Finally, my long cherished dream of Tapovan Nandanvan trek was about to come true. But yet only a faint smile appeared on my face - as if the smile was trying to break away from a prison. It is not that I rarely smile. On the contrary, despite accumulating cynicism about how the world works, I have not yet lost my ability to laugh my heart out. The reason I was holding back my smile was that, in my heart, I was still a worried man. As they say: there can be so many slips between the lip and the sip.
Since my previous visit to Himalayas in September 2005, I have experienced an intense emotional desire, or rather need, to trek beyond Gomukh to Tapovan and Nandanvan. I have tried to arrange it last year, but failed. Thankfully, this time, I managed to assemble a very small gang - me, my wife Sandhya, and my colleague Ananda - that agreed on dates. Since this trek involves crossing glaciers, for an inexperience person like me, it can be slightly dangerous without a suitable guide. So, I was reluctant to go with an unfamiliar organizer or guide (so far, I have been going on my own to not-so-dangerous treks). Luckily, Sandhya got a strong recommendation for Shambu Rawat from one of her colleagues, Jyoti Prasad Gupta, who treks Himalaya quite often. We negotiated a deal with Shambhu-ji, and here we were - boarding a flight to Delhi on 6 September 2008.
Seemed like Gods were inclined to grant my wish, but my mind decided that my smile can wait, and let me just hope that the wait will not be forever. There were just so many unknowns: did Shambu-ji get the permits needed to go beyond Gangotri, how good were he and the guide, were we all physically and mentally capable of taking this trek, would weather play a spoilsport, and hopefully there would be no mishaps?
Prerequisites of a safe and successful trek of this type, in increasing order of importance, are:
- Physical strength
- Mental strength and resolve
- Capable and trustworthy guide
- Luck, helpful weather
All three of us have trekked at 4000m+ altitude in Himalayas, though none of us ever trekked on glacier. But it was good enough for me to feel confident about the first two prerequisites. To find rest of the answers, I had to be patient.
The flight landed in Delhi. Several trains were cancelled or diverted due to renovation of the New Delhi railway station. We confirmed that our train was not among the cancelled. We reached Delhi railway station - what a chaos it was due to this sudden cancellations/diversions! So many people desperate to find an alternate train for their destinations. We managed to board our train to Haridwar (Hari: God Vishnu, Dwar: door), and slept off to wake up in morning at the door step of Vishnu's adobe.
This is a long post, so for impatient future trekkers, I will share two useful pearls of wisdom that I have heard/read/learned:
- Mountains respect your life as long as you respect their dignity and majesty.
- Climbing up a mountain is difficult, but climbing down is dangerous.
For day by day description of our experience, read on...
Day 0 (7 Sep 2008): Journey to Uttarkashi
After having breakfast at Haridwar, we boarded a bus to Uttarkashi at 9:30am, where we were to meet Shambhu-ji. It was a slow, long and tiring bus journey, but the route was very beautiful. We enjoyed watching Tehri Dam reservoir and beautiful green slopes of Gharwal Himalaya foothills.
We reached Uttarkashi around 4:00pm, and checked into a hotel. Shambu-ji came and handed over the permit to me. It was a strange document. Uttaranchal government has started the process this year, hopefully it will get better every year. He told that Budhi Singh would be our guide. We told him that we would be ready by 8:00am in the morning and we should start early. We took bath, had dinner, and slept off.
Day 1 (8 Sep 2008): Journey to Gangotri and acclimatization trek
All of us were eager to start, and were ready before 8:00am. But there was no sign of Shambu-ji, so I called him up. He told there will be some delay, because most jeeps are booked for campaigning in panchayat (local governing body) election scheduled on 10th. Finally, we started at 9:30am. It was again the same pattern: climbing up the mountain, climb down on the other side, take a bridge to go to the other mountain.
We stuck in a jam for around 30 min due to an accident (a truck was about to fall in the valley and they were trying to pull it back with help of another truck), thankfully nobody was injured in that accident. There were a number of small hydro power plant being constructed, and couple of them are underground (inside the mountain). The whole mountain range is so fragile that roads are swept away regularly in landslides.
