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A Himalayan Journey

Posted by : Rajesh Vaidyula on | Nov 21,2016

A Himalayan Journey

India is a country where both the natural and spiritual worlds share a deep and primordial connection. This is a place where natural elements like air, fire, earth and water are revered as gods. The most important of these natural deities are the rivers of India and the most powerful amongst them is the river Ganga. She is a water goddess who descended from the heavens to cleanse the humans of all their sins. She has been a blessing to the hot and crowded plains of the northern India through countless millennia, by creating and replenishing one of the most fertile soils on earth. All around her the great cycles of birth, death and rebirth are endlessly played out. Flowing through these natural and spiritual worlds is the Ganga - India’s river of life. India has many sacred rivers but it is the Ganga that lies at the very heart of the subcontinent. To reach its delta on the shores of Bay of Bengal the river has flowed for 2500 kms making it the third largest river on earth. But the Ganga starts life in a very different realm. Cold and imposing, in the high peaks of the Himalayas, known as Dev Bhoomi - the land of the gods. The source of the Ganga is a place of great significance. But where amongst these remote peaks and glaciers does India’s most venerated river really begin? I am Rajesh, and this is my pilgrimage to the source of India’s most sacred river.  

Day 1: 18/09/2016 - Chennai to Uttarkashi – Sea Level to 1200 m

It was 2 am in the morning of 18th September 2016, and I woke up to the loud buzz of my alarm. This was one alarm I dint want to put on snooze. I slept at 11 pm the earlier night thinking about the journey ahead with a lot of excitement and a bit of anxiety. I still can’t remember if I really slept for those 3 hours, but I could definitely tell that I was waiting for that alarm to go off. My flight from Chennai to Delhi was at 4.15 am and the onward flight from Delhi to Dehradun was at 9.15 am. The flight to Delhi was for 2 and a half hours so I could get enough sleep as I had a long travel ahead. Dehradun was my home for 2 years where I did my MBA so felt nostalgic when I landed at the Jolly Grant airport after 5 years. My next destination was Uttarkashi which is about 150 kms from Dehradun. The taxi that I booked was waiting for me at the airport and we were on our way with no delay. The holy town of Rishikesh was en route to Uttarkashi. This is the place where the daughter of the mountains Ganga, united with all its tributaries, attains the status of a mother. I decided to visit the place to pay my respects to the river goddess. To stand on the Lakshman Jhula and to witness the Ganga flowing beneath you is a wonderful sight. The Lakshman Jhula is a 450 ft long iron suspension bridge and built at a height of 70 ft from the river. The place where it is built is believed to be the place where Lakshman the brother of Lord Ram crossed the river after defeating the demon king Ravana. This is the place where the Ganga leaves the Shivalik hills and bursts out on to the plains of northern India. After taking the blessings of Ganga maa I left from Rishikesh at around 12 noon to follow one of its main tributaries, the Bhagirathi, up north into the Shivalik hills. Around 50 kms from Rishikesh I come across a sight which is as breathtaking as it is unsettling. The catchment area for the Tehri dam is around 52 square kms and the dam is the tallest in India. Mountains had to be broken, streams had to be diverted, people had to be displaced and forests had to be cleared to construct such a huge structure. One can only imagine the environmental consequences of locating such a huge dam in the fragile eco system of the Himalayan foothills. Only time will tell if the dam will be able to withstand the quakes of the central Himalayan seismic gap, a major geologic fault zone. Accepting the fact that this is a necessary evil, I continued my journey towards Uttarkashi stopping only for lunch at the town of Chamba. We reached Uttarkashi around 6 in the evening where my guide, Mr. Jai Singh was waiting to receive me. Uttarkashi is a town on the banks of the Bhagirathi river at an elevation of about 1200 m above sea level. This town is also home to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering which is considered to be the pioneer institute for mountain climbing in India. It’s worthwhile to note that the youngest woman from India to scale the mount Everest is an alumnus of this institution. After discussing the plans for the next day with Jai over dinner I checked into the hotel which he had booked for me for the night. Tired and exhausted it didn’t take much time for me to fall asleep.

