Himalayan Sacred Walks - Part VI25, Nov, 2017, by Seema Bhatnagar
In continuation to Part V.
Gangotri, is a famous Hindu pilgrim town in Uttarkashi district, situated on the banks of the river Bhagirathi. Located on the Greater Himalayan Range, at a height of 3,100 meters (10,200 ft.) is also a place of origin of river Ganges.
Gangotri town is at a distance of 99 km or 2 hours drive from Uttarkashi.
Distance map from Uttarkashi to Gangotri.
Mythologically, it is a highly significant place. It is said that Goddess Ganga descended on earth at Gangotri itself. There are several legends behind this descent, the most popular is one given below:-
According to this legend, King Sagara, after slaying demons on earth decided to perform an Ashwamedha Yajna as a proclamation of his supremacy. The horse which was to be taken on an uninterrupted journey around the earth was to be accompanied by the King's 60,000 sons born to Queen Sumati and one son Asamanja born of the second queen Kesani.
Indra, supreme ruler of the gods feared that he might be deprived of his celestial throne if the "Yajna" (worship with fire) succeeded and then took away the horse and tied it to the ashram of Sage Kapil, who was then in deep meditation. The sons of the King Sagara searched for the horse and finally found it tied near the meditating sage. Sixty thousand angry sons of King Sagara stormed the ashram of sage Kapil.
When he opened his eyes, the 60,000 sons had all perished, by the curse of sage Kapil. Bhagiratha, the grandson of King Sagar, is believed to have meditated to please the Goddess Ganga enough to cleanse the ashes of his ancestors, and liberate their souls, granting them salvation or Moksha.
When Goddess Ganga agreed to bless the earth, there was a fear that Goddess Earth could never possibly withstand the great pressure with which the frothy waters of the holy Ganges would descend. To save the world from unimaginable calamity, Bhagiratha prayed to Lord Shiva - the God of Destruction – to get the turbulent flow of Goddess Ganga fall first on the matted locks of his head to enable the waters to exhaust their furious energy beforehand and then descend to the earth with diminished impact.
Gushing waters of Bhagirathi.
It is believed that Bhagiratha performed his penance here at Gangotri and the Goddess Ganga also descended here. The river is called Bhagirathi at the source i.e Gangotri and acquires the name Ganga (the Ganges) from Devprayag onwards, where it meets river Alaknanda.
Gangotri, the origin of the river Ganges and seat of the Goddess Ganga, is one of the four sites in the Chota Char Dham pilgrimage circuit.
The main attraction of this place is Gangotri temple. One can also visit Gomukh, which is located in the Gangotri Glacier, at a distance of 19 km from Gangotri. People usually trek to this distance while enjoying the picturesque view of glaciars.
The main attraction of this place is Gangotri temple, dedicated to Goddess Ganga. It is located on the bank of the river Bhagirathi. The temple made out of white marble is located amidst the beautiful surroundings with deodar and pine trees.
Goddess Ganga Temple at Gangotri.
Tableau showing, Bhagirath praying to Lord Shiva, Goddess Ganga standing in White clothes.
Near the temple there is a holy rock or the “Bhagirath Shila” where King Bhagirath had worshiped Lord Shiva.
Inside the temple, there are idols of Goddess Ganga, Goddess Durga, Goddess Mahalakshmi, Goddess Anapurna, Goddess Saraswati, King Bhagirath, Yamuna and Janvi Ganga.
It is mainly the temple for worshipping Shakti or the feminine power and Goddess Ganga is the main deity of this temple while other Goddesses are various manifestations of feminine power.
We started travelling from Uttarkashi in the morning to reach their as early as possible since it was raining off and on. After an hour or so we came across a landslide due to which the road was blocked and we could not move ahead. Thankfully, the road security force came in time and quickly removed the debris using cranes and made way for traffic to move. For sure, it was nothing less than a fortune that those rocks didn’t fall on our buses.
Landslide on the way.
For the first time I saw how these big rocks come on the ground and block roads. These mountains are constantly aligning themselves to get a new shape. On paying a close look at the structure of a mountain it is so clear that a lose arrangement can crumble any moment with a powerful earthquake in that region. No wonder that Uttarkashi resulted in such a big casualty. The picture below might help you to realize what I want to convey regarding the fragility of mountains.
Inside structure of a rock.
Once the road was clear of debris we could start our journey towards Gangotri and within almost one and half hour we could reach the destination. We were given almost two hours to spend there because weather was unpredictable and there could be landslide once again which could become a cause of any casualty. So, we all moved quickly towards the ghat or the bank which have special arrangements for taking dip. There was also a changing room for ladies and also one for gents.
We took only backpack and a pair of clothes for change after dip. I went towards the water thinking I will go inside to take a dip. With reverence I bowed down to the river before entering it.
The moment I touched it with my hands, I could not believe that river water could be so chilled rather freezing and I could not dare to enter inside for dip. But somehow I kept my feet inside and used bucket to pour water over. Oh….it was just freezing, the moment I poured bucket, for few seconds I didn’t know if I am intact and alive. Once again, I mustered courage to go for one more round of bucket, this time I was completely numb, and that was an end to it. I quickly started rubbing my hands to feel heat and rushed for a change.
Many suggested for washing hands and feet only to feel the water but I really wanted to experience what it means taking a bath in freezing water. Yes, it was a fantastic experience, but for sure not recommended for people who have less tolerance towards cold. One has to be careful because body loses all heat in a moment and need a quick response to bounce back.
Right from the Gomukh, which is the source of the river Bhagirathi, till Gangotri, the river water is in its' purest form with all the minerals and the power of spiritual energy intact. This is a best place to collect water, so I collected as much as I could carry. In India, it is an age old practice to keep Ganges water at home and use it to purify all offerings made to God.
Collecting Ganga water.
After taking dip, visited the Ganga temple, which is the main attraction of this place. There was a long queue for darshan or the sight of the main idol. After waiting half an hour I could reach to the main shrine. Made some donations and offering and paid my deepest reverence to Goddess Ganga.
Inside the compound of main Ganga temple, there are other small temples also for Lord Shiva, Lord Ganeha and Lord Hanuman, but the main deity of the temple is Goddess Ganga.
Coincidently, the 24 September was also the World’s River Day, and on the other side Sadhguru was rallying for rivers, so it was a double occasion to celebrate and for paying reverence to the holiest river on the planet.
After finishing temple visit we started returning to our buses in the parking area which was almost 15 minutes’ walk from the temple. By now, the whole bus became like one family where everyone was concerned about well-being of other.
Overall, it was an amazing experience of taking a holy dip in freezing water and also an opportunity to see the origin of one of the holiest rivers of India.
Without facing any problem of landslide, we safely reached to Uttarkashi back to our hotels to start our journey next morning for next destination, Rishikesh. This is going to be the tail part of the trip.