Char Dham (Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath) Yatra offers the best possible opportunity to visit the finest Garhwal Himalayan destinations by the devout as well as the laymen. Having done it two times, once in 1985-86 (Do Dham at a time) and then again in the year 2006, I found the charm has not diminished a bit.
But before I go ahead and list useful information for a first timer planning Char Dham Yatra. It is important to get an overview and significance of the Char Dhams in Garhwal Himalayas. Traditionally the Char Dham Yatra is done from West to East. Thus the Char Dham Yatra route starts from Yamunotri, which is at the West of the Garhwal Himalayas and Chardham Yatra route culminates at Badrinath, which is at the East. Thus the order of visiting Chardhams in Garhwal Himalayas is Yamunotri-Gangotri-Kedarnath-Badrinath.
Following info will be immensely helpful for the first timers planning to undertake Char Dham Yatra.
1. Char Dham Travel Package / Own Chardham Itinerary
a) The easiest way is to book an online travel package from a travel website. Garhwal Mandal Vikas Mandal Limited (GMVNL) a Uttarakhand Government Undertaking, with their head office located in Rishikesh, has a website www.gmvnl.com 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. The advantage of taking a GMVNL Chardham Yatra package is that they have the best accommodations available. These properties are run by GMVNL. One can also book online from other travel agencies as well. The duration of the Char Dham Yatra is 10 to 11 days.
b) Taxi service from Haridwar and Rishikesh: Taxi service for Char Dham Yatra is available for a small group of 4 to large group of 10 members. As a thumb rule small vehicle like Maruti Alto charge Rs. 2000 to Rs. 2200/- per day and large vehicles like Sumo/Qualis charge Rs. 2800/- per day.
2. Timing of Chardham Yatra: The tourist season for Char Dham Yatra is from May to September. The temple opening dates for Badrinath and Kedarnath are available from website http://www.badarikedar.org/. Normally temples open between 1st and 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, warm clothing. Kedarnath can be really chilly any time of the year. A torch light is a must – as power supply at various places is 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 dishes. 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 Bhandari’s. It is air-cooled, comfortable and food is good.
4. Trekking En-route: The Char Dham Yatra which includes Gaumukh throws in some 72 km of trekking.
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, to seat and rest or have some snacks and meals. At Gaurikund, one can by 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 and palkis and kandis (baskets for carrying children and old people). The rates changes every season. The Uttarakhand Govt. rates indicating sign boards are at the starting point.
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 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. Though most travelers visit the Gangotri Temple and not many opt for this arduous trek. 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 covered on foot. No palkis or kandis are available for this stretch.
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:0135-2644691,0135-2644691)
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.
5. 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 and will not get best of views. On a clear day, the sunrise view on Mt. Neelkanth at Badrianth at 5 am in the morning is a spectacle which one should not miss.
6. 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.