 Day 2: 19/09/2016 – Uttarkashi to Gangotri – 1200 m to 3000 m

It was a pleasant morning at Uttarkashi with the sun shining bright and glistening over the Bhagirathi river. The hotel where I stayed was on the banks of the river and had a balcony which overlooked it. One could just sit there all day and watch the mighty Bhagirathi carve its way out of the Shivalik hills. But I dint have more than a few minutes to enjoy it as Jai was waiting for me to execute the well laid plans for the day. I checked out of the hotel at 10 am and entered the busy marketplace of the town. We were looking for one particular shop where had to purchase a long list of provisions that we needed for the trek. From rice to dals, spices to condiments, breads to eggs and chocolates to cakes, there was everything on that list. I had a feeling that we were over doing things and all these provisions would rather be too much for a journey of just five days. Later did I realize how wrong I was when these very things were keeping us alive in a rather harsh environment. The shopkeeper was an old man and knew Jai well and was enquiring how big our team was. He was quite intrigued at the fact that I was the only person who would be doing the trek. After paying the bill the shopkeeper wished me luck and said something that boosted my spirits even more - “Akele aaye ho bete, jab upar tak jaaoge to yaad rakhna ki tere har kadam pe Ganga tumhari saath degi” - “You have come alone son, but when you reach the top just remember that for every step you take the Ganga will be with you”. Thanking the shopkeeper for his blessings and kind words we left from Uttarkashi in our taxi. We had just one more stop to make before we hit the road towards Gangotri. We had to pick up our cook Mr. Pardeep who was waiting with our tents and cooking items. Neatly packed, it took the driver only a few minutes to load them on top of the taxi. The driver chanted ‘Har Har Mahadev’ which Jai and Pardeep repeated loudly in unison by thumping their fists in the air. It sounded more like a war cry and I felt as if we were getting ready for a battle rather than a trek. We started our 4-hour drive to Gangotri. We stopped for lunch at the town of Harsil. This hamlet is known for its natural beauty and delicious apples. It is said that Harshil got its name because the rivers Bhagirathi and the Jalandhari once had an argument about which was more important. Lord Vishnu, also known as Hari, was asked to intervene. He turned himself into a great stone, a shila, and absorbed their anger. And even today, after Hari-shila (or Harshil), the waters of the two rivers become a little less turbulent.The idol of the goddess Ganga is brought down from the shrine at Gangotri after Diwali and kept at 'Mukhba' village near Harsil. It remains there throughout the winter when Gangotri is snowbound and inaccessible. It was around 4.30 pm by the time we reached Gangotri and it was much colder than I imagined. Jai and cook left to visit the forest office to obtain permission to enter the Gangotri National Park and camp there for the next few days. I wandered around the little town which was a bit deserted, yet lively. The town of Gangotri is at an elevation of 3000m above sea level. This is the place where the Hindus believe that the Ganga first descended on to the earth. Ganga is a water goddess who flowed through the heavens. She is believed to be so pure that just a bath in its holy waters would cleanse a man of all his sins. The legend says, the king Bhagirath, wanting to cleanse the ashes of his forefathers, did penance at Gangotri for 5500 years. Impressed by his penance the Ganga agrees to come to earth. But the Ganga, being a goddess of abundance and sustenance was so powerful that her descent would have shattered the earth. Bhagirath then prays to lord Shiva to slow down the descent of the enormous river. Lending ears to his request, lord Shiva places himself between the falling river and the earth there by catching the Ganga in his matted locks, cushioning her arrival and channeling the flow into thousand lesser streams. To honor the king’s effort, the river at Gangotri is named after him. The spectacular waterfall at Suryakund at which the river falls from a height of 60 ft, is a very earthly reminder of this tumultuous descent. But even Gangotri is not the geographical origin of the river. The river here is already wide and powerful, fed by one of the Himalaya’s largest glaciers high above the valley. Just a few hundred years ago, the glacier was right at the town of Gangotri but because of rising temperatures, it has receded by 18 kms away from the town. Determined to reach the origin far away I entered the temple. It was time for the evening aarthi, a ritual that is performed each day from time immemorial to honor and thank India’s river of life. After the aarthi we retired to our rooms. It was 8.30 pm and I went to sleep with the constant roar of the Bhagirathi gushing down and a number of thoughts about an exciting and adventurous trek that lay ahead.

