Thursday, November 21, 2019

Gaumukh Trek

Ever since, I had visited Gangotri in 2012, Gaumukh was in my plan list. It is the spot from where Bhagirathi descends in the form of river to bless millions and millions of people.
Finally, Gods blessed me in 2019!

A few important points to note here before I describe my sojourn:

1. Trek to Gaumukh is from Gangotri. Gangotri is about 290 KMs from Haridwar and will take almost 10-12 hours to reach.
2. Gangotri to Gaumukh trek is about 19 KMs. and it will take minimum of 2 days from Gangotri. One night stay at Bhojwasa is required.
3. Bhojwasa is about 14 KMs from Gangotri.
4. During entire trek, there are only two places to get food etc. One is Chirbasa, about 9 KMs from Gangotri and then at Bhojwasa, 5 KMs further.
5. Permit is required to take this trek. It can be obtained either from DM's office at Uttarkashi or from Forest office at Gangotri.
6. This is a moderate trek. Good physical health required. Better to consult your doctor about AMS (altitude mountain sickness).
7. Gangotri is at about 3400 meters from sea level, Bhojwasa is about 3800 and Gaumukh is at 4100 Meters high.
8. Its good to take help of guide and porters.
9. Mobile phones work only till about 3/4 KMs from Gangotri. After that it won’t work.
10. Book accommodation in advance for Bhojwasa through GMVN website.
11. Be responsible traveler and don't throw garbage, particularly plastics on the way. This is very eco fragile zone. Dump all waste and plastics etc only after you have returned back from Himalayas.

Day 1:

It was end of September, as I along with Vishal and Nitesh boarded the evening train to Haridwar.

Haridwar is true to its name…. Gate to the Gods!

Our train was a bit late and so we did not get time to go to Ganga ghat, "Har ki Paidi". If train would have been at its schedule, we could have got time to visit Ghat and have taken a quick bath.

Second class waiting room at Haridwar railway station helped us getting fresh and taking bath etc.

Vishal had booked a cab in advance and it was waiting for us outside the railway station. 

While booking a cab, a lot of bargain is required.

Though we needed the cab only for two days, while going to Gangotri and returning back, we booked it for entire duration of five days.

As we did some delay in morning, so roads leading to Haridwar railway station were quite crowded. It took us almost 2 hours to come out of Haridwar town.

With a sigh of relief, we took the road to Rishikesh. The route to Gangotri is via Narendra Nagar, Chamba, Uttarkashi and Harsil.

As we started ascend, the weather became foggy and visibility became very poor. At some places it dropped down to even less than a few meters. It was not a good start from weather front, but we continued slowly.

Weather in Himalayas is always unpredictable. To avoid rain etc., one need to visit these places in May and first half of June. Sep/Oct is good time, but I am feeling that the monsoon is stretching till around end of September.

At one junction, we took wrong route and went towards the Tehri Dam. It costed us almost two hours as to and fro distance was almost 50 KMs. Nevertheless we stopped for a few minutes at rervoir to click some pics.

The weather had slowed down us considerably and we could cover actualy distance of around 200 KMs only during the day and it was about 6 PM, as we reached Uttarkashi.

Anyone planning to take a trek to Gaumukh or Nandanvan/Tapovan or Kedar Tal etc need to take a permit. This can be obtained at Uttarkashi DM’s office. As we reached there, it was disappointing to know that office was closed for the day. We were late!

The gentleman there advised us to get this from Gangotri itself.  It can be obtained there at Forest office, morning 8-10 AM and evening 5-8 PM. Its open on Sundays as well.

Please note that only for Gaumukh, one can get permit from Gangotri. Rest all treks, need permit from Uttarkashi itself.

Thanking him, we started looking for suitable place to stay. With some suggestions we decided to proceed to Netala about 8 KMs from Uttarkashi towards Gangotri road.

There are good number of hotels here and we got a comfortable room at Gujarat Bhawan. It was quite clean and good.

A good dinner and sleep, made us ready for travel next day to Gangotri, about ~100 KMs away from here.

Day 2:

We started early in morning. On the way, we stopped at many places to view beauty of nature and capture the moments in camera. 

By afternoon we were at Gangotri.

