The Source Of Ganges

Photo of The Source Of Ganges 1/2 by Kunwar Singh Deoliya
Photo of The Source Of Ganges 2/2 by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

A couple of hours later I reached the my 1 st stopover, Uttar Kashi, a small busy town on the bank of Ganga, famous for its Kashi-Vishwanath temple. I decided to have my lunch in some quiet place and reached Gangori few kilometres ahead where Assi Ganga meets Bhagirathi. I asked the hotel manager, where is this Assi Ganga coming from.. and very confidently he replied from the Himalayas..I re-focused on my meal. Soon a gentleman came, who was also heading to Gangotri with his family and told me that this year Maa Ganga has called him. Now growing up in India you came across such sentences million times which is something beyond my understanding. How one gets an invitation to visit religious places? Email, SMS or personal invite by the God?

Though two JVC machine were into it from both sides, but it was like Rahul Dravid defending in slog overs, every minute was important in these evening hours, else It will alter my plans, which means a day waste. Anyhow this whole mess cleared up in 45 minutes and I rushed without even getting the clearance signal from them.

Around 4.30pm I crossed Gangnani where devotees take dip in hot water spring, but I don't have that luxury now, so maybe upon my return.

Photo of Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, India by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

After this the Bhagirathi valley just simply emerges as a Goddess abode. High steep mountains on both sides, covered with deodar trees and countless waterfalls.. ohhhh!!! I wish I can stop at every corner and capture the exquisiteness.... but the clock was ticking.

Photo of Bhagirathi Road, Chakdaha, West Bengal, India by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

Once I reached this pristine town of Harsil, Sun went behind those high mountains and being at 7860 ft above sea level the cold-hearted winds started piercing through the body.

Driving in these hills is not recommended after sunset, that too when winter was just round the corner. The moment, when I thought of taking a halt, one milestone said 23 kms which seems doable. I got down over the road side, took off my clothes (yup no one was there), put on all the woolens layers I was carrying and re-pack myself. Now going towards higher hills, I felt I was flying to the moon not because of the altitude but due to my Astronaut attire. In return, I felt warmer and can continue now.

It was late October and the valley was busy ornating herself to meet the winters, she was even blushing red in anticipation. Autumn shades of crimpson, hues of yellow, and permanent green have turned the leaves into flowers and myself into a poet for that moment. The beauty of the painted valley was in harmony with its music where Ganga gives the bass, complemented by the tweets of hundreds of chirping birds.

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya
Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

By noon I reached Chirbasa (home of the Pines), This name is due to abundance or Chir(pine) tree and is on an altitude of 3580 metre. Had a lunch break here of the packed aalo-parantha and mango pickle, which I took from Gangotri due limited options here.

After this the tree line was minimal and as we ascend further, the pinching pain in the head started, first sign of altitude sickness which came to remain for rest of the trek. Now I can see a little of Bhagirathi 2 nd at the far end and Mt. Shivling peak glancing behind Bhrigu's shoulder. Crossed few small rivers like devgaad and many streams by hopping on the stones or through temporary bridges, since nothing remains permanent in such valleys.

Photo of Chirbasa, Uttarakhand, India by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

All three peaks of Bhagirathi are now visible and dominates the skyline for rest of the trek. By 4'o clock I managed to reach bhojbasa (home of the bhojpatra). Here one can see few Bhojpatra trees, whose barks were used as a Vedic era paper and most our ancient texts were written over it. Gaumukh glacier was visible from here which was some 4-5 kms ahead. I was at 3775 m above sea level

I descended from the ridge to Ram baba ashram and was greeted by a cup of black tea spiced with local herbs which was wonderful. The ashram consists of one kitchen made out of wood and rocks and 5-6 tents where not more than 10-15 people were taking the night halt.

