Monday, August 11, 2008

Bhojbasa and Gaumukh


The time had come to undertake what we thought would be the most challenging and the most rewarding part of our expedition; the trek to Gaumukh glacier where the most revered river of the civilization began her eternal journey.

The 19 kilometer trek began in Gangotri.
On day 1 we completed 14 kms and reached Bhojbasa, a village that gets its name from the Himalayan Silver Birch known as Bhojpatra that is commonly found vegetation there. The tree is on the verge of extinction due to unchecked felling.
Having reached Bhojbasa we chose to spend the night in Lal Baba’a Ashram. The village itself is not much. 3 to 4 pukka buildings and a few tents pitched here and there. The Bhagirathi who is none other than the Ganges but before her confluence with her tributaries, flows close by. The place is made very scenic by the Bhagirath peaks that loom before you. We sat by the river for some time. The scent of sage or ganga tulasi as it is known here wafted in the air. It was heavenly! I still have some leaves between the pages of my notebook.

We met many Sadhus and Babas who had interesting stories to tell us about their lives. What amazed me most about these Babas was their really plain attire of cotton and their footwear that did not seem to offer any protection from the brutal cold. I don’t know if I should simply attribute this to the adaptability of human body or admire the extreme limits to which certain people can stretch their endurance.

One such Baba whose name I have unfortunately been unable to retain in my otherwise “elephant’s memory” lived in a tent close by the river. He has been living there for the last 18 years or so (except in the cold season). To all of us (me, Ranjana, a Spanish couple, Jim, Marc and a follower of Sri Sri Ravishankar), baba’s invitation to his humble tent was so refreshing. After we made ourselves comfortable inside, he gave us food to eat that he himself cooked. The Ravishankar disciple never stopped talking about his guru and never gave up on his efforts to convert the Spanish couple to the “Art of Living” religion. It was late in the evening and time for Bhajan. We all moved into the tent further. It was so warm inside! A single lamp was burning before a picture of Lord Shiva. The Baba sang in his melodious voice and we repeated after him.

We spent the night in a dormitory which we shared with ten others. It was the coldest night of the month long tour. I hardly slept. The quilts that were as thick and heavy as beds did not help much.

The next morning we started (rather late) towards Gaumukh that was 5 kms from us. The terrain was arid except for the Bhagirathi and a few fresh water streams. It was cold but very sunny. On our way, we saw the magnificent Shivling peak.

By noon I reached Gaumukh and had my first glimpse of the glacier. It appeared small in size. I was to find out soon that I had been looking at it from faaar away. The Bhagirath peaks too were no closer than they were five kms ago. That’s how it is in the mountains. The hills are so huge and the spaces so vast that you become devoid of perspective!

I walked and walked towards it. Instead of trailing the riverside, I climbed a hillock of rocks that were my size, on all fours and descended in a slide. After a lot of “mehnat”, I reached the glacier. Of the several intersecting surfaces that formed the fa├žade of the glacier, a few were blue green in colour. The roof of the glacier was so high and the span of it so wide! It was a sight I had never seen before and had not known to exist.

At the base of the glacier is a small opening like the mouth of a cave from which emerges the Ganga or the Bhagirathi. Chunks of ice of varying in size break from the glacier and fall below; some into the river, some on the banks flanking it and some, on the intrepid traveler who forgets caution in his excitement to get closer and closer.

I drank from the river and filled my little blue can up to its full capacity. Some small stones of ice fell into the water and on the banks around me and that’s when I realized the precariousness of my situation. I immediately got up and started walking back to safety, when a chunk of ice that was probably the size of my big toe fell on my back. I shrieked. I forgot about it soon but during the following three days, whenever I slept in supine position, my back ached. It wasn’t until a week that I noticed a reddish brown circle on my woolen inner wear. Lucky me! The following week’s papers contained news of two foreigners who had been killed by an avalanche at Gaumukh!

After spending an hour at the glacier, we retuned to Bhojbasa and then to Gangotri thus covering 24 kms in a day!

The pictures will say the rest…

Scenary on our way...




The landscape is very colourful at certain places...




By the riverside in Gaumukh... Can you see the forest deers or antelopes or whatever they are called? 



Thats me... tired... Bhagirath peaks in the background...



Panoramic view (almost) from Bhojbasa... Bhagirath peaks in the centre...



Bhagirath peaks the next morning... it amazing how drastically different the scene looks in different weather...



Shivling peak ...as you trek from Bhojbasa towards Gaumukh... It looks more grandiose from Tapovan I have heard...



First view of Gaumukh glacier... very deceptive...



As you get closer...



And closer...



Can you see blue green ice?



Now I am too close...dangerously close...



Now you should be able to see the blue green colour of ice...




As we trekked back, it rained for a while and then suddenly it was sunny...



Can you see our trail on the right? it is very narrow and slippery...



That was the second rainbow I was lucky to see as I turned around...



As I turned around for the last time...



For more pictures do visit Bhojbasa via Gaumukh

5 comments:

Priya said...

Awesome pictures. Tell me about the accomodation and from where you started it.

Priya said...

Do u have a flickr a/c?

Sowmya said...

Welcome to this space Priya.

Thanks for the compliments...

My suggestion... dont plan too much in advance... We just packed our bags and left one morning... after that... you know... it is well developed... food, accom and all... no worries...

I do have a webshots account which I supply at the end of every travelogue...

Brahmanyan said...

Though I am a late entrant to your blog, I enjoy reading your blogs, especially your Himalayan travels. I had been to Ghaumukh in 2001 at the age of 70. It was most strenuous trip. But it was my life's ambition. Your photos have come out well.
Blessings,
Brahmanyan.

Animish said...

Hi, came across your wonderfully written blog about Gangotri - Gaumukh while searching for some info about Bhojbasa. I myself did this trek (Gangotri - Gaumukh - Tapovan) last month in October. No doubt it is a physically challenging trek but when you get magnificent views of Mt Shivling, and Bhagirathi peaks, you feel, it's all worth it.
I really liked your blog and pics attached. Well done!