After spending over a week in busy city of Rishikesh we decided we had enough of waking up to loud horns beeping and walking through the overly crowded streets. It was time to go back into the mountains. When we heard about the famous trek to the source of the holy “Ganges River” we didn’t quite know what to expect, especially after our last adventure over the Hampta Pass. We decided to go for it anyways, and hopped on a local bus not knowing how long the journey would take us. Eleven hours after being stuffed on a bus and jeep, we arrived in one of the most enchanting places maybe on earth.
Gangotri, Uttarkashi, India- 3100M
It was like a breath of fresh air arriving in the charming mountain town of Gangotri (literally). The air was cold and crisp, and the locals greeted us with a “Namaste”. Temple bells rang throughout the town and devotees flocked to bathe in the holy river. This was the last stop for jeeps entering the area so after crossing a bridge not one horn could be heard beeping. We were finally back in the mountains, a part of India we had grown to love.
Day One- Gangotri – Bhojwasa
We were up bright and early ready to start our two day journey to the source of the Holy Ganges River, located 18km away in Guamukh. Today we would walk 14km of a long twisted path before an overnight stop over in Bhojwasa.
Not only was this place amazing because of its natural surroundings, but it was also rich in culture and spiritually . It had a mystical ora , the kind I’ve always dreamt of India having. Pilgrims passed us on the trail completely barefoot, anxiously awaiting their life long dream of reaching the source of the Ganges.
The bright Autumn leaves glimmered in the sun . One thing I’ve always missed back home in Canada is the beautiful Autumn leaves of bright orange and yellow. Being here gave me a homely feeling.
The surrounding Gharwal Himalayas towered above us. The sight of the monstrous mountains never fail to amaze me, no matter how many times we’ve see them.
Throughout the trek we saw a few of these interesting hobbit looking houses built under rocks. Ryan had the opportunity to speak with one of the owners. He said he spends the majority of his year living in the rock house praying and bathing in the holy river. He also claimed his house rock resembled the elephant trunk of a famous Hindu god named Ganesh who is known to provide prosperity, fortune and success. It was really incredible to witness the way of life for so many devotees and learn about their perspective on religion and spirituality.
This area was quite dangerous due to large amounts of rock fall. We took a very short break and continued on.
One thing I love about hiking in high altitude is the constant change of surroundings. You can never really get bored. Earlier that day we were surrounded by colorful leaves and just a few hours later we were in shrubs and bushes – which still has a beauty of its own.
After a 6 hour day of walking, we finally arrived in Bhojwasa. Bhojwasa is at a height of 3775M and isn’t an actual town, it is mainly just a base for trekkers and pilgrims to rest for a night before continuing on to the glacier a further 4km ahead. We had the option to spend the night in an ashram or a government funded establishment that offer dorm beds or tents. Since we love camping and the feeling of being outdoors -we decided to stay in a shared tent .
Namaste! Our tent consisted of 8 comfortable beds, lots of blankets, and a couple sneaky mice. Despite the cold temperatures , and wind creeping through at times we were able to get a good nights rest for our trek the next day.
Day 2- Bhojwasa- Guamukh (source of the Ganges) then Return to Gangotri
It was an early rise today we would trek another 4km to Guamukh in order to reach the source of the Ganges, then return back 18km to Gangotri. It was a long day ahead but waking up to the sight of mountains gave me all the energy I needed.
The closer we got to the glacier the more rocky the terrain became. At this point there was virtually no vegetation to be seen at all. At times it kind of felt like we were walking on Mars.
We finally reached Guamukh (4200M) , home of one of the largest Glaciers in the Himalayas at 30km long and 2-4km wide. It is also known to be the source of the holy Ganges River which in Hinduism symbolizes the sustainment of life . According to the Uttarakhand Guide the glacier has melted 850 meters in the last 25 years of the 20th century.
The word Guamukh actually means “Mouth of Cow” it was named this due to people believing at one point the glacier’s snout looked like a cow’s mouth. In Hindu cows are known as gods and hold great spiritual significance to the religion.
We witnessed devotees touch the source of the holy river, sometimes leaving their hands and feet in the freezing ice water for 20 mins or more . It was intriguing to see but we kept our distance from this area due to the danger of falling ice.
The Trek from Gangotri to Guamukh was a special experience I won’t be forgetting any time soon. Apart from the incredible natural surroundings it was a privilege to explore such a sacred and spiritual place full of mystery and culture.
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Best Time to Go
The town of Gangotri usually closes down all it’s facilities towards the middle of November due to the upcoming winter season. We traveled there around the end of October. It was a great time for us because there weren’t so many trekkers and the fall colors were beautiful. It was however very cold at night without any heating. It reached below 0 throughout the night .