Day 3: 20/09/2016 – Gangotri to Chirbasa – 3000m to 3350m

I woke up at 6 am in the morning to get ready for the trek. It was cold outside and covered with mist. I could not see for more than a few meters outside my room but was able to hear the Bhagirathi roar past the town. It somehow sounded more ferocious than the previous day. I had the luxury of getting hot water in my room so I took a shower and thought it would be another 5 days before I have another one. It was important for us to stay the previous night at Gangotri. High altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness(AMS) is a common illness at altitudes above 2500 m. AMS can occur due to rapid ascent to higher altitudes due to the decreasing levels of oxygen. AMS can be avoided if you gradually ascend to higher altitudes. The thumb rule is not to stay at an altitude of more than 300 m each day. You may climb for more than 500 m in the day, but it’s advisable to come down to 300 m to camp for the night. Unless your body is well acclimatized, it becomes very difficult to even walk at such high altitudes. Most of the trekkers who get affected with AMS might not even realize that they have been affected until the symptoms get worse and are forced to stop the trek and come down to lower altitudes. The stay at Gangotri provided me with the right amount of acclimatization that would be needed to make this trek. The porters had arrived at 6.45 am and were packing the tents and other provisions. A porter can carry up to 25 kgs so I had to hire 2 porters as there was much more weight to be carried. Both the porters Mr. Bhim and Mr. Bahadur, were from Nepal. I was later astonished to find that Bhim was 57 years old and Bahadur was in his late 40s. In many ways, it is only because of these porters that our trek was even possible in the first place. It’s to them that the entire credit for this trek truly belongs. We had breakfast at a local outlet and started our trek at around 7.15 am after taking the blessings of the river goddess. The trek begins from the temple and a few meters ahead one has to climb about 150 to 200 stairs to the reach the pathway that leads to the Gangotri National Park. To reach the camp site we had to trek for 9 kms and I was already out of breath after climbing the stairs to reach the pathway. “The stairs are only a few and at 3000 m. To reach your goal, you will have to climb a steep mountain for 300 m at an altitude of 4000 m and that too after crossing a glacier”, Jai exclaimed! That was a crude reminder of what lay ahead. Gathering my breath, I reassured myself that this was not going to be easy but definitely worthwhile. With that thought, we set out on the path that leads to the camp site. The trail goes towards the left side inside the forest. Around 2 kms from where we started, we reached the forest check post where our permits were checked. I got a much needed break and I could rest for 5 mins before starting again. Jai was suggesting that we walk for an hour and rest for 15 mins. That way we would be able to cover much ground in less time. A few meters from the check post, we were greeted by the Sudarshan parbat(6500m) looking stunning in the background. The trail was on the left side of the mountain ridge with the Bhagirathi flowing below on your right. The path mostly has gradual inclines and level walks. 30 minutes into the trek from the check post I came across a stream gushing below a makeshift bridge. After crossing the bridge, the valley opened up to several snowcapped peaks on the right side. It is a very narrow path with wonderful peaks on either sides and the Bhagirathi at the bottom. Two hours into the trek, I started feeling the energy slowly draining out of my body. My breaks were becoming more frequent and much longer. After almost 4 hours of trekking, I came across a stream where a bridge was washed away during the monsoon in July. We had to climb down the ridge over boulders to reach a point where the stream was less wide and a makeshift bridge which was made with wooden logs tied together was being erected. After crossing the bridge and climbing up the boulders for another 10 minutes, we reached the humble abode of the Chir trees, Chirbasa. We made it in 4 and a half hours. It was only 11.30 am and Jai was suggesting that we take some rest and proceed to Bhujbasa the same day. I slept for an hour at the dhaba and woke up only to find my legs were as numb as the boulders that we crossed. That’s when it hit me that this was the first time I stretched my body to this extent. Clearly, whatever fitness regime that I used to follow before the trek was not in any way sufficient for the effort that I had to put in now. I walked around for few minutes just to relax my muscles as lunch was being served at the dhaba. We started to Bhujbasa at 2 in the noon and not more than 30 minutes into the walk, I started to feel dizzy and disoriented. I had a mild headache, which along with cramps in my legs was making it very difficult to proceed further. I had a feeling that it was because of AMS and told Jai about my symptoms. He immediately suggested that we should head down to Chirbasa and camp there for the night. We set up our tents right next to the forest check post at Chirbasa. There were two officers at the post and we invited them over for dinner to our tents. It’s not very often that people camp here so they were quite happy to have our company. They started talking about their jobs and evidently they were not happy about it. Both were quite young so were a bit disappointed that they were posted at a place which was quite far away from civilization. I, on the other hand, was feeling quite jealous about their job given my obsession with mountains and rivers. But as it is said, grass is always greener on the other side. Our conversations moved towards their experiences and they started talking about a particular incident that occurred in June this year which was very unsettling. Two trekkers died on the same day due to AMS. As one of the officer started explaining how it happened, the other noticed the shock in my face and asked him to stop. Out of curiosity I requested them to continue. The more they spoke about it the more anxious I got. When they finally finished, I had a chill down my spine. I wished I had never heard about it. They thanked us for the meal and left. I retired to my tent and slipped into my sleeping bag. Alone in the tent with only the sound of a river gushing down and the thoughts of two men who lost their lives, sleeping wasn’t easy. It was the longest night of my life.   

