• By Nitin Kotak
  • February 2, 2024
  • A first-hand account of the author’s Char Dham Yatra by road and the second yatra to Kedarnath/Badrinath by helicopter. 

In October 2022 eight of us, seven from the USA and one from Delhi, embarked on a pilgrimage from Delhi, for the Char Dham Yatra, in a Tempo Traveler.


We started with the Ganga Aarti at Haridwar and spent the next night in beautiful Barkot on the banks of the gently flowing and refreshing Yamuna River.

Ganga Aarti, Haridwar.

The next morning, we drove past Hanuman Chatti to Janaki Chatti from where we started the arduous five km climb to Yamunotri.


It is believed that this char dham yatra should be done in this clockwise order – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – because of the progression in the spiritual significance of what each represents - Yamuna is bhakti, Ganga gyan, Kedarnath vairagya and Badrinath moksha.

Yamunotri Mandir.

The trek to the Yamunotri Mata Mandir, at a height of about 11,000 feet, was strenuous. However, once we took a dip in the hot waters of the holy Surya Kunda, we were rejuvenated. After puja and some food we were ready to trek down!


Note however that the origin point of Yamuna is believed to be in the Yamunotri glacier i.e. at an elevation of about 21,000 feet where no one is believed to have reached (but you can almost see it in the photograph).

Origin of Yamuna from Yamunotri Glacier. 

Before reaching Gangotri we spent a wonderful afternoon at the lovely Chinmaya Mission’s Tapovan Kutir Ashram in Uttarkashi and had lunch with Swamiji. In the evening we also visited the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir and the Shakti Peeth Mandir which houses the 26 feet tall trishul made of ashtadhatu, which Goddess Durga is supposed to have thrown at the asuras.  

At Chinmaya Mission Uttarkashi.

Durga Trishul at Shakti Peeth, Uttarkashi.

The trip to Gangotri, by contrast, was much easier. Our vehicle was able to reach within a mile of where we were able to take a dip in the chilling cold water of the Ganga. There was the initial hesitation in most of us to get into the water, but we very much enjoyed the experience. I felt a unique sort of calm and peace come over me, and even today remember that serene and special feeling.

Meditating at Gangotri.

Gangotri Mandir. 

Rare pic of inside Gangotri Mandir.

Our next destination was Kedarnath. However, due to extremely bad weather conditions we were not able to get the helicopter ride from Phata despite waiting the whole day. However, we had a lot of fun that day waiting with other devotees, singing, doing garba with a group of devotees from Gujarat, and eating hot delicious Maggi! It was inspiring to see the deep faith amongst most of the devotees – even though the whole day was a fruitless wait for everyone, people casually said: “Jab bulava aayega tab hi jaa sakenge!”

Inside helicopter to Kedarnath. 2023 yatra.

Sadhus on steps of temple entrance. 2023 yatra.

We then proceeded to Badrivishal, the seat of moksha. The road conditions on our way were not very good, with some parts blocked due to recent landslides in the area. So, it was late at night by the time we reached Badrinath. The next morning we reached the temple by about 4:30 am for the special Maha Abhishek – Alankar - Aarati Darshan. It was a magical and enchanting almost 3 hours that we spent inside the garbhagriha. This was a unique and memorable experience.


After the darshan we make a quick visit to the Tapta Kund, the natural thermal spring believed to be the abode of Agni Deva. By this time, it had started raining heavily, so we had to quickly take our vehicle back to the hotel and abandon the plan of going to the Mana Village, the first village of India.

Vasudeva Mandir at Joshimat is the winder abode of Bhagwan Badrinath. 

Badrinath Mandir.

Our entire travel by road during the 10-night 11-day trip was filled with a lot of scenic views and lovely time in the tempo traveler with all of us singing bhajans, stotras, movie songs, reciting poems and generally having a lot of fun.

Devprayag is where Bhagirathi (green, coming from Gaumukh) meets Alaknanda (brown, an amalgum of Alaknanda from above Badrinath and Mandakini from Kedarnath) meet and become Ganga. 

Smiles, Peace, Happiness at end of Yatra.


