Chardham Yatra - Enroute
Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehra Dun, Mussoorie, Barkot, Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Joshimath, Mana are some of the major places that we visited during these 16 days. The details are as under:
Haridwar: Haridwar, one of the seven sacred cities of India, means, literally, gateway to Gods, and is located on the right bank of river Ganges. The various temples and the overall places of pilgrimage in and around Haridwar are too numerous to describe. We will restrict the details to places that we visited. Haridwar is famous for the Kumbh and the Ardh-Kumbh mela festivals (Kumbh mela once every 12 years and Ardh-Kumbh mela once in 6 years). Millions of devotees assemble for these festivals. A dip here in the sacred Ganga is said to provide salvation to oneself and to ones ancestors.
Our hotel, the Haveli Hari Ganga, was on the banks of river Ganges. Steps lead us to the river from our hotel. I did take bath in the Ganges early morning, though water was very cold even in July (probably due to early morning time of my bath).
Har-ki-pauri: Means, literally, Gods steps and is used to denote the area of Haridwar in and around the temple where Lord Haris footsteps are kept. The evening aarti here provides an enchanting experience. Precisely at 7.30 pm every day, large number of ornate oil lamps (diyas) with dozens of flames burning in pure ghee are offered to Mother Ganga accompanied with devotional songs and prayers. It was a delight to watch as thousands of people assemble here for the evening aarti. Day-in and day-out, all through the year, for thousands of people to assemble for the evening aarti demonstrates the total faith in Ganga Matha (Mother Ganga) of the people over here. While many tourists come to see this event everyday, the local support and participation of the people of Haridwar is, in my view, the reason for the event to truly become the great event that it has become! Without such local participation, the event may not attract the few thousands of people every day of the year and all through the year!
Chandi Devi Temple: It is atop the Neel Parvt. The main statue is said to be established by Adi Sankaracharya in 8th Century. Goddess Chandi killed demons Chanda and Munda, Shumbh and Nishumbh and various demons. Read Devi Mahatmyam to obtain additional details of Goddess Chandi Devi. We Worshipped at the temple, went there by taking the ropeway (that affords nice views of river Ganga and the town below, besides not having to walk the 3km trek from Chandighat).
Mansa Devi Temple: It is perched atop Bilwa Parvat. We worshipped at the temple, went there by the ropeway. The temple and the ropeway ride, provide an excellent view of Haridwar.
Maya Devi Temple: Dedicated to goddess Maya Devi, the Adishtatri deity of Haridwar. It is regarded as one of the Siddhapeethas. According to mythology, the heart and navel of Goddess Sati Devi had fallen over here (For more information on Goddess Sati Devi and how she felt insulted and how she killed herself, please read story of Daksha Yaga)
Daksha Mahadev Temple: Mythological legends state that King Daksha Prajapati, father of Lord Sivas wife Goddess Sati, performed a yagnya, invited all Gods and Goddesses but not Siva (even though Lord Siva was his son-in-law). Sati was offended by her fathers actions, came to the yaga sala, where she was also insulted, unable to bear these insults to herself and to her Lord, sacrificed herself in the fire. Sivas Ganas were angry at this, came down to the yaga sala, destroyed everything there and killed King Daksha himself. Finally Siva came to the yaga site in distress and great anger which was pacified by all Gods and Devas who had assembled there for the yagnya. Siva then restored Dakshas life by putting a goats head to his body lying there. At the entrance to this temple, there is a statue of Siva carrying Satis body, Dakshas picture with goats head etc. Worshipping at this temple provided us with a sense of being part of the Daksha Yaga story that we have heard from early childhood! The statue of Lord Siva carrying Goddess Sati (symbolic of Lord Sivas outrage on hearing of Sati killing herself) reminds us all that feeling of affection, joy, sadness, outrage, etc., are displayed by Gods to teach we human beings of filial love (even though these things do not apply to our Gods and Goddesses who are highly-evolved souls!)
Sapta Rishi Ashram and Sapta Sarovar: We visited the site of Sapta Rishi Ashram and Sapta Sarovar. Legend has it that the Sapta (seven) rishis meditated over here and River Ganges, not wanting to disturb their meditation, split into seven streams (sapta sarovar) around them. Walking through the Ashram, sitting at the banks of the River Ganges and getting our feet wet by the flowing river, was a delight that we will cherish!
