Pilgrimage - The Holy Himalayas

Up in the misty heights of the majestic Garhwal Himalayas that adorn the magnificent state of Uttarakhand awaits a rejuvenating spiritual experience for the devout. Nestling in the lofty peaks are the four most holy pilgrimages of India- Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath collectively referred to as the Char Dham (or four pilgrimage centers) of Hinduism.

 

Up in the misty heights of the majestic Garhwal Himalayas that adorn the magnificent state of Uttarakhand awaits a rejuvenating spiritual experience for the devout. Nestling in the lofty peaks are the four most holy pilgrimages of India- Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath collectively referred to as the Char Dham (or four pilgrimage centers) of Hinduism. For centuries saints and pilgrims in their search for the divine have walked these mystical vales known in ancient Hindu scriptures as ‘Kedarkhand’.

Through these sacred shrines meanders the greatest river of India, Ganga- the stream of life synonymous with sanctity and splendour that is eternal, around which are woven myriad legends and tales from mythology and history of India. According to a legend goddess Ganga took the form of a river to support life on earth and hence is the most6 venerated deity in Hinduism.
The four dhams receive their holy waters in the form of four streams – Yamuna (in Yamunotri), Bhagirathi (in Gangotri), Mandakini (in Kedarnath) and Alaknanda (in Badrinath).

Holy confluences scenic surroundings and an aura of spiritual serenity make an ideal abode for the gods and are a refreshing reward for the pilgrims who visit Uttarakhand.

Traditionally, the yatra (or journey) is done from the west to the east starting form yamunotri, then proceeding to gangotri and finally to kedarnath and badrinath. Although char dham are accessible through a network of motorable roads arduous trails remain in the ancient sanctuaries of faith for a fulfilling experience.

Yamunotri

Yamunotri templeThe first stopover for the char dham yatra is the westernmost shrine of yamunotri in the Garhwal Himalayas. Dedicated to goddess Yamuna it is perched atop a flank of the Bandar poonchh peak (3165 mts. above sea level) and is situated opposite to gangotri. The shrine attracts devotees in large numbers from May to October. Yamunotri is the source of the revered river Yamuna which originated from the champasar glacier lying 1 km ahead of the shrine at an altitude of 4421 mts., pilgrims do not frequently visit the source of the river as it is not easily accessible.
Yamunotri finds a special mention in the Hindu mythology. According to a legend this secluded hilly spot was the home of an ancient sage Asit Muni. Among the major attractions of yamunotri are hot water springs nearby. Devotees prepare rive and potatoes to offer at the shrine, by dipping them in these hot water springs, tied in muslin cloth. The trek to yamunotri is spectacular, dominated by a panorama of rugged peaks and dense forests.
From Rishikesh a 205 kms. Journey by road takes one to Hanumanchatti. From here the remaining 14 kms. Trek is covered on foot or on ponies. Palanquins, horses and porters are also available on hire.

 

Gangotri

Gangotri templeThe picturesque pilgrimage in the hinter lands of the Himalaya is the most sacred spot where Ganga the stream of life touched earth for the first time.
According to mythology, goddess Ganga- the daughter of heaven manifested herself in the form of a river to absolve the sins of king Bhagirath’s predecessors, following his severe penance of several centuries lord Shiva received into his matted locks to minimize the immense impact of her fall she came to be called Bhagirathi at her legendary source.
Along the right bank of Bhagirathi stands the shrine of gangotri dedicated to the goddess. Perched at a height of 3042 mts. It was constructed in the early 18th century by a Gorkha Commander, Amar Singh Thapa.
Every year lakhs of pilgrims throng the sacred temple between May and October. By November gangotri is covered by snow. It is believed that the goddess retreats to mukhba, her winter abode (12 kms. Down stream). The physical source of the holy river is at Gaumukh, 19 kms. Further uphill along the gangotri glacier. Several pilgrims trek up to the source to offer prayers either on foot or on ponies. The verdant valleys, dense forests and towering peaks offer excellent trekking and mountaineering opportunities for adventure enthusiasts.
From Rishikesh a 249 kms. Journey by road takes one to Gangotri.

Kedarnath

Amidst the mountainscapes of the majestic kedarnath range stands one of the twelve Jyotirlings of Kedar or lord shiva. Lying at an altitude of 3581 mts. Above sea level on the head of river Mandakini the shrine of kedarnath is amongst the holiest pilgrimage for the hindu.
The origin of the revered temple can be found in the greater epic- Mahabharata. According to legend the Pandavas sought the blessings of lord shiva to atone their sins after the battle of Mahabharata. Lord shiva eluded them repeatedly and while fleeing took refuge at kedarnath in the form of a bull. On being followed He dived into the ground, leaving behind HIS hump on the surface. This conical protrusion is worshipped as the idol on the shr4ine. The remaining portions of lord shiva are worshipped at four places the arms (bahu) at Tungnath, mouth (mukha) at rudranath naval (nabhi) at Madmaheshwar and hair (jata) at Kalpeshwar. Together with kedarnath, these places are known ads the pancha kedar.
The lingam at kedarnath is pyramidal unlike its usual form. A statue of nandi the celestial bull stands at the entrance of the temple and exquisitely carved image aborn the interiors of the temple.
During the winters, the shrine is submerged in snow and hence is closed. The ideal time to visit is between may to October. One can teach kedarnath through a 14 kms. Long trek from gaurikund.
From Rishikesh a 229 kms. By road takes one to gaurikund. From here a 14 kms. remaining trek to kedarnath.

Badrinath

Cradled in the twin mountain ranges of Nar (Human) and Narayan (God) is the holiest of the four main shrines, badrinath along the right bank of the river Alaknanda. With the splendid Neeelkanth Mountain as the backdrop it is an important destination on the sacred itinerary of every devout Hindu. Once the spot was carpeted with Badris or wild berries and hence was famous as badri van.

The revered shrine is still alive with myriad legends from mythology. Its sanctity is emphasized in the ancient scriptures as “There are many sacred spots of pilgrimage in the heavens, earth and the nether world but there has been none equal to badri nor shall there be”.

Legend has it when the Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help the suffering humanity the earth was unable to withstand the force of its descent. Therefore the mighty Ganga was split into twelve holy channels. Alaknanda was one of them that later became the abode of lord Vishnu or badrinath.

The temple of Shri Badrinathji on the bank of the Alaknanda River dates back to the Vedic times. Situated at an altitude of 3133 mts. The present temple is believed to have been built by Adi Guru Shankaracharya- an 8th century philosopher saint, who also established a math here. Also known as vishal badri badrinath is one of the panch badris.

The temple remains closed during the winter season and is open from April- May to October- November.

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