Chardham refers to the four abodes of the deities situated in the Himalayas, in the Uttarakhand namely, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. There are many big and artistic temples with large prakarams and magnificent gopurams in South India. Then what is so special about this Chardham? The importance lies in their location, the Himalayas, the abode of Lord Shiva himself. Surrounded by lofty snowclad mountains and lively rivers, these holy shrines attract lakhs of pilgrims from around the world, every year.
Eleven of us, relatives and family friends, formed a group from Chennai, with six ladies above age 60, and five men above the age of 68. The reader needs to know about the author’s physical conditions with which she has undertaken the yatra. I have osteoarthritis due to which there is pain in the knees, ankles, back and shoulders. The movement of left hand and shoulder is restricted to fifty percent. While climbing up and down, the pain in the knees shoots up, and every action takes twice what it takes a healthy individual. All the eleven in this group had one ailment or another.
I am saying all this upfront, for the readers to grasp that these pilgrim ‘elders’ with different health issues have successfully completed this Chardham yatra; therefore, surely anybody can undertake this yatra.
Our yatra was for 13 days, from 8th to 20th October 2022. On 8th morning, the eleven of us started from Chennai to Delhi by 10 a.m. flight. We reached Delhi around 1.30 p.m. from where we were picked up by our yatra guide Mr. Hari. Six more devotees joined us at Delhi, all of them happened to be from Tamil Nadu. Three among them are less than 50 years. With our guide, his assistant, two cooks, driver and his assistant, 23 of us proceeded to Haridwar where we halted for the night.
On the 9th, coffee was served at 3.30 a.m. Every day one hour before start, coffee was served. Regardless of what time we started, the cooks prepared the food which we carried with us on the journey. The food was simple but stomach-friendly, and was served in a suitable place, where water facilities are available. So, on the food front, we were comfortable.
9th – DEVAPRAYAG
We reached Devaprayag around 7.30 a.m. to be met by a beautiful sight. Devaprayag is the confluence of the greenish blue river Bhaagirathi and brownish river Alakananda. We all bathed in the river and the men performed tarpanam at the river bank with the help of the pandit arranged by our guide. After this we visited the Sri Ramar temple.
Devaprayag (courtesy: Internet)
I was stunned to see 60 to 65 steep steps. Back home, even climbing a staircase of ten steps used to be too difficult for me. I was advised not to venture climbing and damage my knees. But I could not stay back. My mind told me that after coming so far, I should not go without seeing the Lord. I may or may not get a second chance. I started climbing holding the side rails with one hand and chanting at every step
श्री राम राम रामेति रमे रामे मनोरमे । सहस्रनाम तत् तुल्यं रामनाम वरानने ॥
“Sri rama rama rameti rame raame manorame
It was a small but beautiful temple. Surprisingly I saw a board with Tamil verses written on it. The deity there was Sri Raghunath. and has been glorified by the Azhwars as Kandam Ennum Kadinagaram, another name for Dev-Prayag. This is one of the 108 Divyadesams – the Lakshmi-Vishnu temples mentioned in the works of the Azhwars.
10th – BADRINATH
After coming down we boarded the bus and proceeded to Pipalkoti, the base for Badrinath and halted for the night.
We started at 4,30 am. Every day, when the journey would begin, all of us chanted slokas like Vishnu sahasranaamam, Lalita sahasranaamam, Thotakaashtakam, Iyappastotram etc. On the way we visited Yoga Badrinath temple. It is similar to the Badrinath temple. It was a nice experience walking down the steps and visiting the temple in the rains. This is situated at the entrance of Gandhamadana mountains. This is the sacred place where upon the prayers of the ardent devotee Prahlada, Bhagawan Sri Narasimha gave up His virulent form and appeared before the young Prahlada assuming His gentle form. This is also the place where Sri Adi Jagadguru Shankaracharya enshrined and worshipped Lord Narasimha. The Badrinath yatra is regarded as successful only after the visit to the Lord Narasimha in nearby Joshimath here.
After Yogi Badrinath, we reached Badrinath. Of the 108 divyadesams, three are in the North of India. The Badrinarayan temple is the second, located in the Chamoli district in Uttarakhand at a height of 3133 meters. Here divinity and serenity of nature go hand in hand, the peak of Neelkanth standing behind with its mighty aura. The snowy mountain peaks, flowing Alakananda river and incredible landscape create a perfect background for the temple. This shrine is said to be established by Sri Adi Shankaracharya, who found a Saligram idol of Lord Badri in the waters of the Alkananda and installed it in a cave near Tapta Kund. In the 16th century, a Garhwal king erected a temple. What we see today is a restored temple.