Vyasa Temple: It was around noon-time as we were searching for the location of Sapta Rishi Ashram when we saw a nice temple-like structure (near Sapta Rishi Ashram and Sapta Sarovar). We went to the temple, they were about to conduct the noon aarti before closing the temple at 12.30 pm. The temple itself had the main deity as Vyasa, with four small temples at the four corners inside the main temple itself; in other words, the main temple at the center and four small temples diagonally at the four corners of the main temple, all inside, is how the temple is set up. We four, along with one or two others and the temple priests and attendants, participated in the aarti. The deities at the four corners were all Vyasas disciples Rig Vedic head Sage Pyla, Yaguvedic Head Sage Vaisampayana, Sama Vedic Head Sage Jaimini and Atharva Veda Head Sage Sumanthu. The first aarti was for Sage Vyasa, the second aarti was first shown to Vyasa and then placed in front of the small temple at the corner of Sage Pyla, the third aarti was first shown to Sage Vyasa, the placed in front to Sage Vaisampayanas temple, the fourth aarti was first shown to Sage Vyasa then placed in front of Sage Jaiminis temple, the fifth aarti was first shown to Sage Vyasa then placed in front of Sage Sumanths temple. Then the chief priest came, in turn, to each of the four temples, showed the respective aartis to those respective Sages, then the assistant priest combined all five aartis into one and offered to all of us. Pyla, Vaisampayana, Jaimini and Sumanthu were the first four disciples of Vyasa and who became the Heads of the Four Vedas after Vyasas classification of the Vedas into Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas.
I was personally touched by this visit to this Vyasa temple. The visit to this temple neither was in our agenda nor was this temple described in many of the publications about Haridwar. We were looking for the Sapta Rishi Ashram and Sapta Sarovar when we stumbled upon this place. To watch, and participate in, the aarti at all these Great Rishi sannidhis, especially since I am teaching Vedas and Upanishads belonging to all four Vedas during the past many years! The symbolism of such coincidences is simply great! What greater blessings than worshipping at the deities of Veda Vyasa and the Heads of the Four Vedas (the first disciples who were taught by Veda Vyasa Himself!) as we undertake the study and teaching of Upanishads and the thought that such worship occurred without my seeking out, or even knowing about the existence of, such a temple! Vyasa is none other than Vishnu. As the sloka from Vishnu Sahasranama states:
– Vyaasaaya Vishnu roopaaya, Vyaasa roopya Vishnave
Namo vai Brahma nidhaye, vaasishtaaya te namah
(Vyasa in Vishnus form, Vishnu in Vyasas form, I prostrate before You, certainly You are in the form of Brahman, You, who belong to Vasishtas lineage).
And, we did prostrate before Vyasa during this aarti!
Bharath Mata Temple: This is a seven story structure built and maintained by the Uttaranchal Govt., where the top stories contain idols, the lower stories show Indias great sages, great freedom fighters and India-centric items. Worth visiting.
Rishikesh: Rishikesh means, literally, the place of sages. This is an important pilgrim and religious center on the right bank of River Ganges. This is the place containing many hundreds of Ashrams. Lots of people are attracted to this place to engage in meditation, yoga and other spiritual practices. The International Yoga week is held here every year during the first week of February; yoga practitioners and participants from all over the world congregate here during this period. Some people even call Rishikesh as the Hatha Yoga Capital of the world. The name Rishikesh itself is loosely applied to an association of five distinct sections encompassing both the town and also the hamlets and settlements on both sides of river Ganges. These include Rishikesh itself, the town and its commercial and communication hub; suburban Muni-ki-reti or the sands of sages; Shivananda nagar with the Shivananda ashram etc.; the temple section of Lakshman Jhoola; and the assorted ashrams around Swarg Ashram.
We visited many ashrams in the ashram section. All these ashrams are on the banks of Ganges and have facilities for travelers to stay. These cater to all levels of people. Most ashrams do not fix rates, we were told, but suggest donation based on ability to pay. Some ashrams, we were told, charge only Rs. 200 per day (nearly $ 4 per day) to provide lodging and food. Most of these ashrams will also have a small temple so that the travelers can stay there, take bath in the Ganges, visit the temple, take food from ashram, meditate etc. Some ashrams will also have lectures on our religion, puranas, spirituality etc. We visited many ashrams including Swami Dayanandas Ashram. Swami Dayananda, as many will note, is a recognized Swamiji who spent some early years with Swami Chinmayananda after which he set up his own ashram in Coimbatore, Rishikesh and in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. He is a great scholar, excellent speaker and is known all over the world. This ashram is well maintained, is located in an excellent place with excellent steps leading down to River Ganges, has excellent (and many) rooms to cater to various levels of people, has a temple in the complex etc.