That pinching headache which keeps coming after Bhojwasa was constant now. As soon as the sun goes down the temperature falls like a skydiver. I put on cap, gloves, mufler and what not but the cold was irresistible. More signs of altitude sickness now kick in. Breathless, constant headache, gastric, high pulse rate has taken over the body. Soon the dinner was announced at 5.30 pm. Trekking full day with roughly 17 kms, I was expected to eat double but was only able to take half of the appetite. All thanks to this high altitude sickness which came along with loss of apitite. By 6 I was in Bed in a big army tent shared by 5 Russians and one panditji, who was also their guide. I slipped under my sleeping bag and pull over the ashram quilt and waited for the body to get warmer and praybed to be able to acclimatize by morning. Due to exhaustion, I slept within minutes only to wake up after ½ an hour on account of breathlessness and it continues throughout the night. It was the longest night I can remember in recent times. With no electricity it was pitch dark inside the tent and I kept on gasping for breath at regular intervals with constant headache, nausea and cold to keep me awake for most of the night. Nightmares keep coming and I did not have a choice, but to wait under layers for this dark night to end.

Photo of Gaumukh, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, India by Kunwar Singh Deoliya
Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

Finally, the day broke out and I woke up with little fever (Another sign of AMS) picked up the water bottle under my folding bed....ahh!!!! the water has turned into ice. Got a warm cup of black tea later and by 7'0 clock, managed to eat few spoons of suzi ka halwa for breakfast and continued towards Gaumukh. I wanted to reach atleast Gaumukh if not beyond. This 4-5 kilometers were tough to cover in fever and little energy left in the body.

Also the strenuous walk has tested the deskbound body to its limits. Legs were quite stiff now and I was moving at tortoise pace. It was the sight of majestic Shivling peak which now emerges from the right of the glacier to give some energy boost. Finally I managed to reach at the snout of the Glacier. A sight to be seen to believe. I have never imagined it that way. Till now, only seen in pictures taken from distance, I imagined it to be some 10-15 feet chunk of ice. But there it was overlooking me from a height of a 10 story building and the mighty Ganges emerging silently under it. With the peaks of Bhagirathi and Shiving on its both sides, it was a God's grand painting.

From here the glacier goes up the hill towards Bhagirathi and take a turn in unending valley. The total length of this glacier is roughly 30 kms long and 2-4 km wide and total area covered is approximately 200 sq. km and is 2 nd largest after Sia-chin.This is at a height of 4225m and not only Gaumukh but glacial system like Rakthvan, Chaturangi, Kirti and many others contribute to this glacierized area. Legends says that earlier the glacier snout was in Gangotri and has a face of a cow, thus the name Gau-mukh. Unfortunately, I was seeing this massive glacier in his last geological stage. It has already been receded by 3 kms in last 2 centuries and with the pace it is melting now it would be gone soon. Global Warming: 1 Nature:0, we humans rock baby.

To reach Tapovan I have to cross the glacier breadth and climb a steep ridge under the feet of Shivling. Though the body was in pretty bad shape due to AMS and fatigue for the uphill journey but I simply do not want to return from here. I have waited for this check in my bucket list from eternity. I rested for a while and pushed down the holy energy bars from patanajali and Gatorade down the throat, they tasted all bitter due to fever.

I was still having the breathlessness and heavy pulse rate even at rest. Took one DIAMOX and decided to continue. Now Crossing the glacier was the trickiest part of entire journey. The glacier was huge and full of surprises. At a simple look over it, doesn't seems like I was standing over a platform of ice. It was all rocks and sand with big boulders of ice peeping in between. With crevasses huge enough to take down a mini truck, slowly and steadily, from rock to rock I moved Southfollowing my guide, Rana. A guide is a must to cross this glacier and with no permanent path, they also use the sense of direction to reach Tapovan. I have told Rana, young chap in early 20s that come what may, just make me reach Tapovan and he was up for the challange and assure me that I will. The route was narrow and when one shows up from other side, We have to wait till he crosses the patch. I was wondering how the porters were managing with around 40kg on their back in such route. It was scary but an amusing walk with virtually no route. The terrain was full of huge crevasses, big boulders, dust, loose gravels and moraines which flow down from high hills and deposit over it. Finally, we crossed the glacier. But then, comes this 1000 ft wall. If glacier was tough it was the daddy of entire trek. A straight climb to the meadows of Tapovan and I can see the people's struggle who were walking down. Their guides were holding their hands and taking them to safe location one by one.

Going up this wall, the already exhausted body was struggling against the gravity and thin air while working beyond his corporate capacity. Lack of oxygen in my blood was making me dizzy. after every 10 steps I have to wait to restore my breadth and energy and let the pain in the legsregulated. I have discovered many new muscles in the calves and thighs now, which were secreting the painful juices and making them swell.