Day 4: 21/09/2016 – Chirbasa to Bhujbasa – 3350 m to 3800 m

I woke up to the sounds of birds chirping and the steady breeze that was making my tent sway. It was 7.30 am and our cook had already prepared breakfast. Jai, along with the porters were all packed and ready to start the day’s journey. I asked Jai if I can find a restroom anywhere near. He just waved his hands and said everywhere here is a restroom and its far more hygienic than closed doors. He passed me a bottle of water and said, “go anywhere you want to”. You never truly become a part of nature unless you do things naturally. Never did I feel so close to nature than performing my morning ablutions out in the open between green bushes and on a river bank. It was around 9 am when we packed everything and started our journey for the day. The two officers wished me luck and warned me twice to come down if I had even the slightest symptom of AMS. Heeding their advice and thanking them for their wishes, we left from Chirbasa. Our hike to Bhujbasa was for 5 kms along the left trail of the mountains. It was an easy hike as it had very gradual inclines with a few kms of rocky paths. A few meters into the trail, you get to see the amazing Bhagirathi peaks, I, II and III standing tall at 6856m, 6512m and 6454m respectively. They are also called the Bhagirathi sisters as they look so alike. The path to Bhujbasa has a lot of landslide prone zones. Every 15 to 20 minutes you will find the path covered with boulders which you have to traverse by climbing up and down the ridges. I was moving quite swiftly and did not rest for at least an hour when we came across a stream which had no bridge at all. We had to climb up the ridge which was almost 75 m high and cross the stream where it was narrow. Climbing up is only a test of endurance but climbing down was a real test of agility. With loose rocks and sand, it becomes very difficult to climb down. And since I had no experience whatsoever and did not have the slightest idea of how to do that, I was literally planting my every step into the ground before I took another one. It took me more than 5 minutes to climb down the ridge which was just 50m high. When it was done, I sat for 15 minutes nibbling on my chocolate bar when Jai told me that the climb down from Tapovan would be much steeper and the rocks would be much slippery. But that was for tomorrow. It was a short walk from this place to reach Bhujbasa and I was quite sure that I will be able to make it without any more breaks. Just before the camping site, there is a vantage point from where you can see the Gangotri glacier with the Bhagirathi peaks in the background. It was an amazing sight. The sun was shining bright when we made it to Bhujbasa. We completed the trek in less than 2 hours. Bhujbasa is a wonderful camping site, right on the banks of Bhagirathi river. There is a government guest house at Bhujbasa where you can camp for the night in case you don’t carry any tents. We set up our tent a little further from the guest house. Across our sight, the clouds which were covering the majestic Shivling peak, slowly opened up and for the first time, we were able to catch a glimpse of the Shivling peak(6543m). It was one peak that I was so looking forward to see. It was around lunch time when a group of clouds started coming in over from the Bhagirathi peaks. Slowly, they moved over to cover the Gangotri glacier and then to the right towards the Shivling peak. At around 3 pm it was getting dark and chilly because of the cloud cover, which was now above Bhujbasa valley. My excitement began to fade around 4 when it was completely dark and covered by clouds which were ready to burst anytime. It started to get very cold outside and even under 3 layers of warm clothing, I was not feeling warm enough. We retreated into our tents and hoped the weather to get cleared soon. Much to our disappointment, it started raining around 6 in the evening. It was not a heavy downpour but a steady shower which continued for the rest of the evening. I was sitting in the kitchen tent with my gloomy face when our porter Bhim sat beside me and told me there was nothing to worry about. This is a very common thing in the mountains. The weather can change very soon at these altitudes. He was quite sure that by next morning we should have clear skies. I was worried that if it rained any heavier, it would become difficult for us to make the climb as the path might get even more slippery. A hot supper lifted our spirits and as we slipped into our sleeping bags we hoped that, it would be a wonderful day tomorrow. I went to sleep with the sound of the rhythmic pounding of rain drops on my tent and I was quite sure that the rhythm continued for a long time.

Day 5: 22/09/2016 –Bhujbasa – Gaumukh – Tapovan – Bhujbasa – 3800m – 4000m - 4300m – 3800m

