Uttarakhand contains one of the most important trail of pilgrimage known in the entire country. Char Dham in Uttarakhand is probably one of the foremost circuit of pilgrimage for people hailing from India and South Asia.
According to the Hindu holy texts, the sacred sites of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, collectively constitute the Char Dham and rank among the holiest of all the pilgrimages in India. Undertaking a journey to these places will not just wash away your sins but ensures release from the cycle of birth and death. It is also said that heaven and earth converge in these holy spots, and to be born or die here is a luck only the very fortunate have.
Char Dham averages 250,000 visitors in the pilgrimage season, extending from April to November. The monsoons render pilgrimage in Uttarakhand extremely risky since the region is quite vulnerable to fatal landslides and bus/jeep accidents Although temperatures at the shrines in early winter are extreme, the local scenery is considered to be at its picturesque best after the rains have washed away the dust and grime of the plains underneath.
Pilgrims on the Char Dham pilgrimage of Uttarakhand usually visit Yamunotri and Gangotri and bring back the sacred waters from the origins of the rivers Yamuna and Ganga and pay obeisance to Kedareshwara. The traditional pilgrimages follow the route of Haridwar - Rishikesh - Deo Prayag - Tehri - Dharasu - Yamunotri - Uttarkashi - Gangotri - Triyugnarayan - Gaurikund and Kedarnath. This route is in accordance with the Hindu ritual of parikrama or clockwise circumambulation. However a possible alternative is the trail to Kedarnath from Rishikesh is via Deoprayag, Srinagar, Rudraprayag, Agastmuni, Guptkashi and Gaurikund.
More about Pilgrimages at Uttarakhand
Haridwar or 'the Gateway to the Gods' is one of the seven most sacred sites as per Hindu mythology. The Gods are considered to have left their footprints in Haridwar, which is the portal to three important pilgrimage sites of Uttarakhand - Rishikesh, Badrinath and Kedarnath. Mentioned as Mayapuri, Gangadwar, and Mokshadwar in the old scriptures and epics, Haridwar has served as a major pilgrimage spot for Hindus from time immemorial.
Haridwar, situated in the Himalayan foothills, acts as the point where the Ganga meets the plains. The Chinese pilgrim Hieuen Tsang who came to India in the first millennium describes Haridwar as Mayura, along the eastern banks of the Ganges. The town contains countless temples and ashrams and a trip to Haridwar is like venturing into an absolutely different world.
Rishikesh is located about 43 kilometer away from Dehradun and 245 kilometer away from Delhi. Rishikesh stands at a height of 365 meter above the sea level. The Shivalik range of the Himalayas borders Rishikesh on three sides, which adds to the scenic beauty of this sacred place. It is the beginning point of Char Dham Pilgrimage ( Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath).
Amidst the dramatic mountain scenario of the imposing Kedarnath range stands one of the twelve 'Jyotirlingas' of Kedar or Lord Shiva. At a height of 3584 meters to the head of river Mandakini, the shrine of Kedarnath is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindu devotees.
Kedarnath is located in Uttar Kashi district of Uttaranchal, adjacent to the Indo-Chinese border. It is the site of origin of the Mandakini River. It lies amidst the Garhwal Himalayas, 3583 meters above sea level. The most favorable time to visit is between May and October. Kedarnath lies close to Rishikesh (234 km) and Dehradun (250 km).
Kedarnath of Uttarakhand is to be found right in the middle of a wide plateau fenced in by towering snow covered peaks. The current temple, built in the 8th century by Adi Shankaracharya stands next to the site of an earlier temple built by the Pandavas. The inner walls of the assembly hall are adorned with figures of diverse mythological deities and scenes from mythology. Before the temple door, a big statue of the Nandi Bull keeps guard.
Badrinath is supposedly the holiest of the four significant shrines in Garhwal. Nestling in the twin mountain ranges of Nar and Narayan, it stands on the left bank of the river Alakananda. The town, 3,133 meters above sea level, is consecrated to Vishnu, the preserver god. It serves as a must visit destination for every pious Hindu. The spot was once carpeted with 'badris' or wild berries and thus derived the name of 'Badri Van'.
The current temple was constructed over two centuries ago by the Garhwal Kings. It is a conical edifice, 15 meters high with 15 idols of black stone inside. The chief idol represents Vishnu in a contemplative posture and is fringed by Nara-Narayan. Legend traces it to the Vedic age though it might have been re-established by Adi Shankaracharya, the Hindu saint. Other deities include Laxmi, Garud, Shiva and Parvati, and Ganesha.
