I first saw a documentary on River Ganges (Ganga) when I was in college. It was a series that followed the journey of India’s river from source to sea. That was when my fascination for the river begun.
Since then, I have visited it at its many stages—Haridwar, Rishikesh, Benares, Patna, Calcutta and Sundarbans. And several times. Every time it has given me hope, strength and healed me. This could be also be an influence of the different aspects I read about the river. I have personified it.
So when three years ago I missed two opportunities of exploring Gangotri and on one occasion, trekking to its source, Gaumukh, I thought this relationship, between the river and me, is limited to where it stood. I had to be satiated with what I knew about it and shouldn’t explore more.
Things changed in May of 2018. I received an invitation from Uttarakhand Tourism Development Boards’s (UTDB) Blogger Bus to be one of the participants. The itinerary included the elusive Gangotri. I jumped at the opportunity.
But as days progressed, my visit to Gangotri grew uncertain. Largely because of logistical delays and overcommitted planning. I distinctly remember quitting my day trek to Sat Taal (above Dharali, beyond Harsil) because I felt bogged down by the disappointment of missing Gangotri again. A grey cloud of hopelessness lurked above me.
As I made my way back with a heavy head to Dharali, Prakash Khatri, District Tourism Development Officer, Uttarkashi, (who had hiked to Sat Taal hours ago) tapped me on my shoulder, saying, “Let’s leave for Gangotri.” It was a little later than 1700hrs and of course I didn’t take him seriously. Let’s not forget the dark clouds looming above my head. He contradicted it all and said ‘But I had promised you that I will take you to Gangotri today.’ I matched his footsteps and pursued the river’s source once again.
Ganga Valley is one of the most beautiful places on earth I have been to yet. It supersedes every element of serenity and beauty that I have known of nature till now. And when I saw the magnificent Jat Ganga—the river streaming from Tibet, cutting through the chiseled cliffs of Nelong Valley, a few kilometres ahead of Gangotri dham—I knew that this encompassed all of that I have seen in Ganga Valley till now.
By the time we arrived at Gangotri temple, it was dusk. We met the kind, contemporary and very friendly Pandit Mukesh Semwal. He gave us all his available time to explain the mythological history and significance of Gangotri. After a detailed chat and coffee with Pandit Semwal, we witnessed the evening aarti. And afterward, walked the flight of stairs to the ghat where I finally met the fierce River Bhagirathi as Ganga is known at Gangotri.
It wasn’t until my second trip to Gangotri when I saw the river in daylight.
Last month, I travelled to the source of Ganga once more. This time on a personal trip, with the intention of staying overnight. After meeting Pandit Semwal, I spent hours on the ghat which were now familiar to me.
As the night grew colder, the sound of the feisty river was crisper. We stayed at GMVN Tourist Lodge (locally called GMVN-paar) which was across the river and a few steps ahead of Surajkund, where it is believed the first rays of the sun fell on earth. As much as I enjoyed the night’s silence, I waited for the morning light.
I seemed to be in a hurry to make memories of every waking minute in Gangotri.
With copious cups of chai, I started my early morning in the Ganga haven. I walked around the river and explored its few elements, like Gaurikund, where Shiva is believed to have unknotted Ganga from his locks, and Surajkund. By the time I reached Surajkund, the rays of the sun, rising above the high textured cliffs that surround the vicinity, had reached the kund. The river fell in all its might cutting the white-orange limestone.
Later in the day, we spent a lot of time by the ghats and the temple. And a little before lunch, departed from Ganga Valley.
With Sudarshan Peak clearly visible, as I turned back one last time, I should have realised that certain things take their own course. That morning sitting beside the river, under my favourite companions, deodars, I knew why it had taken me this long to be there. To be present, to embrace perseverance, to be alive for Gangotri.
-Gangotri dham is about 100 kilometres from Uttarakashi by road.
-Overnight stay at Gangotri is recommended. Else, Harshil and Dharali (25 and 18 kilometres, respectively) are closest options.
–Book online for GMVN Tourist Lodge. There is another GMVN property, Yatri Niwas, which is a stone’s throw from the temple.
-Best time to visit Gangotri is after the rains, i.e. the months of September or October. It teems with Chardham pilgrims in months of May and June.
-The temple remains open from May to November (Akshaya Tritiya to Diwali).
A special note of gratitude to Prakash Khatri and Pandit Semwal for making my dream come true.