Last summer, once the roads in northern parts of Uttarakhandwere cleared from snow, a group of my trek buddies headed for one of the most difficult treks of our lifetime. We started at Dehradun, where all of us had gathered for a vacation. We booked a comfortable and cheap taxi from Dehradun to Mussoorie, spent a day there and headed towards Gangotri.
Gangotri- an introduction
For the uninitiated, Gangotri is a village/town in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand and one of the most sacred places for Hindu pilgrims. But a lot has changed in the way travelers look at this destination. There was a time, probably a generation or two earlier when places like Gangotri were only meant for pilgrimage. The thrill of scaling the steep slopes and the magnificence of the Himalayan view have made trekkers the most regular travelers to Gangotri today. And one doesn’t have to be religious to visit this divine place. One only needs a divine perspective.
According to Hindu mythology, the Goddess Ganga descended from heaven to earth in the form of a rapid glacial river, when Shiva invoked her from the locks of his hair. This place also holds immense geographical importance for the Indian landmass. The river Ganges originates from the Gangotri glacier at the point called Gomukh, about 19-20 Km from the town. The water stream that originates here is called Bhagirathi, which later merges with the Alaknanda river in Devprayag and becomes Ganga.
The journey to the origin of Ganges
It was a seven-hour drive from Mussoorie on NH34 and the route passed through the remotest villages of Uttarakhand. The landscape graduated from the lush green valleys, winding lanes, and scenic hills to imposing mountains, rocky roads, and more turbulent streams. But the journey couldn’t have been better with uninterrupted views of the Himalayas. We stopped at villages like Harshil, Bagori, and Dharali walked around and took a lot of photos. Their wooden cottages sat in the middle of fields and were the only human settlements in the area. The women were busy knitting yarns on their respective porches or tending to their farm animals. We even met a few village folks and heard the tales of their villages and of Gangotri.
At Dharali, we spotted a few temples near a spot called SukiTop, nestled in the mountains. These temples were old and made of stone, some were on the brink of ruins, while some were restored with modern brick-and-mortar. The most important temple here was one where the shrine of Gangotri is moved in winter when the roads to Gangotri are closed for snow but people can still fulfill their pilgrimage.
Our route ran parallel to the river Bhagirathi. After Barso, we started feeling the altitude kick in. It was the largest village on the route and was the starting for major treks in this part of Uttarakhand. Around Bhaironghati we crossed the Lanka Bridge over the Jadganga River. If our drive so far has been through steep mountains and sharp inclines, the ride through the bridge was ten times of that experience. It was perhaps the highest bridge (in terms of altitude) in the region. The bridge hung hundreds of meters on the river and could give a jolt even to the bravest souls.
After we crossed the bridge, we needed a break to ease up and stopped at the Gangnani hot springs. It is supposedly a prerequisite for pilgrims to stop and bathe in these hot springs before entering the temple of Gangotri . Quite contrary to my expectations, the water of the springs was not at all crystal clear, owing to pollution from tourists and rampant soil erosion in the region.
We finally reached Gangotri by late afternoon. It was almost peak tourist season and the place was swarming with tourists and pilgrims. We had no scope of entering the temple through the long queue but we roamed around to catch the surrounding views. As far as eyes could see there were barren mountains with sparse vegetation of pine. The snow-clad peaks were surely the most dramatic backdrop for the temple. I could only imagine what magical land lied ahead. We also found a hotel nearby to rest for the night and start our trek the next day.
The trek to Gomukh started from a basecamp behind the temple. We could only imagine what lied ahead. It was surely a magical land of snowy peaks and sparkling glaciers. And what happened on the trek is a story for another time.
For now, here are my tips for a great journey to Gangotri –
• If you want to travel directly from Dehradun, you can avail any reliable and verified car rentals in Dehradun.
• Always check for weather updates before planning your travel.
• The best time to visit Gangotri is between May to July.