Chardhams set amid the snow-clad peaks of Uttarakhand attract thousands of pious pilgrims each year. Even passionate vacationers throng the region to drink its natural beauty to the lees. The religious destinations apart from having great spiritual importance also make great tourist attractions. So when it comes to visiting Chardhams, don’t forget its tourism value.
If you are the conscientious type and believe in fulfilling your sacred duty to undertake the char dham yatra, look beyond the scope of the pilgrimage. You would be missing out on a lot of wonderful scenic destinations if you went on a char dham yatra and ignore everything else.
Chardham of Uttarakhand
The Land of Gods
Uttarakhand is the land of Gods and the place for pilgrimages, be it the char Dham Yatra, the panch prayag yatra, the panch badri yatra, the panch kedar yatra, the Hemkunt Sahib Yatra, in addition to special places like the Patal Bhuvaneshwar, a cave shrine like nothing else on earth. However, Uttarakhand is famously known and visited for its char dhams comprising:
The starting point to the char Dham Yatra and also the source of the river Yamuna and home to the temple of Goddess Yamuna, Yamunotri is accessible by road, rail and air. Whatever method you choose, you arrive at Barkot and then go on to Hanuman Chatti from where you trek.
The second leg of the char Dham Yatra is a stop at Gangotri where the temple to Ganga Devi stands on the banks of the Bhagirathi River. It is about 100 Km from Uttarkashi with the closest point being Harsil from where you have to walk to the temple.
Kedarnath is home to the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the 12 jyotirlingas sites in India. Normally you reach Gaurikund from where you walk all the way to the temple, but roads may not be accessible so you may have to start from Sonprayag, a distance of 21 km.
Badrinath is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, located in Chamoli district at a height of 3415 meters.
You would need to spare at least a week for the char Dham Yatra. Even then it would be a rushed pilgrimage since you have to start early, reach the temple and then return to a location where you have hotel accommodation and then travel the next day to the succeeding dham. Except for what you see while traveling in your car or bus and on foot, there is very little you will know about the beauties of Uttarakhand. Therefore, if and when you do plan to go on a char Dham Yatra, plan on sparing a fortnight or more to take in the enchanting attractions of this land of Gods.
You could continue with the religious theme of your Yatra and visit Haridwar and Rishikesh, the Panch Prayags, Hemkund, Gangolihat, Jageshwar and Tungnath but after a while, the sameness will pall. Take a look at the beautiful side of Uttarakhand.
Beauties of Uttarakhand
For nature lovers Uttarakhand is a veritable paradise. If you love hill stations you can take your pick from the charming colonial Lansdowne and Mussoorie to the beautiful Kausani, the lovely Nainital and others including Almora, Ranikhet, Kanatal, Chamba and Pithorgarh. Mussoorie and Nainital may be crowded, but Kausani and Almora are better, a bit more remote and certainly more pristine.
If wildlife is what interests you then there is the Jim Corbett Park, located near Nainital and home to over 488 different wildlife species. Corbett Park is tiger country and you can go on a safari or walk along trails in the forest, a paradise for photographers.
Valley of Flowers
The prize for being the most beautiful spot undoubtedly goes to the Valley of Flowers. Part of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, the Valley covers 87.5 sq. km and is home to over 500 species of flora. Visit the valley in early July to really know the creative powers of God as the magnificent valley stretches for miles like a multi hued carpet and the air is fragrant with the scent of flowers in full bloom.
There are places of scenic beauty like Chopta, Chamoli and Auli that rival even the better known destinations in other States. Spend a day at any of these places and you will find yourself in a fair tale land of enchantment, well worth the trouble.
For the hardy, Uttarakhand also poses a challenge. You can go white water rafting in Rishikesh, climb the steep and craggy mountain sides or go trekking to the formidable glacier sites of Gangotri glacier, Sunderdhunga Glacier, the famous Pindari Glacier or the Bunder Poonch Glacier.
Rishikesh, if you do not already know it, is home to dozens of Ashrams and if you wish, you can visit one and receive yoga instructions.
What you have to keep in mind is that the terrain is mountainous and it takes quite some time to travel a short distance of even 100 to 200 kms. Spare plenty of time and you can really get to know Uttarakhand, taking a detour from your Chardham Yatra or after completing it.