It was 5 years back that I first went to the Chardham Yatra. It was a very very memorable experience. I can still feel that chill and whiteness of the Himalayan mountains that I was seeing for the first time. After the Yatra, I thought I should visit these places every year. But it took 5 years for me to come here again. Of course the devastating floods of 2013 made it difficult to think of the Yatra.
Our Yoga Vedanta course in Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh was completed just a week before the Chardham Yatra begins. So I felt I can complete the Yatra before I go back to Bangalore. In that one week, we could cover Vaishnodevi, Mathura and Vrindavan. One of the main reasons that I wanted to go to Chardham was that during the last visit I had missed going to Gomukh, the birthplace of mother Ganga. That was always in my heart. I was feeling very incomplete. If not for Gomukh, I might not have gone for Chardham Yatra this time.
We started our journey towards Yamunotri on 8th of May from Haridwar. 9th May was the opening date of the Yatra. 8th, still being the penultimate day for the start of the Yatra season, the Uttarkhand Govt and even the Private operators hadn’t started their direct services to Yamunotri. So first we went to Darasu bend and from there took another Bus to Bhadkot and from there to Janakichatti, which is the base camp for the Yamunotri Yatris. It shall be noted that three operators provide bus service in Uttarkhand viz, the Govt, the GMTC and TGMTC. You can try one or the other. The bus fares are very much identical. The Chardham Yatra of Uttarakhand is traditionally in the sequence of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. Last time we had to alter the plan because of landslide. It was Kedarnath – Badarinath – Yamunotri and Gangotri then. This time we followed the tradition. You can do the Chardham Yatra from the day of Akshaya Triteeya which usually falls in the month of May till September. Kindly consult Uttarakhand travel website for the specific dates if you are planning to go during September.
It was myself, Vishudha who was one of my roommates in the course, and Bineesh who was our batchmate who undertook this Yatra as a group. In the Bus we met Ravi and Srinivas, two guys from Andhra Pradesh but who could speak a bit of Kannada. These two were almost with us till the end of the Yatra.
It was quite apparent on our way that the Uttarakhand Government had put in lot of effort to improve the roads after those devastating floods. Even the Janakichatti seemed to have more buildings than before. But it was very difficult to get lodging. Even after trying for 2 hours continuously, we didn’t get any room. The two options we had were too bad and too expensive. It was because there was a Ram Katha program going on in Yamunotri. The organizers of the program and the government officials, without even scant consideration for the Yatris had booked the entire Lodging facility of Yamunotri for those who came to attend the Katha. I had to express my disappointment with those officials the next day. As a last resort, we sought accommodation with Katha organizers themselves but they were not yielding. I got furious and told them that they are not supposed to book all the lodges. If they do that what about the Yatris who come from far off places. Then they budged a bit and told us that they will give any accommodation that is available with them. They gave us a slip and also took us to their Katha place. There we had a very sumptuous meal. But we didn’t get lodging. All tents were occupied. Finally, we took blankets from the organizers and slept at the Katha pandal itself. We had a pretty good sleep.
The next morning we started for Yamunotri. It is always a fabulous sight to behold the Himalayas early in the morning. The Trek to Yamunotri is about 7KMs. It is not much difficult but can be tiring at times. It feels steep at places. We reached in about 3 hours. Since we couldn’t take bath at the place where we stayed, we had to take bath in the icy cold Yamuna river. At that time I forgot that there is a hot water spring at Yamunotri temple. Even the last time, I think we missed taking bath there, for we had taken bath before we started that time. It appeared next to impossible to take bath in such a cold water. The feet used to feel frozen the moment it was kept on water. Suddenly I found 2-3 young guys taking comfortable bath using a water jug. I was quite surprised. I asked them half jokingly whether the water there is Hot. They nodded their head in ascent. I made my way there and found that the hot water pipe that connected to the pond had a leak there. Ah! I just told the Yamuna river, “O Mother you are indeed compassionate”
After the bath, we proceeded towards the temple. It was a huge crowd over there since it was the opening day. It took us close to 4 hours to have the darshan of mother. Since it looked like it may start raining, we decided to move fast. But we were not to escape rain and had to stop at places before we reached the base camp. But I wasn’t really complaining of rain as I got to taste hailstones after about 2 decades! It was very nice. I was very hungry by the time I reached down. 5 of us were in 5 different places. I took a Maggi Noodles from a shop. The owner was a nice man. He told me, “Sir, I will give you very tasty Noodles. You should remember me even after going home”. Yes! I do remember him.
