Nestled among the serene heights of the great Himalayas, are four pilgrim-destinations namely Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, collectively known as Chardham in Uttarakhand. Attracting more and more pilgrims each year, it has become one of the most important hubs of religious travel in Northern India. Traditionally, this pilgrimage tour should begin from the West and end 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 tour 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 with the pilgrims to high altitudes of the picturesque Rawai Valley. Yamunotri stands high up in the deep left on the western face of the Bandarpunch Peak. The most sacred area of Yamunotri is a dark rock from where the hot springs emerge, called the Divya Shila. It is believed that a bath in the waters of the Yamuna River protects the devotee from untimely death, that could hinder one’s chances of achieving eternal emancipation.
Gangotri is dedicated to Goddess ‘Ganga’. The shrine overlooks the River Bhagirathi - the name having been derived from the myth of the ancient King Bhagirath’s penance that succeeded in bringing him 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 northern-most Jyotirlinga and is close to the source of the holy River Mandakini. Adi Shankaracharya is said to have attained ‘samadhi’ at a 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. According to legends, 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 physically prepared to experience the Himalayan roads as this Yatra is quite accessible yet arduous.