Char Dham Yatra by Helicopter

Col Kulbhushan Gupta (Retd)
In India we have Bada Char Dham and Chota Char Dham. In Bada Char Dham, all the Dhams are related to four epochs. They are 1. Dham of Satyug-Badrinath, in Uttaranchal.2. Dham of Tretayug-Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu 3. Dham of Dwapuryug-Dwarka in Gujrat. 4. Dham of Kaliyuga-Jagan Nath puri in Odisha.
Chota Char Dham or Dhams of Uttarakhand include, Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. Badrinath is the only Dham included in both Bada and Chota Dhams.
In May 2022, we undertook Yatra of Chota Char Dham by helicopter. Before I talk about actual yatra, let me briefly recount the history of Dhams forming part of Chota Char Dham or Uttarakhand Char Dham.
It is said the after the epic battle of Kurukshetra Pandvas started their journey to Varanasi to get blessings of Lord Shiva because they felt guilty of killing their friends and relatives. Lord Shiva refused to meet them. Lord Shiva hid in Gupatkashi. When Pandvas reached that location, Lord Shiva transformed himself into a buffalo so that Pandavas could not recognize Him. Noticing Pandvas coming close to Him, Lord Shiva tried to go underground. Bheema tried to stop him by holding the legs and tail of buffalo. But lord Shiva disappeared leaving behind his hump. The hump is worshipped at Kedarnath temple. It is believed Pandvas built the original temple and Adi Shankaracharya restored the present temple. The temple opens in May and closes in November.
This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Apart from being part of the Chota Char Dham circuit, this shrine is also included in Bada Char Dham circuit of Hindu pilgrimage. This temple is home of the idol of Lord Badri Narayan in a meditative pasture. In the winter time the idol is shifted to Vasu Dev temple in Joshi math for worship. It is prominent temple among the Panch Badri and one of the Divya Desams of Lord Vishnu. The iconic one-meter-tall black stone idol of Lord Vishnu is one of the eight Swayamvyakta kshetras that means self-manifested statues. The temple is open from May to November.
It is source of river Yamnotri and seat of Goddess Yamnotri. The temple was built by Maharani Galleria of Jaipur. It was rebuilt by Maharana Pratap shah of Tehri Garhwal.The temple is home to the silver idol of Goddess Yamuna, At Akshaya Tritiya, it opens for pilgrimage. Goddess Yamuna was the daughter of lord Sun and twin sister of Yama and Shani Dev.
The deity is carved out of black marble. Kharsali village, also known as KHUSHIMATH, is the winter seat of Goddess Yamuna. Famous here is Shani Dev temple and Lord Shiva temple, where Shiva is depicted in His Someshwar Avtar.
When in Yamnotri also visit Surya Kund-the hot water spring at Barkot near Yamnotri temple; Janaki Chatti, Hanuman Chatti and Kharsali village.
The holy river Ganges originates from Gangotri glacier, located here, and is called Bhagirathi. Glacier is around 30 kms in length and 4 kms in width. The origin of the river is at Gaumukh, set in Gangotri glacier, and is 19 kms track from Gangotri.
King Bhagirath prayed for thousands of years to Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva who then allowed river Ganges-also called Bhagirathi-to descend from heaven to earth to absolve Bhagirath’s ancestors of their sins.
The temple is over 300 years old. It is 20 feet high and is dedicated to Goddess Ganga. The foundation stone was laid in 18th century by Amar Singh Thapa, a Gurkha commander. It was rebuilt in 20th century by Maharaja of Jaipur. The idol shifts to Mukhimath temple in winter, the winter resting place of Goddess Ganga.
We were four couples, all senior citizens. We took package from Thomas cook. The package cost us Rs1,75,000/-per individual. It included all arrangements from Dehradun onwards. Two couples travelled by train from Jammu to Haridwar. They were picked up from railway station Haridwar and taken to hotel Lemon tree in Dehradun. One couple flew from Bangalore to Dehradun and one from Pune to Dehradun. They were picked up from Dehradun airport and brought to Lemon tree hotel. In the evening we were briefed by tour manager, who gave us details about the complete tour. He also gave us a Duffin bag. We were asked to pack our clothes, medicines and other necessities etc. for the next five days. The weight of the bag was not to exceed 5 kg because Helicopter will not take bags weighing more than 5 kg. This was on 06 May 22. We were asked to be ready to move on 07 May morning by 6 am, when their vehicle will take us to helipad for our journey to Yamnotri. The salient features of the tour package are; –
–The body weight of every person should be less than 80 kg. In case any person is above 80 kg, then combined weight of the couple should not exceed 160 kg. Excess weight is chargeable at the rate of Rs 1000/- per kg.
—One helicopter can fly with six passengers and one pilot. Their combined weight, including bags should not exceed 560 kg. They adjust the passengers accordingly.
—If you are travelling in a group, try to have your own group of six people so that you always travel in a chartered helicopter and together. We were eight people so one couple was separated from rest of us for the complete tour.