On the way, we stopped at Gangnani. This place is made scared by penance done by Sage Parashar. His ashram and a hot water pond is there. We visited the temple and spend some time at the sacred place.

Sage Parashar is father of Sage Ved Vyasa.

Nitesh was very much interested to take bath there, but we prevailed upon him in the interest of time.

Apples in bloom
From Gangnani, the route to Gangotri is via Harsil and Bhairon Ghati. At Harsil we halted for sometime to buy fresh apples directly from trees! They were very delicious and worked as an energy tonic for us during entire trek!

After Harsil, there is a famous temple of Bhairon Nath Baba. This temple is a must visit to all travelling to Gangotri as his blessings are said to be required to visit Gangotri.

This temple is where Jadh Ganga (also called Jhanvi River) merges with Bhagirathi. Bhairon Nath has been chosen by Lord Shiva as the protector of the region.

At Gangotri, we took a dormitory at GMVN hotel. This was the place, where we stayed in year 2012 as well.

A little rest and then hot tea, refreshed us. It was quite cold and clouds were showing supremacy over Lord Anshumaan. There was a drizzle now and then. Overall the weather was not good for trek and it was a worrying thing for us.

But we were determined…

Surya Kund
We needed one guide and enquired it with GMVN rest house manager. He arranged that for us.

With some negotiation, we hired him for next two days.

It was around 2 PM and we decided to take a sojourn at Gangotri.

But before that we visited the Gangotri temple and paid our obeisance to the universal mother. Rush was not much and we got good darshan.

Surya kund is just before the temple. Itr is said that rays of Lord Anshumaan first fall on this point in morning.

The sacred waters of mighty mother has cut the stones and made a spectacular view.

Then we went to ghat to pay obeisance to mother Bhagirathi. Next to ghat is Bhagirath Shila, on which Bhagirath did the tough penance to bring Bhagirathi to this planet.

Then we leisurely walked through the small market and took our lunch.

About 1.5 KMs away in dense forest is an old natural cave, famous as Pandav Cave. Its said that Pandava brothers stayed there for some time during their exile. 

Our newly hired guide agreed to lead the way.

We crossed Gauri Kund on the way. Just like Surya Kund, Its also a deep gorge, cut by force of Bhagirathi river in last thousands of years.

There is no way to go down, one can see it only from top, but needs caution. Nearby there are a few small huts and ashram, where some sadhu’s stay.

Weather had become a bit gloomy with some drizzle. We were neither carrying raincoat nor umbrella and in case of showers there was no option other than getting drenched!

Thankfully it remained only a light drizzle.

On the way our guide showed us the wild turmeric plants and also some other herbs including Ganga Tulsi. He said it’s a good medicine to fight loss of oxygen and mountain sickness. I kept on inhaling it during our entire trek and also carried some bushes to my home!

Cave is quite big and open from both side. One sadhu lives there, he told us, since about last 20 years. He stays there even during winters and does “nothing”. I felt this “nothing” is actually to go beyond the ownership of Karma.

We were there for some time and then returned back to Gangotri.

Infront of the temple is “Akhand Dhuna”, or “eternal fire”. We visited that place too and prayed.

Gangotri is in the Greater Himalayan Range, at a height of about 3,400 metres. It is here that Goddess Ganga descended when Lord Shiva released the mighty river from the locks of his hair.

Pandav Cave
Gangotri, the seat of the goddess Ganga, is one of the four holy sites in the Uttarakhand Char Dham pilgrimage circuit. The original Gangotri Temple was built by the Gorkha General Amar Singh Thapa. The river is called Bhagirathi at the source and acquires the name Ganga (the Ganges) from Devprayag onwards where it meets the combined waters of Alaknanda (from Badrinath) and Mandakini (from Kedarnath). From here the divine river flows 2,480 kilometers into the Bay of Bengal, nourishing the life and culture of the millions of lives.

A perfect place of serenity and peace, the abode of Mother Ganga is situated by the side of Bhagirathi River. Mother Ganga is present in the premises of the white temple building in the form of a small silver idol. The amazing mountain range of Himalayas and the flowing Bhagirathi by the side makes for a perfect place for worship and meditation.

