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Chardham Yatra: My Journey from Mysticism to Pantheism

INDIA | Tuesday, 15 July 2014 | Views [1335]

When I was a kid, temples were nothing but the sources of tasty sweets. When I was in college, it was the best place for a safe date, but when I joined corporate, temples become hubs of rescue.

My mom used to express her wish to go for pilgrimage. When my grand mom was there, she did not let mom feel bored, as they would love to visit any religious destination no matter whether the place is attractive or not. Naturally since childhood, I visited most of the religious spots in India. That is why I used to think pilgrimage is nothing but offering flowers, bringing holy water, listening to the chants and finally getting some prasadam while coming back. I heard a lot about Chardham Yatra from my grand mom and last summer vacation I planned for a trip to the Chardham. But I was a bit confused as to which one is the real Chardham, as my friend told me that there are a variety of Chardham. So I researched and what I found is-

What is Chardham Yatra?

Basically, Chardham yatra refers to a pilgrimage tour that covers the sacred Hindu sites of Jaganath Puri, Rameshwaram, Dwarkadish and Badrinath in east, south, west and north regions of India. But when we talk about chardham yatra in Uttarakhand then it literally refers to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. The Chardham Yatra of Uttarakhand is commonly known as “Chhota Chardham” and I was about to visit Chhota Chardham only. The most awaited pilgrimage tour starts from April-May and lasts till October-November. The tour was started by the great Hindu saint Adi Shankaracharya and the circuit includes Vaishnava temple Badrinath, Shaivite temple Kedarnath, and two temples of sacred rivers of Ganga and Yamuna which are known as Gangotri and Yamunotri respectively. From mythology to geology, all these sites are highly praised for their exclusive natural wonders and salubrious weather.

The journey from Delhi to Rishikesh

Dehradun is the nearest airport to Rishikesh and regular train service is also available from Old Delhi as well as New Delhi Railway Station. By the way, I took a bus for Rishikesh, the gateway of Chardham, from Kashmiri Gate ISBT in New Delhi. It is approx 226 km from Delhi and takes around 7 hours to reach. Rishikesh is also the prominent hub of Yoga and meditation in India, and Ganga Arti at Triveni Ghaat is a sight to behold. I checked into a hotel and took rest for a while. In the evening, I went to Triveni Ghaat to have a glimpse of the famous aarti, and honestly speaking I was mesmerized by the view. I came back to my temporary abode without delay as I needed to start for Yamunotri early morning.

Morning at 6, the journey begins to Yamunotri…

Route: Rishikesh – Narendranagar – Chamba – Brahmkhal – Barkot – HanumanChatti – PhoolChatti – Jankichatti - Yamunotri

Located at a height of 3293 m above sea level, Yamunotri, my first halt, mesmerized me with its amazing natural view. I could recall the myth my grand mom used to say about Yamunotri.

According to Hindu religious scriptures the deity Yamuna (incarnation of Yamunotri) is the daughter of Sun God and the deity of death, Yama her elder brother. Once Yamaraj promised Yamuna on the day of Bhaidooj, that whosoever will take a dip in the holy water of Yamunotri will attain ‘moksha’ and will not face a painful death ever.Now, I was in the main temple, where I saw that the main temple of Yamunotri was built by Maharaja Pratap Shah of Tehri Garhwal where devotees from across the world visit to worship for six months in the summer. For rest of the year, the temple doors remain closed.

There are hot water springs like Gauri Kund, Surya Kund and Saptarishi Kund etc. Surya Kund contains boiling water of 190 degree Fahrenheit whereas Gauri Kund has warm water for bathing.

I took a bath in Gauri Kund and worshipped the Divya Shila (holy stone) before entering the main temple. In the sanctum sanctorum, I could find that the idol is made of black stone and the environment is calm and cool unlike other temples.

I had some rice packed in cloth which is supposed to be cooked in the boiling water of ‘hot water spring’. This is the prasadam of Yamunotri (as grandmom used to tell me).

Though my intention was only to worship Goddess Yamunotri, I could not stop reaching the main source of the river which is situated at a height of 4,421 m above sea level.