After an hour struggle, I came over The Wall and now was walking on the meadow of Tapovan. I was not expecting such a huge plain at this height. Towering over this meadow in south-west lies the Magnanimous Shivling, blessing the creatures beneath. Akash Ganga was coming like a huge serpent from the right feet of Shivling and going down to Gaumukh intersecting the meadow. This river is the main source of water here and as the winter comes it starts getting dry. More than half was already gone and when around noon the ice melts, the river gets water for few hours. Municipal corporation of nature was active there. Behind Shivling, further west, Mount Meru was declaring his presence. Eastern side was regimented by Bhagirathi group of mountains and in between these mountains lies the mammoth 1000 lanes glacier expressway of Gaumukh.

Walking on this meadow was a cake walk after conquering The Walll. Soon I was at Moni baba ashram consist of 5 small stone huts, had a cup of same black tea and tried soaking the enormous beauty at an altitude of almost 15000 ft. Soon the food was served, khichdi with vegetables floating into it was the only option, but it tasted wonderful and people were consuming it in enormous quantity. Unfortunately, AMS did not let me eat much.

The sun was shining bright and somehow this plateau was not windy like the valley below and I took a quick nap for a while in the sun. There was this small hill right across the Akash Ganga adjoining the Shiviling's base and my cat feet wants to explore the world beneath. I asked my guide what's there? and he said "Neel-Taal", to phir chale, I was excited to see the lake. His jaw dropped,as he has seen me struggling to reach here through-out the day and I was asking to cover few more kilometers and go approx 300 meter high on this small yet erect mountain. Soon we were at site of a high altitude lake called Neel-taal due to its rich blue color but the only thing I saw was dust. It has dried-up just like the Akash Ganga below.

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

Diasappointed we move upwards over a 1 meter wide ridge with sharp fall on both sides. Unlike the warmth of the Tapovan plains and absence of any natural shelter, cold winds were needling the body. But after climbing the required distance, I have the view to die for and worth more the effort of reaching here. Even its description giving me goosebumps. I can see the Meru mountain from its tip to toe, its glacier coming right towards me and fading in the gamukh below. On its opposite side was Rakthvan glacier (named after its red stone) and its river. To its right lies the Chaturangi Glacier (named after the 4 colored moraine on this glacier) Nandanvan meadow just across it with Bhagirathi 2 nd emerging from its edges along with Bhagirathi 3 rd and . Below It lies the vast Gaumukh and kirti glacier running parallel and finally merging into one taking along chaturangi and rakthvan with them to form the huge glacier system of about 258.56 sq. km.

far North eastern side, at the end of the valley I can see the part of Chaukhamba peak from whose foothills the glacier originates and stretches its legs till Gaumukh.

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

Towards North was Kharchkund peak smiling in the evening rays and on East was sharp vertical Shivling. From here the Ashram was looking as a small blue dot and Akash Ganga was posing with her vibrant curves The silver reflection on her sand and water was completing the makeup. This 360'o view of Himalayan peaks, 5 glaciers, 3 rivers, 4 valleys, few waterfalls and glacier lakes was a lifetime opportunity and I have seen much more then I have expected. Now I don't fear if I fall from this ridge or die of AMS, I have already seen the heaven.

We descended straight away to Ashram without taking the ridge and by the time we reach, Babaji was ready with dinner at 5 PM. He prepares the food himself and every guest has to clean his own plates, spoons or cup. Big utensils are taken care by the porters. Now, it was a regular routine to calm my breath for ½ an hour before I managed to eat few. Body has not been recovered from altitude effect.

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

Cloud came over to cover the peaks and the last evening fiery light has turned this place into a magical fairy land. All wide open eyes were up on the Bhagirathi and Shivling peaks admiring the glory of the wild, rugged mountains

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

While I was admiring the Shivling, it holds a dead body of a Polish climber from last 5 days. 2 climber died there after falling from the cliff. One dead body was recovered by the rescue team while other still remains hidden somewhere is the sheets of ice and now a part of the mountain.