The Char Dham ('four abodes') constitutes the most notable pilgrimage circuit in the Indian Himalayas. Situated in the Garhwal area of the state of Uttaranchal (previously the north-western part of Uttar Pradesh), the circuit comprises of four sites:
Gangotri, which represents the origin of the holy Indian river Ganges, draws innumerable devotees and tourists. Nestling in the imposing Garhwal hills, Gangotri of Uttarakhand stands at a height of some 3048 meters from the sea level. In northern Uttarakhand, it adjoins the Indo-Tibetan border and is about 300 kilometers from Dehradun, 250 kilometers from Rishikesh and 105 kilometers from Uttarkashi respectively. The Gangotri temple remains open only in May to November.
The sacred stone near the Gangotri temple denotes the place where Ganga first came down to earth after King Bhagirath's penances. This is why Ganga is also known as the Bhagirathi.
Yamunotri in Uttarakhand, located deep in the Garhwal Himalayas is a deeply revered Hindu pilgrimage site. Constituting one of the Char Dhamsas per Hindu mythology, Yamunotri embodies the source of the sacred river Yamuna. Well known for its hot springs and glaciers, it is an important place on the itinerary of the Hindu devotee. Following an old legend, it is believed that Asit Muni, the ascetic, used to live here.
Standing 3293 meters above sea level, Yamunotri is situated in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. Adjacent to the Indo-Chinese border, it is fenced in by Himalayan ranges on all sides. Yamunotri is at a distance of 278 kilometers from Dehradun, 236 kilometers from Rishikesh, 176 kilometers from Chamba and 21 kilometers from Sanya Chatti. It is cool even during summers. Snowfall occurs in winter when temperatures fall below 0°C.
Ukhimath is an important Hindu pilgrimage spot about 182 kilometers away from Rishikesh, in the district of Rudraprayag in Uttarakhand. 4,500 feet (1311 meters) high, it is situated on the other side of the Mandakini River Valley from Gupt Kashi - a rather short if steep walk by foot, or a greater distance by road .
It is reputed to be the winter abode of Lord Kedarnath. As soon as the Kedarnath temple closes for the winter, a movable idol of Kedarnath is carried via procession to Ukhimath, where it remains until the Kedarnath temple reopens in late April or early May. Worship takes place regularly at the Omkareshwar Temple here during winters, while the temple of Kedarnath is closed to devotees.
Popular belief has it that Ukhimath has been so named after Usha, the daughter of Banasur, who had l once resided here. The place is studded with many other temples. There are shrines consecrated to Usha, Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Aniruddha and Mandhata. Deoria Tal is another nearby spot that draws visitors.
Guptkashi in Uttarakhand is one of the most popular place with great religious importance in the state. It is often compared to the sacred city of Kashi (Varanasi) in terms of its religious importance. a pilgrimage to Kashi to a Hindu is significant to such an extent that they think that life remains incomplete without a visit there.
Guptkashi of Uttarakhand is a place where the two holy rivers Ganga and Yamuna meet. The Hindus call it a 'Sangam'. The principal attractions of the devotees who visit Guptkashi are the age old :
Hemkund Saheb is in Joshimath, a well known place in the state of Uttarakhand in India. The state of Uttarakhand is aptly called the "Dev Bhoomi" or the abode of Gods. You will find the Hindu temples at about each and every turn that you take along the mountains.
Hemkund Saheb in Uttarakhand is a place situated at around 4329 meters above the sea level. It is a popular site of pilgrimage for the people from both the Sikh as well as the Hindu communities.
The 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Govind Singh meditated on the shores of the Hemkund Lake near the Hemkund Saheb of Uttarakhand. He took this penance in order to attain enlightenment. Later on the devotees of the Guru constructed the Sikh Gurudwara on the banks of this auspicious place.
The lake at Uttarakhand's Hemkund Saheb is referred by the Hindus as the Lokpal lake. They have built a Lakshman temple in its close vicinity. If you have a passion for adventure you take a steep trek from Ghangharia to Hemkund Saheb, Joshimath. This will take four to six hours.
All around the Hemkund Saheb there are the snow capped peaks and the glaciers. If you go to the Gurudwara you will be delighted at the the serenity of the surroundings. The two glaciers namely the one from the Hathi Parvat and the other from the Saptarishi peaks are the sources of the Hemkund Lake. You will find a small stream, the Himganga flowing out of this lake.
Adi Shankaracharya Samadhi
Adi Shankaracharya Samadhi is the grave of Adi Guru Shankaracharya, which is situated slightly behind the Kedarnath temple at the Hindu religious center of Kedarnath. It is popularly believed that soon after establishing the four sacred Dhams in India, he immersed his being in samadhi at the very early age of 32 years. That is why the Adi Shankaracharya Samadhi is considered a must visit spot by anyone who is on a religious pilgrimage to the region.
After ensuring that his disciples had received their final instructions, Shankara considered his mission to have been terminated. It was 718 A.D. and corresponding to what had been prophesied by the Brahmans when he was a mere infant, Shankara had attained the final year of his life. He was just thirty-two years of age and his work had been completed, most of the opposition to his Vedic beliefs had been overcome and his followers had now been directed to carry on his work.