Saturday, February 26, 2011

Planning the Char Dham Yatra - Accomodation, Travel Route Map and Itinerary

All our planning to the Char Dham was last minute.

All the 4 temples usually open on the auspicious day of Akshay Tritiya (May) and remain so only for a specific period of time every year. This year the Gangotri temple and the Badrinath temple were to close on 6th November and 18th November respectively.

Keeping in mind the Temple closure dates, mother’s persistent knee problem and the fact that we wanted to be in Badrinath on the day of Diwali we decided to cover only 2 Dhams – Gangotri and Badrinath. Having heard a lot about Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd. (GMVN) run hotels, accommodation was entrusted to them. Next, a Qualis car was hired through an acquaintance.

My Dad along with the GMVN staff chalked out a travel itinerary that looked something like this (excluding our train journey from Mumbai to Delhi) –

Day I – 02/11/2010 – New Delhi-Haridwar-Uttarkashi

Day II – 03/11/2010 – Uttarkashi-Gangotri-Uttarkashi

Day III – 04/11/2010 – Uttarkashi-Birahi

Day IV – 05/11/2010 – Birahi-Badrinath

Day V – 06/11/2010 – Badrinath-Srinagar

Day VI – 07/11/2010 – Srinagar-Haridwar


Tickets to Delhi were booked just 2 days prior to the journey… in tatkal (instant reservation system offered by the Indian Railways).

Finally on 30th October 2010 I along with my family left for The Char Dham Yatra.

Everything had happened so fast that the feeling of being up there in the Himalayas hadn’t yet sunk in completely… But I was sure it would… Slowly but surely!


Our Travel Route Map For the Char Dham Journey

Char Dham Route Map, Garhwal Himalayas
Char Dham Route Map
(Click on the image to Enlarge)
Color Key

     - Our Route for the trip

     - Halts en route

     - Overnight stays

     - The Char Dhams that we visited


Tips for Travellers

1. If you want a good location at a decent price, ideally choose these government run GMVN tourist rest houses. The accommodation in most of these hotels is comfortable and value for money and the food is good too, especially if you love simple homely fare away from home. Tariff rates differ according to the seasons.

2. If you are entrusting the accommodation to GMVN, chalk out the itinerary very carefully as you pay the tariff beforehand and if you wish to swap the place of stay mid-way your travel then you have to shell out 20% extra of the tariff charge.

3. Book your hotel rooms well in advance if you are travelling close to the temple opening dates, there is a heavy rush of pilgrims.

4. Preferably do not travel in the rainy season as there are a lot of landslides during that time.

Contact details

Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd. (GMVN)
Mumbai – (022)22024415, 22027762
Website – www.gmvnl.com
E-mail – gmvn@gmvnl.com


To read the introductory post on Char Dham - Click Here

Monday, February 21, 2011

In the Lap of the Heavenly Himalayas... The CHAR DHAM Yatra

I have long left the mountains and the rivers… I am actually writing this almost 4 months later… but how I still long for the Himalayas…

For many years now, my Dad has had a strong desire to do a Char Dham Yatra. But, due to some unavoidable circumstances, it got cancelled every time leaving him disappointed…

It was sometime at the end of October 2010… Festive season of Diwali was fast approaching. We were contemplating the choices of destinations where we could head to during the holidays when my Dad suggested – Char Dham.

What is Char Dham?

The Char Dham (literally meaning four abodes) of the Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand represents all three major Hindu sects and consists of one Vaishnava site (Badrinath) joined by one Shiva site (Kedarnath) and two Shakti sites (Gangotri and Yamunotri).

However, this should not be confused with the bigger Char Dham circuit situated at the four corners of India namely Jagannathpuri, Rameshwaram, Dwarka and Badrinath, all of them either dedicated or linked to the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

Both the sets of Char Dham were grouped together by the great 8th century reformer and philosopher Adi Shankaracharya. According to various ancient Hindu scriptures, a yatra (pilgrimage) to these Char Dhams is said to be of paramount significance in any Hindu religious believer’s life.

Char Dham – Then and Now

In the years gone by, the Yatra was a lot tougher than what it is today. Hence, generally it was undertaken by the older people. The last rites and rituals of these people was performed even before they left their homes for this pilgrimage as it would take months to complete the circuit and with no motor able roads combined with harsh weather, landslides, cloudbursts and of course old age, there was that uncertainty if they would ever return back.

My mother recounts of how they had organized grand celebrations when her grandmother had arrived after completing the coveted course. She had alighted straight at a temple and everyone, who’s who of the locality, had gathered to welcome her. There was a bhandara (feast) for all and everyone touched her feet.

Thus, people who made it back were almost revered but what is more astounding is that those who couldn’t were considered even more blessed! They were regarded as the few fortunate ones to leave for the eternal abode from Gods own land – The Himalayas.

Today however, a pilgrimage to the Char Dham is relatively simpler… with all the modern luxuries of cars and connectivity; it just takes around 15 days to complete the entire route. What has remained constant with the changing times, though, is its significance, its importance. Even today, a pilgrimage to the Char Dham is revered as the ultimate pilgrim destination in a Hindu religious believer’s life.

My Reaction

Needless to say then, that a trip to the coveted circuit of Char Dham, to the Himalayas got me excited. I was taken back some 16 years ago (when I had visited Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath)… and though I don’t remember much, some faint memories came rushing back.

But there were some apprehensions too, as we were to travel in the off season just before the closing of the temple gates. News that was pouring in from the media and people who had just returned from the place was not pleasant either - landslides, heavy snowfall and harsh weather conditions - these fears got us thinking…

Well, ‘Us’ meant my mother, brother and me! My father was already out there, we realized, busy chalking out the plans…

Monday, February 7, 2011

Travelling with a Purpose - To Experience the Magh Mela in Allahabad

The Vedic literature states that whoever bathes in the Triveni Sangam at the auspicious time of the Magh Mela is guaranteed liberation from birth and death.

