Gaumukh (the glacier origin of the sacred river Ganges) is situated in the northern part of state of Uttarakhand. It is around 20 kms from Gangotri, one of the four “Dham’s” of the state. Tapoban is 5 kms trek from Gaumukh along the Gangotri glacier. As temperatures scaled 45-47 degrees in the plains, heading to the Himalayas was perhaps the only option left .With a short planning, a trekking tour was ready to roll. After a lovely kadai paneer break in Lucknow, I headed to Haridwar in a jam packed Lucknow-Chandigarh Express.
Nataraj bus stand, Rishikesh was my boarding point of a shared jeep to Uttarkashi. It was a 6 hours struggle in the backseat of a bolero which ended in the Uttarkashi bus stand at around 3 pm in the afternoon. Advancing towards Gangotri that late was would have been an unwise decision so we decided to halt at Uttarkashi. Evening stroll around the town lead us to several temples and a local market.
Early next morning we took a shared jeep for a 100 km drive to Gangotri. This time we were lucky to get the middle seats. The road in many parts was under construction. The 4 hr drive was a visual treat as we crossed Harshil, bypassing the road to Nelong valley and reached Gangotri at around 12.30 pm. We were welcomed by a glorious view of the magnificent Mt Sudarshan and the neighbouring peaks. We proceeded to Mandakini hotel, settled in a first floor room with a stunning view of the mountains and the trail to Kedartal. Sound of the Ganges flowing in vicinity was thrilling, more so because in coming days we were actually going to the source of this sacred river.
It was a clear day and after a short rest and refreshment we headed for the temple. Gangotri is situated at 3050 metre above the sea level. A short walk uphill was taking a toll. After offering prayers we headed to the river bank for a bit of photography. Snow capped peaks grabbed all the attention. I had planned a holy dip, but a splash of the icy cold water made me change my mind as I was concerned about the upcoming 5 days of my hike.
Thereafter we headed for an acclimatisation walk towards Suryakund where the Ganges water takes a deep plunge into the gorge, visited a few ashrams and walked towards the trail to Kedartal. The evening arati at the temple provided us with a peaceful solitude and we took some vegetables for Mauni baba who would provide us shelter at Tapoban. Later in the afternoon we met our guide Bhim Singh and discussed our tentative itinerary. We decided to stay in ashrams and carried our own backpacks. We took our permits from the forest office which was just adjacent to the main car parking.
Early in the next morning we geared up for the trek with packed parathas for our brunch. The trail started from our hotel itself. We reached the checkpost of Gangotri National Park in around 30 minutes. After all the necessary formalities we started our walk through the muddy terrains with Mt Sudarshan dominating the views in the north and the Ganges flowing swiftly on our right side.
The terrain was ever changing with gain in altitude and greenery was getting converted to rocky moraines, steep cliffs. By 4 pm the shadows gradually engulfed us and we still had three more kilometers to cover. Taking repeated breaks was not helping us. Finally a glimpse of Bhojbasa was enough to boost us.We reached at around 6.30 pm in the evening.With temperatures dipping we had supper and dozed off in comfortable tents at Ram baba’s ashram.
We managed to wake up at 8 am the next morning and geared up for the days trek by 9 am. It was a 4 km hike till Gaumukh – the sources of Ganges followed by a 5 km steep climb through the Gangotri glacier to reach Tapoban, the base camp of Mt Shivling. As we started, a flock of the himalayan bharals greeted us and in around 2 hours we reached Gaumukh.
The look of the glacier’s snout was a thrilling experience as it had ice bars ranging hundred metres with pieces of ice occasionally falling of into the river. We had to cross over this fragile structure. Few tourists who came to see Gaumukh were roaming around. Most of them didn’t advance towards Tapoban. Horses are allowed only till Gaumukh. We took the ridge along the left of Gaumukh and started the climb.
Bhim Singh informed that the routes to other spots like Raktaban and Nandanban were diverting from there on. Walking up on the stony moraines was exciting with the views of Mt. Shivling gradually revealing itself. The Bhagirathi peaks were at a touching distance. At around 2.30 pm we successfully reached on top of Gaumukh and had to make the final push of 3 km till Tapoban.
Looking at the cliff, things were starting to look gloomy. It was getting late and we were informed that we had to cross a stream Akash Ganga which was flowing through that cliff. Water levels could rise to due to melting snow throughout the day. As we started the climb at a steep angle, a few steps was causing palpitations forcing us to stop and rest.Loose stones were making things more difficult .We strained ourselves to climb further and finally succeeded in our attempt.
