A Trek to the Origin of Ganges and Beyond

The mission was to trek to the glacier called Gaumukh, a tract of 8km by 24km ice-body, the origin of the holiest of holy rivers Ganges or Ganga, highly revered by Hindu believers over millennia. The final destination of the trek had to be Tapovan, a wide-open meadow at the base of the picturesque Shivaling Peak could only be reached if snaking through the boulders and chunk of icebergs that remained on the surface of the glacier followed by a steep thousand feet climb. At the source, the Ganges named after ancient King Bhagirath, read Gangotri Tales to know the Hindu Mythology involved, as River Bhagirathi and confluences with River Alaknanda at Devprayag to become River Ganga that flows from north of India towards east covering a distance of 2480km to the Bay of Bengal.

Although the sight of Gaumukh Glacier is a major reason for trekkers to repeat the trek, also because the trail has always something new to offer each time. On the contrary, when I reached the snout of Gaumukh I was disappointed by the sight and more than a little confused. It didn’t look the way I picturised in mind reading some articles online as I was expecting the glacier with its blue highlights glistening in the clear and nippy mountain air and the virginal river of ice. What standing in front of me was some 300ft high muddy mountainous body bridging two inclined mountain slopes rising on both banks, and a cavern at the bottom of the vertical face full of rubble from where River Bhagirathi started flowing. Only then I could think out the true mold of the sight faced, when I began noticing white flecks under the muddy grime surface as we drew closer, that the immense structure of approximately 300ft is nothing but a compacted ice body that shaped the valley of the sanctified river. The moment my confusion mitigated a bit I heard a crashing sound and caught a sight of a chunk of ice, quite a size of a Tata Sumo, topple into the river, evanishing my sense of disappointment amidst the marvels scattered all over.

The Bhagirathi Massifs

Where on one hand at the eye level persisted the small portal to the cavern called Gaumukh( a Hindi word, we get Gau and Mukh after derivation meaning Cow and Mouth respectively; which perhaps resembles a face of cow, subjects to Hindu reverence) on the other hand, the vertical face of towering Bhagirathi Sisters were in North and in south, across River Bhagirathi the scree inclined rocky body swept up into peculiar and picturesque summit of Shivaling, could surely be placed among top most beautiful summits in the world. The opaque ice of the glacier in white and green trickles a thousand streams for millennia and recesses the trust of numberless millions. A random thought stirred up my mind as I quenched my thirst by breaking an icicle from an unattached chunk of ice-body and sucked at it that the icicle perhaps persisted in the solid physical state for many thousands of years unaware of the other forms of water then experienced a change in my touch, I did giggle at my own sense of humour for a second.

The Trek

Day One

  • TIME: 6-7 HOURS
  • ELEVATION: 9999ft to 12467ft.

It is recommended that before one set out taking the pilgrim trail, he/ she might prefer to have a glance of the Kund trough and visit the Ganga Shrine half a kilometre upstream as Hindu custom decrees. The trail starts at the edge of the main road to the town above the temple hugging the rumbling River Bhagirathi that runs parallelly to the path always on the right. After an uphill walk for 20 min more or less trekkers pass through an cemented gateway, “Welcome to Gangotri National Park” engraved in it, crossing which lies the forest check post where one has to produce ID and pass to get the permit checked. The cluster of snow-capped peaks are clearly visible from this point among which passersby descry Sudarshan Parbat( 21,345 ft) the most for its magnificent presence.

We faced a number of streams and waterfalls en route gashing down below making the trekking trail sporting and cheerful amidst the desolated landscape of brown and grey. The valley opens up wider into a field full of boulders and stone chips right after crossing a bridge where the well-maintained trail ends and River Bhagirathi being constant relief along with cluster peaks in front. In a while, the symmetrically framed valley with mountain slopes in front turns greener in the presence of Chir( Pine) and Silver Birch trees that completely changes the ambience, incites the hint of crossing 8 km to Chirbasa from the base camp. In Chirbasa, many prefer to withhold the trek further both for acclimatisation and to breath in the nature of Pine forest across River Bhagirathi setting up tents on the riverbed. Unlike them, we reclined there for 15 min enjoyed the breathtaking sight of distant Bhagirathi sisters at a food stall, had tea and noodles and some chocolates, which sufficed to revive energy in the tantalizing aroma of pine trees and continue our trek.

