, glacier walking etc. organized by NIMS that operates from Uttarkashi
3. Photographer’s Paradise
I can’t pinpoint one location and say that it is a photo op location. Every bend in Uttarakhand is picturesque, every valley a frame, every human face; a story. Still, there are a few that are my absolute favourite:
- Chaurangikhal, a wooded ridge and highest feature in the region presents a beautiful sight.
- Sunrise at Badrinath when sun rises and Neelkanth and Sheeshnag Mountain above the shrine changes its colour from black to a most magnificent golden colour that I have ever seen.
- We took the first morning batch of Yamnotri trek and the break of dawn when the rays fell on the mountains amidst dense jungle and water gushed from the top, it was a scene right out of a painting.
4. Marvellous Architecture Of Char Dham Temples
All the temples of char Dham are an architectural marvel being so old, perched on hilltops, amidst extreme winter & rain condition; it is sheer veneration.
5. Story Telling
I am sucker for stories! Every stone, every temple, every cave of Char Dham route has stories waiting to be explored- real, mythological, legends, fiction, self-praising , even ghostly.
“Words, and words is all I have to take your heart away”
—- Album: Shades Of Love
I have always been charmed by these simple hill stories of faith. For me, at these temples amidst religious fervour you will see at the heart of it simple human stories, stories of life experience, stories that talk of philosophy and natural logic of living.
6. The Cleansing Aura
Ancient sciences of yoga, naturopathy and holistic wellness have many firm practitioners around this area. There is a certain aura and positive vibes when you stay so close to pristine Nature and that reflects into your personality ensuring detox and total cleansing of body & mind. One of the leading wellness centres, Ananda retreat in Narendra Nagar (20 kms from Rishikesh) is epitomizes in classic & organic luxury. Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh is another one of my favourite wellness retreat in Uttarakhand.
7. Simple & Organic Food
Food in Uttarakhand, is a vegan and vegetarian’s paradise. Simple food sourced from villages nearby without harmful pesticides and cooked with love – that’s it – gastronomic paradise. The meal that I remember most is gehat ki dal, lauki ki pakodi aur garama-garam roti with freshly plucked apples as desert.
8. Movie Lovers
For the Bollywood lovers, Char Dham is a must-dot rip for who knows whom you would pass by while trekking. Many movies and serials have been shot around this area. This palce is also a favourite with politicians. Gandhi family, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi often visit Dariya Bugyal. Recently, Rajnath Singh too stayed a few days in Uttarakashi. Sushant Singh Rajput’s upcoming movie is based and shot in Kedarnath. It all started when Raj Kapoor shot Mandakini for Ram Teri Ganga maili song sequence in Harshil.
9. Scenic Road Drive On Char Dham Route
When you drive through the mountain roads, stop at tea stalls for cheeni jyada chai, gaze at the tall pine trees, feel the cold air caress your skin, splash your tired face with sparkling river water, you know it is worth the trip. What I loved most about visiting char dham is not the destination, but the journey itself. And, you will too!
Go on! Enjoy the journey to Char Dham and you can thank me in the comments below.