Gangotri - Birthplace of the Spiritual Ganga

Bhagirathi - daughter of Bhagiratha - The Ganges
Bhagirathi - daughter of Bhagiratha - The Ganges | Source

The Himalayas are a treasure trove of spirituality. Millions of seekers reside in its all-embracing ranges along with hundreds of shrines and spots of special significance. Among the Hindus, the two deities which command maximum devotion in terms of devotee numbers are Shiva and Vishnu. The Himalayas house a major Shiva shrine at Kedarnath and a major Vishnu Shrine at Badrinath. They form a part of what is known as the Char Dham (the four pilgrimage centers) in this Daivabhoomi or Divine Land. The other two are Gangotri and Yamunotri - the birthplaces of the river Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna respectively.

The Story of Gangotri

Legends add special value and significance to any place. According to the story, the mythological King Sagar slayed all the demons on earth and then decided to stage the Aswamedha Yagna ( Literally translates into ‘horse sacrifice’. As part of the ritual, a decorated horse would be let loose accompanied by an army. Whichever land the horse moved into was to be surrendered to the army. If any kingdom/king chose to resist, there would be a war. This was the way the ancient kings conquered lands to unify kingdoms into powerful entities.)

The king Sagar supposedly had 60,000 sons born of Queen Sumati and one son, Asamanjas, born of Queen Kesani who accompanied the horse. Lord Indra, in the heavens, fearing the loss of his supremacy as the divine king, stole the horse and tied it in the hermitage of the great sage Kapila who was in meditation. The army of the 60,000 sons stormed the hermitage of Kapila and were about to attack him when the sage opened his eyes and reduced all the 60,000 sons of King Sagar (except Asamanjas) to ashes through his yogic powers.

It was said that the souls of the 60,000 sons would rest in peace only when they were washed by the Ganga. Ganga, at that time, is believed to have flowed in the heavens and not on earth. Thus it was that successive rulers, Asamanjas, Anshuman and Dilipa made attempts one after another to get the Ganga down to the earth from the heavens. They were unsuccessful and that ‘burden’ now passed on to their successor, Bhagiratha.

Bhagiratha engaged in intense meditation and succeeded in propitiating Mother Ganga to flow on earth but she is believed to have told him,
“I shall gladly flow on the earth over your dead ancestors. But when I flow down from the heavens, the earth will not be able to withstand my mighty force. If you find a solution to this problem, I shall gladly follow you to the earth.”

At this, Bhagiratha approached Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, and prayed to him for help. Lord Shiva agreed to help. He took the impact of the celestial Ganga on His head and trapped her in His matted locks. It was as a tiny stream that He let her flow out of His matted locks. At that time, Ganga landed at Gangotri. The term Gangotri is composed of two words - Ganga and Utari ( meaning ‘the place where Ganga descended’).

A markerGangotri -
Gangotri, Uttarakhand, India
[get directions]

Going to Gangotri

All the four pilgrimage spots which form part of the Char Dham are connected, peak to peak. But unless you are a bird or a Yogi, you will have to travel the long road, via base camps. The base camp for going to Gangotri is Uttarkashi. However, we stayed about 30km away, at a place called Barsoo. The accommodation gets a lot cheaper as you move away from Uttarkashi. Wherever you may stay, a lot of warm woolen clothing is a must. For those that are unaccustomed to such temperatures ( 3-7 degrees Centigrade), exposing any skin would seem painful (except in the afternoons).

The roads are good but winding and along the steep slopes of the mountains. This effectively reduces the average speed of travel to 18 km/h if you are in a bus or 35 km/h if you are in a car. But you will not mind the slow pace of travel for there are breathtaking sights along the way. The road follows the path of the Bhagirathi river - the name by which Ganga is known when she originates. Actually speaking, Ganga becomes the Ganga/Ganges after Deva Prayag where the Bhagirathi meets Alakananda (from Badrinath).

The Ganganani Kund with its steaming hot water. The spring inlet is in the right hand corner of the picture.
The Ganganani Kund with its steaming hot water. The spring inlet is in the right hand corner of the picture. | Source

It is customary to bathe in the Ganganani Kund, a hot water spring, on the way to Gangotri. This spring is considered as very purifying in its nature and the bubbling hot water at about 60-70 degrees Centigrade is very alluring. The spring has been diverted into large bathing tanks after which the water continues on its way. There are separate bathing tanks for the ladies and gents. As we stripped and got into the Ganganani Kund, we could feel a lot of energy, enthusiasm and life returning into our cold bodies. Just as the cold gets to your bones, the heat from this spring also gets to your bones. I mean, even when I came out after the bath to dry myself, I did not feel cold. In fact, I shed my jacket and gloves after this bath!

