Traditionally, the Char Dhams Yatra starts in May and ends in October every year. With the onset of winters, heavy snowfalls render the temples inaccessible, thus cutting off the yatra for 6 months.
In 2014, Uttarakhand began a revolutionary pilgrimage practice known popularly as Winter Char Dham.
This was made possible by relocating the deities of Char Dhams Yatra – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath to shrines of Kharsali, Mukhva, Ukhimath and Pandukeshwar (Joshimath) respectively for the six months of winters. This allowed the pilgrims to visit the Dhams year round, and in winter at a much lower altitude, with less crowd, clear blue sunny skies and a sub zero chance for calamities that otherwise render the Yatra difficult.
The best option for beginning the journey is by starting at Haridwar, which is easily accessible by train, Road via the NH 45 and flight via the Jolly grant airport in Dehradun, a mere 35km away from Haridwar.
1. Jankichatti – Kharsali
The beginning of the pilgrim occurs at the pious Yamunotri.
Kharsali is nestled across the River Yamuna, about a kilometre away from Janki Chatti, which has a direct route via Mussoorie from Haridwar. The road is sturdy, and the distance from Haridwar is approximately 250 km.
Ma Yamuna resides in this abode during the full 6 months of winter.
Kharsali also is the residence of the oldest Shani temple in India. Visit to the temple goes hand in hand with visit to this spot.
2. Mukhba :
Mukhba is regarded as the place where Goddess Ganga first touched the ground. Signifying and marking this place is a submerged shivling, seen only in the month of January, when the water levels recede.
Mukhba is a village up on the ridge at the other side of the River from Dharali. The muktimath temple here is the winter abode of Goddess Ganga from the Temple at Gangotri.
The Temple is 20ft high and made up of white granite, and is built on the left bank of the Ganga River.
Adjacent is One of the most important and ancient temples of this region, the temple of Lord Vishwanath.
The Narsingh temple at Joshimath is the winter Abode of Lord Badrinath. The temple itself is located near the holy confluence of Alaknanda river and the Dhauli Ganga.
Ukhimath is located at a distance of 41 km from Rudraprayag.
Onkareshwar Temple is the winter abode of Lord Kedarnath.
In winter, the idols from kedarnath temple and the Madhyamaheshwar are worshipped here at Ukhimath.
Apart from this, an year round worship of lord Onkareshwar is also conducted in this holy temple.