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  • Writer's picturekapil dwivedi

Gaumukh: The Unexplored Himalayan Paradise

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Gaumukh, a glacier nestled high up in the Garhwali Himalayas known for its tranquillity,

mysticism, spirituality, and stunning landscapes. Located in the northern state of Uttarakhand at a staggering altitude of 13,200ft. above sea level, this place has been the abode of mysterious Yogis, saints, and mystics since time immemorial. This is my story of traveling solo to the source of Ganges aka Gaumukh glacier.



So, this goes back to May 2019 I had just finished my final year exams after a hectic phase of

internship and a group project. I was completely exhausted and wanted to visit back to my

beloved Himalayas. I had always been fascinated by the Himalayas especially by the fact that

these mountains made me realize how tiny we actually are in this gigantic cosmos.


I had been to Garhwal several times, trekked to Kedarnath, Satopanth Glacier, Mana, and Swarga Rohini so this time I was stuck in a dilemma, what should be the next destination?

Amid the entire confusion and dilemma, I made my mind to visit Gaumukh, the second

largest glacier in India almost 30km in length and 4kms in width. I started planning and soonI was on a train that would talk me to Haridwar from my hometown Lucknow. 


Haridwar: Purifying Dip at Hari Ki Pauri 

15th May 2019, I got on the train from Lucknow and the next morning I was in Haridwar.

When I was booking tickets for the train journey my folks suggested that I should travel to

Dehradun instead of Haridwar as it would be a bit easier for me to reach Gangotri i.e. starting point for the trek to Gaumukh. 


However, I denied and travelled to Haridwar mainly because of two reasons. The first one

being that before this trip every time I had been to the Garhwal I had always started my

journey from Haridwar after a purifying dip in the Holy Ganges at Hari Ki Pauri. And

secondly, I was quite familiar with the routes from Haridwar up above to the divine

mountains.


I reached Haridwar and followed my ritual of taking bath in the Ganges river at Hari Ki Pauri followed by sitting and spending some time at the Ghats. Now I was refreshed and full of energy ready for my next stop in the journey i.e. Rishikesh.


 


Rishikesh: Dreads of the Yogi

Rishikesh is an ancient town located in the foothills of the Himalayas at the banks of Ganges.


The word Rishikesh literally translates to Dreads of the Mystic and basically acts as a transit

for getting to different places in both Garhwal and Kumaon regions of the state. I boarded a

bus from Haridwar to Rishikesh and it took an hour and a half to get to the Rishikesh bus

stop. 


Rishikesh has a certain vibe that will instantly make you fall in love with it, be it the beauty

of the Himalayas, the cold mountain breeze, the dwelling saints, the Triveni ghat, Ganga

aarti, and whatnot. But this time I wasn’t going to stay in Rishikesh instead, I had to board a

bus to Gangotri. I went to the inquiry counter, and to my luck, the bus was on time I got the

ticket and started waiting for the bus. 


Finally, after waiting for an hour or so I placed my bag in the storage and hopped onto my

window seat with my headphones plugged ready to vanish in the beauty of my beloved

Himalayas. 



Rishikesh to Gangotri: One Hell of a Ride

The bus was scheduled to depart at 5 am in the morning and let me tell you people in the

mountains are quite punctual it departed at 5:00:00 am. Just out of curiosity I asked the

conductor how long will it take to get to Gangotri and he told me 10-11 hours. I had

previously in these mini-buses when I was going to Kedarnath and Satopanth glacier so I had an idea about how unpredictable these bus journeys in the Himalayas can be. 


After 80 kilometres at 9’0 clock the bus stopped for breakfast and tea, I had a cup of tea and

some samosas and I was back on to my seat ready for the scenic beauty to unveil. Slowly and

gradually as the bus made its way deeper into the mountains far away from the hustle of the

city, I started enjoying the journey even more. The drive from Rishikesh to Gangotri is an

absolute delight to the eyes, stunning landscapes, waterfalls, valleys, to be precise nature at

it's best.

The bus takes small halts for refreshment and breaks and finally after a beautiful yet tiring

journey at 7:00 pm i.e. 13 hours I managed to reach the holy village of Gangotri. 


Gangotri: The Place where the Ganges

Recedes from the Glacier to land

Gangotri is a small village located at an elevation of 11,200 ft. above sea level. It is one of the

Chota Char-dhams in Uttarakhand that is considered to be the holiest shrines for Hindus. The

word Gangotri literally translates to the place where the Ganges recedes (Ganga + Utri=

Gangotri). 