After reaching the base camp, I knew we won’t get accommodation this day also. After having a word with the officials about the lodging, we decided to start from there somehow. All the buses had gone. Only the tourist vehicles were to go that time and they wouldn’t prefer strangers. But somehow by God’s grace, there was one Tourist Bus where the conductor was ready to take us. We paid the same bus charge to that person and reached Bhadkot around 11:00PM. There we got accommodation at the same place where the Tourists in the bus were staying. The facilities were not great. But one thing about traveling in pilgrimage places is that we should always be ready for the worst. It was not exactly worst but wasn’t anywhere near comfortable. But fine! It is a matter of just 5 hours.
The next day we started for Gangotri. We got a shared Taxi from Bhadkot to Uttarkashi. There we had our lunch in a Janta Thali Hotel. We got a fabulous lunch for 50 rupees. Oh! It is so difficult to get decent food during North India travel. We were very happy to have a good meal here. From here we took another Shared Taxi to Gangotri. A young fellow by name Abhay joined us. He had just finished his +2. In fact 6 of us hired a full Taxi and agreed to pay him the amount for 10. In Uttarkashi we visited the famous Shiva temple.
The route from Uttarkashi to Gangori is very beautiful. You can pay thousands of rupees just to travel in this road. So beautiful! Hills, the Ganges, the greenery, beautiful landscape! Oh! It’s just amazing. We traveled in this road for a good 5 hours and reached Gangotri in the evening. Getting lodging wasn’t so difficult here. But something inside me was not letting me to take any lodge and consequently we ended up in one Krishna Ashram near the Gangotri Temple. But the authorities were not willing to give us the room. There I saw two monks, who looked like the monks of the Ramakrishna Order. But I wasn’t sure since they had covered their entire face to avoid cold. But one Swami whom I had met couple of times recognized me. He is Swami Paramasukhanandaji. He is such a great soul. He does so much service. He spoke to the Ashram authorities and got us the room. The Ashram has a nice Krishna temple. The other Swami was Swami Sumedhanandaji whom I met for the first time. This Swami is an accomplished singer and we did nice Bhajans here. The Ashram food was very nice. Also met two nuns here. The Swami in charge made us a huge favor by making it easy to get permission to go to Gomukh. We also got a guide. Now I was certain that God will take us to Gomukh.
The next day was Adi Shankaracharya Jayanthi. So we spent quite a bit of time doing chanting in the temple. We also had to make some purchases. So instead of starting at 6:30AM, we had to start at 10:30AM. The Gomukh trek is about 20KM from Gangotri. There is one base camp at Bhojwasa which is 5KM from Gomukh. Our initial plan was to visit Gomukh on the same day and return to Bhojwasa by evening and return to Gangotri on the next day. But one of our team members was too exhausted by the time we reached Bhojwasa itself. So we dropped the Gomukh plans for the day and stayed at Bhojwasa. In Bhojwasa there are 3 options to stay. One is in the Government run camps, the other is one Ashrama which is now primarily a lodge and third one is indeed an Ashram where a Baba stays alone. But he would only take those who can’t afford to pay in the other two places of lodging. We stayed at the ‘lodge’. Bhojwasa is beautiful. It was such a grand sight sitting to next to the Ganges and looking at those tall white mountains. We also met the Babaji who stayed in the other Ashrama and spoke to him.
Next day morning, out of our Team of 6, two people dropped their idea of coming to Gomukh, one of them being too exhausted and with all confidence gone. When we reached Gomukh, it was such a joyous feeling! We stayed there for about 2 hours and started our way back to Gangotri which we reached in evening. So a long time dream had come true! Read the Gomukh blog here
For anyone traveling to Chardham, I strongly suggest to visit Gomukh. It is an extraordinary place. I don’t know why people are so scared to go to Gomukh. It wasn’t that tough a journey.
