'I believe any trip in search of wildlife can be coupled with physical activity and elements of cultural diversity to form a thrilling opportunity '
High in a valley, deep in the western Garhwal region of the Indian Himal is the meeting place of heaven and earth, here Gangotri glacier gives birth to the holy Ganga. It is said, a third of a million pilgrims
are drawn to this place, named Gaumukh (cow’s mouth) each year. It took three days for me to stand where I could see the river flowing out from under the Gangotri glacier. I had heard about pilgrims who would immerse themselves at this place believing bathing
here would wash away their sins. I watched a number of pilgrims perform this ritual. I was amazed at the sight. The swiftly flowing river, with ice chunks bobbing along, had to be cold. I decided to join in the ritual. I asked a number of pilgrims if it would
be proper for a non-Hindu to immerse himself here. I was encouraged to participate. Only time can tell if my sins were washed away, all the air in my lungs certainly was!
The trail to Gaumukh begins where the road ends, at Gangotri. The centerpiece for Gangotri is the Temple of the Goddess Ganga and the beginning of the 18-kilometer three-day journey. Be sure and stop for
a blessing and an apple at the kuti of Swami Sundernanda along the path leaving Gangotri. The first day should take you to Chirbhasa and is an easy walk through deodar trees. Chirbhasa is where you will see the last trees on the journey, a small stand of ancient
juniper, and some silver birch. The second day winds through open meadow to near Bhujbasa. The third day involves difficult trekking to Gaumukh. There have been numerous landslides and progress can be difficult.
If you are very determined, there is more to see in this valley. Above Gaumukh, after a very, very difficult day are the Tapovan meadows. Tapovan is a wonderful place with tremendous mountain vistas. It is possible to see the mountains Kirti Bamak, Kedarnath,
Shivling, Meru, and the Bhagirathi ‘Sisters’ from different points. Tapovan makes a wonderful base camp for exploring to Shivling base camp or the high meadows near Nandavan where blue sheep are often seen. There are two choices for return; back down the path
of ascent or over the glaciers to Vasuki Tal and the temple at Kedarnath. Keep in mind the way to Kedarnath will be as tedious as from Gaumukh to Tapovan. There have been numerous recent landslides, which have destroyed older traditional routes.
In all, the pilgrimage to Gaumukh and trek to Tapovan are richly rewarding. It is also very accessible. With this accessibility and large number of pilgrims comes an overabundance of refuse. Pursue other trekking opportunities if you are searching for solitude
in a pristine place. I recently read the Indian Mountaineering Association believes this area to be the most polluted in all the Himal. Please do not add to the refuse. Carry out more than you carry in! Take the time and take your time. Enjoy!
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