I woke up at 6.30 am as excited as a school boy on his last day of school. It was very cold the previous night and it remained the same even in the morning. It stopped raining but it was still gloomy. Bhim winked at me and asked me to get ready for he was sure it was going to be a pleasant day. I was quite determined to continue my journey even if it rained. Jai suggested that we should not carry any tents or provisions with us. Our plan was to climb up and down on the same day. If at all I got tired, we could stay at the Mauni Baba’s ashram for the night and come back the next day. His suggestion made perfect sense given the chances that it might rain and we could come back midway itself. As we were finishing our breakfast Bhim had a grin on his face as he looked towards the sky and pointed out that the clouds were moving away from us. It was 8 am when Jai and I packed only essentials and left for the trek. Our first destination was Gaumukh, the cow’s mouth, the snout of the Gangotri glacier. The trail to Gaumukh is 4 kms long and a gradual incline over a rocky path. 20 minutes into the walk, the clouds were clearing steadily and we were able to see the Shivling peak on the right. Another 30 minutes, there was a rock face that we had to cross after which an unseen view of Gaumukh opened up. With each step we took towards the glacier, the weather was getting much better. It took 90 minutes for us to reach the small temple of Lord Shiva that was erected at Gaumukh and by that time we had clear skies. We made it without any breaks. As per legend, this place was the origin of the river Ganga. The snout of the glacier got its name as it resembled a cow’s mouth, may be a few hundred years ago, when the glacier spanned across the town of Gangotri. But now it nowhere resembles a cow’s mouth. A milky stream flowed out of what looked more like a slit at the bottom of the glacier covered with mud and rocks. But this place marks a very important landmark in the spiritual world of India. Yet, it is faith rather than geography that defines the origin at this place. High above the glacier in the meadows of Tapovan, there is more flowing water. That is where we intend to go. To reach Tapovan we had to cross the Gangotri glacier from its right side and climb up a 300m rock face. But first, we had to climb up on the glacier. The climb to the top of the glacier is boulder moraine and is prone to frequent landslides. Jai asked me not to stop anywhere till we reach the vantage point 500 m away from Gaumukh. He sounded quite serious when he said that so I followed his every footstep trying to match his speed. Even though the climb was not too steep crossing over boulders without taking any breaks with a low supply of oxygen was proving to be difficult. Somehow I managed to make the climb within 15 minutes and we reached the top of the glacier. We could get a great view of the snout from this point. Jai pointed out at the people climbing up the rock face to Tapovan. They literally looked like ants across the glacier. It was a terrifying sight. Jai later told me that most trekkers would return from this point frightened by the dangerous steep path that lay ahead. I rested here for 15 minutes and had a bar of chocolate to top up my energy levels and gulped down half a bottle of water before starting again. We were short on supply of water and our next source was Akash Ganga which was at the halfway point to Tapovan. I had an entire glacier to cross and climb halfway to Tapovan with just 500ml of water. It was a daunting task. We started to climb over the glacial moraine to the right. The moraine was a combination of hard ice and boulders. The path can get very slippery at places as the glacier is always melting. At regular intervals, we had to cross crevices. One could see the fragmentation of the glacier and debris from the rock fall over years. There are cairns marking the route through the glacier but it is difficult to spot them as the glacial basin is always shifting. It is highly advisable to come along with a guide to this place or you are definite to get lost in this icy labyrinth. It took us one and a half hour to cross the glacier. Now we were at the base of the rock face that we had to climb up to reach Tapovan. It was almost vertical and it was my final ascent. Jai said that the climb generally takes 30 minutes which is a steep climb for 300m over loose gravel and rocks, at an altitude of 4000m above sea level. We sat at the base for 15 minutes and when I looked back on to the glacier I had no clue about the path that we came through. We started our ascent and I was finding it very difficult to get a strong foothold for each step. My walking stick was of no help either, as there was no defined pathway. I gave my walking stick to Jai and literally started to crawl up the mountain with both my arms and legs. I found it very helpful to use my arms too as it provided me good balance over the