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

While I kept thinking of the robustness of the himalayas a fellow Canadian hiker handed over the oxymeter to check my condition and declared that my oxygen level in blood is critical which was 69% and pulse rate was 110 bpm, again alarming. He also told the story that how her fellow traveler died in her sleep due to AMS. I think my pulse rate had gone even higher after hearing all this. Altitude has taken over the attitude and without any question, I took the i-brufene which he offered, to stop the brain inflation. I retired in that cozy hut with 4-5 layers of blanket. It was better sleep considering the previous sleepless night.

I woke up at 5, but not able to dare the cold outside. Soon people started coming out of their huts. First they waited for the Sun and then waited for Babaji to get up and have their tea and breakfast, but he don't get up before 7 ????

Porridge breakfast was served at 8 and people started moving towards their destination. The Canadians were going further towards khadapatthar, a big rock formation and others were going down. Retired Japanese has already came back from his morning hike. He seems in love with the Blue sheep grazing in the meadow and told us with the childish excitement that he counted 40 of them. I knew that rather on the Tapovan plains he wanted to see them in his plate with his favorite beer, but his desires remain to be unfulfilled at the ashram.

Photo of Kharapathar, Himachal Pradesh, India by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

I asked my guide, " aaj kidhar Rana" and he pointed in upward direction of the valley towards kirti glacier base camp. We started walking South on this luxurious ground of Tapovan. From here the confluence of Gaumukh, Kirti and Chaturangi glacier was clearly visible where Kirti was red, Gamukh have the ashy color and Chaturangi was looking black from this distance, which was right across the valley. One can cross the valley and climb up to the right of the Chaturangi glacier to reach Nandanvan, which is also the base camp for Bhagirathi 2 nd and 3 rd peak summit. There is an interesting story of one failed attempt to summit Bhagirathi 3 rd by the mountaineers and a shepard. Contact me sometime for that (drinks on you).

After reaching nandanvan one can camp there to trek further upto We crossed khadapatthar (hanging cliffs) and were walking in almost a straight path. I can see many dried small pools in the meadow with lots of foot prints of animals, mostly Vasuki-tal, lies at the foot of Mount Vasuki (the peak resemble a snake hood). Satopanth peak can also be seen from there and makes the base camp for its summit. You can go further in this valley to reach Badrinath.Bharal. I keep going ahead, but soon came the dead end. The trek has been washed away in landslide and while I was just resting over the edge of that cliff, Rana came and asked me to get down from there. I only believe him, when he actually went down and started toward the glacier. It was a scary straight wall and I have to glide down almost 500 feet to reach the edge of the glacier and take the route from there. Rolling, falling and sliding I managed to reach the base, but was worried of getting back and climbing this damn wall. The remaining distance need to be covered at the edge of the kirti glacier. The terrain was quiet uneven, with the grumble of the glacier to be regularly heard due to shift in the ice and rocks caused by thermal energy of sun.

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

We came across many glacier lakes which have turned into skating rings and rocks were loosely floating with joy before they will submerge in the lake bed next summers. We drink from one such lake after breaking the above crust. Soon we reached an interestingly dangerous place. In the last monsoon a landslide has opened up a gallery in this hill above and now the loose stone keep falling just by the force of the wind. Continuous sound of falling stones was thrilling and fortunately they were losing inertia just before reaching us. Then comes a big stone of size a little bigger then cricket ball and passed like a Mitchell Johnson bouncer over just 5 feet away and I wasted no time to cross this patch of shooting stones. Couple of seconds later there was a big bang on the rock, behind which I was taking shelter. Check out the Video here: Shooting stones

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

Soon I reached Kirti glacier base camp which is a halt for climbers trying Nilkanth Summit from East side or trying flagging the Kedar dome, which was in front of my eyes with enormous sheets of snow. Its big dome shape unlike the other mountains in this region have turned it into a huge snow ball, shining so white that the eyes hurts.

The enormous Kirti Glacier was coming from the Eastern valley to the right of Kedar Dome and I can have a fair idea of the Gaumukh glacier origin at the end of Gangotri valley from the feet of massive Chaukhamba (four pillared peak) which was visible at extreme end.

Interesting fact is that these peaks like the Kedar Dome and Chaukhamba are even visible from my home at Sheetla(Nanital), which is at a road distance of around 500km from here with some different view.