On the banks of Alakananda, is a place named Brahmakapalam – a flat platform, where libations are offered to deceased ancestors. The men performed tarpanam (rituals) and offered rice balls with mantras (assisted by pandits), to all their ancestors. Then we joined the queue and had darshan of the deities Kali, Uddhava, Badrinath, Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and some utsava murthis. On the right side of the steps there is a shrine of Adi Kedarnath. At the banks of the river there are hot water ponds (kunds), where people take holy bath.
Then we visited the Maana village (called the anthim gaav), which is on the Indian-Tibetan border, known for its indigenously made woolen garments. .We climbed through a steep path and reached the flowing Sarasvati River. Only here she is visible for a few meters, after which, she goes invisible. We will soon see why!
Across this river is the Bheem Pul, which is said to be a single rock placed by Bheema to enable Draupadi cross the Sarasvati. Then comes the Vyasa Gufa, followed by the Ganesa Gufa. Legend says, that it was here that Sage Vyasa dictated the story of the Mahabharata for the first time, to Lord Ganesha who was his scribe. When Lord Ganesha’s writing tool broke, in order to write without stopping (as was the precondition to being Vyasa’s scribe), Ganesha broke his tusk, and used it as his writing tool. Also that, being disturbed by the roaring sound of river Sarasvati, He asked her to go invisible, which Sarasvati obeyed. Thus, the river Sarasvati is visible only here.
We reached the Badrinath temple, and each of us participated in the archana services in the sannidhi . We sat there until the sahasranama archana and parayanam were completed. We stayed the night at Badri, preparing for the next leg of our yatra.
Legends heard from locals: There are various little stories about this place. It is believed that Shiva and Parvati were once residing in this kshetra. Lord Vishnu wanting to do tapas here, appeared before Parvati as a crying child. The caring, compassionate Parvati took him to her home, and put him to sleep. After that, Shiva and Parvati went out. When they came back they saw Vishnu in his full form who wanted to reside in that very place and do penance. So Shiva and Parvati offered the place to Vishnu and left for Kedarnath. Lakshmi stood as a Badari tree under which Vishnu did the penance. Hence, he is called Badari Vishal and Badrinath.
Another such legend is about Lord Vishnu taking a vow to perform a puja of Lord Shiva, using 1008 lotuses. When Vishnu had found 1007 lotuses and the 1008th remained to be found, he plucked out his kamala-netram (eye in the form of lotus) and offered it in the pooja to complete the vrata. This passion pleased Lord Shiva who offered the chakra to Vishnu.
Yet another such legend concerns two mountains in Badrinath, the Nala Parvat and the Narayana Parvat, between which flows the river Alakananda. It is said that the two mountains are coming closer to each other slowly and when they collide Kaliyuga will end.
We started after breakfast from Badrinath on 11th, after admiring the amazing snowclad mountains behind our hotel – silvery on one side, and golden on the other side reflecting the sunlight. We visited the Jyotir mutt (Joshi mutt) where we worshipped Adi Shankara, and also worshipped at Bavishyat Kedar, Kalpaka Vruksha, Mata Annapoorna devi and Sphatika lingam.
Kalpaka tree, Jyotir mutt
We chanted Thotakaashtakam, listened to Svamiji’s bhaashanam, received prasadam and left. This Jyotir mutt is one of the four mutts established by Adi Sankara and is called the Uttaraamnaaya mutt, coming under the Thotakaacaarya parampara. (Kanchi Mutt is the Moolamnaya Mutt where Adi Shankaracharya stayed at the end and dropped his mortal frame).On the way we saw Vishnu prayag and Nandaprayag. That night we halted at Rudraprayag.
We reached GuptaKashi, one of the five Kashis, namely Varanasi, Gupta Kashi, UttaraKashi, TenKashi and VruddhaKashi. Here there are two perennial streams (flowing all the 24 hours and all 365 days), one flowing from river Ganga from Gomukh and the other from river Yamuna from Gajamukh. They fall into Manikarnika kund. There are four pools namely, Rudra Kund, Brahma Kund, Vishnu Kund and Sarasvati Kund. We all did Saumaangalya puja with the help of a pandit arranged by our guide and offered blouse pieces, turmeric, kumkum, prasadam and daanam. Here, there are the sannidhis of Kashi Visvanath and Ardhanaareesvar.
In the afternoon we visited Triyuginarayan temple. These roads were very narrow with hairpin bends, such that when two mini buses cross, we could see hardly 4 to 6 inches in between them. In our journey most of the roads were like this. In this temple, it is believed, the divine wedding of Shiva and Parvati took place and the homa kundam is still alive.
Sarasvati kshetra, Sarasvati river, Mana village
We were allowed to offer puja and firewood in the homakundam. It is said that the Narayana temple has been in existence for the past three yugas. Reaching Tilvara, the base of Kedarnath, we halted there.
14th – KEDARNATH
We took a 10 minute flight by helicopter to Kedar. We had to shift the hotel room to Sitapur and halted at Sitapur. The view of the mountains and river from the helicopter was astonishing. By evening we all reached Kedarnath.