April, May and June seem to the best time of the year for trekking here due to the favorable climate conditions. Late September- Middle of November may be a little colder but its a good time due to the decreased amount of people in the area.
Get There and Away:
We traveled to Gangotri from Rishikesh, Uttarakhand . From there you catch a bus to Uttarkashi,Uttarakhand which takes approx 7 hours . Local buses leave all throughout the day and cost less than $2.00 (CAD) .
Please note: The bus only stops once throughout the journey so be prepared and don’t drink too much water . An alternative way is to go in a shared or private tourist van or jeep. They tend to cost much more but are more comfortable and quicker. You can arrange these though local agents but do your research beforehand to ensure you don’t get ripped off.
From Uttarkashi we found very little information on how to get to Gangotri. We were told there were locals buses running early in the morning but this was not true. If you continue walking around 1km from the local bus station you will find a few white jeeps parked on side of the road . These are shared jeeps that will bring you to Gangotri -cost depends on how many people are in the jeep but it’s usually not much. They tend to pack the jeeps full before they leave so be prepared to have a few people sitting on you.
From Gangotri we needed to get back to Rishikesh. We woke up early (around 6am) to catch a jeep back down to Uttakashi then planned to take a local bus onwards to Rishikesh. After waiting over 2 hours we completely lucked out and found a driver to take us all the way to Rishikesh for $10.00 CAD. It was a long day but the jeep wasn’t packed and the driver stopped along the way.
Note: India can be extremely unpredictable. Most of the time there aren’t any set time schedules for buses or jeeps. You just need to show up and be patient. If you don’t have time to deal with the unpredictability then I suggest to hire a private mode of transport through an agent or bargain with a driver in Gangotri. Just remember going this way will cost you a lot more money.
Where to Stay
Once reaching Gangotri you have many options for places to stay just don’t expect to find 5 star accommodation . We rented a double room with attached bathroom for around $6.00 (CAD) It was basic but still clean and had great views of the river.
The trek to Guamukh will take 2 days one night. Your only option for accommodation along the route is in Bhojwasa (14km from Gangotri) . Here you have the option to stay in government funded tourist lodges offering dorm beds or shared tents (Approx $6.00 CAD per night not including food) OR you can choose to stay at an ashram in which you pay appx 6.00 CAD per night including food. An alternative option is to bring your own tent and supplies.
Please Note: Although staying in ashrams can be cheaper the downside is having to eat at set times and having to sleep on a floor. If you go with this option and your traveling in Sept- Nov ensure you bring a sleeping bag. The Tourists lodges provide enough beds and extra blankets so no need to worry about brining extras if you stay here .
What you Need
Permit– You can get a permit when you arrive In Gangotri . Ask a local to direct you to the office . Please be sure to bring a couple copies of your passport. You can arrange photocopying in a small shop near the bus stop. Again, ask a local they can direct you.
For the Trek:
- Lots of Water (water is available along the whole route but be careful for small bugs and worms . Try to filter the water if possible)
- Water purification tablets
- Snacks ( for 14km there’s only one small little shop that don’t carry many items)
- Sleeping Bag (Optional) If you are staying in government accommodation you don’t really need a sleeping bag they provide good quality blankets. I have heard that the ashrams don’t provide as many blankets so if you want to stay at an ashram then it’s best to bring one along
- Winter Jacket (It gets cold! )
- Winter hat, face mask (VIP), mittens, thermal
- GOOD hiking boots (although some pilgrims brave it and go barefoot)
- Loose / light clothing
- Sun Hat
- Medicines you may need
- Money! Withdraw before you get to Gangotri. Budget 1000 Rupee or $20 CAD per day. This will be more than enough.
Renting gear: I rented a sleeping bag of a local tour company for 0.50 CAD per day. I’m not sure if they rent out winter clothing but you can easily buy what you don’t have in Gangotri , although I highly recommend preparing more before you go it’s never good to wait last minute.
Please Note: We traveled to Gangotri at the end of October when temperatures were lower than in the spring months. You may or may not need all that I have listed above. Judge accordingly .
There are a few basic pharmacies in Gangotri that sell a variety of medicines and medical supplies. After Gangotri there are no medical facilities so get what you need before you start the trek.
If you have never been in high altitude before please educate yourself on the sings and symptoms before you go. Check out this link for more information.
Make sure you get good travel insurance. I usually go with World Nomads. They tend to cover a lot of adventure activities and you can easily extend it. Just ensure you do read over and understand their policies before purchasing .