We reached Gangotri (altitude 3000m) around 2:30pm, checked into a hotel, had lunch and then went around for an acclimatization trek towards Kedar Tal. We saw Ganga falling into Surya Kund, and then Gauri Kund. Surya Kund (Surya: Sun, Kund: Sink/Pond) is supposed to show all seven colors when the morning sunlight falls into it. Unfortunately, we were there at the evening. Ganga takes such a steep plunge into Gauri Kund (Gauri: Shiva's wife), that we had hard time to get a good look. It looks as if Ganga has cut a mountain into two through thousands of years of perseverance. We went till Pandav Cave, and then returned to Gangotri.
Then we sat down to finalize the trek plan. We realized that we might have a spare day, so we extended the trek to Vasuki Tal, provided everyone remains in good shape:
- Trek to Bhojvasa (14km, altitude 3800m)
- Trek to Gomukh (5km, altitude 3900m) and Tapovan (4km, altitude 4450m)
- Acclimatization trek to Neel Tal (altitude 4700m), return to Tapovan (approx. 6km)
- Trek to Nandanvan (6km, altitude 4350m)
- Trek to Vasuki Tal (altitude 4900), return to Nandanvan (12km)
- Trek to Gomukh (6km) Cheedbasa (10km, altitude 3600m)
- Trek to Gangotri (9km) and return to Uttarkashi
We visited to Gangotri temple and prayed for a safe journey ahead, had dinner, and slept in our hotel rooms wrapped in blankets. This was the last cozy night. The next 6 nights, we would be in a tent, fighting cold, constrained in a sleeping bag.
Day 2 (9 Sep 2008): Trek to Bhojvasa
We got up around 6am, took bath in chilled water (again, the last bath for quite some time), and were ready to roll at 8:30am. We walked through the Gangotri temple and climbed up to the checkpoint at the entry of Gangotri National Park. It took 30 min to reach there, and another 30 min get permit verified and pay the fee.
Four of us - (from left) Satish (me), Sandhya, Ananda, and guide Budhi - started at 9:30am. Our cook Sheru, and porters Narendra, Khadag Bahadur, Kali Bahadur started later. It was a beautiful trek with mountains surrounding you and Ganga flowing below. Very soon, we got glimpse of Bhagirathi 1,2,3 peaks.
Around Cheedvasa (Cheed: Pine, Vasa: Residence), we met a big group returning to Gangotri in bits and pieces. They were new recruits of Gujarat Police, a gang of 190 people. They told that weather was bad and mountain looked like as if it had burst open, so their higher officers ordered to discard their trek to Tapovan and returned from Gomukh. My heart sank, I have been to Gomukh and we were here to go much beyond that. If we had to return from Gomukh, it would such a heart-break coming all the way till here.
On the way, I also happened to have a conversation to an old guide-cum-porter. When I asked him his name, he said, "Chimpu." Sandhya was walking few steps ahead of me, she turned with a big smile and we looked at each other with surprise. Chimpu was the guide who took my father and mother to Gomukh and Tapovan more than two decades ago! Actually we met him very briefly (that too accidentally while going from Gomukh to Gangotri) when we came in Sep 2005. Now I got a chance to take a good look at him. He looked so different from the photo with my mother and father. He told that he has been around for 35 years!
We didn't realize, but we were walking briskly. My rule of not stopping before walking for at least 1 hour, or stopping for only 1-2 min. worked. We were at Bhojvasa at 2:00pm. Suddenly weather had turned very cold, windy and cloudy. Budhi put a tent, but there was only one sleeping bag, our porters had yet to arrive. We lied down inside the tent, but it was really cold. Around 3:30pm, I got out the camp. Porters have not yet come. We all were worried because weather was getting really bad. We hungry and cold, and I personally wanted to have hot soup. We decided to go to nearby dormitory and canteen run by Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam. They are the monopoly there.
We had some food in the canteen and chatted with three other people who were also going to Gomukh. One guy was a Russian, settled in New York and worked a stock analysis. He lost his job a few months back and then became a yoga teacher. He was in India for a month long trip. He was very interesting fellow. He gave information about quiet places to stay in Rishikesh - away from hustle and bustle - which actually we utilized when we returned to Rishikesh.
