Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gomukh-Tapovan Trek 2008: Anniversary time: Part 3

Chirbasa halt: Day 2 evening/night

We did not realize that we had walked for almost 4 hours and we were nearing Chirbasa. On the way, there were few signboards mentioning about the importance of the place. We decided to halt at Chirbasa for the day so that we get acclimatized with the weather and also to avoid any trekking crowd (if any) at Bhojbasa, the main halting point for most of the trekkers. We are slowly entering the cooler shades of the several Chir trees when we started to enter Chirbasa. An arch which read “Chirbasa mein aapka swaagat hai” welcomed us and as we went inside this arch, we saw the remnants of a half constructed building which supposedly was used as a halting place by people. There was also a huge rock on another side where the height of Chirbasa was mentioned as 3600m above sea level. I think most people know this that Indian lovers are known to attain an orgasm whenever they reach such places of importance and they declare their undying and immortal love for each other in their unique way by carving their names on every possible rock available. There was no shortage of such writings like “Monu loves Sonu” alongside holy writings like “Ram Narayan Ram”. Anyway, our guides had already decided on the place to put the tent. We had to climb a small hillock, then go through a small nursery and then get down towards the Bhagirathi to reach the place. There was a small PWD temporary accommodation too nearby where few people were staying. The location was just awesome. You can directly see the Bhagirathi peaks from inside the tent if you open the tent-entry flaps. There was a long moment of silence as me and Pradipta just looked at the magnificent snow-clad peaks which were shining under the sun’s patronage. It was around 13:00 hrs and our guide and helpers quickly set up the tent and then got into the process of preparing lunch for us. Meanwhile, we decided to take a stroll near the river and walked for quite a distance along the river banks admiring the three majestic ice-clad peaks of the Bhagirathi which was right in front of our eyes. The one in the front was Bhagirathi II, then Bhagirathi III and the last one was Bhagirathi I. If your mind needs rest, this is the place. Only the senses are at work. The sound of the flowing Bhagirathi waters is something like a continuous fast paced symphony for the ears and the encompassing beauty of the surroundings provides an eternal pleasure to your eyes. We wanted to take a bath, but the spine-chilling coldness of the water deterred us.

We were back to our tents for lunch. Our helpers had made chapatti, rice, a vegetable dish and dal and it was a feast for all of us. It started to drizzle just as we were finishing our lunch and we huddled inside our tents for a quick rest. There’s a nursery at Chirbasa which we thought of exploring during the evening. The drizzle was still on when we entered the small make-shift cottage of the caretaker (Mr. Thapa) of the nursery. He showed us all the plantations which are mainly to preserve the medicinal plants found the Himalayan region which were probably getting extinct due to environmental degradation. These medicinal plants it seems are very expensive in the market and are natural drugs for several common ailments. It was getting dark, the drizzle became heavy and the temperature was reducing, so we went inside the cozy “living space” of the caretaker. The hut was made very nicely with big stone walls to have a strong protection against the strong Himalayan winds and the stone walls were further covered with huge tarpaulin sheets on top. He had a place to sleep inside his abode, sleeping bags, a gas stove for cooking and some traditional utensils for cooking and eating. He prepared strong pepper tea for us which was very refreshing and acted as the stimulator for the prevailing chilling temperature at that time. We started our discussion on the nursery and the need for preservation.

The nursery initiative is the brainchild of Dr. Harshvanti Bisht, Reader at the Govt. P. G. College, Uttarkashi and funded by various government agencies and the project is run under her supervision. Read details about her work here ( The caretaker was from Uttarkashi and he stays in the nursery 6 months in a year. The only people who come to visit him are the forest officials and he has the Himalayas and her warm embrace to give him company. Can you imagine his luck? These are jobs which someone has to love to do it and when talking to him, we realized how much he loves and takes interest in his work. He gets his supplies like food and gas cylinders either by walking down to Gangotri himself or some of his friends who are forest guards deliver those things whenever they are on duty. He mentions that he goes very frequently to Tapovan to see the vegetation and plants which grow there. I felt that probably he is one of the happiest persons around. We did not realize that we had already spent more than an hour in chatting and it was already dark. Meanwhile, a forest guard came in to have water and the caretaker offered another round of pepper tea for us. How can we resist? Another round of discussions started over tea and the guard told us several stories about why the forest department had to be strict regarding permissions to trek to Gomukh and Tapovan and beyond. It seems many people had lost their lives due to landslides and snowstorms during the treks and everytime, the forest department was blamed for lack of proper information. And there are tales of sadhus who in search of eternal peace wanted to go right up to the mouth from where Bhagirathi emerges and then got killed due to landslides. The forest guard wanted to go to Bhojbasa and then halt for the night there and left after urging us repeatedly not to trek very far beyond Tapovan and all. It was already late and our helpers came searching for us for dinner. We offered the caretaker to have dinner with us and we again had a nice feast. The one thing we realized was that we could not eat as much as we ate the previous occasion. It was quite cold and we were inside our warm sleeping bags in no time. If the weather were good the next day, we wanted to start as early as possible so that we reach Gomukh early and spend quality time there. The only sounds which were heard at this time were the sound of the flowing Bhagirathi, the fall of the raindrops on the tent and the occasional wind which blew past. Else, it was silent, an everlasting silence which all of us yearn once in a while.

