Goumukh–Tapovan


Goumukh/Tapovan (02 Nov – 12 Nov’06):

It was beginning of November when I started again for the Himalayas. The news from all sources confirmed a blizzard line condition & snowfall with sub-zero temperatures. My original plan to visit Goumukh / Tapovan had got delayed by one month and winter seemed to have progressed fast in the mountains.Under the circumstances, may be I could manage two of the five ‘Panch Kedars’, or may be go up to Chopta, Chandrashilla most certainly being out of bounds.

I had decided to go to Uttarkashi and check the conditions there. At least i would be able to pick some small treks, may be visit Nechiketa taal, or Dodi taal. And I wanted to visit NMI and check out their basic course in mountaineering.

And the temptation of visiting Vishwanath Temple was quite strong. I had missed it during my last trip. And there is a huge “Trishul” in front of the temple, sunk in the ground, whose base can’t be traced. And yet one can shake it with the pressure of the tiny finger!!With these thoughts in my mind i slung the rucksack over my back, clutched the hand bag and stepped on to the train to Haridwar.

And then i saw a trekking group getting into my compartment. It was a pleasant surprise to know that they too were aiming for Goumukh/Tapovan. So i was not the only desperate person around!! They had missed the best season due to office leave problems. Here began my loose association with that group, which would see us sleeping together, eating together for the next 7 days.

The train reached Haridwar late and all the buses to Uttarkashi had departed. So we stayed together at Haridwar and I showed them around. I have been to Haridwar a couple of times earlier and i have walked practically all its streets. I like Haridwar for its choice of food, the hustle & bustle in the market, the varieties of people and yet you feel peaceful here, no rush.. kind of relaxed & tranquil…After lunch we took the bus tickets. No direct buses were going to Gangotri in this time of the year, we booked the seats to Uttarkashi. That evening we saw the evening Aarti of Gangajee and then hiked to Mansha devi temple.

We retire early after dinner as we need to catch the bus early in the morning. I have got two aaloo parathas packed for the bus journey. During traveling i always try to pack some food where ever possible, one needs to be maintain sufficient energy levels…

We reach Uttaranchal in the afternoon. I was hoping to stay here and look around, i got a lot of time in hand so i am in no hurry. For that matter even this group has got 2 weeks and yet some of them are anxious to reach Gangotri. We found that normal transportation to Gangotri had stopped, no buses plying in that route at this time of the year. The Gangotri settlement being more or less shutdown with most people having moved down to Harshil or Uttarkashi. Only Dandi Aashram was open and we could stay there, that was our hope & beacon…

We hire a vehicle and set out a bit late in the afternoon after lunch. The boys had been hungry and a couple of them over stuffed themselves which naturally overflowed during the ride on the bends & curves:) In a while sun went down and chill set in. The canvas flaps of the Trax fluttered and cold air blew in as we sped towards Gangotri… It was full moon and ours was the lone vehicle on the road.

As night set in and cold started making its presence felt everyone started feeling uneasy… what if Dandi Aashram is closed? The driver had warned us that he would just drop us at Gangotri & flee back! The idea of spending a shivering night in the open in sub-zero temperatures is not a very comfortable one. We have everything to cook food except Kerosene to lit the stove!!

Finally we decide to spend the night somewhere en route, where ever we can find a hotel open. So we found Dharali. The hotel was warm & cozy, the rooms had wooden walls, floors & ceilings. After some searching the cook was located and he cooked rice & vegetable for us. Served hot it tasted delicious. Being a stranger with this group, I had decided to go for a single room and landed up in a room of concrete & plaster by the river side. It was mid-night when i wake up to find myself cold & freezing. Since i had a sleeping bag, i had given away my quilts to the driver. And now at this unholy hour of the night i was suddenly worried whether the new sleeping bag would suffice or whether i was going to freeze to death!! Anyways, i find something to cover myself some more and soon i am asleep… The lesson learnt was never to sleep alone in freezing temperatures, more people means more warmth…

We wake up early in the morning and watch the sun rise as tea is brewed in the kitchen. It appears that “Ram Teri Ganga Maili ho gayee” (the movie with Mandakini in the controversial bathing scene…) was shot here. we go to see that temple. It is by the river and is sinking because of a loose ground. Every night the water rises inside the temple courtyard, and then recedes in the morning taking all the offerings & flowers away, leaving the temple clean.

After tea/biscuits (no biscuits for me as i am given up sugar for a year, i dig into my stock of cashews) we start off to Gangotri and reach there early.