While having food, Ananda and I checked once each, our porters have not come. My heart was sinking, it was not a good sign.
Finally at 5:00pm, our porters arrived, it was a big relief for me. We went to our camp, and had hot tea, and roamed around a bit. See in the photo, how Ananda, me and Sandhya looked like at 6:30pm. We had early dinner and retired into the tent. It was quite a struggle. Tent felt so small, and I felt stuffed inside the sleeping back in my jacket, gloves and socks. Sandhya and Ananda slept soon, and I was left alone struggling to sleep. Little did I know that this pattern will follow for days to come.
Day 3 (10 Sep 2008): Trek to Gomukh and Tapovan
Next morning, we were ready by 8:00am, and had our breakfast. Porter started packing stuff. Budhi gave us our packed lunch, and asked us to start walking towards Gomukh because trail was easy and I have already have been to Gomukh. I asked him to ensure that porters come along and not to have a repeat of previous day. He said that porters will catch us by Gomukh for sure, and they will reach Tapovan before us. So we started walking. First 200m trail from Bhojhvasa is slightly steep, and it merges to trail from Gangotri to Gomukh. Soon we reached a point where there was a sign board prohibiting going to Gomukh. So we were a bit confused, and decided to wait there for Budhi. We could get first glimpse of Shivling peak and Gomukh. Sky was clear, wind was cold, and view were stunning.
Budhi came soon and asked why we had stopped, and I showed him the sign and told that we were not sure if we lost the trail, and have to go up. He told we were on right trail, so we started again. Soon, we were at Gomukh: snout where river Bhagirathi emerges from Gangotri glacier, starts its journey. It flows down the slopes of mountain and merges with tributaries, and become Ganga. This is the place where Hindi believe Ganga takes birth. This was the second time I was there, but my emotions were as intense as first the first time, and I intensity will not diminish no matter how many times I visit.
We offered prayers at the make-shift temple, and took some rest. Budhi told that now trek will start becoming difficult. He showed us the ridge on Gangotri glacier over Gomukh. We could see around 20 people sparsely trekking on the slopes to Tapovan. It was rocks and mud on the ice. We started following Budhi, and soon we started loosing our breath. Later Ananda gave me the bag having lunch packs and water, it wasn’t more than 2kg, but, to me, it felt like 20 kg! I wondered how porters were walking with their loads. We stopped at a safe place and have our lunched. Up, ahead of us was last leg of steep climb to Tapovan, and below was scary looking Gangotri glacier filling the gap between Tapovan and Nandanvan, flowing North West.
We started climbing again. There were slight wind, but it was sunny as well, and due to our labor we were sweating. Finally we saw flags marking, and realized that this gruesome climb was about to finish. When we reached up, we were greeted with vast green meadows, and a thin stream flowing and disappearing somewhere into the slopes. We walked more than a kilometre to reach our camping place. It was around 2pm and we were exhausted, Sandhya and I lied down on a big rock and rested for a while. Porters have not yet arrived, but I was beginning to appreciate how difficult their job is. They soon came and pitched the kitchen tent, and gave us soup to drink.
Tapovan is surrounded by Bhagirathi peaks on one side, and imposing Shivling peak and Meru peaks on the other. I could spend hours just looking around. None of the photos here do any justice to the mesmerising beauty of the place. Personally I was in a different world. I could not stop thinking about my mother’s visit to this place more than two decades back. She came at the fag end of rainy season with no preparation, not even with a rain coat! It rained, and she was drenched, tired and caught fever. Chimpu carried her on that difficult last leg of the slope. She was very sick by the time she arrived, and everyone was very worried about her situation. I wondered what would have been in their thoughts. She was taken to ashram across that thin stream, and she recovered enough to go back safely.
In the evening, we decided to take a stroll around and went to the ashram. It is a modest single room. We sat inside and talked to the Sadhu Baba who stayed there. I don’t much remember what we chatted about, I was still in my own world.
Later in the evening, Budhi took us to the cliff where one needs to decent to Gangotri glacier, and cross it to go to Nandanvan. I confess glacier is a scary sight. The thought that why I had dragged Sandhya along with me did cross my mind.
