Chota Char Dham

Key information: Chota Char Dham

  • India’s greatest pilgrimage trail, nowadays only parts of it are walked much.
  • Some great walking routes, pulsing with history and interest, in stunning landscape.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating89
  • Beauty31
  • Natural interest14
  • Human interest18
  • Charisma31
  • Negative points5
  • Total rating89
  • Note: Negs: Popularity; crowding

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable
  • Maximum Altitude: Well over 4,000m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable

This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.

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WALK SUMMARY

The Char Dham Hindu pilgrimage trail, in the high Himalayas towards the Tibetan border in the beautiful Gharwal region in the north of Uttarakhand is the most important pilgrimage route in the Indian Himalayas, linking four main sites: Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.

The vast majority of pilgrims just visit the four key sites, by bus or other transport. These sites can as a result be pretty un-fun during the high season. The routes between the sites are little-frequented.

The excellent Sacred Destinations says, on the history of the Char Dham:

“While each site….has an autonomous history and significance that predates and remains distinct from their status as a circuit, inclusion in the Char Dham has, over time, caused them be viewed.

The origins of the Char Dham are obscure. Originally, Char Dham was a name reserved for India's most famous pilgrimage circuit, four important temples grouped together....into the archetypal All-India pilgrimage circuit to the four cardinal points of the subcontinent. At some point, Badrinath, the last visited and the most important of the four sites in the original Char Dham, also became the cornerstone site of a Himalayan pilgrimage circuit dubbed the Chota (little) Char Dham.

As late as the mid-twentieth century, the "Chota" designation was still used consistently to delineate the Himalayan version of the Char Dham. Accessible until recent times only after a two-month trek that repeatedly exceeds 4,000 meters, the Chota Char Dham was long dominated by wandering ascetics and religious professionals, along with a handful of devoted retirees and wealthy patrons. After the 1962 war between India and China, however, accessibility to the Chota Char Dham improved drastically…. As pilgrim buses began to arrive, the Chota appendix seems to have dropped away.

With infrastructure improvements, the importance of the Char Dham as both an actual destination and an object of the national Hindu religious imagination has increased significantly….. The Char Dham has become an important destination for pilgrims from throughout South Asia.

Today, the Char Dham sees upwards of 250,000….visitors in an average season, which lasts from approximately April 15 until Diwali (sometime in November). The season is heaviest in the two-month period before the monsoon.

Once the rains come (sometime in late July), travel is extremely dangerous.

Most pilgrims to the Char Dham embark from the famous temple town of Haridwar. Others leave from Haridwar's sister city, Rishikesh, or from Dehra Duhn.”

See more at Sacred Destinations site.

Let's be clear - walking the entire circuit is a huge undertaking, 2 months or more and regularly over 4,000m as it crosses high ridges and massif between the great sites. It would be a remarkable achievement, but hard for foreigner, at least, to achieve. 

But each of the sites is rich in scenery and atmosphere beyond the thronged core areas, so of interest to walkers as well as those interested in their spiritual and historic import.

The circuit of the sites is usually started in the north-west. 

Yamunotri: the source of Hindu India's second-most sacred river, the Yamuna. A 13km trek from the roadhead. The river gushes from a huge area of ice above. Fine scenery about, but not stellar by Hamalayan standards.

Gangotri: an exceptional location, with some thrilling walking. See our Source of the Ganges page for information.

Kedemath: stunning scenery all around, and some excellent walking. You can explore paths to subsidiary shrines, incuding the long but stunning hike to Madmaheshwar, where you would need to stay the night. Or hike out to Deoria Tal. See more at Sacred Destinations.

Badrinath: huge visitor numbers and development  and less walking interest mean walkers are unlikely to divert to come here. It has a fine setting, though, and you can get away up tracks and paths onto the hillsides.

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ANYONE GOT ANY GOOD PHOTOS? WE WOULD BE DELIGHTED TO POST THEM!

This can be tough walking in serious mountains with uncertain weather, where altitude can cause problems. Come prepared, including appropriate acclimatization.

Have a look at the dreaded TripAdvisor. You should get good, current views on this walk area.

This page is at an early stage of development. Please help us by, recommending your best walks, making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!

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Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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