There are two persons standing in the parking area, apparently from a lodge nearby. so may be one lodge is open still. Rest of the town appears deserted. We reach Dandi aashram after taking a unnecessary detour with nobody to show us the right way. Menu boards dangle over shuttered restaurants, claiming all kinds of delicacies!! I wonder how the town would look earlier in the season bustling with people, the temple bell tolling and aroma of tasty food in the air… BSNL has a tower here, but it is also shutdown for the winter. We are already cut off from civilization…

The aashram is spacious but few people around. No food also. We repack our rucksacks with the essentials, leaving behind extra stuff in a locked room. And we leave by 10am in the morning for Bhojwasa. Gangotri is already 3140 meters and we are heading for 3792 meters at Bhojwasa with almost no acclimatization…Couple of us lead the way, stopping by the closed Gangotri Temple to offer prayers. As we wait for the rest of the group, we see them higher up in the hills, apparently they have found another way… We catch the steep flight of stairs by Temple’s side…and reach them soon…

After a couple of hours of trekking we are just making 2km/hr with numerous stops for rest & photo sessions. We got to cover a total 14 km. At this pace we will reach Bhojwasa by night, and I am afraid that when the sun goes down it is going to be very cold.

Once we reach the first deserted tea-stalls I decide to push the pace and in a while i am all alone. The sun is bright and the trail is clear along the long valley. At places I can see herds of Deers grazing with the dominant male staring at me bleary eyed. I must say that these were a pretty healthy bunch, you don’t see such types in the Zoo…

 

Trekking solo has its risks… At one place i am definitely uncomfortable and break a stick from the pine shrub to defend myself, just in case :))These are just deers, on some routes the possibilities of bears & lions is also there. May be i should get myself a good folding knife, not that it is going to be any good… still… at least better than bare hands & nails to defend oneself…I reached Chirbasa by 1.45pm. The trail came & disappeared in this square clearing with metal skeletons of deserted tea shops. This place is quite wooded. One concrete shed is there is the center. I have my snacks and look around for the trail going to Bhojwasa.I find it hidden behind a outcrop of rock. I am not at all sure… but there are many foot-prints, they are my only guide… i wonder… yet it is no point waiting for the rest of the group, i might wait & wait and they may not appear also… (it appears that by this time three of the boys had given up and were walking back to Gangotri and one boy was running up & down ferrying the message between the two separating groups!)

The last couple of kilometers to Bhojwasa is landslide prone & kind of tricky. At places the 12 inch wide trail was overrun by landslides, and one misstep would see u down a few hundred meters… kind of crazy to be alone under such circumstances. I realize what it means when they say making your way through… And then at one place the narrow trail is broken, a chunk had just broken away and u see the abyss below… one side u have the mountain, the other side a sheer drop and in front a hole and an outcrop of rock blocking your way. hmmmmmm… kind of tricky. I takeoff my backpack & swing it, and it lands safely on the other… it could as easily have rolled over the edge… Then i gently jump across. The soil holds… and i am home free…After more than an hour’s trek, I finally cross the bend and am glad to see the tiny settlement of Bhojwasa as the sun prepares to slide behind the mountains. There are two guys sitting there waving their hand to me and shouting something.

It appears that they want me to circle around the settlement and come down their side. I spend a few moments wondering. I am dead tired carrying my 10kg backpack across 14 km and every meter counts. I wonder if there is a broken bridge somewhere in between which won’t let me take the easy path down & across. Anyway, it will be worse if i go down & then have to climb back again. So i take the long detour.They have got a log fir burning, and i take their permission to share the heat. As i sit on the burning log i feel a bit guilty, feeling as if i am sitting on a burning body. I wonder about my conscious, someday it might freeze me to death! One guy brings me hot tea and i share my sweets with them. It appears that they belong to some Government Department office there (a fiber cabin with a couple of rooms and a toilet). One of them also doubles as guide. We been desperately looking for a guide but had not found one in Gangotri. He said he will take us to Tapovan in the morning & bring us back by evening.

I feel better, may be i will reach Tapovan after all!! There was a group of Spanish staying at the aashram whom he had taken to Tapovan that day. On checking with them I found them happy & satisfied and told me that view at Tapovan was quite fabulous… I take my leave and head for the Lal Baba Aashram and take a room for myself and rest of the group, conditionally on their arrival of course.In the dark (no electricity, the aashram has a single solar rechargeable lantern) I open my sleeping back and slid in pulling the aashram supplied quilt over. I miss my torch which I had modified to use white LED just before i embarked on this trip, but on checking at Gangotri i found it was not working anymore. In a while the shivering stops and i am warm & cozy… The rest of the group arrived after an hour or more. I hadn’t checked my watch what time i arrived, the rest of the group arrived around 5pm. And they were tired to the bone and cold. One by one they all crept under the blankets & lay still for a long time…

Dinner was a torturous affair at 7pm with nobody willing to get out of the warmth. We had a simple hot meal in the aashram kitchen over some small talk. Next day we had a 5km+4km trek to Goumukh & Tapovan, and i was worried. The groups energy level was pretty low and the lack of acclimatisation had made its contribution.I really wanted to go and told them that i would go alone if necessary. Rarely does one get such chance & lovely clear weather. After some discussion & popping painkillers everybody decides to try for Goumukh at least. There after people not feeling well could return back and the rest free to carry on to Tapovan.

