Friday, July 17, 2009

Birth of Ganges at Gaumukh

The video is not rotated i tried my best to ficx the technical glitch but couldn't. The cave which you can see is called Gaumukh glacier, where Ganga takes birth. Unfortunately due to global warming its been melting at a fast pace and a local told me that, the glacier has gone 2kilometers back due to global warming. You need to trek 19kms to reach this point one way.

It all began at Inter state bus terminal in Delhi after a softee at Mc Donalds restaurant. I boarded a state government bus and reached Uttarkashi by next morning 10AM. Uttarkashi is a district headquarters and a transit point for all the major tourist spots. I found a guy a local taxi driver Jeetan and convinced him to take me to Gangotri, Which is 105kms from Uttarkashi. It’s the most dangerous, scenic, spiralling and only road to reach Gangotri. The travel requires 4.5 hours of travel. One wrong decision will lead you straight into mighty Ganges and the game is over. Thankfully, our driver was a smart chap, who navigated the curves with a precision and drove safely. Enroute to Gangotri, my journey got delayed because a bus had fallen into Ganges killing all 60 passengers and the road was blocked for clearance from the road authorities. For a moment I was shaken and decided to drop the idea of travelling and getting back to Delhi. I spoke to my taxi driver and asked him about travelling in these places… Jeetan said "don't think too much. Its normal here just relax"(loosely translated from Hindi). I kept a straight face not thinking too much and shut my eyes and sat in a corner of the jeep. Thankfully, I was delivered safely to Gangotri by 3PM. All thanks to Jeetan.

Gangotri is a small beautiful place nestled in midst of mountains filled with white clouds at an elevation of 14,000 ft. The place is filled with pilgrims, beggars, small shops selling all sort of religious items, orange coloured bhang laced sadhus and hotels to serve the floating pilgrims. I was really tired after gruelling 18-hour hairpin curve travel and finding a place to stay was the last thing I wanted to do. I searched couple of places and found Birla guesthouse and negotiated a price of 100 rupees for a night and checked in. In the evening I strolled around the by lanes of Gangotri and shopping gloves, a walkig stick and couple of other sundry items for the next day's trek. Meanwhile, someone informed me about the pass required for trekking, which has to be procured at Uttarkashi itself. I wasn't aware of all these formalities and headed straight to the forest official office and spoke in crisp English just to confuse the forest guards. I politely told I am a journalist and do not have a pass and I required one for understanding the life in mountains. The guards gave a deep look and spoke for five minutes among themselves and later obliged to give a pass. I collected my pass dutifully and handed 10 rupees for chai paani and left the place. The longer you hang around with them the more trouble you invite. I had my dinner at a small restaurant with an expensive bill. Everything in Gangotri is 20-50% than the retail price. For example a roti costs you 10 rupees, Parle-G biscuit pack is 7 rupees, Aloo Parantha is 18 rupees and so on. Only water is available free of cost. I went back to my place and slept early as I had a long day the next morning. I was happy with the quilt provided by Birla's to beat Gangotri cold weather. The temperature was around 8 degree at night. I slept well.