Kedar Gopuram and Bhagavan
Kedar is located in the Garhwal Himalayas, near Chorabai Glacier which is the source of the Mandakini River. Kedar is at an altitude of 3580 meters. The temple structure has an exquisite architecture and is built with large grey stone slabs. Here Lord Shiva is worshipped in his ‘SadaShiva’ form. The Kedarnath Mountain and the Kedar Dome and other gigantic Himalayan peaks stand behind the temple. In the morning twilight these snowclad peaks are a grand treat to the eyes.
It was quite chill; we joined the queue for the darshan. When we entered the premises of the temple we could see the gopuram. In the night light of different colours, the vision of the gopuram was amazing. Seeing its beauty and divinity, I forgot about the chill and with my eyes fixed on the gopuram, I filled my mind with its charming beauty. After a few minutes we had the darshan of Lord Kedarnath from a distance of about 30 meters. It appeared like a lingam decorated with flowers.
We went back to the temple at night for darshan again, around 9.30 p.m. The temperature was minus 40 C and we were shivering with cold even with three or four layers of warm clothes. But once we entered the temple prakaram, chillness was not felt. On the walls there were majestic idols of Krishna and of the Pandavas: Yudhishthra, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva, and mother Kunti and Draupadi; there was also a well-decorated Lakshmi Narayana. With the help of the pandit arranged by our guide, we were seated around the shila of Lord Kedarnath in the garbhagraha. Now surprisingly, we saw the idol of the Lord as a Meru and we were allowed to perform archana and abhishekam with the items we took with us such as vibhuthi, chandan, ghee, honey, gangajal etc.with our own hands. In the end we were allowed to touch and do aalingan (embracing) of the deity. I felt as if I actually reached Kailasam, the abode of Lord Shiva. We all were elated and blessed to have such darshan and be able to worship the Lord Kedarnath with our own hands. The experience was unforgettable. In the North Indian temples, tradition allows devotees to touch the idol of the deity. While coming out, on the left we had the darshan of Mata Parvati. We visited the mighty Shankara statue recently erected behind the temple. Then we saw the Bheem shila, which rolled down, stopped behind the temple and protected the temple from the floods in 2006. We collected the holy water from the Amrut Kund and returned to our rooms after midnight.
Legend : The Pandavas after winning the Mahabharata war, felt guilty about killing so many people, including their kith and kin. They wanted to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva for redemption. Lord Shiva eluded them repeatedly and hid himself in the form of a bull. The Lord plunged into the ground leaving his hump on the surface at Kedarnath. The other parts of Lord Shiva can be seen at four other places. The arms of Lord Shiva appeared at Tungnath, His face at Rudranath, His belly at Mad Maheshwar and His locks at Kalpeshwar. Kedarnath and these four shrines together make the ‘Panca Kedar pilgrimage’.
15th: We started at 5 am and reached the helipad around 5.45 am. Our group of six could reach the base around 8.30 am. But the others are delayed and the last one reached around 1 pm. Lunch was served and we boarded the bus and reached UttarKashi (one of the five Kashis) and halted there at night.
UttarKashi Madir, Joshiyara Jhula
16th : we reached Gangotri Dham. Gangotri is located at a height of 3100 meters on the Himalayan range in Uttarkashi district in Uttarakhand. Ganga originates from Gangotri glacier at Gaumukh which is 18 km from Gangotri. At Gangotri, we did Ganga puja with the help of a pandit and visited the Ganga Devi temple. In the Shiva sannidhi the idols of Parvati, Ganesha, Kartikeya and Nandi are placed around Lord Shiva. Below there is a small temple of Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. We saw the Bhagiratha shila and returned to our hotel.
Legend : King Sagara, the great grandfather of King Bhagiratha, started Ashvamedha yajna and for this purpose he sent a horse to move around all the kingdoms as a mark of his victory. Indra, with a fear of losing his throne, took away the horse and tied it in the ashram of Kapila Rishi. The 60000 sons of Sagara, who came in search of the Yajna-horse, found it in the ashram of Kapila Rishi, and accused the rishi of stealing it. In the process they disrupted the Rishi’s meditation, and angry over this, the Rishi reduced all the Saagaras to ashes.
Penitent over his anger, the Rishi said that the souls of the brothers would attain moksha only when the Akasaganga’s water washes over their ashes. Bhagiratha performed severe penance for more than a thousand years propitiating Ganga, who then said that her force would be impossible to be sustained and asked him to get the help of Lord Shiva who alone could help. Lord Shiva received the falling Akasaganga in his locks and thus the flow was slowed and the waters washed over the ashes of the 60000 Sagaras, and they all attained moksha. The stone on which Bhagiratha was believed to have done tapas is known as Bhagiratha Shila and it is near the Gangotri temple.