The scenes on the way to Gangotri are so beautiful that they can put you into a trance...
The scenes on the way to Gangotri are so beautiful that they can put you into a trance... | Source

Traveling from Barsoo, this hot-water spring lies exactly midway to Gangotri. The journey to Gangotri took about 4 hours. It is very important that you make this journey at a very leisurely pace so that you enjoy nature at her best. We sighted some beautiful birds and every time this happened, I frantically would call out to the driver to stop. Sometimes he would and at other times he would not, saying,
“There is very little time sir... we have to proceed.”

Still haven't found out which species this bird belongs to...
Still haven't found out which species this bird belongs to... | Source

One advice - If you are keen on photography, better hire a car to do your travels. But do not tick off your driver too much - you need him to be happy and calm while driving on such roads!

The importance of keeping your driver happy, alert and in good spirits....
The importance of keeping your driver happy, alert and in good spirits.... | Source

One sight however made even our driver stop the bus in its tracks.
Mountain Goats! And plenty of them.

These nimble and extra-sure-footed animals were scaling a nearly 90 degree vertical peak. Footholds, the size of dimes and pennies seemed sufficient for them to climb up. I jumped out of th bus and photographed them in amazement as they surely and swiftly climbed to about 100 meters above us. Their poise and self-confidence was simply remarkable.

Sure-footed like I have never seen in my life before - Mountain Goats spotted on the way to Gangotri
Sure-footed like I have never seen in my life before - Mountain Goats spotted on the way to Gangotri | Source
As our driver put it, these Mountain Goats had come down the mountains because there was snow at the peaks and conditions were inhospitable
As our driver put it, these Mountain Goats had come down the mountains because there was snow at the peaks and conditions were inhospitable | Source

At Gangotri

The road leading up to the temple of Goddess Ganga is itself transformed into a parking lot and depending on how early you are, you get to park close to th temple. We were parked a good kilometer away from the shrine. But again, the walk is beautiful and nobody will complain. Though located high up in the mountains, once the sun is shining and there are no clouds, the day gets quite warm.

Almost everyone who comes to this shrine fills up a container with the pristine Ganga water. Trust me, you can simply drink directly from the river - unless you are allergic to cold! The water will be at nearly zero degrees and it is arising from freshly-melted snow. After a sanctifying dip, pilgrims wend their way to the temple of Mother Ganga. It is a normal looking temple but the crowds thronging prove that it is far from ‘normal’! Directly opposite to the main door of the temple is the depiction of the heroic efforts of Bhagiratha to please Ganga and Lord Shiva.

The depiction of Bhagiratha bringing down the Ganga with assistance from Lord Shiva. (located bang opposite to the main door of the temple)
The depiction of Bhagiratha bringing down the Ganga with assistance from Lord Shiva. (located bang opposite to the main door of the temple) | Source

An interesting experience

I am convinced that all the altars and shrines in the world reflect back to you a thousand fold what you hold in your heart towards them. If you feel that they are ordinary, that is how they will appear. If you feel there is something special and give them importance, the same importance will also be given to you.

When we entered the sanctum of the temple, full of love and reverence, the priest simply called my wife. He handed to her a small, silver-plated triple-umbrella. When she said that it did not belong to her, he replied,
“This is an offering to Mother Ganga. It is hers. I feel she would want you to have it.”

The main temple dedicated to Mother Ganga at Gangotri
The main temple dedicated to Mother Ganga at Gangotri | Source

That felt so amazing and special - just like the experience with the priest at Vyas cave in Badrinath.

About 300 meters away from the temple is also the starting of a 14 kilometer trek to the Go-Mukh cave, the actual spot where Ganga springs forth. It is not advisable to do this trek unless you have at least 5-6 hours in hand and are in a state of perfect physical and mental health. But when Bhagiratha, with his efforts, could get the Ganga down from the heavens, can one not climb 14 kilometers to see its origin?

Gangotri inspires me for it shows the magic and miracle that human effort can achieve. And the reason why human effort can achieve miracles is because, as my Lord and master Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba says,
Every being is Divine. Every being is God.
Gangotri inspires me to seek my higher Self. It prods me to find that pure spring of the eternal Ganga within me. It thrills me into a state of truth, auspiciousness and beauty - Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram.

People of all ages, all nationalities and all orientations come to Gangotri and find tranquility in the lap of nature.
People of all ages, all nationalities and all orientations come to Gangotri and find tranquility in the lap of nature. | Source

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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya

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Comments 18 comments

chandan aunty 12 months ago

i forget everything around. As i read and look at the timely photographs i am transported to the place. So fully absorbed am i that when the journey finishes and reality hits, that i am still sat in my kitchen looking at my laptop with jobs still to do, i find that i have a feeling in the middle of my chest, neither longing or sorrow, neither happy or sad. I think it's one of contentment and gratitude to my Swami for giving with my physically moving only a few inches. Thank you Aravind and Sai Ram.


deepa 3 years ago

great hub as usual


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aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

Thank you Justsilvie for dropping by and commenting.