Next morning we answered nature’s call in nature… The river flowed lovely, having just melted from the glacier near by… some ice still floating and some sticking to its banks…the breeze was steady and cold, having just kissed the icy peaks & carrying the chill in its womb… the sky was a clear blue… We could see the glacier in a hazy distance and a little further Tapovan beckoned…

Well it was all nice and beautiful until one exposed one’s bottoms… and the hands froze as soon as pulled out from the warmth of the gloves… Unloading oneself in an experience to remember:))) I must remember to carry warm water next time…

Anyway, after breakfast & tea we set out at 8am in the morning, after the frost on the track having melted. We walked slowly to Goumukh
and prayed at the small open temple there.
And we moved on, nobody remembered to return back from here, the issue never arose. Soon we are trekking on the glacier but it look like solid rock. Lots of debris, dust & rocks are strewn across and ice is hidden at most places. Yet it is very much a glacier and u can see the rock solid ice jutting out at several places.

One person who visited this place earlier had commented that he could hear Mother Ganges flowing below, but i didn’t even get a hint.Soon we are across and the going gets tricky. We are walking on a a loose crumbling mountain. One mis-step and one would find one’s head banging across rocks on the way down. After a while the guide declares that we have now reached the last & most treacherous stretch (last 150 meters climb). Here he tells us how a foreigner slipped and fell to death.I think he was scaring us! He suggests we return back as the group was not fit to attempt a climb to Tapovan and return back the same day. If a few of us are willing to climb then we will need to spend the night at Tapovan. what to say… time is such a flirty thing… drag your feet and suddenly it is too late… the lack of acclimatisation had finally started showing on some very ashen faces…And before we vote, we find that a few members of the group has turned tail and started walking back!! The possibility of getting lost in this place without a guide is just about a certainty and the consequences unthinkable. We decide to take a rest, have snacks, click some photographs and walk back…At Goumukh the guide left us to return at our easy pace. Here on the trail is very clear and doesn’t need a guide. Some more photography session…

Well, anyone wanting hot lunch had better scramble to the aashram before 2.30 which was the deadline for lunch at aashram. Pretty soon the whole group had disappeared behind the hills and only us two seniors(meaning in 30’s! rest of the group was early 20’s) walking at a slow pace. When we reach aashram it was well past 3 pm and a delicious ‘khidri‘ was ready to be served…

The next day we returned back to Gangotri Dandi Aashram to find the three deserters extremely well kept & looked after!! They had managed to get kerosene & made ‘khidri‘. But then Aashram’s Swamijee had returned followed by a flock of devotees and a truck load of food stuff and sweats. And finding these three kids in his aashram, he had pampered them with lots of sweets & food stuffs…what a shame…not just nose… i lost my neck…” rues a boy, feeling ashamed for abandoning the trek midways and seeing us back with wondrous experience & sights.

We collect our stuffs. The driver has also arrived as promised. We start at 2pm and have a nice hot bath mid-ways at Gangnani hot water spring. After a nice lunch there we set out again & reach Uttarkashi as darkness sets in.

[ Published under the author’s permission ]
[ Original publication at www.sk-footloose.blogspot.com on January 03, 2007–the readers are requested to express their comments on the original Blog as mentioned above ]

 

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3 Responses

  1. Hi,

    It was a pleasure reading your post 🙂 Bad luck that you couldnt make it to Tapovan. It is beautiful from there. There is one particular spot from where you get a view of the 2 km wide glacier between the mountains all the way till the horizon. Its beyond words frankly. Do give it a shot again and if possible till Nandanvan. I couldnt go to Nandanvan because the weather was not too good beyond Tapovan. We camped a few meters from Gaumukh and resting there was like resting in a mother’s lap. There is something supernatural about that place.

    Am planning to go again next year. God willing.

    Like

  2. Thanks, Manish, for visiting this journal….the post you have commented upon was contributed by Sanjoy….I would request you to please put those comments on his original blog so that he can view it and respond…The link is there below the post.

    Best wishes from Trekwords

    Like

  3. HI Manish, I am Shashi from Chennai. I am keen to travel these places..is there fixed plan to join soe groups who knows these places? can you please write to be on this please. smeiindia@yahoo.com

    Like

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