After returning from Gomukh, we had the darshan of mother Ganga in Gangotri. We stayed in the same Sri Krishna Ashrama and started the next day. There is a hot water spring in the foothills of Gangotri. We took bath there on our way back. Here also we hired the full Taxi to Uttarakashi. If you are going by Bus, reserve your tickets on the previous day itself. Buses start very early in the morning. From Gangotri, our next destination was Lord Kedarnath. I absolutely love this place. But the journey to Kedarnath from Gangotri is slightly longer. From Uttarkashi we went to Srinagar and stayed there in a hotel for the night. From Srinagar we took a bus to Rudraprayag on the next day. From Rudraprayag we took a shared taxi and came to the base camp for Kedarnath. Unfortunately due to heavy and unanticipated crowd, we weren’t allowed to start for Kedarnath in the afternoon. We took our lunch in the base camp and waited till evening for the permission. The actual trek to Kedarnath starts from Gauri Kund which is about 5KM from the current base camp. Taxis were available for Gauri Kund but there was such a heavy rush that it felt suffocating to travel in those Taxis. We decided to walk. It started to rain on the way but we reached Gaurikund comfortably by evening. Here also it was very difficult to get lodging due to unanticipated rush. We were literally exhausted when we didn’t find any room even after searching for two hours. Then someone told us to try in Bharat Sevashram. I don’t know – but for some reason, the Swamiji in charge of the Ashram gave me the room key and said you can give it back if you don’t want the room. He didn’t give to others who came asking for the room. I thought it was God’s grace. Even though the room was not at all comfortable (there was no cot and only a single toilet outside), that was the best that we could get that day. We took noodles for dinner and slept early.
Swami Paramasukhanandaji had told us that Kedarnath trek is more difficult now since we have to cover 20KM steep distance from each side (previously it was only 14KMs before the devastating floods). We woke up around 3:00AM and were ready to start before 4:00AM. I strongly suggest that if you are in Himalayan Trek please start as early as possible in the morning. It will become difficult to trek as the sun raises. The Uttarkhand Govt. has done great work to restore the Kedarnath road. It was a pleasant surprise. Adequate food and drinks provision was available en route. It was a slightly difficult trek at places especially towards the end. But by His grace, we reached by 11:30AM. After taking bath in river Mandakini, I circumambulated the temple and tried to understand the extent of damage caused because of the floods. The same day the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand had come for Darshan. So it was difficult to get entry into the temple and even the crowd was very huge. I spent quite a bit of time outside the temple without getting to the queue. It’s a practice to chant Rudra and Chamaka Prashna Veda mantras in Shiva temples. Since I consciously carried the book, I was able to chant these mantras sitting next to the temple. Finally it was about 3:00PM when all of us finished darshan. One of our friends was very tired. So we were not very sure if we could start the return journey on the same day. There was an option to stay near the temple in the Tents set up by the Govt. After some deliberation we decided to start. I feel that was a wrong decision. For one, we missed the opportunity of seeing the splendid evening Arati to Lord Kedarnath. Last time I had witnessed it. Other thing was that we were also tired. But one thing that played a little on our minds was that Vishudha had booked his return flight ticket from Delhi. Staying a night longer at Kedarnath could’ve pressurized our journey or so we thought. So we started back. It was around 9:30PM that we reached back to Gauri Kund. That was effectively 40KM trek on a single day.
