A group of us from Chennai set off in October to trek to Tapovan and Gaumukh, in Uttarakhand. Our flight landed in Dehradun on the 10th of October 2021, and after clearing all our Covid protocols, we set off on a long drive to Harsil, where we would spend the night. The surrounding countryside was beautiful and soon we started climbing higher into the mountains. We passed the spectacularly large Tehri Dam, which is the tallest dam in India. A bit of a concern, as it is situated on a major geologic fault zone! After passing through Maneri, we finally reached Harsil. After a nice dinner and getting acquainted with the rest of the group, we called it a night.
The next morning, we drove to Gangotri, the starting point of the trek. After a quick prayer at the temple, we set off on a 12-km walk to Cheerbasa, our first campsite. The Gangotri National Park is well-maintained and clean, and the forest officials encourage you to pick up any garbage on the path and bring it back or put it into the bins along the path. A long, but easy walk with beautiful landscapes. And a packed lunch made it a fabulous day. Bonus, I got to trek with the best guide ever, my son!
We walked along a scenic path, stopping for lunch along the way in a woody, shaded spot. We finally reached Cheerbasa and our campsite was in a beautiful, tree-filled forest. A large dining tent had been set in a clearing and we gathered there for some chai and a much-need rest. After a hearty dinner amidst much noise and laughter, we retired to our comfy tents for the night.
The next day, we set off at a brisk pace to Bhojbasa which was 5 km away. The air was colder, even though the sun was up, as we were at an altitude of 12, 270 feet. The tree cover had vanished, leaving behind low bushes with stunning fall colours all around us. As we walked along the narrow trail, we spotted a herd of ibex, quietly grazing on the mountain slopes! The roar of the Baghirathi followed us all the way to Bhojbasa.
At our campsite, we went down to the swift-flowing Baghirathi river and sat in the icy cold water which was so refreshing! The stunning view of the mountains all around us was simply amazing, all snow-covered and looking magical. After dinner we crawled into our tents for the night, looking forward to an exciting morning.
The next morning, we had to cross the Baghirathi to continue our trek. We soon discovered that we had a long wait to get a turn in the unending line of trekkers, pilgrims and porters trying to get across the river. The only way to cross was a rather precariously dangling little cage that was hauled across the river by teams pulling on either side!
Our guides had decided to skip Gaumukh and head to Tapovan, as it was already rather late and we had a difficult section to climb. So we set off along the path, which grew rockier and started heading upwards. Then we saw the mountain looming ahead of us and realized that it was just the beginning of the 3-hour push to the top. Literally an 80-degree incline! We slowly made our way up this path that twisted and turned as it went up the mountainside. Stopping every now and again to catch our breath, we made a final push up the steep section and we were at the top!
And finally, we were there!! In this vast bugyal, the size of 20 football fields!! And towering above us in their majestic beauty were Mt. Shivling, Mt. Meru and Baghirathi 1, 2 and 3. What had I done to deserve such beauty? As our tents had not arrived, we spent the night in an ashram, which was the residence of Mauni Baba, the local, rather reclusive Godman who had lived there since 2008. He most graciously gave us room to sleep and blankets to keep us warm. Packed like sardines, but warm as toast!
The next morning, we returned to our campsite for a yummy breakfast with the tables set out in the open. A perfect day for sitting in the sun to warm ourselves at 14,000 odd feet. The air was still icy cold and we needed to keep our down jackets on. After breakfast, we set off across the meadow to climb up another steep path, to reach the Meru glacier. The views were spectacular, and after spending some time there, we came to the campsite. The dining tent was the place to be, as it was very cold outside. After dinner, one of the trekkers did a bit of night photography and the results were stunning!
And the question on everyone’s mind… how were we going to climb down that mountain to Gaumukh? Believe me, climbing up is easy, downhill is a killer! In small groups of five, with a guide for each group, we slowly made our way down from Tapovan. And all of a sudden, right in front of us, was a magnificent sight. The Gaumukh Glacier rose above us at least a couple of hundred feet to the top. The glacier was a living breathing wall of ice, melting in the sharp noon sun. and our worried guides kept us from getting too close to the falling ice. This is the source of the Baghirathi river. It emerges from a little dark cave below the glacier and flows down to Devprayag. Here it joins the Alakananda where it finally becomes the mighty Ganga, worshipped and revered by millions.
We settled on the rocks by the side of the river, just soaking in the amazing feeling of having reached our destination. Dipping into these icy waters was an option and some of the group had decided to plunge in! After the mandatory collection of Ganga jal in our bottles, we headed back to Bhojbassa, past beautiful meadows, full of autumn shrubs and bushes. Everyone was looking forward to hot chai and popcorn!!
The next morning, we thanked our guides and porters for their remarkable service, as trekking would not be possible without them and all their hard work! We then set off on a long, though relatively easy walk, back to Gangotri. Such beautiful autumn colours on the mountainsides. I kept taking in these sights, so that they would remain imprinted on my brain forever. A ‘thank you’ at the temple back in Gangotri and after a quick lunch, we loaded our vehicles and drove to Barsu for the night.
What is it that calls me repeatedly to the mountains? Aching feet, tired muscles, but a song in my heart and a smile on my face! And as always, I wait for the call of the Mountain Gods again!