It was getting really late and we reached Akash Ganga at around 5.30 pm. The very first glimpse of the huge size of the falls shocked me, crossing it seemed next to impossible. We didn’t have any alternate route as the cliff on our side was almost vertical. Bhim Singh took charge of the situation as he gauged the depth of the stream, crossed our backpacks and guided us along the boulders. This part of our journey was unexpected and a bit too risky.
Babaji who was staying in Tapoban for last 7 yrs, was interacting only with signs as he had taken “maunavrat” (vow of silence). He lived throughout the year in Tapoban. All his supplies are packed by travelers and porters from Gangotri. Babaji had been captivated by the peaceful serenity of this dreamland ever since he came here. We headed to our small stone walled rooms which had basic mats and blankets and dozed off in a flash. The constant creaking and jumping of the rats (most probably) disturbed many times in the night.
It was a sunny day as we headed towards Sunderban along the ridge of Gangotri glacier. The view of stretch of the glacier with Bhagirathi peak on the background was a visual treat for every mountaineer. Mt Shivling and the Tapoban meadow with Akash Ganga flowing through it completed the 360 degree panoramic view. In around 20 minutes our guide showed the trail heading towards Nandanban going down into the glacier moraines. Trails are identified by stack of stones piled up, otherwise its very easy to get lost out there..
Gangotri glacier was a 27 km long glacier ending in Gamukh giving rise to the holy Ganges. After 2 hours of crossing several stretch of snow fields we finally reached the viewpoint of Sunderban. The glacier here takes a V-shaped turn and it this is where the Mt Kedardome and Sunderban peak are located. Campsite was 1 km ahead. Assessing the ruggedness of the terrain camping in Sunderban requires the best of equipments and camping skills.
After a short photo session the weather started to turn bad. It started to drizzle so we had to head back to the ashram. After lunch the weather turned gloomy so we had to drop our plan to go to Neel taal. Mauni baba performed his daily rituals while we experienced the beauty of the sun setting in the mountains imparting them a fiery red color. Some other trekkers had arrived in the evening. We exchanged our travel story with them.
Next morning we had to wake up early to experience the sunrise over Mt. Shivling and the surrounding mountains. After breakfast we started early at 7 am. In around 40 minutes we reached the Akash Ganga stream, which was flowing swiftly as usual. We successfully crossed it and headed downwards.
Rockfalls and loose stones were making our trek difficult. In around 2.5 hours we came down the cliff. Crossing the glacier moraines was tough during descent. Cairns being the only guide for heading towards the correct direction. In another 2 hours we finally descended down the glacier. We rested at a small temple for 30 mins gearing up for the remaining 4 km of trek to Bhojbasa.
We finally reached Bhojbasa at around 2 pm and headed to G.M.V.N guest house for a lunch later heading on to Ram baba’s ashram for night’s stay. Early next morning we continued our hike back to Gangotri. We reached Gangotri at around 12.30 pm. Post lunch we booked a cab and drove off to Harshil.
- Day 1 – Gangotri to Bhojbasa (14 kms) (Night halt Tent/Ashrams/GMVN), gradual incline, 6-8 hours for average trekker.
- Day 2 – Bhojbasa to Gaumukh to Tapoban (9 kms) (Night Halt -Tent/Ashram) hike of 6-7 hours, steep climb from Gaumukh onwards through moraines & boulders. Crossing a stream (Akash Ganga) 1 km before Tapoban can be challenging late in the evening due to increased flow of water. Trekker must start at early morning.
- Day 3– Tapoban (4500m) to Sunderban (4700m) (6 km) and back 3-4 hours walking. You can visit Neel taal in the afternoon
- Day 4 – Tapoban to Bhojbasa.
- Day 5 – Bhojbasa to Gangotri.
- Guide– My guide was Bhim Singh (contact number -9557213252), he is a expert Nepali guide, very helpful and skilled.
- Porters are available at Rs 600-700 . Rates depend on the demand durinf that time.
- Permits – DFO office near Gangotri taxi stand makes the permit. It took 10 mins for us.
- Permits- checked at entry point of national park and at Chirbasa .
- National Park entry charges separate. (Listed in the picture)- Link here
Local association charges – Rs 100
Ladakh travelogues- http://www.wandererdoc.in/category/india/ladakh/