According to legends, King Sagara (ancestor of mighty Lord Ram), after slaying the demons on earth decided to stage an Ashwamedha Yajna as a proclamation of his supremacy. The horse which was to be taken on an uninterrupted journey around the earth was to be accompanied by the King's 60,000 sons. Indra, king of the gods feared that he might be deprived of his celestial throne if the "Yajna" (worship with fire) succeeded and then took away the horse and tied it to the ashram of Sage Kapila, who was then in deep meditation. The sons of the King Sagara searched for the horse and finally found it tied near the meditating sage. They stormed the ashram of sage Kapila. When he opened his eyes, all of them got perished, by the curse of sage Kapila.

Ganga Aarti at evening
He also cursed that their souls would attain Moksha, only if their ashes get washed by the holy waters of River Ganga, which was then a river, seated in heaven.

Bhagirath, the descendent of King Sagara in order to free his ancestors, performed rigorous penance for long to please Ganga to come down to the earth. Finally, his efforts bore fruit and River Ganga was pleased by his devotion and was ready to descend to earth.

After Ganga agreed to descend to earth in response to Bhagirath's prayers, its intensity was such that the entire earth would have got submerged under its waters. To save the planet earth from such demolition, Lord Shiva put Ganga in his locks. To please Lord Shiva, Bhagirath again meditated upon him. On seeing Bhagirath's immense devotion, Lord Shiva being pleased released River Ganga in the form of smaller streams, main among that came to be known as the Bhagirathi River. As soon as Ganga's water touched the ashes of the Bhagirath's ancestors, they all got absolved of their sins. The stone on which Bhagirath is believed to have meditated is known as the Bhagirath Shila which is located fairly close to the Gangotri Temple.

I came to know that a Shivling made from natural rock is submerged under water and is visible in winters when the water recedes. It is said to be the place Lord Shiva sat on while he tied Ganga in his matted hair. Dividing it into 7 streams, Shiva saved earth from the massive force of Devi Ganga.

The temple is closed by around Deepavali every year and is reopened in April end/early May (around Akshaya Tritiya day). During this time, when temple is closed, the idol of the goddess is kept at Mukhba village, near Harsil. Ritual duties of the temple are supervised by the Semwal family of pujaris. These pujaris hail from Mukhba village.

The origin of the holy river is at Gaumukh, set in the Gangotri Glacier, and is a 19 km trek from Gangotri.

Gaumukh is at about altitude of ~4100 meters.

For details about Uttarakhand char dham, please refer my blog.

As evening approached, the cold also increased, weather was not good and there was drizzle now and then. I did not had Xerox copy of my aadhar card required to get permit as there was no power for last few days in town!

Thankfully the officer accepted this challenge and granted me permit by noting down all required identity details.

Evening was approaching fast, we again went to temple and spend sometime at ghat to witness the Ganga aarti. My jacket got a little wet as I tried to fill a bottle to carry water to home.

Then we moved to main temple and witnessed the grand aarti. As rush was not much so these were very peaceful and blessed moments.

Then I went and sat inside the “dhuna”. It was a welcome escape form the cold outside and also gave me opportunity to dry my wet jacket!

Day 3:

Early morning, I woke up sound of heavy rainfall. It was not good omen. Though it subsided as we got ready for the trek. 

One boy, who shared dormitory with us braved the rains and moved quickly to take the Gaumukh route. Meanwhile we waited for some time to rain to subside and took breakfast before starting the trek.

Our Guide came at around 8 AM, and immediately we started the trek.

Rain or no rain, now we were on the way!

The entire trek is on the right side of Bhagirathi.

About 2 KMs from Gangotri is the forest entry gate. We need to present our permit and also they checked our bags and noted down the number of polythene bags etc. This number had to be matched once we returned back. They took some deposit money also against that.

At a few places, the ascend is quite steep and so a bit tiring. Slowly we progressed to our destination for today, Bhojwasa.

From Gangotri, till Chirbasa, about 9 KM away, there is not a single shop or eating joint. There is only one at Chirbasa, who offers it but with a premium, tea is Rs 30 and Maggi/Paratha is Rs 60/-

The path is quite narrow at places and so caution is required. The roar of Bhaigarthi is a constant companion.