We took our luggage from Gauri Kund and came to the base camp in the night. Unfortunately no accommodation was available for us this time. It was a bit of anticlimax. But such things are to be expected during pilgrimages. We slept at different places. As for me, I slept on the steps of a shop. Since I had a good blanket, it was manageable. But even before 2:00AM people started to come. There was no place to sleep even. So that was the end of it. We dragged on till the morning and then we got a bus to Rudraprayag early in the morning. From Rudraprayag we weren’t able to find buses to Badrinath which was our last destination. We decided to halt at Joshimath. Joshimath is a nice place. It also has a hill station. Joshimath also has one of the 4 Shankar Mutts establish by his Holiness Adi Shankaracharya. We got good accommodation in Joshimath in a private lodge. Next day we started for Badrinath in a shared taxi. We reached there by 9:00AM. Here also finding accommodation was not so difficult. Here we got accommodation in a lodge run by Kalikamda Ashram. It was quite cheap and had good facilities.
Then we started for Badrinath darshan. The queue was too long. It took us close to 4 hours to have darshan. As is the practice, I used this time to chant all the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavadgita. We had nice darshan of Lord Badrinath and spent some time in contemplation. In the evening we went for local sightseeing where we visited Ganesh Gufa where Lord Ganesh is believed to have taken down the Mahabharata notes from Maharshi Vedavyasa, and Vyas Gufa where the Maharshi himself is believed to have stayed. There is also Bheem Phool, a large stone slab placed as a bridge to cross the river Saraswathi. This is believed to have been placed by Bheema during the Mahabharata times. It is also believed that Pandavas took this route during their final journey from earth.
The next morning we started towards Haridwar from we were supposed to go to our respective places. Bineesh stayed back in Badrinath. Ravi and Srinivas also stayed back. Me and Vishudha started. First we reached Rudraprayag and from there we took a shared taxi towards Haridwar. In this route we escaped a major mishap when our vehicle rammed into a pothole and almost jumped up by few centimeters. These are all narrow roads and a little bit of lost control would have seen our vehicle falling into the precipice. There was nothing that any of us could do that time except accepting that as the will of God. But as it happened, we escaped that fate that day and reached Rishikesh at around 8:00PM. I bade good bye to a great friend Vishudha who was with me in Sivananda Ashrama for two months and then accompanied me for Chardham. He had to catch a midnight train from Haridwar to Delhi to catch his flight from there the next day. I had an extra day to relax at Rishikesh.
The next day I went to Sivanand Ashram where I had kept my big luggage bag. I met Swami Sivabhaktanandaji who treated me very cordially. After giving him the prasad from Badrinath, I went to Swami Devabhaktanandaji who is a great devotee of Lord Badrinath. After giving him the prasad, I caught a shared taxi to Dehradun Airport from where I had to catch my flight to Bengaluru. This was perhaps the longest I was away from home in about a decade. This included two months course in Sivanand Ashram and a short pilgrimage to Vaishnodevi, Mathura, Vrindavan before this Chardham Yatra. It was a memorable journey. I would like to visit Gomukh and Kedarnath again.
- Carry adequate clothing but not too heavy. Also take an additional small bag to carry only essential luggage while trekking. It’s ideal to leave all your big luggage at the base camp.
- Carry Electrol powder and necessary medicine for fever, headache and possibly, dysentery.
- Dry fruits and chocolates will be handy.
- Be flexible. Look for alternatives. We could cover Chardham in such a short time only because we were willing to look for alternatives. Shared Taxis are definitely faster. But they can be risky also. But that’s an option you should definitely consider given the lack of bus facilities in this region. Be wise! book early.
- Ideally don’t go before June. The crowd will be too huge and you may not get proper accommodation.
- Definitely try to visit Gomukh if you have the courage. Don’t go if you fear for your life. Go if you trust God.
- Compact camera is better. Heavy Camera makes it slightly difficult to trek. But if you are comfortable to carry, then it’s okay. Carry a power bank.
- Try as much as possible to stay in Ashrams. You will get good food and accommodation will also be cost effective. You will also be able to retain the spirit of pilgrimage all throughout.
- Carry hard cash. It is difficult to get ATMs like we do in cities.
- Whether you should go alone depends on you. A team of at least 2 or 3 is ideal.
- Be humble and enjoy the beauty of Himalayas and reflect on God. You will feel blessed.
- It’s a pilgrimage. Rush only as much as necessary. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.
Thanks for reading. May God bless you. “Jai Ramakrishna.”