It is amazing how quickly it becomes cold after sunset. We had dinner and went to the sleep in the tent. In the night again, I felt stuffy and breathless. I opened the tent and got out, it was very cold but I felt better. I finally decided to leave a part of the flap open for better oxygen circulation, and that helped.
Day 4 (11 Sep 2008): Trek to Neel Tal and back to Tapovan
I got up early next morning. It was clear sky, and by 6am there was quite a bit of light. The way sun first lit the peak was beautiful. Soon, Sun has lit the whole of Tapovan, and it was warm and lively again. I love this photograph that Ananda took: Sandhya and I standing outside the tent, with majestic Shivling at the background.
It was a rest and acclimatization day, so we lazily had breakfast. The plan was to go to Neel Tal and gain altitude of around 300m. Neel Tal, which literally means Blue Pond, lived up to its name. It is amazing how many people go to tapovan, but miss this gem. I highly recommend to take a day and visit the place. Such tranquillity is not easy to find. It was a clear day, so we could see reflections of Shivling, Meru and Bhagirathi in the pond. Sandhya and I were delighted to have a chance to get this photo clicked. We took a round around to see reflection of Meru and Bhagirathi in the pond.
Sandhya felt tired, so she decided to go back to Tapovan. Ananda, Budhi and I climbed further. As we climbed up, we could see the North West face of Shivling and the glacier between Shivling and Meru. Actually Meru is pretty beautiful. It is just that Shivling is so stunning that Meru is not able to draw enough attention to itself.
After resting for some time we returned to the camp and had lunch. In the afternoon, we just wandered around. I regret that we could have gone further in Tapovan up to Kirti glacier. It was an easy day, we had dinner and went to sleep.
Day 5 (12 Sep 2008): Trek to Nandanvan
Next morning we got up, we found the whole valley covered with thick clouds, we couldn’t see anything beyond few meters. I was worried, so I asked Budhi what was his plan. He reassured me not to worry, and clouds would open up by the time we start. So we got ready and had breakfast. It was still a bit cloudy when we started walking around 8:30am.
In 45 min, we were at the point where we had to decent to Gangotri glacier. This was the first time we (Ananda, Sandhya and me) were going to cross glacier. We walked on glacier to reach Tapovan, but that was towards the edge of the glacier. This was different: descending at the middle of the glacier, crossing it across and then climb up to Nandanvan.
While descending, I slipped. As I was falling and struggling to halt, I caught a spilt second glimpse of Narendra, one of our porting, dumping his load and dashing on the glacier toward me. He was three of the porters who have gone ahead of us. Somehow I managed to stop, and Budhi’s held my arm to help me stabilize. Then he gave tips how to put load on the ankle to descend safely. I quickly recovered from the shock, but I was astonished that, almost as soon as I started falling, Narendra was *dashing* *on the glacier* to come for my help.
It was scary to walk on the glacier. It took us a while to get accustomed to figuring out the way over rubble of stones, mud and ice. I didn’t quite get how to figure out where to walk. We all just walked behind Budhi. Some places, we could hear the sound of the stream flowing beneath glacier. And at one place, we saw a piece of melting glacier piece falling in a crevasse and shaking the ground around (we safely dashed from the spot moments before it fell.
We eventually crossed the glacier and reached the other side. But not before finding Narendra and Khadga Bahadur playing cards on the glacier at one place! I mean, playing cards on glacier of all the places! Also, from the middle of glacier, we could see the whole valley, with Bojvasa as tiny little spots far away.
Then came the hard part: climbing up to Nandanvan. It was steep, probably steeper than Tapovan climb, but somehow it didn’t feel that bad. It could be due to our acclimatization. But we were exhausted by the time we reached, it was little over 2pm by then. Sandhya sat down next to a stone to rest, but I was evidently relieved that we crossed it safely. I was jumping and dancing all around. I had another reason too: my mother wanted to come to Nandanvan but had to return from Tapovan due to falling sick, and now my pilgrimage was complete.
Finally we settled down and started taking pictures. But by that time it was getting cloudy again. From here, we could see Kedar Dome and Kharcha Kund peaks in south west, and of course Shivling and Meru in the west.