That is specifically the reason why the Magh Mela (the annual festival of Allahabad held during the months of Jan-Feb), also known as the Mini Kumbh Mela, has always attracted millions of sages and pilgrims from all over the world.


I along with my family was on our first pilgrimage to the Magh Mela. But our main purpose for visiting the Mela was not only to take a holy dip at the Triveni Sangam, Prayag but also to walk the path where lakhs of saints have left their footprints and experience the positive energy of one of the largest spiritual gathering in the world.


Our excitement rose as we started the walk towards the bathing area. Till the eyes could see and beyond, the entire stretch of land, resembled an enormous sea of pilgrims. We could see many people carrying huge sacks containing their belongings on their heads having come from faraway parts of India. There were people of all ages, genders, babies clinging to their parents, saffron and yellow clad sadhus (sages), and policemen shouting instructions to the devotees. Items for sale included almost everything from tea, fruits, prasads, flowers, diyas even plastic bottles to fill the water of the holiest of the holy. There were puppet shows for the kids, an amusement park, shops selling clothing items like dress materials from Surat, sarees from Banaras, traditional footwear and jewelery from Rajasthan and much much more.


The ‘Bhule Bhatke Shivir’ (Lost and Found Camp) loudspeakers continuously blared out new names of the people who had got separated from their near and dear ones. Living in a crowded suburb of Mumbai and having experienced the crowds first hand, I have to admit I had never seen anything like what was before me that day. The sheer number of people overwhelmed me. But the amazing thing was that we never got jammed and everyone kept on moving as one big mass of humanity!


Nearing the Sangam, we saw many colored tents spread across large areas on both sides of the road. It seemed like a whole city full of tents had come up. People known as Kalpvaasis, stay in these tents for 1 month and follow strict rules of penance to appease the 33 crore Gods believed to be present here during this time of the year.


The city of tents had something for everyone, from markets to eateries even hospitals, all temporarily put up for the event. I saw T.V. vans of various broadcasters who had come to cover the Mela.

One hour and a tiring but nevertheless stirring walk later, we finally reached the Sangam area. Today, being Makar Sankranti, was one of the important days of immersion in the confluence of three of the holy rivers – The Ganga, the Yamuna and the subterranean Saraswati. Bathing in any of these sacred rivers is purifying but the purification is said to increase a hundred times if done at this holy time and place, liberating one from repeated birth and death. Pilgrims were everywhere – some meditating, or performing charity, reading sacred texts, some getting ready for a bath, or returning shivering after taking a dip, while some simply keeping a watch on one’s belongings. I felt awed by their dedication and devotion.


I navigated my way towards the bathing area and stepped in the purifying waters. Even the simple act of a holy dip in some way uplifted and energized my soul. It was an experience which is difficult to put down in words and is best felt or understood in person. We prayed to Maa Ganga, floated a diya and offered holy water to the Sun God to receive His blessings.


Today, 1 year later... when we look back, we can say that each minute we spent in this captivating carnival was a prayer, every moment of it dipped in divinity; it was truly an expedition of spiritual enlightenment. There was so much to see, so much to feel, so much to soak into… believe me, one has to be there, in the midst of it all, to really get a hang of it!

PS - This article is a part of the IndiBlogger and Cleartrip "My Purpose" Contest.
You can view it on Cleartrip here - http://mypurpose.cleartrip.com/trips/32173

If you are an IndiBlogger and liked reading my article,
Please vote for it on Indivine HERE!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Photographs from Here, There and Everywhere in Nashik-Shirdi...

 A shop selling bronze and brass idols outside the Kalaram 
Temple, Panchvati - Nashik
A shop selling a large variety of brass and bronze statues of various Gods and Goddesses, temple bells, wind-chimes etc. outside the Kalaram Temple in Nashik.

A 
shop selling Rudraksh malas and beads in Trimbakeshwar
Trimbakeshwar, being the land of Lord Shiva Rudraksh beads are sold in plenty here. Spot them in the extreme right and left hand sides of this photograph taken near the Trimbakeshwar Temple. Characteristic with grooves called mukhis, Rudraksh is believed to be Lord Shiva’s tear and is very sacred to the Hindus. These beads are strung together to form malas for japa (repetitive chanting) or are worn around the neck for treatment of various diseases. Other items like conches, sea shells, old coins, necklaces made of colorful beads and horse shoes can also be seen here.

A Lord Shiva Temple in Trimbakeshwar
A Lord Shiva Temple in Trimbakeshwar
One thing which was quite remarkable in this trip was that most of the temples, be it the Kalaram temple, the Sundernarayan temple, the Trimbakeshwar temple or the not-so-famous ones like these, were all black in color.

A farmer sells Onions on the Mumbai-Nashik highway
Since Onions are grown in large quantities in and around Nashik and Shirdi, you will come across many farmers selling their surplus along the highways in these pink sacks. With the price of Onions soaring to almost Rs. 70/kg recently, I reminisce those wonderful times when I had bought this big 25 kg sack (in July) for just Rs. 70. Wish I had saved some for this day!!

A Sugarcane juice shop on the way from Mumbai to Shirdi
Maharashtra being a large producer of Sugarcane, you will find a lot of shops like these selling fresh sugarcane juice all along the Mumbai-Nashik-Shirdi route. Do stop here and relish the fresh juice given with a dash of ginger and a squeeze of lime and refresh yourselves up for the journey ahead!

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