Our guide showed us a few hamlets where some sadhus reside and meditate. They were on the other side of river and no way we could have approached them!

This initial stretch is populated with Chir (pine) trees.

We had a cross many streams on the way. Some were having makeshift bridges. Though looks scary but actually they are quite good.

Till Bhojwasa, now pony service is also available.

A few KMs trek and we were away from "civilization". Mobile connectivity was lost for good, hardly any human being was seen, it was only us, the abundant greenery, clouds pregnant with nector, chirping of birds and the roaring sound of mother Bhagirathi! 

We kept on pushing ourselves, as tiredness started overwhelming us. Finally, after covering a tiresome trek of about 9 KMs, we reached Chirbasa for much required rest and refreshment.

Before coming to this trip, I daily did a walk for one hour covering 6 KMs non stop. It helped me a lot to prepare for trek.

Chirbasa is like a small “halt”, with one makeshift shop offering tea/Maggi and Parantha. Night stay can also be arranged, in case of requirement, here.

As we were sipping tea, suddenly the weather changed and it started raining heavily.

We waited for some time for rain to subside. During this time, we also consumed two packets of Maggie each!

At high altitudes, in Himalayas, it’s quite a norm that after the noon, the weather takes a turn for rains and clouds.

Luckily the rains subsided soon and quickly we took the route to Bhojwasa.

This 5 KM stretch is more difficult that than the trek from Gangotri to Chirbasa.

The weather continued to be heavy with dark clouds. We all took our rain coats. Besides an occasional drizzle, it was also helping us against the bone piercing cold wind!

The vegetation also changed at this stretch as we gained height further, Pine trees were no more there and were replaced by Deodar (Cedar) and Bhoj trees. Because of abundance of Bhoj trees, the area is famous as Bhojwasa.

The bark of Bhoj tree trunk, can be peeled off, and it was used to write during ancient times. This bark, which can be peeled off easily, looks like as the tree has been “dressed” with Bandage!

Sadly we saw only a few tree now, all are gone now to avaricious humans. At a few places, forest department is planting new trees, let us hope things will improve.

After 3 KM of Chirbasa comes the dangerous Gila Pahar, the place well known for its landslides even prior to the 2013 destruction of much of the trail here; near-sheer cliffs down to the river must now be traversed. We covered the pace slowly and carefully, one at a time. Sign boards warned us about falling stones.

This stretch of more than a KM, requires extreme caution and alertness.

A few other travelers warned us about falling stones due to movement of Mountain Goat (Bharal) there. I saw a few stones rolling down and the Bharal, standing majestically on top of a cliff watching us carefully. I tried shooting it with camera but visibility was poor and so could not get it.

The path was quite narrow, not more than one feet at few places.

We passed it without any issue but repeating here that this stretch required caution particularly when weather is not good and visibility is poor.

The Bharals are found above the altitude of 10,000 ft.

It was getting dark and cold was increasing further as we reached Bhojwasa. Its on at altitude of about 3800 meters.

The GMVN rest house is on a flat land, next to the roaring Bhagirathi. There are also Lalbaba's ashram and Ram Baba's ashram; both ashram charge some nominal amount for lodging and food for tourists to stay. There is also a small Police post with wireless.

Need to note that the Mobile phones don’t work after Forest guest house at Gangotri! So it was complete mobile silence!

Mount Meru
Only dormitory is available here. We had options to stay either inside the guest hose or outside in a tent. Keeping cold weather in mind, I decided to stay indoors, though I felt later that tent was a better option perhaps!

Note that this guest house can also be booked online via GMVN website.

After a quick sip of tea, we decided to take a walk to the river.

A few people were setting up makeshift tents in the open close to Police post. I was just wondering, how they will survive in that bitter cold.

Visibility was very poor and cold was intense, after roaming there for some time, we were back to comfort of rest house.

As water was every cold, we need to ask for warm water to drink.

I tried to sleep after dinner, but could not get it. I am not sure if it was due to altitude or due to grand snoring by a few fellow tourists, but it kept me awake for almost entire night. As electricity is not there so one kerosene lamp was kept there for night. The smoke of it created further nuisance.

At around 2 AM, one of the tourists started having breathing problem. This is common at this altitude. He was administered with some AMS (Acute mountain Sickness) medicine by one of his friends and he was normal after sometime.

