The State of Uttarakhand has been blessed with some of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage places. The most important among them are popularly known as Char Dham that is four sacred and revered Temples located in the mighty Himalayas at Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. And a pilgrimage to all these four places is called as Char Dham Yatra and is of great significance to Hindus.
I could not go on the entire Char Dham Yatra but have been fortunate to visit one of them, Badrinath. Badrinath the abode of Lord Vishnu is considered the holiest of Char Dham. It is situated at an altitude of 3,133 metres and at a distance of 304 Kms. from Rishikesh. Almost the entire journey from Rishikesh to Badrinath is on the mighty Himalayan Mountains and a very thrilling one. Badrinath is along the left bank of River Alaknanda, and surrounded by several mountain peaks of the Himalayas with the most prominent among them being the 6,597 metres high Neelkanth peak which remains snow covered even during summer.
Lord Vishnu is worshipped here as Lord Badrinarayan. Badri means wild-berry. In ancient times this area had many wild-berry trees and was famous as ‘Badri-van’ that is a wild-berry garden. Lord Vishnu is called by many names and Narayan is one of them. Hence the Temple here came to be known as Badrinarayan Temple. And Badrinath means Lord of Badri and hence the place and Temple are also called as Badrinath. The idol of Badrinarayan is in a sitting posture and is about a metre high. Adi Guru Shankaracharya discovered the idol of Badrinarayan in the Alaknanda River in the ninth century and installed it in a cave at Badrinath. The idol is said to have been discarded in the river during the ascendancy of Buddhism in that area. Since the re-installation of the deity by Adi Shankaracharya Badrinath become a very important place of pilgrimage. Subsequently in the sixteenth century the King of Garhwal constructed a Temple at the present site and installed the idol there. Later the Temple has undergone periodical changes and renovations under these kings and subsequent administration. The Temple is 15 metres in height and is very colorful and beautiful as you can see in the above photographs. The Rawal or the Chief Priest of the Temple for centuries and even now is always a Namboodiri Brahmin from Kerala as per Adi Shankaracharya’s instructions.
Surprisingly, Badrinath which is very cold even in summer has hot water springs like Tapt Kund, Surya Kund and Narad Kund. Bathing in the hot water spring located close to the Temple before the darshan of Badrinarayan is a tradition here. The nearby Valley of flowers is a beautiful place to visit where I found flowers of different colors and variety that I have never seen before. The Temple is open only for six months in a year due to heavy snowfall and extremely low winter temperatures. Depending on the weather conditions the Temple is open from any day in April to November. This year the temple was closed two weeks back on 17th November.
The Alaknanda River has many tributaries like Nandakini, Mandakini and Pindar and it is at Devprayag that it joins the other headstream Bhagirathi to form Ganges that is the sacred River Ganga. All along the journey to Badrinath and back to Rishikesh I got to travel along the mighty Ganga, other rivers, tributaries, streams and waterfalls. The confluence of these water sources all along the way and the mighty mountains and deep valleys along the serpentine road leading from one mountain peak to another made the journey very thrilling and memorable.