The Chota Char Dham is the area of Garhwal that encloses the most important places of pilgrimage. Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath are the sources of the sacred rivers. The Yamuna flows from the Yamunotri, Ganges flows from the Gangotri. Mandakini flows from the Kedarnath and Alaknanda flows from the Badrinath. The annual pilgrimage season begins from April and continues until October.
Every year thousands of devotees come out for this holy journey. Indians take the Char Dham yatra to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. According to popular belief, this pilgrimage frees them from the cycle of rebirths. People try to do a tour of Char Dham pilgrimage at least once in their life.
We start from Uttarkashi with our pilgrimage on foot to reach the four sacred source of the Ganges. We climbed the valley of Hassi Ganga, a tributary of the Bhagirathi River. We start above Lake Dodi Tal filled with snow, and we had to find another passage. Our guide after hearing other people proposed to go through the step of Aintcha Pass.
The climb is long. We stop in the village of Pindki. We ask if there is a hotel. There is nothing. We ask if there is a possibility to sleep somewhere and something to eat. Then a guy beckons us to follow him and brings us into a home. The next morning we leave. The trail to get to Yamunotri at times is steep.
Yamuna River originates from the glaciers of Mount Kalinda Parvat at about 4400 mtrs. The temple of Yamunotri is at a distance of 6 km from Hanuman Chatti. The path that runs from Janki Chatti up to the temple is able to reveal breathtaking views. Near the temple, we see the hot vapors of thermal waters. People use it for cooking food to offer to the gods during the puja. There are a few small ashrams and guesthouses where you can take refuge while in Yamunotri.
After Uttarkashi valley begins the rise. The first day we stop at Bhatwari. Here we had the pleasant surprise to find a shack. Here beside the hot and spicy dal, we had the steamed momo, which is typical of Nepal and Tibet.
The next stop is Gangotri. Gangotri is not the exact spot where the Ganges starts, or rather Bhagirathi. But from Gaumukh, about twenty kilometers from Gangotri. But most of the pilgrims stop at Gangotri temple, not continuing past. Near the banks of the Ganges at Gangotri, the legend says that is the pitfall where Shiva had penance. Here we are at the border with Tibet. We trek in the surrounding areas, which are wonderful. The fatigue disappears as soon as we look around.
If you go to Gangotri you cannot miss going to Gaumukh and the meadows. In Tapovan reigns the Shivling that is approximately at 6,500 m. Here is the lingam of Shiva, the deity of the mighty phallus of the Himalayan Mountains. Another route, not at all easy, but worth mentioning is towards Kedar Tal that is at about 4,400 m. You will love the evening Aarti ritual held in this temple, done by the river that flows down. You can choose to stay in guest houses and restaurants in this region if you want to take a break and relax.
After Ghuttu, we climbed the Mandakini River Valley, the source of which is Kedarnath. The last village to which you can get by bus is Sonprayag. From here you can continue with the jeep up to Gaurikund. We stayed at one of the hotels. We agreed with the staff for dinner, with rice and vegetables, prepared in a nearby cabin.
The next day to get to Kedarnath took us eight hours. Behind the Shiva temple stands the peak of Kedarnath, which reaches 6900 meters. Even in this case, the source of Mandakini is a few kilometers to the north of the temple.
To cross the ridge from Mandakini to Alaknanda, we make two long stages, an uphill and the other downhill. There is a possibility to halt only at Chopta and between there is nothing, but only woods and forest. Near Badalpur, we began to feel an incessant sound of drums coming from the top of the mountain. There was a small procession that was coming down by mule or on foot. It was a wedding with the groom was on one of the mules. He got dressed up, with a distinctive headdress and a garland made with banknotes.
The climb from Ukhimath to Chopta was very long and tiring. Chopta has two or three hotels and there is no housing. We found a room. Of course, we cannot bargain, as there are no other possibilities and some took advantage. Here for dinner, we finally found something good with rice and the beans stew.
The descent to Gopeshwar is in the midst of green forests with thick vegetation. There is a lush and impenetrable undergrowth.
