Monday, July 2, 2012

Gangotri, Gomukh, Tapovan - 14 years later

There's something really odd about writing a travel piece about 1.5 decades after the event. The details, which could be of use to others, are lost and so are most contacts. My photos are gone too, thanks to a glitch involving the college magazine. Thankfully, Sumesh, my college buddy and travel partner managed to scan his photos and save them for what I think is, precisely this blog. There are only a few of them, because in those days, our pocket money and travel allowance allowed just one or two rolls each, and we traveled for about 15 days completing the Char Dham circuit. For us, the spirituality bit was there, I guess, but it was more about getting to see the mountains up, close, and personal.

"We're three engineering students on the Char Dham trip" was our staple dialogue during the episode. In our froggish world, it was a sentence that made a lot of impact. It did make an impact occasionally, and when in interesting (wink, wink) company, we would add the word Mechanical,  with a yeah, yeah rap lilt lighting up our faces. The world was small then, but Royal Mex didn't care. There were three of us - Sumesh, Somnath, and yours truly. It was from Somnath that I learned the few Bangla phrases that I still remember. Those phrases did come in handy in some way or the other during those 15 days.

I'm not going to narrate the details about Yamunotri, Kedarnath, or Badrinath, because a lot has already been written about them.What interested me was our trek from Gangotri to Gomukh, the source of the Ganga, and from there 6 kilometers up to Tapovan, the grassy meadow where....

We first visited Yamunotri, and had a hard time trekking up the 14 kilometers to our destination. I feel it is the hardest Char Dham trek, even when compared to the 18 km Kedar trek. Some sadhus at Yamunotri:

Anyway, on the way back to Uttarkashi, we were waiting for this bus, which sure did come, but there was a problem. The bus was full, thank you very much. Sensing our discomfort, a cop asked us "problem kya hai?" I pointed at the bus and told him the bus was full. He was dismissive in his response - oopar chad jao! (climb up the bus). We were like, really, this is awesome, a cop asking us to break the law and travel on the roof of a bus! We thought we had seen everything, like smoking inside the bus, goats inside the bus, everything. (I remember lighting up immediately after I saw the driver smoking, and was thinking the Royal Mex back home in Trivandrum (Thiruvanathapuram) are not gonna believe this.) Anyway, it was so cool climbing and sitting atop a bus and drinking in the scenery, the U-turns, the alpine forests, and all else. Well, here's proof:

We reached Uttarkashi and searched for a guide to Tapovan. If you do the Gangotri to Gomukh round trip, you might not need a guide. The pony guys are good enough. But as you move into the glacial terrain up to Tapovan, you will need one. Searching for a guide on the location is a practice I avoid these days, as everything is arranged beforehand. But this was a time when was not popular, forget indiamike, the Internet wasn't popular. The information that we needed for the trip was gleaned from the books in Trivandrum Public Library. Also, the teacher who taught me Sanskrit verses during my childhood had been on the Char Dham trip before and she had jotted down her travails in a single line 80 pages note book. I remember that being my Bible for a few months. She is no more, but as Metallica says, the memory remains. Anyway, in Uttarkashi we met up with this tour organizer, and he arranged for a guide. Mr. Ravinder Singh Rawat from Gangnani district. Rawatji arranged for sleeping bags and stuff like that and off we went into the wild ranges.

Gangotri was a wonderful experience. This was the point from which Ganga originated centuries back. There's a temple here, which is the Holy Dham. Time has taken the glacial source 18 kilometers further and if you want to see the true source, you do have to do some reasonable trekking. Rawatji arranged for accommodation and food in Gangotri.

We were idling in the evening. That's Somnath and Sumesh in front of Gangotri.

And that's Suraj Kund, the spot where the waters of the mighty Bhagirathi fall down. I like this better than digital photos.

There were holy congregations happening all around Gangotri. I wasn't too holy to get inside any of them. Outside one of those there was this idling smart horse. I went up to him, and in a beneighn gesture, started to rub his forehead. The horse got all worked up and almost kicked me away and was furious for the next few minutes. A fifty-ish saffron-clad man walked up and managed to pacify it. And then he talked to us and asked us who we were. Pat came my reply - we're engineering students.... He asked me "what's an atom?". A dismissive textbook response followed. And then he spoke in Hindi, "something in your system - at a subatomic level did not sit well with the horse." And, in my mind, I was like yeah yeah, horse-master, feed me some horse shit. And then we asked him what he did. He was a senior research scientist at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. Tails between our legs, the Royal Mex crept back to Rawat's accommodation, had Dal Chaaval, and slept - devoid of our illusions. It was our first lesson.

That's me and Somnath, me trying hard to pose.

Tomorrow, we go Gomukh!
Part 2 can be found here.


  1. Nice blog and the content posted about gaumukh tapovan trek is quite informative. Worth reading your blog. Thanks for sharing such huge post.
    Keep Posting such posts further....

  2. As it is a live example and experience, it went well

    Engaging Blog ..

    :) Keep writing