I woke up at 5AM. I dropped the idea of taking a bath, as it was very cold and a bucket of hot water costs 30 rupees. Which, I think is not worth it. I got ready with a backpack; track pants, warm jacket, woollen cap, trekking shoes and my ID card neatly zipped in my track pants. So that if any accident occurs my body needs to retrieved and handed over to my folks back home. This sounds filmy but this is how all trekkers do. I started my trek from Gangotri at 5:30AM after offering my prayers at the temple. I paid entry fees of 40 rupees for the trek and started my trek slowly and paced it accordingly. As there are high chances of developing high altitude sickness and I did not have anyone to take care if anything happened. I walked slowly crossing the high mountains dotted with pine forests, small water falls, skies filled with white clouds, fresh air and the roaring sound of Ganges flowing mightily. The Gaumukh glacier trekking route is very narrow just 2.5 feet with gigantic mountain on one side and Ganges flowing the other side. One wrong step can take you straight into Ganges, which is 300 feet below. Every step has to be watched. En route I did meet few travellers who were smoking up weed and taking rest under the pine trees. I safely avoided all those guys and just walked my way. During the course of my trek I managed to gang up with few army guys to walk fast and have small conversations in between. After walking 14 kms I reached a place called Bhojbasa but was too lazy for a stopover. I continued with my trek to Gaumukh glaciers. Finally, I reached the glaciers by 10AM sharp. I was stunned by the place. Honestly, the glacier is not that great but the atmosphere and the location took the cake. Its all mountains, mountains and mountains. I stood there watching the clear blue sky and the green mountains and saw the Ganges take birth from a cave. The water was really cold so I had to drop the idea of taking a dip. Like I said earlier, too much of adventure lead you somewhere. I gently stayed away from venturing in and observed the Ganges take birth. Meanwhile, I met two travellers from Europe namely Lisette and Matteo. I explained them the importance of the river Ganges and how important it is for a Hindu. After spending an hour at Gaumukh Glacier it was time to head back. I ganged up with these travellers and started my journey back. We walked back swiftly and cautiously. After trekking 9kms there was heavy wind blowing from the mountains, which led to a blockage of the route. There was heavy stone falling from the mountains and we were struck. We sat there patiently holding each other's hand and waiting for the wind to subside. After 20 minutes the situation had eased and we ran through the narrow stretch to cross over. As soon as we had crossed over the stretch, stone falling continued which led inconvenience to other trekkers. Me, Lisette and Matteo rested for while shared some biscuits and water. We were really tired folks but continued trekking. After trekking nearly 37 Kms I was not able to move my legs for the last one kilometre. I literally cried leaning over a pine tree and screamed out of frustration. My head was spinning, thighs frozen and legs looked like wodden pieces. I somehow managed to reach Gangotri limping with Matt and Lisette's help at 3:30PM. We had some good food at a nice restaurant and chatted up and decided to meet up for a dinner. I returned to my room and rested till 7:30PM. I stepped out of my room to see the weather and it was raining with heavy winds. I took a cold bath and wore my woollens and set out for a dinner with Lisette and Matteo. I dropped the idea of beer hunting because I knew I could not get it. We met at the same restaurant and had some good food. We ordered 12 chappatis, Shai Paneer, Dal fry, shimla and some rice. We shared our food and our bills equally. After dinner we sat chatting up with life in general and exchanged our mail id and promised to see each other at Facebook terminal. We parted ways with a formal hug and handshakes. I walked back to my room and crashed off.

I woke up 7:30 AM and took a cold bath with lot of hesitation. As I had to visit the temple for the last time and offer my prayers. I had aloo parantha with a cup of chai for breakfast and felt happy at a local hotel. After sometime I was wondering the change in food taste at Gangotri and later figured out that not only alcohol but also onion and garlic are banned in Gangotri. I left Gangotri by 9AM and reached Uttarkashi at 2:30PM, which clearly meant I did not have a bus towards Delhi. I was not in a mood to stay overnight and waste my time. I had to decide upon something and arrive at a decision. I decide to visit yamunotri and do some more trekking. I took a bus towards a place called Barkot 86 kms from Uttarkashi, which took me 4 hours to reach Barkot, that means I missed the last bus towards yamunotri. I took up a room at Barkot and decided to stay overninght and travel to yamunotri next morning. I wondered aimlessly on the street of Barkot and bumped into an Australian traveller Tom and Jemma. Out of curiosity I asked their travel plans and realised that they were also travelling to Yamunotri. After speaking to locals we managed to find some beer and drink at my room. We chatted up over the drink and spoke about Indian politics and I for the one was all excited to explain about politics. The Australian travellers looked pretty decent and relaxed folks, so I decided to travel to Yamunotri next day and share the jeep.