—– Carry light baggage because above 5 kg stuff will have to be left back in the hotel only which we get after the completion of trip.
—The package includes-First day stay in Dehradun. Second day fly by helicopter from Dehradun to Yamnotri, VIP darshan and night stay in Yamnotri. Third day fly from Yamnotri to Gangotri by helicopter, VIP Darshan and night stay there. Fourth day Fly from Gangotri to Kedar Nath by helicopter, VIP darshan and night stay there. Fifth day fly from Kedarnath to Badrinath by helicopter, VIP darshan and night stay there. Sixth day morning pooja in Badrinath temple and fly to Dehradun by helicopter. Drop in Lemon tree hotel and end of the tour.
—The package includes, transportation, stay in minimum 3-star hotels, all meals and VIP darshan in all temples.
07 May 2022
At around 6am we were picked up by the tour operator and taken to Dehradun Helipad. Each person carried a bag weighing 5kg. The excess baggage was deposited with the hotel. Six of us formed one group and two were clubbed with another group. The helicopter departed for Kharsali around 7am. It took 25 minutes to reach there. On arrival at Kharsali helipad, we were received by the staff of tour operator. They carried our bags and took us to hotel. We checked in and had breakfast. The accommodation and meal were good.
After breakfast we left for Yamnotri temple. It is a steep, tough track of 7 kms. We were to get eight Palkis, one for each person according to tour package. But we got four Palkis and four horses. The journey from Kharsali to Yamnotri temple is tough. We can go walking, on horses or in Palki. The track is narrow-not more than 10 feet
wide, steep and has up and down traffic. Enroute there are tea stalls and eating places. On horses and Palki it took almost three hours to reach Yamnotri temple. On arrival one pandit ji contacted us. And conducted pooja rituals and darshan of the temple. First, we had a dip in the hot water spring which originates from the temple. Then pandit ji briefed us about the temple, did pooja and took us for darshan of Maa Yamnotri. There is hot water spring in the temple complex in which you put raw rice in a cloth bag and they are cooked within 10 minutes. Those cooked rice are brought back as prasad. After darshan and pooja our return journey to Kharsali starts.
We returned to kharsali around 2pm, had our lunch and rested in the room. In the evening we went for local sightseeing which included Shani Dev temple and Lord Shiva temple.
08 May 2022
In the morning, around 7am, we left for Helipad. We were airlifted to Harsil. We were received by the staff of tour operator at Harsil helipad and taken to hotel Nilangana.The helicopter had just taken 20 minutes to complete the sortie.
The hotel was at the bank of river Ganga. It has very good accommodation and excellent food. After breakfast we were taken to Ma Gangotri temple. The temple is
built on the banks of river Ganga. We all had a dip in the holy river. Thereafter Pandit ji put us through Complete pooja process and arti. Then we went for darshan of Maa Gangotri in the temple. We also paid our respects in King Bhagirath temple. After that we returned to hotel. In the evening we went for local sightseeing. There are beautiful water falls. We also visited site where movie Ram Teri ganga Meli was shot.
09 MAY22
On 09 May, in the morning we left for Harsil helipad. We were to take helicopter for Sarsi/Kedarnath. Due to bad weather, the helicopter took off around 1 pm. It landed in Phatta instead of Sarsi/Kedarnath. The weather near Kedarnath was not suitable for landing helicopter. We waited till 3pm, when tour operator told us that we will be spending night in Phatta as weather had packed up in Kedarnath. They took us to a beautiful resort which provided good accommodation and excellent food. We were asked to be ready to move to helipad by 0600 hrs. on10 May and reached Kedarnath at 11 AM.
Kedarnath is now fully developed place. It has govt/private hotel and cottages. There are enough places to eat. The main issue there is you either stand in miles long que for darshan in the temple or pay to Pandits or be some kind of VIP to have the privilege of priority darshans.
After darshan we reached helipad by 2.30 pm. Fortunately weather was clear that time and we could get helicopter sortie immediately to Phatta. When we landed in Phatta there was another helicopter waiting for us to take us to Badrinath. In 30 minutes, time we landed at Badrinath helipad. There we were received by a guide who took us to our hotel. Again, a nice place to stay. They served us tea and hot Pakoras. Our guide then took us to Badrinath temple.
11 May22
In the morning we were to perform Vishnu Sehastranam path. We could not because this has to be booked in advance. It costs Rs 4400/- each person. Other tour operators refunded this money since they too could not be accommodated due to advance bookings. But Thomas cook has not refunded us this money. After breakfast we left Badrinath by helicopter and reached Dehradun after 40 minutes flight. We were dropped in hotel Lemon tree. We collected our baggage and left for Rishikesh by taxi. Our tour package with Thomas had come to an end.
Overall, we had a great experience. The blissful Chard Dham yatra ended with great darshans in every Dham. We all maintained very good health in spite of all being senior citizens. Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu Yamnotri and Maa Ganga were very kind to us and enabled us to complete this blissful journey with excellent darshan and pooja everywhere. God bless everyone.