INDIA  :   Getaways

The sacred quadrilateral – the Char Dham Yatra

Saturday , 09 January 2016

Explore the holy side of India and delve into the bigger and smaller circuits of the Char Dham Yatra

Char Dham Yatra literally means “Trip to the Four Abodes”. It refers to the holy sites spread across four directions in the Indian subcontinent. These sites of pilgrimage were deemed by Adi Shankaracharya, one of the most revered Hindu philosophers and theologians, holy in the 8th century.

It is believed that every Hindu should undertake this journey at least once in a lifetime. Traditionally, the pilgrimage begins in the east, moves on to the south and west, and culminates in the north, thus signifying a circumambulation of a devotee in the clockwise direction. Let us take a look at the bigger circuit of the Char Dham Yatra.

East: Puri

Where: Odisha

Located in Puri, 60 km from the capital city of Bhubaneswar is the Jagannath Temple, or Shri Mandir. The temple dates to the 12th century.

Lord Jagannath, His brother Balabhadra and His sister Subhadra are the presiding deities here. The temple is unique in that the idols are changed every 12 years. The old idols are replaced with exact replicas carved from sacred neem trees. Rath Yatra, held during June-July, is the main festival here.

Getting there

By air: Bhubaneswar is the nearest airport. It is well-connected to major cities such as Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. Taxis and buses are available from the airport.

By rail: Puri is well-connected by trains to Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru and other cities and towns across

Where to stay

There are a number of economically priced lodges and dharamshalas near the temple. Prices start from Rs 1,000 per night and go up to Rs 5,000 per night.

South: Rameshwaram

Where: Tamil Nadu

Located on the Rameshwaram Island (or Pamban Island), in the Gulf of Munnar, at the tip of the Indian peninsula, is the Ramanathaswamy Temple. It is also known as the Temple of Thousand Pillars. It is the only temple (on the Char Dham route) dedicated to Lord Shiva and enshrines one of the 12 ‘jyotirlingas’. A trip to the Varanasi ‘jyotirlinga’ is considered incomplete without a visit to Rameshwaram.

Lord Rama is said to have built this temple to offer prayers to Lord Shiva after the Lanka war against the demon king Ravana. Mahasivaratri is the major festival celebrated here.

Getting there

By air: Madurai, located 167 km away, is the nearest airport. It is well-connected by flights to Kochi, Chennai and Mumbai.

By rail: Rameshwaram is linked by rail to Madurai, Chennai, Coimbatore and Tiruchirapalli.

Where to stay

There are a range of hotels for pilgrims to stay at Rameshwaram. From the moderately priced hotels, which charge Rs 1,350 per night to luxurious accommodations, priced at Rs 4,174 per night, the options are aplenty.

West: Dwarka

Where: Gujarat

Located in the Jamnagar district, Dwarka was once the abode of Lord Krishna. The Dwarkadhish Temple, also known as the ‘Jagat Mandir’ (universal shrine), is situated on Gomti creek.

Legend has it that the five-storeyed limestone structure was built by Vajranabh, the great-grandson of Lord Krishna, more than 2,500 years ago. It has two gateways: ‘swarga dwar’ (gateway to heaven), from where pilgrims enter; and ‘moksha dwar’ (gateway to liberation), from where pilgrims exit. Janmashtami is celebrated with great fervour here.

Getting there

By air: Jamnagar is the nearest airport, located about 140 km from Dwarka. Taxis and buses can be hired from the airport.

By rail: The Dwarka railway station is connected to Jamnagar. Moreover, it is well-connected to Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Mumbai.

Where to stay

Visitors can stay at budget accommodations for Rs 650 per night, Rs 1,780 per night, or can choose to stay at luxurious properties that charge Rs 4,032 per night.

North: Badrinath

Where: Uttarakhand

Located in the Garhwal hills, along the Alaknanda River, the Badrinath temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple houses an image that is considered one of the eight self-manifested idols of the deity.

In the 9th century, Badrinath was established as a pilgrimage site by Adi Shankara after he discovered the image of Badrinarayan (another name of Lord Vishnu) in the Alaknanda River. He enshrined it in a cave near the ‘Tapt Kund’ or hot sulphur springs, below the present temple. In the 16th century, the King of Garhwal moved the image to the present temple.

The temple is only open from the end of April to the beginning of November, owing to extreme climate in the Himalayan region.

Badrinath also features on the Chhota Char Dham route, or the smaller circuit, which surprisingly starts from the west at Yamunotri and proceeds to Gangotri and Kedarnath. Badrinath is the end point on this route.

It is considered sacred, not just for its ancient temples, but also as the origin of four rivers. Yamunotri is the origin of Yamuna River, Gangotri is where the Ganges originated, Mandakini River originates in Kedarnath and Alaknanda River originated in Badrinath.

Religion aside, the scenic beauty of these sites, set amid lofty, snow-capped mountains, is sure to appeal to any tourist—pilgrim or otherwise.

Getting there

By air: Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun is the nearest domestic airport – about a five-hour drive away from Badrinath. The airport is well-connected to major cities such as Amritsar, Delhi and Mumbai. Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi is the second nearest airport.

By rail: Rishikesh is the nearest railway station, located 297 km from Badrinath.

Where to stay

The state tourism board has established many ashrams and dormitories that offer accommodation and food at reasonmble prices.