Yamunotri Temple lies in Uttarkashi district (Western Garhwal Himalaya) at an altitude of 3,201 metres (wrongly attributed as 3291 metres), Uttarakhand. According to Hindu belief, Yamuna is considered pure and bathing in its waters is believed to absolve you of your sins and grant immortality.
The Padma Purana narrates the story of two brothers who lived a life of indulgence and lust and gave up the virtuous ways. They finally plunged into poverty and resorted to robbery and were killed by beasts in the forest. Both of them reached Yama’s court for judgement. While the elder brother was sentenced to Naraka (hell), the younger was granted Svarga (heaven). Astonished, the younger brother asked the reason for it as both lived similar lives. Yama explained that the younger brother had lived in the ashram of a sage on Yamuna’s banks and bathed in the sacred river for two months. The first month absolved him of sins and the second one granted him a place in heaven.
The Yamuna is often called Yami in the Vedas and in later literature, she is known as Yamuna and Kalindi (“the dark one”). This is the rationale for the black marble idol of the goddess at Yamunotri temple. Yamunotri is accessible via a 6.5-kilometer trek from Janki Chatti (wrongly attributed as 5 km).
Walk with me and experience Yamunotri’s magic in my Trek Journal.
The trail to Yamunotri is over two metres wide and clearly marked. This is not surprising as this place gets thousands of pilgrims during the chota char dham yatra . The trail is dotted with water points, benches along the way and small sheds over the trail every 500 metres or so. Yet during the off-season, these water points don’t work, the benches are decked in snow and sheds have slippery floor due to overnight ice formation. It is next to impossible to miss the trail even in deep snow, yet due to the heavy snow, a winter trek to Yamunotri should not be underestimated. On the other hand, this is an excellent trek if you’re new to winter trekking because
- There is no route finding involved.
- A retreat is easy if things get hairy due to inclement weather.
The trail is a wide concrete path that bisects Janki Chatti. A GMVN rest house lies a kilometre from the starting point to your left. The town ends after a kilometre and a half after which the route gets slightly steeper. There are three temples along the route and the first (Ram temple) lies to your right just after the town ends.
The trail hugs the mountainside and keeps to the “true right” of Yamuna river throughout. The midway point of the trail is a steel bridge over one of the tributaries to the Yamuna. Three hundred metres after the bridge there is a bifurcation on the main trail. The path to your left is an alternate path to Yamunotri temple that meets the main trail after the final switchback. Nevertheless, in winters we recommend sticking to the main route as the alternate route has much more snow and is thus difficult to negotiate. There are three switchbacks along the main route. The first switchback is immediately after the bridge, there is another before Bhairav temple (last temple along the route) and the steepest and final switchback is immediately before Yamunotri temple.
This is one of the covered portions on the trail. A good place to change socks and stamp the snow from your shoes. However this can be extremely slippery as the melting snow freezes to ice overnight.
- Type - Day Trek. Easy (3-season) and moderate (winter snow).
- Difficulty - Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) Scale - T2.
- Trek Duration - A two-hour ascent and one-hour descent from April to November. In winters this time could triple depending on the amount of snow.
- Trek Distance - 6.5 kilometres from Janki Chatti (Parking spot just outside town) to Yamunotri temple.
- Maximum Elevation - 3176 metres.
- Average Grade - 10.1%
- Start and Finish - Janki Chatti, Uttarakhand ( Google Maps ). 45 kilometres from Barkot ( Google Maps ) which is the nearest big town.
- Getting There - Regular bus from Mussoorie and Dehradun till Barkot. Shared taxi/jeep from Barkot till Janki Chatti
- Accommodation - There are numerous hotels, dharamshalas and a GMVN Tourist Rest House at Janki Chatti ( Google Maps ). However, accommodation during the pilgrimage months is iffy as it gets very crowded (May – July and then September – November). From November to April none of these hotels are open. The same goes for dharamshalas and ashrams which offer a dormitory style accommodation near Yamunotri temple. If you’re planning to stay overnight at Yamunotri temple, check at the police post in Janki Chatti if any of the ashrams are open. One option is to stay overnight at Barkot and make an early morning start to be back at Barkot late in the evening. Hotel Dev Bhoomi ( Google Maps ) in Barkot has clean budget rooms.
- Weather - Snow after December and usually lasts until March. You will need a fleece and jacket in March and April. Summers are pleasant with day temperatures in the mid-20s and night temperatures at around 5 degrees. In March the night temperature at Yamunotri dips below 0
- Connectivity - BSNL only at Yamunotri, reception is spotty. 2G network on major carriers at Janki Chatti. 3.5G at Barkot.
If you’re attempting this trek in March in all likelihood you will deal with a metre of snow as you get close to Yamunotri. (More winter trekking tips ) This means that the following gear is essential:
- Winter Boots (or something with a closed toe box that does not allow snow or water to seep in).
- Synthetic trousers (cotton/denim is a big no-no, read why).
- Category 4 Sunglasses.
- Trekking Poles or a stout stick.
- 1 litre of water per person. While there are many water points, none of them work during the non-pilgrimage months (November – May).
- Trail snacks / warm drink ( see our list of top three warm drinks )