Uttarkashi District, Uttrakhand - Trekking
Gangotri - Char Dham Yaatra Trek
Gangotri is the main religious places among the four Char Dhama major pilgrimage circuit, situated in Uttarkashi,close to the Indo-Tibetan border in Uttarkashidistrict ofUttarakhand. You need to start early from Uttarkashi if you are planning to return in same day without any night stay at Gangotri. Road from Uttarkashi to Gangotri passes through many hills and very dangerous road and the driver has to be in alert throughout. Usually it takes 5 hours from Uttarakshi to reach Gangotri. In Ancient time the river is called Bhagirathi and attains the name Ganga from Devprayag onwards where Bhagirathi meets with Alaknanda form Ganga River. Gangotri temple was originally built by Gurkha general Amar Singh Thapa. Shrine of Gangotritemple made of white granite and its situated on the banks of Bhagirathi riverat an elevation of 3100 meters(approx.). Most of the time Bhagirathi River will be at your right while traveling towards Gangotri. There are many villages and one of the small town is Bhatwari. The tour satisfies your spiritual urges and rejuvenates the mind and soul. The pilgrims carry the holy water of Ganga to Kedarnath and Badrinath and offer it to Lord Shiva in Kedarnath and is used during the Shraddha ceremony in Badrinath. Gangotri temple remains closed for the rest of the six months when the deity is worshipped at Mukhwa, near Harsil. The water of Gangotri is then carried home and offered as Prasad to everyone. The tiny town sits quietly by the gurgling River Bhagirathi that originates from Gaumukh, a few trekkable kilometers away. The main origin of the river is “Gaumukh” which is a glacier located 18 km away from gangotri temple. It is said that Goddess Ganga came to earth in order to wash away the sins of King Bhagirathi's ancestors. The holy yatra attracts around 5 lakhs of pilgrims throughout the year.
For the devotees, the doors to GangotriDham are open only in the period from May to November. There are some view points on the way to enjoy the journey and Snow peak mountains can be seen while approaching Gangotri. There are many hotels and homestay on the other side of temple for accommodation. Gangorti is the home place of many varieties of flora and fauna. There are several temples in Gangotri where visitors can learn the history behind the creation of Ganga River. It is now scientifically proved that the water of Ganga remains pure and does not accumulate any deadly bacteria on storage for a few years. There are some bridges joining two hills and rivers flowing at a very low level from the bridges. These breath taking views are not to be missed. Winter is freezing cold, summer is pleasant with rains hitting the region in the months of May and June. From the folds of mythology till the present time, Ganga River has always been a sacred source of purity for the mankind, coming here not only a religious duty but a spiritual calling too. There are many Shops which sell prasads and light weight cans to carry water from Gangotri after Darshan. Ganga water is pure and used in poojas or offering in temple. Gangotri apart from being a sacred pilgrimage destination is also a base for several important treks including Gaumukh, Tapovanin, Sundervan etc
“A lone peak of high point is a natural focal point in the landscape, something by which both travelers and local orient themselves. In the continuum of landscape, mountains are discontinuity – culminating in high points, natural barriers, unearthly earth.” –-- Rebecca Solnit
According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Ganga took the form of a river to absolve the sins of King Bhagiratha’s predecessors, following his severe penance of several centuries. The temple was constructed in the early 18th century by a Nepalese Gorkha Commander, Amar Singh Thapa and later renovated by the Royalty of Jaipur. King Sagar, after slaying the demons on earth decided to stage an AshwamedhaYajna as a proclamation of his supremacy. Lord Indra who felt threatened with the power of his Yagna decided to hide the horse that was to be used, he went and tied the horse at Sage Kapil’sAshramwho was amidst deep meditation. They found the horse tied next to him, out of fierce anger they stormed the ashram and accused the sage for stealing the hoarse. King Sagara and his 60,000 sons searched for the horse all around. When the sons found the horse in SageKapil Muni's ashram, they attacked the sage. When he opened his eyes in anger, the 60,000 sons had all perished and turned into ashes, by the curse of sage Kapil. King Sagara's grandchild, Bhagiratha, is said to have meditated and performed penance to seek forgiveness and moksha for his ancestors. The Gangotri temple is supposed to be situated close to the holy rock or the BhagirathShila where King Bhagirath had worshipped of Lord Shiva. It is believed, the flow of Ganga was intolerable for the earth, thusBhagirath requested Lord Shiva to hold up the water of Ganga when she descends. Hence, he captured the Ganges in his locks and let it fall in five streams instead of one. The sacred stone near the temple denotes the place where Ganga first came down to earth. This is why Ganga is also called by the name of Bhagirathi. The location where Lord Shiva locked Ganga is the place where now lies a Shivling that is partially submerged in the river water near the Gangotri Temple. Taking a dip in this river, according to Hindu mythology, cleanses one of his sins.