The heart wants to explore further, but the time strain told the mind to move back. So this was the highest point I reached (approx. 4700m) and turned back towards Tapovan. Though this distance from Tapovan was not more then 6kms but still it took the whole day and we reach by the time sun went down.

Dinner was already served and as usual after much wait I eat a little. After the dinner I finally got time for some conversation with Moni baba. Gathering my courage, I told him, that the image I have in mind for him, was of a white bearded man. He waited for a second to response and Oh my God! will he now kick me out of ashram with some curse. Baba doing dhyan & tap are already powerful and he is living in this frozen land for 9 years without uttering a word. But then he smiled and I relaxed my posture with big sigh. He told in sign language that people get shocked, when they see him. They actually expects the same as I do. Some even think that baba take jadi-buti to look young. He was only 28 and have started his journey to be a yogi, at the age of 15. We discussed some more things like Delhi's pollution and traffic, people's behavior, languages, culture, temperament of North and South Indians and cracked few jokes, Baba laughed whole heartedly and we did the same with some precautions.

Since our hut was taken by a gang of Russian girls and we were shifted to an another smaller place. We requested baba to provide us the upper ground hut and he agreed after some persuation. It was a poor man's suite. A platform with a mattress and this gonna be the best sleep after 2 days as the body has also adjusted by fair amount.

I decided to come out and try some night photography and Rana helped in setting the things very enthusiastically. Unfortunately the cloud cover which comes every evening after the sun-set was not giving the oppourtunites, on the other hand it has maintained the temperature and we were not dying of cold.

Soon the clouds over the Shivling moved and so did my camera. It was so cold that there was not much time to experiment and adjust the setting, also at this time of year the star shifts and milky way is not a deep over the horizon as in summers. I manage a couple of shot worth keeping and the temperature started falling sharply. We moved inside the hut assisted by solar panel given by Moni baba.

Photo of Kirti Glacier, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, India by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

Next morning had the same porridge breakfast and moved back after exchanging final greeting with Baba.

In less than an hour we were at Gaumukh. On the way we met this

Greek guy, who was with us at ashram and left early, but here he was lost in the glacier. Thankfully he was just circling around the way and had not gotten far. This would be last place one can think of getting lost. Came Gaumukh and this was the time for holy dip and feel the snout of glacier and the river from close.

It was late October but still the rocks and chunks of Ice keep falling from time to time. In summers the snout is a perilous place to be at. Falling ice blocks and debris can be up to a size of elephant or even more. Just this summer the glacier ice floated down till Gangotri covering some 18 kms. After capturing all angles of Gaumukh and getting refreshed with the icy water I moved towards Gangotri. Rana has already covered some kilometers ahead and I can see him like a dot in the valley.

Photo of The Source Of Ganges by Kunwar Singh Deoliya

I would have gone past some 2 kms and with no-one in the miles of radius I was all by myself in the splendid valley. I look back at the Gaumukh and the mountains above for the one last time before I can bid adieu to the valley and mountains, the whole journey flash-backed in front of my eyes. Till now I was covering distance with all the strength I have but at this divine moment I realizes the robustness of that mighty mountain, the grandeur of the grumbling glacier, the piousness of the mysterious Akash Ganga and above all the holy dip in the sacred Bhagirathi whose cold current was still revitalizing my spirits. My feet feel heavy with that godly gravitation and damn...I was stoned. The call of the Ganga started making sense. Have heard about this ecstatic experience but the real feel was blissful. Body was communicating directly with this ecosystem, at a bandwidth way beyond the realm of satellites and technology. I WAS IN TRANCE. Exuberated in the cosmic connection the moment of truth awakens my inner self, throw me on my knees, snatches away the masculinity and makes me cry like a baby.

I came like a tourist here and going back a pilgrim.With heavy heart I turned back, I hate this part of journey which is even tougher then climbing. When you leave the mountains, a part of yours remains there and in return a Himalayas gives you treasured memories and they both force you to come back again and again and again.... I consoled myself that the journey was not over and other destination was waiting. I felt happy about my Dyara bugyal trek to be taken next day and increased my pace. Soon I catch up with Rana and rushed to collect my 100 bucks from the check post.

This post was originally published on Vaastvik.