Gangotri is a picturesque pilgrimage place with a very special significance in Indian Mythology and Hindu Religion. As per Hindu mythology, this is the birthplace of River Ganga. The Temple of Goddess Ganga is situated in a scenic backdrop of Himalayan range and the river Bhagirathi (which later becomes Ganga after meeting with river Alkananda) flows in front of the temple.
The legend of Ganga started with King Bhagiratha. King Bhagiratha was one of the greatest kings in Hindu mythology. He was king of Kousala, and of Surya Dynasty. He was the ancestor of Lord Rama of Ramayana. King Sagara was his famous forefather. King Sagara performed the Ashwamedha Yagna – in which a horse was set free to roam around where ever it wanted to for about a year. The horse was looked after by a group of loyalists of the king – the princes and powerful individuals. However, King Sagar’s agents lost track of the horse and he deployed his sixty thousand sons to look around. They finally found the animal tied beside Sage Kapila who was on meditation. As per legend, Indra, the king of the gods were afraid of the meditation of Kapila and he was responsible for capture and tying the horse beside the temperamental Sage. However, the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara blamed Sage Kapila for the disappearance of the horse and attacked him. Sage Kapila was a powerful one and burned the princes into ashes by his eyesight. Prince Anshuman, grandson of King Sagara, prayed to Sage Kapila and was informed that only the water of sacred Ganges , flowing in the Heaven, can free his uncles from the curse.
Bringing water of Ganges was an impossible task. But the spirits of the dead soul needed to be freed as otherwise there were many unfortunate incidents happening in the kingdom. So when Bhagiratha became King, he decided to free his ancestors from the curse to save his kingdom and decided to pray to Lord Brahma (as Lord Brahma was father of Devi Ganga) to bring the sacred river to earth. It was a tremendous ‘Tapasya’ (prayer) in Himalayas that continued for one thousand years, during which King Bhagiratha was in fasting, stood in the freezing water up to chest during winter, surrounded by fire during summer steadily looking at the Sun with both the eyes open. Even the gods were scared and pleaded Lord Brahma to see Bhagiratha. Brahma blessed the King and granted his prayer. However, he said that, If Ganga falls into earth, it will be destroyed by its sheers force and only Lord Siva can help. So King Bhagiratha again started another severe prayer to please Lord Siva with folded hands and standing on one leg for one year. Lord Siva was pleased with his prayer and accepted to take the sheer force of the river in his Jataa (twisted locks of hair). But when Ganga falls in Lord Siva’s Jataa, she was lost in it, and so King Bhagiratah had to pray again to the Lord to free her. Then she was freed and King Bhagiratha showed her the way to flow. Subsequently, all his ancestors were freed with the water of the sacred river.
At Gangotri, there is a temple of King Bhagiratha as well next to the temple of Goddess Ganga . The temple of Goddess Ganga was built by Amar Singh Thapa, a Gorkha General in the early 19th century. There is also legend that, a sivling (stone that is prayed as symbol of Lord Siva) is submerged in the river in front of the temple. Lord Siva sat in that place to receive Ganga in his Jataa.
We stayed at Gangotri for 4 days. The day we reached, we spend the day visiting temple and the nearby market place. It was May, but it became extremely cold at night. On second day, at around 9, we started our trek towards the Gomukh Glaciers. The journey was through places named Chirwassa and then through Bhojwassa. The trek was for about 19 kilometer. Chirwassa was situated at around 3500 M above sea level and named after Chir or Pine tree. Similarly, Bhojwassa is named after Bhoj or Birch tree.
In the initial stages, the walking was good and to some extent effortless. However, gradually the situation started changing – the path to walk was narrow – at times just enough for one person to go. We were walking through the narrow path in the side of the mountain with the river flowing through some distance. At times the path was just through the river bed! Once we faced loose rocks falling from the top of the hill – very small ones. There were some people around that place and we were advised to cross the place quickly. There were deers roaming around on the top and as a result, loose rocks were displaced by them and falling through the slope! From Chirbasa to the way of Bhujbasha the path was extremely narrow and the wall of mountain was overhanging in some places.
The beauty around the place on our way was magnificent. The striking display of snow-clad peaks visible on the way towards Gomukh was very special. The mountain on both side of the river with different views, at times rocky but often green, meeting the river bed full of rocks of different shape and sizes was a great view on the way. Wild flowers of different colors were on display on the mountain slope.
We planned to spend the night at Lalbaba Ashram at Bhojwassa. The Ashram is located in a valley surrounded by peaks. We reached there sometime in the early afternoon. Post that some of us went to Gomukh and rest planned to go next day. It was getting colder and we were filling tired. However, the excitement of seeing the source of one of the most famous river kept us going. And at last we were there. The water of the most sacred river of the world was coming out through a cave like place. Water melts from the wall of the glacier and trickles down to form the river. It is said that, the cave used to look like the mouth of cow and hence the name of the place (Go = Cow and Mukh = Mouth). We spent sometime in that place. There were some people around us, some locals who had come to this place with their horses and tourists who rented the horses.
The night at Lalbaba Ashram was an experience – we were given enough blankets and had Khichuri at our dinner. But as we slept we felt how cold it was. It does not matter how many blankets one was having – all became too cold. In the morning, we were awake early. And when we came out of the Ashram, the view was magnificent. The peaks were all white and dazzling.
Trip to Gomukh was my first trekking experience – and it was a superb one. The scenic beauty, the legends associated with the place and the beautiful river Bhagirathi made it an unforgettable experience.