The Gangotri temple was built by the Gorkha General Amar Singh Thapa, in 18th century, is situated on the left bank of Bhagirathi. The temple is nested amidst the beautiful surroundings of deodars and pines. On the right of the temple is a small temple of Lord Shiva and in front is a small Bhairav temple. It is believed that Lord Bhairav takes care of the temple during the winters when the temple is covered with snow. The sight is breathtaking in the mornings during sunrise as the sun shines from behind the Himalayas spreading light and life to the region. The Gangotri Temple or Dham holds a lot of religious and spiritual significance in the Hindu religion. The pilgrims are required to bath in the crystal clear waters of the pious river before visiting the main shrine. Road ends here, trekking routestart to Gomukh, which is a glacier from where river Ganga starts. The temple is a 20ft high and made up of white granite. It lies close to the the holy rock or the “BhagirathShila” where King Bhagirath had worshiped Lord Shiva. The idol of Goddess Ganga is transferred from ( Markdandata Temple ) in the Mukhva Village to the holy Temple. The transfer takes place on the auspicious day of Diwali (Oct/Nov) amid vedic chants and elaborate rituals. After Darshan you can take the holly water of river Ganga (known as Bhagirathi here), light weight cans are sold here to carry water from Gangotri. The morning aarti starts around 7.30 am after which the darshan of the goddess given a bath and the temple is opened for general public. The brahmins belongs to village of Mukhwa. As the winter season gets ready to knock on the doors of the mountain region, Goddess Ganga gets ready to leave for Mukhyamath temple in Mukhba village, 20 km downstream. The Gangotri Temple closes on the first day of Kartik (Oct - Nov) and re-opens in Vaishakh( Apr - May ) every year. The water from Gangotri is carried to offer to Lord Shiva. It is believed that this water has nectar in it and will soothe the throat of Shiva who gulp the poison. With greater joy and enthusiasm, the Goddess is brought back to the Gangotri temple on the occasion of AkshayaTritiya (April/May). Dry fruits are offered as prasad by the temple priests. There is a small market selling various puja items and other materials. You can stay at Gogotri as there are hotels available. If you are planning to trek uptoGomukh then better to stay at night at Gangotri and start early morning from Gangotri for one day trip to Gongotri temple.
MYTHOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIRTH OF RIVER GANGA/BHAGIRATHI
Legends believe that King Sagara once staged an AshwamedhaYajna as a proclamation of his victory on the world. The horse was to travel round the world uninterrupted and so all the other kings would accept his supremacy on their kingdom or would have to fight an army of his 60 thousand sons. Lord Indra tied the horse to a tree in the ashram of Sage Kapil, who was then in deep meditation. They disturbed the meditating sage and asked him to fight with them. Sage Kapil was angry and opened his eyes and so burned the 60,000 sons of King Sagara to their death. King Bhagiratha, the grandson of King Sagar, did severe penance to please the Goddess Ganga to come down to earth. Goddess Ganga was made to land on the head of Lord Shiva in order to prevent the earth from getting destroyed under the weight of the Ganga falling from heaven. The Ganga so landed in Gangotri, travelled to Haridwar and cleansed the ashes of King Bhagiratha ancestors, and liberated their souls, granting them salvation.
Another Legends believe in one of the mythological tales that Ganga, was a vivacious beautiful woman who was born out of Lord Brahma's Kamandalu (water vessel). There are two accounts of her birth. One proclaims that Lord Brahma while washing Lord Vishnu's feet had collected this water in his Kamandalu after Lord Vishnu had freed the universe from demon Bali in his rebirth as Vaman.
Another legend states that Ganga came down to earth in the form of a human and married an ancestor of the Pandavs of the Mahabharat, King Shantanu. She is believed to have yielded seven sons who were thrown into the river by her and the reasons behind this are unexplained. Her eighth child, Bheeshma, was spared due to the intervention of King Shantanu. Ganga left him. Bheeshma is the one who later played a very crucial role throughout Mahabharata, the grand epic.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AROUND GANGOTRI
Various places of tourist have interest like Bhairon Ghati, Gnag Nani, Gaumukh Glacier, NandVan Tapovan, Harsil, VishwaNath temple, Kedartal etc at the same time you can extent it to as your Char Dham Yatra also.
UNDERWATER SHIVLING : Mythology has it that Lord Shiva sat at this spot to receive Ganga in his locks, while he tied Ganga in his matted hair. Dividing it into 7 streams, Shiva saved earth from the massive force of Devi Ganga. A Shivling made from natural rock is submerged under water and is easily visible in winters when the water level goes down. The submerged Shivling is perhaps the most sacred spot where Ganga, the stream of life touched mother earth for the very first time.
VISHWA NATH TEMPLE: One of the most famous temples in Uttarkashi, Lord Vishwanath temple bears a description in the KedarKhanda or SkandaPuran. The temple is 300 mts away from the local bus stand at Uttarkashi. This holy shrine has a Shivling which is 60 cms tall and is 90 cms in circumference.