In late afternoon we wandered around in upper Nandanvan, and in the evening returned to camps, had dinner, and slept. Next day was going to be a very long day.
Day 6 (13 Sep 2008): Trek to Vasuki Tal and back to Nandanvan
Weather has been kind so far, therefore we had opportunity to use it for going to Vasuki Tal, which was not in our original plan. But this was also going to be the hardest and longest day as well. In a typical itinerary for Kalindi Pass trek, one days is kept for trekking from Nandanvan to Vasuki Tal camp site, but we had to go to Vasuki Tal and return to Nandanvan on the same day.
We took only of a porter with us, as we have to return back to the camp. We grabbed our packed lunch and started at 8:15am. Along with Budhi, we climbed on the ridge north of Nandanvan. It was slow and steady slope. On the right side was the ridge was upper Nandanvan, there has been very light snow there on the previous night. And on the left side was Chaturangi (Chatu: four, Rangi: colors) glacier. It looked more scary than Gangotri, with multiple color moraines.
Walk was not difficult, but the problem was it seemed never ending. Our porter kept pointing to some rock telling that we had to go just till then and descend to Vasuki glacier. We kept walking, almost non-stop, for one and half hours, and we grew very impatient. It appeared to be common practice to say, oh! it is just little more, we are almost there. And we were of type that we would walk for full day if needed, but tell the fact so that we plan and pace ourselves. It was frustrating to not know how much more we had to walk. We walked for another 30 min, and finally we could see Vasuki glacier flowing South-North and merging to Chaturangi glacier flowing East-West.
We rested there for some time, and then descended to Vasuki glacier. It was not very difficult crossing Vasuki, we probably have now become accustomed to it. It took around half an hour to cross it. At the other end was vertical climb to the ridge coming down from Vasuki peak and separating Vasuki glacier from Vasuki Tal. There was a rope permanently fixed along to the path cut on the stone. We were getting ready to climb up, that suddenly Sandhya sat down holding her chest. She didn’t say a word, just sat on the flat spot on glacier near the rope. I was out of my wits, and had no idea what to do. We all just stood around her. Good thing was that apart from apparent loss of breath, there were no other visible sign of pain or anything. My mind was racing that if we need to carry her back, can we reach Bhojvasa on the same.
She sat there for 10 min, and she got up and said she was fine. I figured that we had walked that day non-stop. Since I expected it to be a log day, and afternoon weather is very unpredictable. I didn’t let anyone stop for more than a minute or two. It was very harsh to keep climbing on that Nandanvan ridge, and that had taken its toll on her. We quickly climbed up using the ropes, and descended on the other side.
We reached Vasuki Tal at 11:45am. We started at 8:15, so it took us 3.5 hours. We were pleased with ourselves. We took some photographs around the lake, and of Vasuki peak. The peak, said to be like multiple-headed Vasuki serpent in Hindu mythology, was covered with clouds.
There were several tents pitched at that nice ground. There was an army expedition attempting to climb Satopant peak. They were very warm folks, and offered us tea. Budhi started telling us that we should head back, as weather could turn bad very quickly. It was 12:00noon, we had spent only 15 min. Budhi had proven himself to be a very capable guide, and in mountain, guide’s place in only next to God. So we bid our goo byes to Vasuki Tal and climbed back to the ridge.
Ananda posed for some clicks. In the photo below, you can Vasuki glacier on left, Chaturangi behind Ananda, and Vasuki Tal on the right. And in the second photo, he is descending from the ridge to glacier with the help of fixed rope.
Crossing the Vasuki glacier on our way back seemed easy. We climbed back the ridge on the Nandanvan side, and then instead of walking back on it, we just descended to upper Nandanvan. We were very happy. We have done more than what we came for and expected. We were enjoying the nature around us – plants, flowers – and walking quite slow. I think it was also because we felt safe that our camps are just on the other side of Nandanvan. But that was a mistake. It was becoming cloudy, and just like our trek on the Nandanvan ridge in the morning, the walk back to tents also started to seem never ending.