incline. I used the same technique till we reached the halfway point where a stream flows down from the rocks. This stream is called the Akash Ganga. It means water from the sky or heavens. We rested there for 10 minutes and filled our bottles with the “water from the sky”. The view from this point was breathtaking. I could not believe myself when I looked down to see how high we climbed. The climb from here was less steep and had something that resembled a path. So I took my stick back from Jai and continued the climb. It was 1.10 pm when I took my final step to reach a vast expanse of land. I reached Tapovan. I made it to the top! I did it in 50 minutes. I just sat there at the edge trying to comprehend my long struggle to get to this point. It was not just about physical fitness but mental strength too. Jai could understand the overwhelming emotions going through my mind as he let me be there for at least 30 minutes at the edge. I stood up and thanked Jai for bringing me safely this far. He smiled and said “It is not over yet. We still have to get down and cross the glacier again”. The word Tapovan means forest for spiritual penance. At the base of the majestic Shivling peak, it’s a vast expanse of meadows, streams and flowering plants. You can get wonderful views of Shivling peak, Bhagirathi sisters and Mt. Meru from this place. If the source of a river is the point farthest from the ocean, then it is here, in the meadows of Tapovan, that the spiritual and the geographical origins of the Ganga finally come together. Surrounded and protected by the mountain gods, nowhere can be more fitting as the birthplace of India’s holiest river. A small stream flows from the melting ice of the Shivling peak to serve as a reminder that the mighty Ganga still flows out of the matted locks of Lord Shiva. We headed straight to the Mauni Baba’s ashram where he has been living for 8 years. Mauni baba came to Tapovan when he was 22 years old and has not left this place ever since. He stays here even through the winters when it can get freezing cold and the snow fall might be well over 6 feet. Everyone are welcome at his ashram. Be it for lunch, dinner or a night’s stay. He doesn’t charge anything but you can donate how much ever you want. He doesn’t talk much for somebody who has been alone for a long time. He served us dal and rice with which we filled up our empty tummies. We thanked him for this meal and roamed around the place for a while. It was the most silent place that I had ever been to. Jai asked me if I wish to stay the night at Tapovan about which I had no idea. I had not much energy left in me to climb down and cross the glacier but I was concerned more about AMS if I stayed at Tapovan. Already I was having a mild headache and remembered the advice of the forest officers and decided to head down the same day. I told Jai that I might not have the energy to do climb down at his pace for which he said, “you have made it this far and its downhill from here so don’t worry, you will do fine”. We left Mauni baba’s ashram at 2.30 pm to head down to Bhujbasa. As I said earlier, the climb down was a test of agility. You have to be very light on your feet to hop around on the rocks. It was a 300 m fall over boulders if u slip. But it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I was taking it slow for the first few meters but started moving down quicker as I was now more used to this terrain. It took us just 25 minutes to climb down to the base. As we started to cross the glacier it was getting dark due to the clouds coming from behind the Bhagirathi peaks. Halfway through it started drizzling a bit and Jai urged me to push harder as it would become very difficult to cross the glacier when it’s raining. Somehow we made it to the vantage point at the end of the glacier within an hour when it was still drizzling. Only now did I breathe a sigh of relief as it was all downhill from here and even if it did rain, we had a path ahead of us. One last look at the cow’s mouth and I was on my way down to Bhujbasa from Gaumukh. It started raining through the way and we had at least an hour’s trek left to reach Bhujbasa. We put on our raincoats and trekked in the rain until we reached our campsite. Our cook and porters were anxiously waiting for us at the tents as it was 6.15 in the evening and were quite relieved to watch us come down the hill towards our camping site. I was welcomed with much appreciation from them as it was the first time that they had seen someone go up and come down on the same day. It was the biggest achievement of my life. It was the first time ever that I felt I earned my dinner. It was still raining when we went into our tents to sleep. My body was entirely tired from the trek but my mind was at its active best. Alone and dark, I was listening to the drops of rain falling on my tent and the constant gushing sound of a sacred river. That was the best sleep that I had in years.