Gangotri Temple


When I reached Gangotri I could feel the chilling air and sudden dip in temperature so intense

that I had to pull my jacket out of the rucksack right after stepping out of the bus. I was

backpacking and hence I was on a tight budget I visited the temple and found out there was a

free meal distribution for pilgrims called ‘Bhandara’. 

I had food in the temple which was outstanding and started looking for a budget-friendly

accommodation and this is when I discovered the Dharamshala of Kali Kamli Wala. Back in

the day when pilgrims visited these shrines, they could stay in these places set-up by Saints

and mystics for free. However, you can still stay at these places by paying a nominal fee of

100-200 rupees per head. I met a group of travellers from Ujjain, we joined and spent the

night at Kali Kamli Dharamshala. 


DFO Gangotri

The next morning, I woke up to witness one of the stunning views I had seen in my entire

lifetime. I got ready and made my way to the DFO (district forest office) to get the permit for

trekking all the way up to Gaumukh. On my way to DFO, I had a cup of tea and some

parathas that were quite filling. 



DFO Gangotri


I reached the DFO and met the DF officer for getting the permit had a word with the officer

and he politely denied for giving me the permit as I was planning to trek solo. He explained

that the stretch of mountains right from Gangotri to Gaumukh passes through Gangotri

national park that is completely wild and inhabited so it won’t be safe to travel by myself. He

gave me two choices either I hire a guide or cancel my plan to trek to Gaumukh. 

Disappointed and irritated I sat on a trail and that was exactly where the magic happened. I

met a backpacker from New Zealand, Adam Chadwick who had the same experience when

he tried getting the permit. We had a small chat and we decided we would travel together.

Next, we went to the DFO got the permit successfully, and started planning for the trek

tomorrow.  


Gangotri to Chirwasa-Bhojbasa

The next morning, I and Adam were ready to make our way to the source of Ganges. We

started trekking from Gangotri at 7:00 am and we were supposed to reach Bhojbasa by

evening which is 14 km. After hiking a kilometre or so from the Dharamshala we reached the

gate of Gangotri national park where our permits were checked. We got a green signal from

the officials at check-post with a polite request of not littering the place, to which we agreed. 


We were finally making our way into the wilderness of the Himalayas which I had been

dreaming of for a long time. The weather was quite favourable, and we started moving ahead

with our favourite tracks on the speaker. After 9 km from Gangotri, we reached Chirwasa the abode of longleaf Indian pine trees. On our way, we witnessed some stunning views of Mt. Shivling, Sudarshan, and Meru peaks.



Mt. Shivling


After a small break at Chirwasa, we started trekking up to Bhojbasa, which was another 5km

comparatively steeper and challenging. The terrain from Chirwasa to Bhojbasa changes

dramatically from lush green to extremely rugged, and by the time I reached Bhojbasa, there

wasn’t a trace of greenery just absolute wilderness.

At Bhojbasa, one has two options for accommodation, one is the GMVN guest house and the

second is Lal Baba Ashram. We checked out both the places and found out that Ashram

would be a better place to stay as it usually accommodates Yogis and Babas that are visiting

the glacier. The Ashram is quite basic yet satisfying you get food and a warm bed to stay just

for 400 rupees. We checked-into the Ashram sat with the Babas for a chit-chat followed by

dinner and stargazing. 


Lal Baba Ashram


Bhojbasa to Gaumukh 

The next day in the morning, it was literally freezing and it was almost impossible to step out

of the bed. Adam was already packing his back, so I got into the groove to make my way to

the final destination. We got ready and started trekking from Bhojbasa at 9:00 am and it was

another 6 km. The trail was very rugged, and steep it was almost like we were walking on

rocks. 


After a tiring and challenging trek of 5km, we reached the source, Gaumukh! At first, it

would be difficult to visualize the enormity of the glacier in itself, and once you realize how

huge it is you are completely awestruck. 





Gaumukh Glacier

I sat down right in front of the source and I just couldn’t get enough of it. We sat down to

witness the peaks from the glacier the views were absolutely spectacular. I decided to

meditate for a while Adam started exploring the surroundings.


The cloud formations were unparalleled the sound of water coming from the glacier was something that made me enjoy it even better. The beauty of the glacier is abstract and something everyone should witness at-least once in their lives.


Late in the afternoon, we started making our way back to Bhojbasa where we would spend

the night and then back to Gangotri. On my way back, I realized I had not just made a

journey to the source of a divine river but to the ultimate source.





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