Badrinath temple has a spectacular location on top of Nilkantha at about 6500 m. The surroundings of Badrinath has small temples dedicated to Vishnu. Around the temple, there is a small town, full of shops and hotels and restaurants.
But by the fourth source of Badrinath, in a side valley to Alaknanda valley, the valley of Bhyundar Ganga. There are two other places of exceptional interest of the Temple of Sri Hemkund Sahib. It is a sacred place for the Sikhs, and the Valley of Flowers, famous and known throughout the world. We returned to Govind Ghat and from there we climbed the valley of Bhuinder Ganga. Apart from Joshimath and Govindghat, there are only small villages with few houses.
The river flows collected in the mountains, and the road climbs with hairpin bends that never end. Joshimath is a colorful town. After Joshimath, the trail descends for more than 500 meters until we get to Vishnuprayag. Here there is the confluence of the limpid waters of Alaknanda and turbid ones of Dhauli Ganga. It flows from the area of the Nanda Devi.
Ghangharia is a village inhabited only in summer and has few hotels and restaurants. From here leave the paths to go to Sri Hemkund Sahib and Valley of Flowers. Hem Kund is a lake which is at 4,200 meters. On its banks has meditated, the tenth and last patriarch of the Sikhs. This patriarch gathered in a book, all his thought, and the thought of previous patriarchs. The temple and the lake in this period are still covered with snow.
On the banks of this lake was a temple, and it is one of the holiest places for the Sikhs. When we arrived in Ghangaria, we got surrounded by Sikhs. They made us visit their gurdwara, where we get tea, and they made us sit with them. We were also invited to dinner.
The next day we went to the Valley of Flowers. The best time to visit is during the summer when this space explodes in a riot of colors. The endemic species of wildflowers characterize it, many of which have medicinal properties. Among the best known are poppy, dwarf iris, anemones, primroses, geraniums, and orchids. In whose bushes live musk deer, blue sheep, snow leopard and some rare species of animals like the black bear.
During our stay in Rishikesh, we saw our first sunrise on the Ganges. We eat fresh fruits for breakfast every day. We get wrapped in blankets and drink chai on the terrace of our hostel and met great people. This region is the heart of India for backpackers, who come from the hectic life of the city below.
Coming down from the Himalayas, the Ganges here is completely different. It is clear, blue and beautiful, so clean that we can bathe. Rafting is one of the most common activities in Rishikesh. I have to book in the afternoon so we can watch the sunset as we descend the rapids. We drink our tea before the last descent.
The most famous city in India to do Yoga is definitely up to expectations. Everywhere you go you will see the posters of classes. There is the Parmarth Niketan Ashram and the Beatles Ashram. We take a spin around to admire the murals that graced the walls of this place. We enjoy the tranquility of this place.
And, it would be incorrect to not end the day without the street food. We go to the stand at the end of Laxman Jhula bridge on the shore to the east. The stalls in this area are a story in itself. There are long rows of stalls full of handmade jewelry by Tibetan refugees. There were works of Madhubani art, textiles, tapestries with sequins and more.
No matter which way you turn, you will see the Himalayas all around you. It is impossible to describe how wonderful it feels. We use a couple of hours of your time for a small hike near the waterfalls and see the green mountains that surround us.
Our downward journey continues to Haridwar at the foot of the Shivalik Hills. It hosts the largest pilgrimage in the world of the Kumbh Mela. The Kumbh Mela is a ritual pilgrimage, whose central element is the purifying bath. This is where the Ganges, begins its journey after the long journey from the Himalayas.
From here begins the pilgrimage that leads to Mount Kailash, known as the door to Paradise. With a long history behind it, Haridwar is one of the seven holy cities of India. The city is full of small and large religious buildings perched on the banks of the Ganges.
For Haridwar, there are five places of pilgrimage. There are the ghats of Har Ki Pauri and Kankhal. The Mansa Devi Temple is on a hill which offers a beautiful view. The Chandi Devi Temple and the Maya Devi Temple are some of the oldest in town.