Day 6/7: 23-24/09/2016 –Bhujbasa – Gangotri – Uttarkashi – Chennai: 3800 m – 3000 m – 1220 m – Sea Level

It was a leisure walk from Bhujbasa to Gangotri. We made it in 4 hours. En route, I met the forest officers at Chirbasa and told them about my adventures and they were quite happy to hear I made it in a single day. Upon reaching the temple town, I went directly to the temple and thanked the water goddess and the mountain gods for providing me a safe passage to her source. We had our taxi ready to take us till Uttarkashi. It was a long drive and I felt this ride was going to be more tiring than the trek itself. I thanked Jai, Pardeep, Bhim and Bahadur for helping me along on a wonderful trek and bid adieu before checking into my room for the night. The next day, I drove to Dehradun and took a flight back to Chennai. Finally, I arrived at sea level. It’s not very often that you climb up to 4300 m, but I was quite relieved to look at the sea after almost a week at high altitudes.

Only after parting ways with the river did I understand what the old shopkeeper really meant.

It was the Ganga, which kept me company throughout the trek by flowing beside me.

It was the Ganga, that helped me along by quenching my thirst with its ever flowing streams from the slopes of the mountains.

It was the Ganga, that put me to sleep each night with a lullaby of its own.


And it was the Ganga – India’s river of life, that helped me find solace in an isolated meadow, among mountain gods, high above in the Himalayas.