Both, Sandhya and I, were growing impatient. We reached the tents at 3:30pm. We were very tired. I went inside the tent, and didn’t come out. I didn’t have dinner, not even soup, that night.
Day 7 (14 Sep 2008): Trek to Gomukh and Cheedvasa
I got quite early in the morning. I had gone to sleep early, and I felt fresh. Sky was clear, with only a whip of cloud, It was going to be warm and sunny day. I patiently waited with my camera for sunrise. We were rewarded with amazing views of first rays of sun falling on Shivling, Kedar Dome and Kharcha Kund peaks.
Again, these photos don’t do justice. The theatre of nature there is vast and limitless. Imagine standing at a meadow just beneath the stony feet of Bhagirathi peaks, which also happen to be a plateau overlooking Gangotri glacier flowing to Gomukh, and with meadows of Tapovan on the other side. And just above Tapovan is majestic Shivling peak with Meru peak on its right (toward North). And turn your neck a bit towards South West, you will get a glimpse of Kirti glacier, and then see smooth peak of Kedar Dome hiding Kedar peaks behind it. Next to the Dome is intricate looking Kharcha Kund peak. Turn your neck a bit left, and you are see again the Gangotri glacier coming from somewhere far away.
I felt a bit sad that we were return that day. I was quite certain that I would want to be back there again. But one thing was even more certain, that I would be able to close my eyes, and would be able to see all of it, would be able to feel cold wind on the cheeks and that smell of cold air.
As usual, we got ready, had breakfast, and packed our stuff. By then valley was filled with sunshine. East face of Shivling peak was mesmerising. We bid our good byes to these peaks and started walking towards the edge of Nandanvan to descend to Gangotri glacier one last time on this trek.
Sky was clear and stunningly blue. negotiated Gangotri glacier for less than hour to reach Raktavan Nala: a stream gushing from Raktavan glacier to Gangotri glacier and disappearing beneath it. Budhi had warned us that it was a tricky spot, so we were carefully following him. Shivling peak was with us all along on our left. We also saw melting ice at a huge crevasses on the glacier turning it into a small pond.
We walked for another 40 minutes, and we reached at the edge of Gangotri glacier. It was quite an experience to see Gomukh from the glacier because then I realized how high the ice walls forming the snout are.
We spent some time at Gomukh, posed for photos, and absorbed mystique of the place. We were, of course, very happy that we visited all these wonderful places, and returned back safely. But we were still not out of its magic spell, it will take a few day for anyone, and probably a lifetime for me.
After spending around 30 minutes at Gomukh, we started towards Bhojvasa, and soon we hit the trail. After walking for around 10 minutes on the trail, Sandhya said, “it is no fun! There is a trail here, walking here is so easy.” I bust out laughing. Just spending a couple of days crossing glaciers, luxury of a trail was so unappealing, almost undesirable.
Upon reaching Bhojvasa, instead of taking trail going down to Bhojvasa, we took the trail circumventing it and going towards Cheedvasa. We had covered only half of the distance, a good 5km was still remaining. But it is amazing what a couple of days up in the mountain can do to your lungs. We reached Bhojvasa around noon.
We stopped for few minutes debating whether to go down to Bhojvasa camping site, or march ahead another 9 km to Gangotri. At the speed we were walking, we would have certainly in 3 hours, or at worst 4 hours. Budhi said that we could easily do that, but we would have to stay at hotel at Gangotri. He told, on the other hand, Cheedvasa is a wonderful camping site, and we should not miss on that experience. So we decided to halt, and it was certainly a very good decision.
Cheedvasa is indeed a wonderful camp site. It is amidst dense pine jungle. Seeing ice and rocks all the while for last several days, seeing so much green was certainly a bliss, pine smell was heavenly, and at the background was the music of ferociously flowing Ganga.
After roaming around for a while, I decided to take bath in Ganga. I found a nice placement of rocks that prevented from Ganga sweeping me away. Water was shallow, but very very cold. I mean *very* *very* cold. By the time I finished my bath, my whole body was numb, including my skull. I couldn’t figure out whether my head was aching or spinning. I dried myself quickly after getting (wind on a wet body felt so killing), and dressed up. Thankfully, afternoon sun was still quite warm, and I was fine after 10 – 15 min.