The trek from the temple to the main point is challenging and needs enough energy level. I needed to walk approx 1 km upward and what I could see was hard to believe. I could not believe that finally I could see the lake of frozen ice which waters the holy river day in and day out.

I was exhausted and came back to Jankichatti following the same trek. I booked a car to reach Barkot and spent the night in a camp.

Heading to Gangotri, the abode of serene Ganga…

Route: Barkot – Uttarkashi - Gangotri

Gangotri, the mythological land of Uttarakhand, has been always a matter of attraction for me. From Barkot, I needed to go via Uttarakashi where I spent one night to see the beguiling spots like Ekadash Rudra, Vishwanath, Gyaneshwar, Bhairav, and Kuteti Devi Temple. On the way to Uttarakashi, I paid my homage to Prakateshwar Cave, a natural limestone cave formed in the shape of a Shivlinga. I checked into the hotel and visited Biswanath Temple in the evening.

The next day when I started for Gangotri I was very excited. The legend of King Bhagirath was known to me and it says that King Bhagirath, the successor of King Sagar meditated many years on the bank of today’s Gangotri to absolve his forefathers’ sins by the holy water of Ganga. Being pleased with his prayer, Lord Brahma released deity Ganga out of his holy cattle and Ganga started coming down to earth with great force destroying the beauty of Earth. Then Lord Shiva spreading his unveiled hair enclosed her in his matted lock.

Now, it is a myth that I could hardly believe, but the significance of this myth proved to be true when I saw the idol of lord Shiva in mid-river as the water level was lower. The holy rock on which Bhagirath sat for years to bring the deity flowing on earth is still there.

The temple premise is certainly different from an artificial religious spot and one could easily feel the transcendental reality. After offering my homage to the central deity I was eager to visit Gaumukh, the source of Gangotri Glacier and I needed to trek for 19 km. The trek is again not that easy to access and a very limited numbers of devotees try to explore this destination.

The scenic beauty across the hike was out of the world and when I reached Gaumukh, I was bewitched by the natural ambiance of that frozen ice glacier. I was getting goose bumps, as I was feeling that it was entirely a different land. Mythology seemed to me real with each single step at this divine land. I could see the Shivling Mountain peak (6501m) standing with pride and myth was live in front of me. I closed my eyes as my soul was imbibed with tranquility.

Satiating my hungry eyes with beguiling sites, I came back to Uttarakashi in the afternoon.

My homage to Kedarnath where Myth reverberates…

Route: Uttarkashi – Guptkashi - Kedarnath

One of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva, Kedarnath is located at a height of 3581m above sea level in the Rudra Himalayan Range of Garhwal District. I started early morning for Guptkashi and needed to travel 223 km on car. The journey became pleasing seeing the sites of river Mandakini following us through this long journey. In the evening, I went to visit the local attractions and spent the night in a pre-booked hotel.

Now I was heading for Gaurikund. It was a 32km drive and 14km trek (after the devastation of 2013, the trek has become 21km long). The soil of this trek is craggy and the hike is steep enough. But, I reached at the temple premise without much trouble. This temple is believed to be originally constructed by the Pandavas of Mahabharata.

According to the mythology, after killing their cousins, the Kauravas, in the epic war Kurukshetra, Pandavas reached Shiva at this place for penance. Lord Shiva than disguised himself in the form of a bull and submerged under the earth. But Bheema, the strongest brother of the Pandavas could see his hump and thus his hump remained here. The temple is perched on a wide plateau surrounded by lofty snow packed mountain peaks which makes the sight astonishingly imposing.

In the 8th century A.D, Adi Shankaracharya built a new temple which stands beside the older one. The architectural beauty of this temple is totally different than what we find in the plains. The interior walls of this temple are adorned with stone carved images of idols which add to its uniqueness.

Mandakini River flows by the side of this mountain and it was reminding me of the myth that says Ganga flows from the matted lock of Mahadeva. The stress of trekking was almost gone and I was connecting the truth of the descriptions of ‘Chardham Yatra’ with reality. I was mesmerized and speechless as the destinations were turning to me as the best way to escape from bustling city life. I spent the night in a hotel of Kedarnath.