We were also carrying oxygen cylinder with us, though things went smooth and we didn’t require that.

Day 4:

Early morning, I got some sleep but was woken up by excited Nitesh that weather is clear and Himalayan ranges are shining in Gold!

Though I didn’t felt coming out of comfort of sleep and blanket, but temptation was overwhelming and I rushed outside.

Weather was clear, and we had Bhagirathi peaks, Meru Mountain and Shivling Mountain, infront of us!

It seems like to be in heaven…can that be more beautiful?

But the weather started going back to clouds soon and the views were obstructed again. We decided to take route to Gaumukh immediately.

Getting fresh quickly and taking some apples for breakfast, soon we were enroute to Gaumukh, 4 KMs away!

It was dense fog, and the route was full of stones. Precaution is needed as a wrong step can bend the ankle and at that stage it is not possible to get any medical help.

Slowly we progressed towards the Gaumukh.

Bhagirathi Peaks
To our pleasant surprise, the weather started becoming clear. Mighty rays of Lord Anshumaan pierced the thick blanket of clouds and humbled us with divine beauty and bliss of Greater Himalayan peaks and Valley.

Because of a severe avalanche and landslide a couple of years back, the cave like structure of Gaumukh (hence the name) had collapsed and reaching to exact spot is not possible. Though we went upto what extent possible and with a nice view of the place and surroundings.

It was bright sunny morning, as we sat on stones, mesmerized by the bliss. 

Serenity and calm had engulfed us. Gods reside and roam here.

What a feeling to be there…just overwhelming!

The place is situated at a height of about 4100 meters. The glacier is one of the largest in the Himalayas with an estimated volume of over 27 cubic kilometers.

The word "Gomukh/Gaumukh" literally means "Mouth of a Cow."

There are boulders scattered here and there along with the hard clayey snow of the glacier. The Gomukh snout is rapidly moving backwards. According to the modern research the snout has moved 1 KM in just last 70 years.

Bhagirathi Peaks
A little before Gomukh, the majestic view of Mt. Shivling welcomed us. It along with view of Bhagirathi peaks and Meru Mountain were just amazing.

Earlier the trek to Tapovan and Nandanvan used to start from here, but now it happens from Bhojwasa itself. It is parallel to Gaumukh route but through the other side of river!
Bharal (Mountain goat) at Gila Pahar
We were there for about 2 hours and then decided to return back. With folded hands, I thanked almighty mother for granting me opportunity to visit her blissful abode.

Two sadhus accompanied us to Gaumukh from Gangotri. One of them sat near to us while the other one went very close to main spot. I didn't saw him again. 

The other sadhu took bath in that heavenly glacial waters and then walked away.

Weather was good as we came back to Bhojwasa. We were also carrying some water from Gaumukh for our homes.

Nitesh was carrying 10 liters of water (2 cans of 5 liters). I was skeptical if he can carry that but he did it!

After resting some time at Bhojwasa, we started for Gangotri. Nitesh decided to hire a pony meanwhile Vishal and me preferred walking.

As it was sunny, there was no problem today in crossing the “stone falling” zone, the Gila Pahar. The herd of Bharal made their presence felt to us and I was able to shoot them today with my camera.

Again a stop at Chirbasa to enjoy tea and Maggi!

We met many people on the way. One aged couple from Netherlands and also one couple from Bengaluru, who always used to travel in their car. Even from Bengaluru to Gangotri they drove. One 60 year old "Young", who used to roam solo....

Such people increase our enthusiasm many fold!

By around 6 PM, we were at Gangotri. Nitesh had reached earlier than us and so he arranged all our luggage and made ready for our departure to Uttarkashi the same evening.

Bhoj Tree
This was planned to make sure we don’t have any rush on the next day, when we have to catch train from Haridwar.

By around 9 PM we were at Netala (Uttarkashi) and stayed at same Gujarat Bhawan guest house.

Day 5

It was bright sunny morning. After getting fresh, we decided to visit the famous Vishwanath temple and nearby Hanuman temple at Uttarkashi.

In next 10 minutes we were there in the center of Uttarkashi, where the beautiful temple of Lord Vishwanath is situated.