It was really a very nice afternoon. We were the only people at the green heavenly camp site, and we enjoyed walking around in that Pine tree and Bhoj tree (Himalayan Birch) forest. We watched Bhagirathi glowing at the sunset, and it looked so distant that it felt unbelievable that we were there in the morning at its foothill. I felt that the evening sky, with glowing yet sad looking clouds, was bidding good bye to us.
We had dinner in the kitchen tent. All our ration was finished to its last grain. Our porters had been wonderful, I can’t imagine being able to do that trip without them. While talking and tipping them that evening, we realized the brave heart young porter Narendra has gone ahead to his home at Gangotri (we met him next day, and he looked so different without jacket and his other stuff). We went to our tent and fell asleep. Our journey was coming close to its end.
Day 8 (15 Sep 2008): Trek to Gangotri and journey to Uttarkashi
It was an uneventful day. We got ready and reached Gangotri in a couple of hours. It felt nice to be back to civilization. We prayed at Gangotri temple, had food, and then boarded a vehicle to Uttarkashi.
We reached Uttarkashi late afternoon, took bath, and by then Shambhu-ji has come. We went and had food, and then he took us to Vishwanath temple of lord Shiva. We spent evening roaming around in the local market. I was still living in the vivid memories of last week, and felt that I haven’t yet acclimatized to being back.
Day 9 (16 Sep 2008): Journey to Rishikesh
In the morning, we took a bus to Rishikesh. I enjoyed watching valleys flushed green with paddy fields.
We reached Rishikesh town around noon, and checked couple of hotels. We didn’t like most. We decided to check New Bhandari Swiss Hotel that the Russian, US resident, stock analyst turned Yoga teacher we met at Bhojvasa has recommended. we took a shared auto back up the hill. Then hotel is outside the town at the by-pass bend just before road from Uttarkashi enters the town, and you need to walk a bit from the bus/auto route. The hotel was quiet, overlooking hills and serves nice sandwiches. Later we discovered that the hotel was buzzing with Israelis and Russians, and we were the only Indians there. That felt strange.
We spent that and the next day relaxing, roaming around, and shopping for local dresses in Rishikesh. I was also busy regaining all the lost fat :-)
Budhi Singh is a resourceful, capable and well qualified guide. He has done basic mountaineering, advance mountaineering, and search and rescue courses from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM). I highly recommend him for treks in Garhwal Himalaya. You can contact him at +91 941 054 0459.
Jyoti Prakash Gupta (JP) generously shared his knowledge and contacts. He suggested the guide, and also insisted that we should not miss Neel Tal, and I can’t overstate the beauty of Neel Tal. I agree that going to Tapovan and skipping Neel Tal is criminally stupid.
Ananda has been a wonderful mate, both up in the mountain and down in Rishikesh. Humble, capable, and easy going. His love for mountains as well as trekking ability is very well disguised. Joy of a trek grows manifolds if you are with right mates.
This trek almost got cancelled again, and was saved because Sandhya decided to join. She understands being in mountains and has been to Himalaya on our trip in 2005. She enjoyed it and resented it at the same time. She certainly does not share my pathological need of going to Himalaya again and again. So it was touching to see her joining in and saving me from disappointment from it’s cancellation. She also took care of logistics while I was away on a work trip abroad just prior to this trek.
This trek will always remain close to my heart for so many reasons. Most importantly, it was my pilgrimage to trace my mother’s steps to places she went, and also to places she wanted to go but couldn’t. Being able to do it with Sandhya made it even more special. These moments are among the most precious that we share. The photo along with her in front of Neel Tal with Shivling at background is one of my most favorite photo. I guess we are going to fondly remember stories and experiences of this trek for years to come.
If you are considering doing this trek: I would rate it moderately difficult, and can be done easily provided you are fit to walk for hours. It does not require any technical climbing skills. Walking stick is the only gear you might need at the most. But go with a good guide/organizer, whom you should select based on personal recommendation from your trekker friends, and go with folks you gel well with. Because mountains are magical, but it is your mates and guide/organizer who transform a trek into a memory you cherish forever.