Chirbasa-Gomukh trek and tent at Gomukh: Day 3

Rains had stopped when we woke up in the morning. The air was chill, very misty and visibility was almost zero. Morning tea was served right inside the tent. The hospitality of our helpers was beyond doubt. They wanted to make us as much comfortable as they can. After finishing the morning chores and breakfast, we were all set to start for Gomukh. All the tents and other accessories were packed. Our guide was extra cautious and wanted to ensure that we move only after the visibility improved a little bit. We waited for some more time and then started our trek towards Gomukh. Visibility was restricted to only a few meters ahead of us and it was very cloudy. The peaks of Bhagirathi which were very clearly visible from Chirbasa the previous day were not visible at all. The mountains on our left were still green and beautiful Himalayan flowers lined the sides of the trail as we kept on walking with the anticipation that the weather would improve slightly. We were also wary of the fact that the sides of the mountain on our left side seemed very loose and we saw rock tumbling down ahead of us. After walking for a few more kilometers along the winding but comfortable and beautiful trail, we could see an open bed of white sand on the valley below. We had reached Bhojbasa and the place looked extremely beautiful. You can have cricket ground here! We could see an ashram down there by the side of the Bhagirathi and a few houses which our guide told us is the GMVN rest house. Bhojbasa is the usual camping place for trekkers. We did not want to go down to the valley below and so continued on our trail. In a short while, we were able to see the mouth of Gomukh, the origin of the mighty Ganga at a distance. Fortunately, we were not able to see any of the makeshift tea shops which, it seems, used to be there on this trail every now and then during the season. That makes the trek much more pleasant I feel.

Between Bhojbasa and Gomukh, the width of the Bhagirathi was less and there were many open and sandy spaces on her banks. I can imagine how Bhagirathi would look like at this stretch during the rainy season when there will be lot of water flowing down from upstream. Our guide suggested that we put up our tent at a place which was around half a kilometer before the actual camping place at Gomukh. This place it seems was going to be right on the banks of the Bhagirathi and much more peaceful than the regular camping place for trekkers. So, we deviated from the trek path and started moving towards a side path on our right. In a short while, we could see a small beautiful tented hut ahead of us. Mr. Balbahadur told that a researcher stays there for 6 months in a year. Wow, that’s more like it, he belongs to our genre. The spot next to his hut was the ideal place for a tent and our helpers prepared the ground for setting up the tent. Meanwhile, we got introduced to the researcher, Mr. Bhim Bahadur who was associated with a faculty from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. He was kind enough to treat us for tea and for the type of weather at that time, tea was an elixir for recharging our energies. It was very cloudy with occasional short bursts of rain and damn cold. The tent was set up in no time and lunch preparation was on. Bhagirathi was just around 300m from this place and we walked towards the banks and also around the place to get a good view of the surroundings. Gomukh mouth was clearly visible from this place if you climb on any of the small rocks around. Today, I would rate this spot as the best place to camp on a Gomukh trek.

When we were sitting and chatting on the river bank, I could spot some movement on the other side of Bhagirathi. They were some animals and we were very excited. Initially, we thought they were some wild animals, but it turned out to be the Himalayan mountain goat, Himalayan tahr. They were camouflaged against the color of the rocks and it was difficult to sight them. We were delighted when we came to know from our guides that one has to be very lucky to sight animals during a Gomukh trek. From our location, we could have a glimpse of the Gomukh mouth at a distance and that’s where we were going the next day. We just walked around the rocky terrain by the side of the river before it was time for lunch. As usual, we had a big lunch and what do you think – we won’t take an after-lunch nap? Impossible, we are Indians, folks. We had a quick nap and during the evening we decided to take a walk towards the mouth of Gomukh to get a first view of what it looks like. It was drizzling, the view ahead was hazy and the trek path was slippery. One of our guides came with us and he told stories from the past when several people were killed in trying to reach to the mouth of Gomukh. We were at an elevation and we could see several rocks tumbling down from the top and it was dangerous surroundings. We were not able to see the Gomukh mouth very clearly due to clouds and mist. We located a safe place from where we could have a good look at the Bhagirathi gushing out of the mouth. It was a magnificent sight to see this great river at her origin. It was getting dark and we returned to our campsite. Dinner was under preparation and we spent the time chatting with Mr. Bhim Bahadur on his research activities. The night was very peaceful with only the sound of the flowing Bhagirathi to give us company.

... to be continued