Vishwanath Temple
Lord Vishwanath in the form of a shiva-linga has been residing in the Vishwanath temple in Uttarakashi in deep meditation since time immemorial, showering his blessings on all the living beings. Unlike the other Shiva temples, the shivalinga in this temple leans towards the South direction. The garbha-griha or sanctum sanctorum also houses the Deities of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Parvathi Devi.

According to the Puranas, Sage Markandeya was cursed with a short span of life and hence was meditating on Lord Vishwanath at the very spot the Markandeya temple stands today within the temple complex. When Lord Yamaraja came to take him away, Sage Markandeya went and embraced Lord Vishwanath tightly and in this affection for Lord Vishwanath, Sage Markandeya was protected with a long life and Yamaraja was sent away. Since Sage Markandeya was destined to live only till 16 years of age, Lord Shiva blessed him to be eternally young like a sixteen-year-old boy. Yamaraja threw his gauntlet at Sage Markandeya to capture and take him away but Sage Markandeya’s tight embrace of the Shiva Linga of Lord Vishwanath along with the force of the gauntlet pull by Yamaraja tilted the Shiva Linga towards the southern direction.

The Shiva Linga of Lord Vishwanath was installed by Lord Parashurama. The present temple was constructed by Queen of Tehri – Khaneti Devi, the wife of Sudarshan Shah in the year 1857 AD. The stone temple is built in the Katyuri style and sits on a rock foundation which is a depiction of the local Himalayan architecture.

There are several other temples in the Vishwanath temple complex with the most prominent being the Shakti temple which is situated opposite the temple of Lord Vishwanath. Here, the trident which is 19.5 feet high represents Shakti and is said to be the same trishul that was used to kill the asuras or demons during the wars between the demigods and demons. It has been standing there since and also bears Tibetan inscriptions as well as markings of the Naga dynasty on it. The trident is said to have assimilated the power of Lord Shiva’s Trident, Lord Vishnu’s disc and Lord Parashuram’s axe.

The Uttarkashi district administration website mentions that the trident was built by King Ganeshwar’s son Guh who was a great warrior. Also, as per the site, there are inscriptions on the trident which mentions that the Vishwanath temple was built by King Ganeshwar.

On the right side of the main entrance, an ancient deity of Lord Ganesha as Dundiraj has been enshrined in a small temple. There are also temples dedicated to Lord Sakshi Gopal as well as Sage Markandeya within the temple complex.

Every evening a grand sandhya-arati is performed to Lord Vishwanath. I heard that Couples desiring to have children come here every year on Shivaratri and hold a lighted lamp in their hands the whole night praying to Lord Vishwanath to beget a child.

Next to the blessed temple is the temple of Lord Hanuman. We visited there as well and paid our reverence to the unparalleled devotee of Lord Ram.

Personally I like Uttarkashi town very much. It’s very peaceful and situated in a quite green and flat valley.

Time to take road again….

About 25 KMs from Rishikesh and 8 KMs from NarendraNagar is famous Shaktipeetha temple of Kunjapuri.

This temple is about 4 KMs from main road.

The route to temple is of tough ascend but quite scenic and beautiful. One need to take challenge of ~312 steps to reach the temple courtyard.

This temple is one of the most revered Shakti Peeths of Goddess Shakti in Garhwal Himalayas. This is an ancient temple located at about 1676 meters height.

As per legend, here at Kunjapuri Devi Temple, the chest of Sati had fallen.

The place is extremely serene and blissful. We paid our reverence to universal mother and roamed there enjoying the greenery and mountain cliffs at distance.

On a clear day, Kunjapuri Devi Temple offers panoramic views of snow capped mountains and peaks such as Swarga Rohini, Gangotri, Banderpunch and Chaukhamba.

Kunjapuri Devi Shaktipeeth Temple
The place popular for beautiful sunrise view with the Sun rising from behind the Himalayan peaks.

We were at Rishikesh by around 3 PM and Haridwar by 4 PM.

Our train was at 1145 PM, so we had enough time to take rest and compile photos and videos to send to family and friends.

Next day morning, we were at home, sweet home!


  1. Its nice reading about Gaumukh Trek. very well explained.

    1. thanks for reading it and kind words