Chir( Pine) Trees bestows tantalizing aroma all over Chirbasa

Leaving Chirbasa behind the path leads to the primary trail from the behind of GMVN Guesthouse. The landscape after Chirbasa gradually lacks greeneries and widens up facing the vertical face of Bhagirathi massifs as a beacon. The 5 km long trail to Bojbasa from here is very scenic and involves a level walk due south-east along the river and offers snow-clad peaks view in the south. There lies a vantage area approximately 300 m before reaching the widest part of the entire trek called Bhojbasa, that provides a bird’s view to the plain field below comprised with few iglu like structures, one Ashram or two, a GMVN Guesthouse and quite a few tents. The grand view of white pyramid-like Shivalinga Peak unveils at this point along with a part of Gaumukh Glacier at the bottom of Bhagirathi Peaks on the different edge of the panorama.

We took refuge to Lal Baba’s Ashram, a good provider of lodging and langar at a very cheap rate especially for those who are reluctant to light up their stoves after the tiresome trek. Moreover, there lies a Guesthouse of GMVN with better accommodations where trekkers might avail hot water bath at a more commercial rate.

Day Two

  • TIME: 4- 5 HOURS
  • ELEVATION: 12467ft to 14642ft

We woke up early in the morning in the hope of catching the sight of coruscating Bhagirathi sisters and Shivaling Peak touched by fresh sunbeams yielding a ruddy aura. Staring at the summits we enjoyed morning tea at Bhojbasa, the place did seem very damp and bleak as its surrounded by high snow-capped hills, it receives direct sunlight quite lately and remains under the shade of mountains in dim light before the sun sets amply. We had a target of covering the 5 km distance to Gaumukh by 11’O clock and head for Tapovan before noon. It is advised that to leave your belongings safely at Bhojbasa except for sleeping bags which would surely facilitate trekkers’ trudge to Tapovan.

Sunbeams through intimidating mountainous entity at Bhojbasa

The first four kilometres uphill from Bhojbasa is surprisingly horizontal, the valley narrows down gradually fringed by a grassy meadow. After about a kilometre of the trek, it lands on a rocky terrain and one has to find his/ her way through boulders and gravels. This part is almost perfect for camping, en passant, a sandy beach across River Bhagirathi sheltered by huge piles of granite body. Continuing the trek through the edge of the river to step into the very bottom of the cold and deadly glacier Gaumukh it was quite difficult to keep in mind that then was a portion of the glacier per se being trekked. Overhanging was the magnificent peak of Shivaling( 21467 ft) almost vertically above. The sight of Gaumukh and sacred River Bhagirathi extracting from its cavern at such close range is mindnumbing but at the same time, it is prudent not to run any attempt to get nearer to the river’s edge out of curiosity as it may cause a fatal outcome. One has to climb 100 meters from here traversing glacier moraine to reach its surface which is adjacent to the ice-melted stream that flows down called Akash-Ganga( or, Milky Way, coincidentally the name of our Galaxy).

The picturesque Shivaling Peak at Tapovan

Snaking through the loose icebergs and boulders on the surface of the glacier glistering greenish sparks under the sun and looking for the tentative path we approached the southern part of the upper valley. Then, the trail was well marked, one may gather ownself together here before a steep uphill trek of about a thousand feet to the base of Peak Shivaling that possesses decent meadows. It is a great relief when the base of cluster peaks Tapovan is reached after a tiresome climb. It is impossible to get more idyllic a place for camping, moreover, there are few Sadhus who provide space for night stay and food.

Day Three

It is recommended that hike till the Ashram located at Tapovan to get the better view of astonishing and fabled Shivaling Peak that sweep up in a wave of ravel, granite and snow. The panorama from the 2 km vast level ground at the hight of more than 14000 ft comprises of summits of awestruck Bhagirathi massifs, Thenu and Sudarshan Parvat ranging from the left, Meru remains on the other hand left to the Shivaling Peak and Sumeru a bit behind it. One may explore the place thoroughly taking the whole day and head back the next day with ease.

Day Four and Five

The sense of melancholy bestows in the time of tracing the trail back everytime. It should take a day and a half to reach back to Gangotri, the base camp of the trek. One might set back and relax at Gangotri on the fifth day concluding the whole adventurous activity and thrill and start early in the morning to the respective destinations thinking of the novel reminiscence of the whole experience.

Hasta Luego

                                                               |  Rick Biswas  |


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