Gangotri gets its name from this story of the descent of the Gangā : Ganga + utari i.e. Ganga descended here, so this place is called Gangotri. And as Bhagiratha brought this to Earth the river is called Bhaagirathi.
17th: The next morning we visited the Visvanatha temple at UttarKashi. Here Sakti is in the form of a gigantic Trident (Shoolam). One feature of this trident is that it cannot be moved with any amount of force, but if touched at one spot, it vibrates! There are sannidhis of Shaneeshvar and Hanumān as well at this temple. The river Bhagirathi flows here and a bridge called Joshiyara Jhula is seen. We reached Karaadi, the base to Yamunotri in the afternoon. In the evening we went by foot to the Yamuna River and spent some time in the river water. Our night halt was at Karaadi.
18th: We started at 4.15 am, reached Janaki Chatti – the base from where ponies and dolies (palanquins or palki) start towards Yamunotri. Fourteen of us took a doli each (a chair carried by 4 men) and three trekked the 6 kms. Where it was too steep, we walked. We reached Yamunotri around 9.30 am.
Yamunotri (courtesy: Internet)
While on the doli it was very chill in the open air, but the scenery around was very beautiful with lofty mountains all round, silvery falls flowing down and the roaring Yamuna water coming along with us. Yamunotri is located at a height of 3293 meters, lodged in a narrow gorge, close to the source of Yamuna River. Reaching the temple we performed Yamuna-puja, had darshan of Yamuna devi (dark idol) and Ganga devi (white idol). There is a tapta kund (hot water spring) where rice is boiled and given as prasad. A few steps below was a Ram darbar temple where well decorated beautiful idols of Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman blessed us.
We reached Janakichatti around 11 a.m. and returned to Karaadi and halted there for the night.
19th: We started around 4.15 am and reached Rishikesh around 12 noon. We visited Shivananda Ashram, climbing a lot of steps. Then crossed the Ganga river by boat, visited the Sri Rama temple, Baba Kali Kamli Wale Ashram (he was always wrapped in a black shawl, hence his name) and Gita bhavan, walked through the Lakshman Jhula, and proceeded to Haridwar In the evening, where we saw the famous Ganga Aarti darshan. We halted at Haridwar.
Ganga Aarti, Haridwar
20th: On the 20th morning on the outskirts of Haridwar we had Ganga-snan at Maharaja Ugrasen Ghat, then visited Mayadevi temple. Mayadevi is the kshetra deity. Along with Mayadevi there are deities of Chandi Devi, Kali Devi, Kamaakhyaa Devi and Tara Devi. There is also a Dattatreya sannidhi.
Legend: When Daksha Prajapati performed a yajna, without inviting Shiva, his son-in-law, his daughter Daakshaayani (Sati) quarreled with him and jumped in to the Yaga-fire to end her life. Agitated Shiva destroyed the yagnashala, and left, carrying Sati on his shoulder, wandering everywhere. It is said that wherever He wandered, a part of Sati’s body fell. These 51 places are regarded as Shakti peethams. Her heart fell at Mayapuri. Haridwar’s earlier name was Mayapuri and Devi Mahalakshmi was residing here. When Mayapuri turned in to a Shaktipeetham, Mayadevi would protect the city and hence Lakshmi made a ‘dvar’ to’ Hariloka’ and thus it is known as Haridwar.
Back at our lodgings, we were served samaradhana lunch, and after honoring our guide Hari ji and the team we proceeded to Delhi, and boarded our flight to Chennai.
There were times during this trip when I regretted my physical condition and cursed myself for not being able to walk fast like others. Then I pacified myself thinking that someone was not able to manage hunger and simple food, somebody was not able to manage with a little sleep. But Bhagavan has given me enough will power to endure body pains, manage hunger and less hours of sleep. If Bhagavan does not give one strength, He compensates it with something else. When co-travelers would stop for some shopping, I would continue walking with the guide and manage my slow pace. When this trip began, I had imagined that I might be able to see at least 80 percent of the places. But by Bhagavan’s Grace I was blessed enough to cover all the places. All of us are fortunate to complete this yatra as expected.
Badrinath and Kedarnath temples are open only for about 6 months. Everyone must try to visit the temples in the Himalayan ranges not only for the darshan of the deities but also for enjoying the serene beauty of the nature with snow clad mountains and rivers which are our nation’s unparalleled wealth. Holy shrines built in such a natural surrounding cannot be found anywhere else. A person/ couple need not wait for relatives or friends to accompany them thinking that help may be good to have at hand. The Lord sends help somehow; this has been the experience of everyone. If the 13 of us, mostly above the age of sixty, could manage, enjoy and successfully complete such a nice Chardham yatra, then anyone can do it. Ideally, no one should miss visiting these glorious places.