“The weather is very bad in GauMukh” I overhear a statement while I fill out a form in the simple hotel reception in Gangotri. I look up and see a frozen, rough and exhausted looking man walk in. “Excuse me Sir” I say “How so? How is it up in GauMukh?” “Oh it is very terrible. -10 Degrees and heavy snowstorms for the past four days. You cannot see anything, yet alone find the path to GauMukh. It is all snowed under. I was there for the past four days and returned early now. We could not even find the path to GauMukh. Luckily one Baba Ji guided me. This Baba walked barefoot and he took a dip in the freezing snow water. I could not believe my eyes. In fact due to the heavy snow storm I could hardly open my eyes at all”, he narrates while he fumbles on his mobile showing me images. “Incredible. Please tell me more. I am planning to walk there tomorrow” I say “It is so freezing that nobody leaves their basic ashram rooms after 2pm. I am wearing six layers, had three blankets and still I could not sleep due to the biting cold temperatures.” By now I laugh “Are you mad? Why do you look so happy” “Amazing. I’m so excited to go there tomorrow” I reply with a wide grin.
And so the next early morning with freezing anticipation in my mind yet with a clear blue sky as my backdrop I set off to hike up to the 4,255 meters altitude of GauMukh. What followed the next couple of days is an opposite of what I expected based on the sharing of last evenings encounter: I had clear bright weather, a majestic landscape view with beautiful Himalayan snow peaks and most of all Darshan of Ganga Maa with a sunny yet indescribable cold dip in the freezing GauMukh stream.
GauMukh is the snout of the Gangotri Glacier from where Bhagirathi River originates and considered to be the source of Ganga. This terminus of the glacier used to be in the shape of a cow’s mouth, and hence the name mentioned in the Puranas is Gaumukh (Gau meaning cow and mukh meaning face). Considered as one of the holiest places in India Yogis, Saints and seekers visit and worship this location since time immemorial.
Rather than narrating my travel experience in details, in this blog I would like to share a few simple travel tips with all you dear readers who intend to venture out on the same Pilgrimage on your own. For my trip I had no advance planning; no travel agent, no fixed plan nor on the ground knowledge. With my bag pack, winter jacket and passport in hand I spontaneously set off to give my Pranams to Ganga Maa at her source in the deep Indian Himalayas. Mother paves the way. It was an incredible smooth and blessed journey. May these few simple travel tips enable you an equally easy travel.
- Transportation: From Dehradun/Rishikesh/Haridwar travelers go to Uttrakashi (by car), then Ganotri (by car), then Bhojbasa (by foot or pony), then GauMukh (by foot). You can rent a car and driver or take a shared taxi jeep; these shared taxi jeeps are a very common solution for travellers in Uttarakhand. Price varies a lot depending on the vehicle and if it’s a shared or individual trip. I received quotes that range from minimum 600 INR to maximum 12,000 INR. It entirely depends on the season and your contacts.
- Distance: It is a 9 hours long drive from Rihiskesh to Gangotri (244km); from Gangotri to Bhojbasa a 7 hours long walk (14km); from Bhojbasa to GauMukh a 2,5 hours long walk (5km). Please note that some people walk a lot of faster to reach GauMukh. I took my time and also carried my bag pack. On the return from Bhojbasa to Gangotri due to the downhill path it may take you only around 3 to 4 hours.
- Permissions: Indian citizen and foreigners alike must have permissions to enter the Gangotri National Park / Gaumukh and you must obtain them in advance. They only give 150 permissions per day. You get them either in Uttrakashi or Gangotri. A fellow traveller spoke of negative experiences at the Uttrakashi office as officials apparently tried to force him to book a guide as well. Yet when I asked for my permission in Gangotri itself it went very smooth, transparent and no guide booking was required. The officials were very kind and helpful. To obtain a permission you need to pay a fee of 650 INR for foreigners or 150 INR for Indians and you must give a copy of your passport and visa. The Gangotri Permission Office is just next to the second parking lot. It is open from 8am till 10am and 5pm till 7pm.
- Ashram / Guesthouse: Gangotri: You will easily find plenty of simple guesthouses in Gangotri; price ranges between 400 – 700 INR per night for a basic room with bathroom and cold water. You can order a bucket of hot water for 50 INR. Bhojbasa: It is a very basic small station 5km before GauMukh and was set up to solely accommodate Pilgrims. You can choose between staying at ashrams or the GMVN Guesthouse. It really does not make much difference and costs around 350 INR per night. Please note that these are shared dorm rooms (8 beds) and offer very basic accommodation. There is nothing else around. Please remember you are in the deep Himalayas and in that sense it is a miracle to find a shelter at all. One thing to note: if you decide to stay at GMVN Guesthouse you have more freedom for food service as you can order basic meals whereas in an ashram guests have to follow their basic food provision at fixed times.
- Food & Water: There was literally nothing, no shop at all, that provided food or tea on my trek between Gangotri to Bhojbasa. So please pack some snacks. You can fill your water bottle at occasional waterfalls and river streams. It is very clean and save to drink. Worth to note that I travelled in the same week of the official opening (first week of May) and therefore perhaps some of the small chai shops had not yet been set up along the path.
- Check Posts: The trekking path to GauMukh starts right after the Gangotri Temple. On the left side beyond the temple you will find stairs leading up. After 2km you will cross the first check post and then again a second one half way to Bhojbasa. You have to show your official permissions that you obtained earlier. At the first check post you also have to pay the entrance fee (as mentioned above).
- Cash: In Gangotri are no ATM machines. Please carry sufficient cash.
- Porters: You can easily book porters in Gangotri. They will carry your bag pack from Gangotri to GauMukh and charge between 1,000 INR to 1,200 INR for one way.
- Altitude: The altitude is manageable. You may feel a headache but generally on all my trips to the high Indian Himalayas and Char Dham locations I never encountered any serious issues nor observed real issues in others. You may carry some medicine against headache. Please frequently drink plenty of water and do not skip meals to prevent any possible altitude symptoms.