Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Char Dham Yatra - An Overview

(Summer approaching, domestic and overseas tourists, who are planning or already booked for their Char Dham Yatra for May/June, will find this blog useful. Only important info has been compiled, so it serves as a quick guide.)

Char Dham* (Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, Yamunotri)Yatra, offers the best possible opportunity to visit the finest and famous Garhwal Himalayan shrines by the devout as well as the laymen. Apart from Shrines, the chance to view Himalayas from close proximity is luring. Having done it two times, once in 1985 / 86 (Do Dham at a time) and then again in the year 2006, I found that the charm has not diminished a bit.

Following info will be immensely helpful for the first timers planning to undertake Char Dham Yatra.

1. Travel Package / Own Itinerary
a) The easiest way is booking an online travel package from a travel website. There are too many of them vying with each other to lure you. Personally speaking I preferred Garhwal Mandal Vikas Mandal Limited, a Uttarakhand Government Undertaking, with their head office located in Rishikesh. They have a website , which gives a detailed itinerary and starting dates. One can select the dates and types of package (ordinary or deluxe) and make payment online. Normally one reaches Rishikesh earlier night (stay at no extra cost) so that next day there is no delay to start the Yatra. There are also packages for tourists who want to board from Delhi. Advantage of taking gmvnl package is that, the best accommodations at Garhwal are owned by them. The duration of the Yatra is 10 to 11 days.

b) Taxi service from Hardwar and Rishikesh is available for a small group of 4 to large group of 10 members. As a thumb rule small vehicle like Maruti Alto charges are Rs.2000 to Rs. 2200/- per day and large vehicles like Sumo/Qualis charge Rs. 2800/- per day. 

2. Timing: The tourist season for Char Dham Yatra is from May to September. The temple opening dates for Badrinath and Kedarnath are available from website . Normally temples open between 1st May to 15th May.  Better to take earliest possible date to get hold of good accommodation on Yatra route. The first batch of gmvnl Yatra leaves from Rishikesh around 15th May.

3. Things to carry: One needs to carry in addition to normal accessories, woolens, jackets, thermals and other warm clothing. Kedarnath can be really chilly any time of the year. A heated room is almost non – existent in the Yatra. A torch light is a must - the electricity can be erratic.

4. Food: Normally vegetarian food is available at all the destinations. For breakfast one has to do with Aloo Parathas or Maggie noodles. In hills nobody understands noodles but asking for Maggie will get you noodles.  At Badrinath one should not miss taking meals at Shri Saradeshwari Restaurant. They serve a variety of food including North Indian and South Indian varieties. At Kedarnath breakfast snacks are good at Kedar Mishtan, a sweetmeat shop. At Gangotri there is a big restaurant serving a variety of cuisine including South Indian stuff. However, I cannot recollect the name. At Yamunotri, there is nothing much to choose from. At Uttarkashi best restaurant is Bhandaris. It is air-cooled, comfortable and food is good. 

5. Trekking en-route:  The Char Dham Yatra which includes Gaumukh throws in has some 72 km of trek route where vehicles will not ply.

a) Kedarnath 14 km trek starts from Gaurikund. The entire trek route is stone paved. The gradient is steep but doable in around 7 – 8 hours with plenty of short breaks. There are many dhabas (eateries), to seat and rest or have some snacks and meals. At Gaurikund, one can buy poncho (cheap raincoat) for Rs.10/- and a bamboo walking stick for Rs. 10/-. Both will come handy. For those who do not want to foot it out, there are ponies, palkis (palanquins borne by four persons) and kandis (baskets for carrying children and old people) and pittoos (porters) carrying luggage. The rates change every season. The Uttarakhand Govt. rates indicating sign boards are at the starting point but haggling for price is common. If one starts on foot and enroute wants to engage a pony, the prices are higher.

b) Yamunotri Trek is 5 km and it starts from Janki-chatti. The gradient is steep, but being of short stretch is doable in 3 hours with a few short breaks. Here again a bamboo walking stick is useful. For those who do not want to foot it out, there are ponies, palkis and kandis.

c) Gaumukh trek is 18 km and it starts from Gangotri. After completing the trek, one retraces the path to Bhojwasa which is 14 km from Gangotri. After spending one night there, the next day’s trek is back to Gangotri. The trek is more or less on even elevation and is doable. There are ponies available from Gangotri up to 2 km before Gaumukh. The last 2 km has to be footed. No palkis or kandis were observed in this route. In early summer mid May, there was only one dhaba serving mineral water, beverages and biscuits. It is better to carry water and snacks during trekking. Hiring a pittoo (porter) and handing  over the back pack makes one comfortable.

Gaumukh is a restricted area because of environment preservation. An entry permit is a must. In a package tour, the entry permit is arranged by tour operator. Those who are having a private trip to Gaumukh need to obtain the permission from following authorities.
1)  Presently the number of visitors to Gaumukh is limited. Permits can be obtained from following offices:
a) Chief Wildlife Warden, Dehradun ( tel: 0135-2644691)
b) Director, Gangotri National Park, Uttarkashi (tel: 01374-223693 )
c) At Gangotri, if the quota of 150 persons per day has not been exhausted).

The fee for Indians is Rs. 150 for first two days and Rs. 50/- for per day per person thereafter. Permit is issued only for the first two days. Additional amount is charged on your way back at the gate of the Gangotri National Park. The fee for foreign national is Rs.600/- for first two days and Rs. 250/- per day, per person thereafter. In case of package tours offered by travel companies; they will arrange the permit for you.

6. Important places one passes through in this Yatra: Deoprayag, Rudraprayag, Joshimath, Vishnuprayag, Tehri Dam. Tehri Dam on river Bhagirathi at Uttarkashi is a spectacle, as seen from bus. View from car will not be as good because one is seated in a lower elevation. On a clear day, the sunrise view on Mt. Neelkanth at Badrinath at 5 am in the morning is a spectacle. 

7. Darshan, Puja Aarti Timings: One can get the info on timings after reaching the Dhams. At Badrinath, there are special pujas or religious activities for which one has to book tickets in advance, since a limited number of people are allowed. There are general darshan timings, when one has to stand in queue. The entire queue formation is in a shaded area, to get the protection in case of rain. 

At Kedarnath only general darshan is there for the devotees who queue up in early morning and other allotted times. At Gangotri, evening Aarti around 6 pm is attended by a lare number of people. At Yamunotri, one can have a darshan as soon as one reaches there, spend some time and resume their return trek to Jank-chatti.

Char Dham Yatra visuals can be accessed from following link:

Char Dham Yatra - Uttarakhand