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An Indian Odyssey – Gangotri

An Indian Odyssey

Gangotri – May 9 – 13th


250 kms to Gangotri by bus – 13 hours, that’s a massive 20-odd km/h! The end of the road. Finally, virtually no more car horns – what sweet relief!

The real journey started in Gangotri. Up until then it had just been a haze of people and car horns. Gangotri is at the end of the road, a road which is only open for 6 months of the year due to winter snowfall. There were still loads of pilgrims, thousands in fact, but that was nothing compared to the cities in the foothills. The arduous 13 hour trip along narrow and rocky mountain roads from the foothills had weaned out the less hardy pilgrims. Yet each day, dozens of buses and taxis and private cars arrived first thing in the morning, disgorging their ‘seeker’ inhabitants at the end of this mountain road and at the beginning of Gangotri’s one and only street. For 95% of these pilgrims their goal was at the other end of this street: the Gangotri temple, one of the spiritual sources of Ganga Ma (Ganges River).

Rockslides are common, especially during the monsoon, along these mountain roads.

Ganga Ma and a hillside covered with Deodar Cedars, a tree that can live up to 1000 years and is endemic to the Himalaya mountains from Tibet to Afghanistan.

A house built into a rocky overhang – very common in these parts.

The Om symbol painted on a rock in the valley.

Pilgrims carried to temple in a palanquin (chair strapped to two long parallel poles and carried by four porters).

Deodar Cedar at the base of massive cliffs.

Gangotri at night.

The river here (although still the Ganges) is called the Bhagarathi River.

The sculpted rock face of the waterfalls.

Many saddhus (holy men), like this one, walk many hundreds of kilometres barefoot on pilgrimages around the country.

But unfortunately I’ve brought with me four days worth of galloping stomach due to an overnight stay in Uttarkarshi, halfway between Haridwar and Gangotri. Fun, fun, fun. My first taste of India Belly.

On the fourth day I rose, a bit slower than some other well-known prophets, pulled on my hiking boots and pack, pushed aside my barricading door and strode forth to ahcive my goal in the mountains. I was feeling good. Strong again, full of solids and ready for the 14 km hike to Bhojbasa, a staging post for Tapovan. I strode down the main street of Gangotri, feeling the pack comfortably/reassuringly formed around my back, passing pilgrleaving pilgrim after pilgrim in my wake, buying the same fruit and nut offerings as the pilgrims – but for me, not the gods – but neglecting to invest in the pvc screw-top container. Instead I had the Yalumba Shiraz Chateau de Cask bladder from which I hoped to collect and drink Ganga straight from the source.

Through the temple grounds I floated, passed that easily attained spiritual source, out the back gate and up. Up, up, up, up, up. There was seemingly no stopping this ‘up’ phase and my self-assured assupmption that my rise to the heavens would be easy was smashed. After only 150 metres I was left doubled over, arms akimbo trying to find room for that breath that had comfortably been there up until very recently. It seemed a vice had been placed around my chest and quickly tightened while I wasn’t looking. Perhaps it had happened in the temple grounds as karma for my sacrilegious  nature. I couldn’t get any breath into my body but there was a strange wheezing sound coming from somewhere, my throat I decided in my semi-delirious state. I was in trouble, quite serious trouble and the pathetic yet hilarious nature of my demise gripped me along with the vice and the wheezing.

Fortunately I was out of sight of any folk in the temple grounds, beyond further embarrassment at this stage at least. I clung to the rock wall for support and waited, having luckily told myself that time may help ease the pain and I may in fact recover. Hopefully not another four days staring at the waterfall. ‘one foot in front of the other’, this had been my motto when I more sensibly assessed the potential difficulties of a trip like this prior to committing.

I threw one foot out in front of the other, then the other, and continued to do so at a much more rational pace. It worked. Soon I reached the crest where the trail levelled out and which, I had been assured, would be a ‘moderate’ grade. Things felt possible again.