@ Poornima - Happy to have been your guide on the virtual tour :)


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poornimasrinath 4 years ago from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA

Another beautiful articulation! The detail about aswamedha yajna is very good. Like some one said it was a virtual tour! I am eagarly waiting for a trip to these places before I get too old. Hope you all enjoyed nature at its best. It was amazing to see the mountain goats climbing the steep mountain..I have heard of a vareity of antelope that can climb like these goats. Enjoyed reading.


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aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

Thank you girishpuri for stopping by and reading. :)

That is a statement that I wish to remind myself all the while.... Am trying to....


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girishpuri 4 years ago from NCR , INDIA

Very well said ' every being is divine, every being is God ' , great hub about Gangotri, voted up.


lrao 4 years ago

This is as close as I am ever going to get to Gangotri :), so appreciate the detail and the pictures. Very nice....


Justsilvie 4 years ago

Lovely and interesting hub! Really Enjoyed the photos!


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aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

@ Madhavi Alapaty - The place is beautiful no doubt. But to experience its totality and divinity, the right mindset is needed. When approached with love, humility and open-mindedness, wonderful experiences take place. I am yet to visit Kailash but hope to do so soon! (Kailas and Manas Sarovar come in China - not India! :( )


Madhavi Alapaty 4 years ago

Thank you for sharing this article. It made me think about visiting these places..actually craving to visit these places and experience the divinity in those places. Hoping to visit them soon. The article also gave me a good glimpse of the places to visit at each town. Recently a group of people from USA, made a trip to Mount Kailash on SWAMI's orders. SWAMI told a devote to bring the devotees from USA and visit Mount Kailash as a peace offering to the world..They felt and experienced SWAMI at each step of their journy. It was an amazing journy which they all felt and blessed with. ...the pictures they showed us are breath taking. People who live in that part of country are really blessed where they experience this divinity every day in their lives.


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aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

@ Mercedes Wesley - :) I too shall pray for you for that...

The best time to visit would be summer - the other times are too icy. Again, the peak of summer sees maximum people visiting and prices go higher. Keeping these two factors in mind, I would say that May would be the best time to visit. If crowds and cost is not a factor, late-May and early-June would be the best time.


mercedes wesley 4 years ago

Thank you Aravind for the beautiful article and photos. Hope Swami takes us there sometime... Long way from our mountain place in Southamerica.. Which is the best time of the year to travel there?


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aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

@Anushree Surbhi - Felt very happy to have taken you on a virtual tour. Hope that you do visit Gangotri sometime.

@ An Impressed Reader - It is indeed a blessing to witness such beautiful sights... If one holds on to the desire, it will surly manifest!

@ Mark Aspa - My pleasure! :)


Mark Aspa 4 years ago

mmm... so nice to get a feel of this sacred part of the world. thank you


An Impressed Reader 4 years ago

Lovely pictures of the breathtaking sights .. Enjoyed the write up too .. Like every othe endevour in life, I think one should be blessed to see such beautiful sights too :)

'Gangotri inspires me for its shows the magic and miracle that human effort can achieve' - Very inspiring thought and so true .


anushree surbhi 4 years ago

sairam bhaiya...reading this article actually took me to gangotri..u have described it so beautifully that now i feel like going there right now...thank u so much for this!!sairam


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aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

@ Mr.Happy - Yes! This temple is located on the Indian side of the Himalayas - Uttarkashi is a disctrict in Uttarakhand, an Indian State. But your question has inspired me to put a map in the article. I shall do so immediately.

The road in indeed adventurous. You can drive your own car definitely. But it can get very tiring!!

As our driver told us, these mountain goats are very elusive. It was our good fortune that we came across them.

Thank you for the visit Mr.Happy. Even as I wrote this, I knew that it would please your heart... You are a true nature-lover like me! :)


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Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

This was a beautiful article!

The scenery depicted in your photographs is superb and the way You narrated your experience kept a smile on my face for the entire time I was reading. : )

I presume this temple You wrote about is on the Indian side of the Himalayas? (I am not that good with geography.)

The road looked a little adventurous, from your photographs ... that truck did not look so good (lol). Can people drive their own cars there or do You have to have a driver/bus?

Lastly, I just want to say that I love the mountain goats photos - really awesome! We have some in the western part of Canada too but I never came across one.

Thank You again for putting this article together. 'twas a treat!

Cheers!

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