Destination Yamunotri: we left Barkot at 7.30AM in a jeep with our driver Bhagat Singh Rawat. Our driver was looked smart and knew the terrain well. The reason I emphasis on driver is because all the roads are very narrow and a small mistake will land you into the river and your life take a U turn. We drove past small villages and thick forests. It had rained the previous night and the route was slippery filled with slush at some places so we were a little scared. We stopped by the forest for some pictures and some fresh air. The mountains looked magnificent. We crossed Hanuman Chatti hoping to reach Janaki Chatti and begin our trek on time but god had something else in store for us. We crossed Hanuman Chatti and there was a landslide with big rocks rolling from the mountains and blocking the road. We were stuck at 14,000 feet altitude not knowing what to do and where to go. Me, Thomas and Jemma looked at each other and juss kept a straight face. Honestly, I blank but put up straight face thinking everything happens for good. In some time couple of more pilgrims joined us as they were also stuck. We spoke to our driver and he advised to take a horse but it was an expensive affair. The rate was 680 rupees for a person and we did not like the idea of travelling on horse, because its expensive and we travel on budget. We crossed the spot of landslide and started walking with our backpacks for next 2kms in midst of high mountains and cold weather. After sometime we flagged off a local jeep and requested him for a drop. The jeep was packed to its capacity and there was no place inside and all the passengers made drama, saying there is no place inside to sit, where will we accommodate these people. In nick of time I requested the passengers to accommodate only Jemma in the taxi, because I knew for a fact we Indian people are nice to firangs. Thomas and me sat on the roof of the jeep and started off. The moment we got on the top there was slight drizzle and wind blowing fast making it even scarier. I was scared but I didn’t have choice and waiting for another taxi would take lot of time. We held the bar hard and sat tightly on the top and reached our JanakiChatti in 20 minutes. We took a room at Aravind Annexxe kept our backpacks and decided our trekking plans, but found out Thomas and Jemma weren't interested for a trek to Yamunotri. As I was falling short of time there wasn't much time to think about my fellow travellers. I unpacked my backpack and stuffed it with a jacket and began my trek towards Yamunotri. It’s a 12-kilometre trek to and fro, from Janakichatti. The route is cemented with safety railings to prevent you from falling off; some stretch of the route had Horse shit around which makes it little unbearable. The slight drizzle around, cold winds and horseshit getting mixed with rainwater worsens your trek and makes the stretch a little slippery. On the whole the route is fairly well maintained by the Uttaranchal government and I would rate 8 on 10. Enroute I saw lot of my fellow countrymen walking the stretch only to realise that it was a religious obligation and they weren't actually enjoying the walk, which is really sad. After trekking five kilometres, I was feeling uneasy and was showing up some fatigue and there was no more sweat from my body only salt granules all over my forehead. I did not understand this condition but it got me worried and jittery. Meanwhile, I reached Yamunotri with lot of fatigue and an empty stomach. I offered my prayers and just went around the place for a while and rushed to have my lunch. I had Allo Parantha and a chai at a local restaurant and rested for sometime. One of the reasons to have Allo parntha during a trek is that paranthas are stuffed with potatoes, which are rich in starch, and gives you lot of energy to trek long distances and is economical. I reached Janakichatti by 2PM and packed my backpack and bid an adieu to Thomas and Jemma and reached Hanumanchatti by a taxi. The moment I crossed landslide spot by foot there was no vehicle to ferry me to Barkot. I was stuck in midst of heavy rains all alone. Not knowing what to do and where to catch hold of a taxi I was lost. I was really tired and I didn't have any energy to move further. Finally, I spotted a jeep (not a taxi), which distributes FMCG goods such as Parle-G biscuits, washing powder, toffees and other sundry items to local stores in villages. I managed to convince him and hitch a ride till Barkot in his jeep. The road was bumpy with cold winds blowing all over but that deter me from having a good nap. Probably, the fatigue factor had shadowed the bumpy ride and cold winds. When I opened my eyes I had reached Barkot. I found a place to stay and woke up the next day and left towards Dehradun by 5:30 AM.

Day V BACK TO DELHI: There was heavy rainfall the previous night at Barkot, which was making my travel really uncomfortable. I took a bus towards Dehradun, which was really shabby and stinking as some had thrown up last night and was left unclean. I put with that piece of shit as roughing in the hinterland involves all this. I reached Dehradun via Mussorie by 11AM and boarded a bus towards Delhi at 12PM. After 15 hours I managed to reach my place totally exhausted with loads of experience and memories to cherish.

TRIVIA: My travel involved 44 hours of bus travel comprising 1,200kilometers, 50 kilometres of trek and spent 2,433 rupees over five days.


Ayesha said...

Anil, this is a fantastic post! I read every word and watched the video. It was like hearing you talk in some places, I could totally hear you explaining everything. You have become such a great writer, it is not possible to recognize your work from a year or two ago. And this journey is better that anything I've seen on the discovery channel. Some of it sounds dangerous, but I think you handled all of it in the best way possible. Many people would love to be in your position and be able to say that they have done similarly, but there aren't many who can. You traveled in the right spirit, I'm glad you had such a nice time and returned to Delhi safely.

Anil said...

hey ayesha, thanks a ton. I am really glad that you liked the post....thank you once again..)

manasa said...

Hey anil was wonderful reading this post man..Felt almost like I witnessed it myself. Kudos to ur courage for all that you have been through on this trip..Some trip it was eh?.. Am sure it was truly memorable one.. Good one macha :) When is the next trip happening btw?

Anil said...

Thank you Manasa. I haven't decided anything on my next trip yet...

lookwhosback said...

like i mentioned over chat, you have all the makings of a great travel writer. maybe you should read some more of travel writing to improve your style. i am quite envious of you. it's been months since i last travelled.

anyways, keep travelling and writing about it...

Gayathri Vaidyanathan said...

Anil, a lovely post and am truly jealous you are doing such great traveling!

Anonymous said...

I got the link for your blog from Srinis blog. Good post. He was telling that u are crazy. Your post proves that! Good narration and great experience.
Infact after reading your post, I am planning to go there.

Anonymous said...

I had my plans to go to uttranchal in FEB as it being my home town, but never got a chance to visit Gangotri as yet.

But a i will sure i go this time.. A