Badrinath calling…

Route: Kedarnath - Pipalkoti - Badrinath

In the morning I trekked down to Gaurikund from where I started trekking the previous day. Now my destination was Pipalkoti which is a 145 kms drive from Gaurikund. It was almost the last part of the day, and I checked into the hotel and had a deep slumber.

Next morning, my aim was to reach Badrinath, one of the four pillars of main Chardham Yatra. It is a motorable route and the main temple is located 3133 m above sea level. On the way to Badrinath, I found Narsingh Temple and Shankaracharya Samadhi standing with their beguiling stance.

Passing through this picturesque route, I finally reached the main temple premise. The location of this temple is truly exceptional as the Nilkantha Peak stands at its back. The central deity of this temple is Lord Vishnu who is seated in meditating posture. There is an impressive legend behind the discovery of this place.

Once Narada, the best devotee of Vishnu chided the lord for being engrossed in earthly pleasure. As a result, Vishnu came down to Badrinath to meditate. But Goddess Laxmi was very worried if her husband gets affected by the harmful sunrays, thus she transformed herself into a berry tree to give shade. Vishnu being happy with her concern promised her that the place would be known by her name only.

Moreover, according to an old belief, there were enormous berry trees (badari) in this place, from which the place got the name. The holy river Alakananda flows by this site and enhances its scenic beauty.

The most mystical part of this temple is the eternal lamp which is believed to be glowing since ancient times. Even when the door of the temple is kept closed for six months during winter it keeps glowing and the flower and flame remain untouched when the door is opened next time.

There are many other other important places to see in Badrinath like Mana Village, the last village of Indian Territory, Ganesh Cave, Vyas Cave, Bheem Pul and some more. There is a belief that Bheem Pul is the bridge through which the Pandavas went to heaven.

Badrinath to Rishikesh via Rudraprayag

My next halt was Rishikesh for which I needed to visit Rudraprayag. Physically I was tired like anything but my mind was yet roaming in a dream land. The route is 135 km long and took around 7 and half hours to reach Rudraprayag. I was not in the mood to roam anymore and took rest for the entire evening in my hotel cabin.

Next day I started for Rishikesh. The route passes through Devparayag where Alkananda and Bhagirathi meet each other and takes the name Ganga. I reached Rudraprayag by the afternoon and roamed around the ghats and Laxman Jhula temple. Spending the night in my former hotel, I started for Delhi at around 7 the next day morning.

Relating Myth with Reality

I was happy completing my most awaited Chardham Tour. I was stunned thinking about this 12 days long tour. My body was aching yet soul was flying to the foothills of Himalaya. I could feel the difference between leading a lavish life and a life of penance. I could see the people in all those divine spots are not at all demanding. They hardly complain about their living style. Detached from the mad rush of the city life, people here lead a very peaceful life.

I used to hear a lot about the life of the sages living in Himalayan Caves, now I could see them with my own eyes. The common men itself are the sages here. Mahadeva seemed to me nothing but the lofty mountain peaks of Himalaya from where Mandakini or Bhagirathi Ganga flows downwards to wash away the dirt of human life.

I could feel the significance of religious faith and why these rivers are worshipped. It is more practical than myth that Lord Badrinath is the saviour of human kind. The mountain ranges in this region are flourishing with a wide variety of medicinal plants and ponds and lakes containing various natural elements to treat incurable diseases. Moreover there are numbers of scientific and medicinal reasons behind completing this chardham tour, know those reasons here: http://www.chardham-tours.com/scientific-and-medicinal-reasons-to-visit-the-chardham-yatra/ . I could correlate the description of Kailash Parvat (the abode of Lord Shiva) and the divinity prevailing in each single Dham. I could realize the fact that scriptures do not teach us to live on a metaphysical world rather tell us to be practical and the Almighty is more natural than man-made.

Tags: badrinath, gangotri, kedarnath, rishikesh, rudraprayag, yamunotri


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