Lakshman Jhoola: This hanging bridge across Ganga was re-built around end of 19th century. On the side of this famous bridge is the well known temple dedicated to Lord Ram. We all walked across Lakshman Jhoola, saw the Ram temple, did some shopping etc.
We walked by many other places like Triveni Ghat (sacred bathing ghat on banks of Ganga, is believed to be confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswathi), Swarg Ashram, Geetha Bhavan, Shivananda Ashram (The Divine Society) the famous spiritual centre established by Swami Sivananda, presently managed by his disciple, imparts lectures and training on spirituality and meditation etc. Ram Jhoola the hanging bridge similar to Lakshman Jhoola is built between Shivanand Ashram and the Swarga Ashram.
The whole place, Rishikesh, is considered to be sacred as it is believed that meditation at this place leads to attainment of salvation. The atmosphere is very conducive to raising ones thoughts to the best possible, to transporting people to higher levels, to the best in each of them. As you walk past the temple section or the ashram section, devotional songs come out of loudspeakers (even when you do shopping in and around these areas!). Rishikesh is also important as a pilgrimage center closely associated with Ramayana, as the starting point for the journey to Char Dham Yatra and also as home for many important centers of Hindu religious thought as well as home to very Great Yoga centers.
We stayed in the Glass House on the Ganges a resort some 20 kms north of Rishikesh. Sitting outside our rooms, we can watch, and hear, River Ganges flowing and we did just that, just sitting and watching. We walked down to the banks of the Ganges, walked alongside of it, sat on few heavy boulders on the side and simply watched Ganges! The scenery around, and with hills all around, green vegetation, with the river Ganges flowing in force (due to summer heat and snow melting as well as early rains, the waters in the Ganges were full, some places may be as deep as over 20 to 25 ft of water). The temperatures were in the mid-to-upper thirtys in Centigrade scale or nearly 100 degrees or more in the Fahrenheit scale. We found the heat in Delhi, Haridwar and Rishikesh little bit too much but the various visits, the general level of religious and spiritual atmosphere, feelings and thoughts and the joy of experiencing all these, sort of, compensated for the heat.
The first four days two days each in Rishikesh and Haridwar having been completed, we are now on our way to, and very excited about, Char Dham Yatra! If the preliminaries, themselves, to the Char Dham, thus far, are so excellent, we wondered, what will the real Char Dham Yatra itself look like, so went our thoughts! (Using the dinner-menu analogy, we have just completed the appetizer and are about to taste the main course!)
Dehra Dun, Mussoorie (Day 5 July 5, 2006): We are on our way to Dehra Dun (means Camp in the Valley). Dehra Dun is set in the foot hills of the Himalayas at the center of the Doon Valley. Mussoorie, the Queen of Hills is at a height of 2000 meters (or about 6560 ft) and is one of the most popular hill resorts of India. We spent this day is Mussoorie. The beautiful hills around the various peaks, the snow-clad mountain ranges, and the beautiful valley were all seen beautifully during a rope-way ride that we took during the evening.
The stay here was very welcome, for the first time, we escaped the heat, Mussoorie temperatures being in the 20 degree Celsius (or about 68 deg Fahrenheit).
Barkot (Day 6 July 6, 2007): We moved on to Barkot for the over-night halt from where we plan to go to Yamunotri.
Incidentally, this day was our thirty-seventh (37th) wedding anniversary. Whether by accident or by design, this is where we ended up for our wedding anniversary at the base station, for the commencement of the main part of our char dham yatra! This was a half-day travel and half-day of rest before we plunge into the rigors of the Char Dham Yatra (sort of taking a deep breath before we plunge deeper!)
As we were driving to Barkot from Mussoorie, we stopped by the Kempty Falls, a scenic water-fall in the area. We wore the Uttaranchal tribal dress, rented from a shop there, sort of wearing different clothes on our wedding anniversary! This is a far-cry from the traditional 9×5 soman-utthareeyam worn by me and 9-yard koora pudavai worn by Sarasa when we got married in July 1969!