BHAIRON GHATI’S BHAIRON NATH TEMPLE: Bhairav Nath Temple surrounded by thick forests which is 10 km downstream from Gangotri and situated near the confluence of Jadh Ganga and Bhagirathi rivers. As per a legend, Bhairon Nath was chosen by Lord Shiva as the protector of the region. And every visit to the Gangotri temple should be followed by a visit to the temple of Bhairon. Moving about 3 km from Bhairon Ghati one can reach Lanka Chatti to witness one of the highest river bridges of the region; the bridge over River Jhanvi is quite a spectacle in its own right.
GAUMUKH GLACIER: The area is peaceful and surreal, and offers stunning views of Mt. Shivling and the Bhagirathi group of mountains, and can be reached after an 18 km trek from Gangotri. The Gangotri Glacier, situated at a height of 4238 meter, moves along the Gangotri trek starting from Chaukhamba and finally merging into the Gaumukh. It is a known fact that the water of the Ganges is 100% pure in nature and contains absolutely no impurities. The source of river Bhagirathi is also considered the true source of river Ganga.
TAPOVAN: Tapovan is base camp for Shivlinga peak in Uttarakhand hills. Tapovan is an ideal location for the tourists looking for peace and adventure. One can further trek from Gaumukh to Tapovan which is about 4 km from Gaumukh. Located at an altitude of above 4460 mts above sea level, Tapovan is a beautiful meadow that surrounds the peaks. Tapovan has meadows, beautiful flowers, streams and incredible views of surrounding Himalayan Peaks such as Shivling and Bhagirathi. Tapovan is also a base camp initiating a number of mountaineering tours. Enriched with lovely flowers, a climb to this meadow sharpens the images of the surroundings peaks and ranges. Every year this place has been visited by thousands of tourist including foreigners for adventure activity like mountaineering & trekking.
You can also trek to kedar Tal from Gangotri temple and kalindikhal trek to Badrinath but both treks are difficult to accomplish.
BEST TIME TO VISIT GANGOTRI
Heavy snowfall during winters and landslides during rainy season can disrupt your visit to this shrines so the summer season from May to June and September - November is the best time to visit Gangotri as the temple remains open till Diwali every year and is closed in winter due to heavy snowfall. Due to its altitude and location, GangotriDham remains open to the devotees for a brief period of six months. The end of April or beginning of the month of May is chosen for the opening of the portals of this sacred Hindu shrine in Uttarakhand as the snow melts and the temperature starts to become bearable. The temple closes right after Diwali and its deity is brought to Mukhba Village to be worshipped for next six months of winter that is situated some 20 km downstream from Gangotri. Therefore, the best time to visit Gangotri is between April and November with April to mid-June and October to mid-November being ideal most. Gangotri remains cold almost round the year, yet the best time to visit this place is in between April and June, and September and October. Summers here are quite pleasant, which also mark the ideal season to pay homage at the Gangotri shrine. Monsoons are accompanied by heavy rainfall and it's the time when travelling becomes a little difficult. Winters are freezing here with a lot of snowfall making the weather too chilly.
HOW TO REACH
ROUTE 1 : Delhi - Rishikesh - Narendernagar - Tehri - Dharasu - Uttarkashi - Bhatwari - Gangnani - Harsil - Gangotri
ROUTE 2 : Delhi - Dehradun - Mussoorie - Chamba - Tehri - Dharasu - Uttarkashi - Bhatwari - Gangnani - Harsil - Gangotri
BY AIR : Jolly Grant Airport is the nearest airport to Gangotri, which is situated at Uttarakhand. Taxis are available from Jolly Grant Airport to Uttarkashi/Gangotri. There is a daily flight from Delhi to Dehradun
BY TRAIN : The nearest railway station to Gangotri is at Haridwar and Dehradun, Take the overnight train, which is situated Uttarkashi/Gangotri. Uttarkashi/Gangotri is well connected with major destinations of Garhwal.
BY ROAD : Gangotri is well connected with motorable roads, Buses carry pilgrims from New Delhi to Gangotri via Haridwar and Rishikesh in summer months. Rishikesh is the major starting point for road journey to Uttarkashi/Gangotri.
WHAT ARE THE RISK INVOLVED ?
Acute Mountain Sickness(AMS): Shortness breath, Mild headache & Tiredness are some common in high altitude trek. Risk of being hit by AMS is considerably low but you are advised to be on a course of Diamox. In case of any medical emergencies, there are easy exit points on this trek, means evacuation will generally not take more than 24 hours.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR TREK
Prepration: Fight again sub-zero temperatures, carry multi layers throughout winter trek and practice carrying packed backpack to comfortable with it. Carrying dry fruits fruits and also carry energy bar, energy drinks like Gatorade/Electral (ORS) to avoid dehydration will help on trek since they provide instant energy. The ascent-descent during the trek demands level of fitness. Begin your fitness preparation, jogging 5 Km in 30 minute before One month or two before start the trek, stretching exercises for flexibility are important so you don’t get cramps in trek. You must carry few essentials things like a day pack, a pair of comfortable walking shoes, trekking pants, woollen clothing, windproof jacket, sunglasses, sun cap, sunscreen lotion, lip balm, walking stick, water bottle, personal toiletries and torch with extra batteries.