Our 2023 Kedar Badrinath Yatra

However, as I mentioned before, the belief is that you cannot visit Kedarnath unless there is a “bulava”; and also, that when there is a “bulava”, nothing comes in the way! Our “bulava” came the very next year and so in October 2023 six of us (five from the original group of eight and a new person) embarked on a yatra to Kedarnath and Badrinath; however, this time we decided to do the entire trip by helicopter starting from Dehradun.


We were lucky that our half hour scenic helicopter trip took us directly to Kedar top from Dehradun. The day was bright and sunny, and the journey gave us outstanding views of snow-clad mountains.


During the day we visited the beautiful Shri Adi Shankaracharya Samadhi, trekked up to the Bhairavnath temple and sat by the mammoth Bheem Shila which protected the temple during the 2013 floods and landslides. We stayed the night on Kedar top barely 100 meters from the temple!

Adi Sankaracharya Murti at his Samadhi in Kedarnath.

Bhairavnath at Kedarnath.

Our Dharamshala at Kedarnath was barely 100 meters away from temple.  

We were able to have multiple darshans despite long lines of devout visitors – a wonderful special darshan in the evening, and another amazing puja and shiv abhishek in the early hours of the next morning. 


Everything about this trip was perfect-from the outstanding weather to breathtaking views of the snow clad mountains with changing hues at sunset to the darshans, et al! This definitely seemed like a “bulava” from Lord Shiva!! Jai Bhole Nath. 

View of Kedar Peaks.

View of Kedar Peaks.

From Kedarnath we flew to Badrinath. We were blessed that our second trip to Badrinath Dham was as eventful, if not more, as last year!


This time all morning pujas were booked by the time we arrived; we were disappointed that we would have to return with only a special darshan. However, Lord Badri Narayan seemed to have other plans for us! He blessed us with what seemed like a “special darshan” right in the lobby of our hotel, with powerful reverberations of Vishnu Sahasranam, Sri Suktam and Devi Stuti chants during a morning puja which seemed to have happened just for us!! It was a surreal but serene experience. Jai Badri Vishaal.

The previous evening we had an interesting trip to Mana, the first village of India which is about 25 kms from the Tibet border, which we had missed in our last trip. It is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited villages of India. It is believed to be the birth place of the Pandavas. While they had to cross through this village on their journey to Heaven, we had chai at the ‘Way to Heaven’ cafe! 

Heaven Cafe was nice.

Oldest house in Mana village.

It was wonderful seeing the source of the Saraswati river, the Bheempul and being blessed with ice cold water believed to come from Mansarovar Lake, almost 200 kms away in Tibet!


Our 30 minute helicopter journey from Kedarnath to Badrinath, and the 45 minute journey back to Dehradun were both also filled with clear views of beautiful snow clad mountains (including Nilkanth, 21,300 feet) and amazing landscapes.

We then descended to Haridwar and had beautiful darshans of the two famous Siddh Shakti Peeths - Mansa Devi, believed to be the daughter of Lord Shiva in his human incarnate, and Chamundi Devi, which murti is said to be installed by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century.

Mansa Devi Shakti Peeth. 

We had booked helicopters from the U.S. itself with one of the various helicopter companies who arrange such trips. It was expensive. Not sure if we should mention names or costs here, but if anyone is interested I could provide details and connect them with the one who arranged the tempo for yatra 1 or the helicopters for yatra 2.

We rounded off our yatra by Ganga Snan, followed by a mouthwatering breakfast of puri + maseldaar aloo + rassawala aloo + kaddu chutney from the famous Mathura Wala, and lassi from the famous Brijwasi, arranged wonderfully at the VIP ghat. Finally, we completed the full circle and ended from where we had started, by witnessing the Ganga Aarti!   


By all counts it was a heavenly experience, an outstanding trip to Dev Bhoomi!! 

The author is happy to share additional details about the schedule, program, costs, agents, etc. with individuals if required. Please email author for introduction.


Also read

1. Char Dham Teerth – A Seeker’s Journey through the Himalayas

2. Album Kedarnath Badrinath Yatra

3. A call to Kedarnath

4. Album Gangotri Gaumukh

5. Album Badrinath Yatra Snow

6. Album Yamounotri Yatra

7. Sadhus in Gangotri

8. Album Valley of Flowers

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