Nestled among the serene heights of the great Himalayas are four pilgrim-destinations namely Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, known collectively as Char Dham. These pilgrimage centres draw the maximum numbers of pilgrims each year, thus becoming the most important hubs of religious travel in whole of Northern India. Traditionally, the pilgimage is begins from West and ends in the East. Thus, the Char Dham Yatra commences from Yamunotri, then proceeding to Gangotri and finally to Kedarnath and Badrinath. In accordance with the Hindu conventions, thousands of devotees take up this pious pilgrimage in the hope to experience bliss and successfully purge their souls of all worldly demons.
Each of these four sites is devoted to a specific deity. Yamunotri is dedicated to the Goddess Yamuna who goes along the pilgrims to the high altitudes of the picturesque Rawai Valley. Yamunotri stands high up in the deep left on the western face of the Bunderpunch Peak. The most sacred area of Yamunotri is a dark rock from where the hot springs emerge, called the Divya Shila. Here at the origin of the Yamuna pilgrims offer their first prayer. It is believed that a bath in the waters of the Yamuna protects the devotee from untimely death that could hinder one’s chances of achieving eternal emancipation.
Gangotri is dedicated to the Goddess Ganga. The shrine overlooks the River Bhagirathi, another name of River Ganga - the name having been derived from the myth of the ancient King Bhagirath’s penance that succeeded in bringing her upon the earth from the heavens. It is said that King Bhagirath meditated here in Gangotri on a rock called Bhagirath Shila, near the temple.
Kedarnath is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is also a part of the Panch Kedar. It is the northernmost Jyotirlinga and is close to the source of the holy River Mandakini. Adi Shankaracharya is said to have attained samadhi at very young age adjacent to the Kedarnath Temple.
Set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Neelkanth Peak between the Nar and Narayan mountains, Badrinath is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is situated on the bank of the River Alaknanda at an altitude of 3133 meters. According to legend, Lord Vishnu meditated here while his consort Lakshmi took the form of a berry (badri) tree to offer him shade.
Before embarking on this journey, one has to be prepared to experience physical and mental hardships on the Himalayan roads. The Char Dham Yatra is one of the quite accessible yet most arduous journeys. The Yatra route in the state is usually bustling with activity, especially during the summer. The scenic beauty of the mountains solemnly provides strength to the pilgrims, moving towards their destination.