The Source of the Ganges

Barely settled into their new life in Ludhiana, my brother and his family joined me from Punjab towards the end of my time in Uttarakhand. We met in Rishikesh, spent a night in Uttarkashi and, after another arduous jeep journey, reached the very end of the road in Gangotri. The trailhead for the source of the Ganges leads east from there.

After a bit of wrangling at the permit office over the mandatory guide (it was finally admitted that guides are not mandatory), the permits (Gangotri's power was out across town until late afternoon so that the town's sole photocopier was out of commission; only Billy's Hindi persuaded them to allow an exception in processing our papers) and Billy's camera (confiscated after a threatened bag search and refusal to pay the Rs1500 fee which came on top of our Rs600 permits), we were relieved to be on the trail late the next morning. I was even more relieved when my own camera magically came back to life after I beat it against a rock. The shutter had stopped functioning back in Rishikesh and I hadn't had time to get to the Nikon shop in Dehra Dun. Luckily, I managed to keep it alive for most of our trek.

Gear trouble and Indian bureaucracy aside, our luck couldn't have been better: we'd arrived at the very end of the monsoon. Rain had come every day since I'd touched down in India, and heavy clouds filled most the sky during our 14km upward trek to the camp, just straddling the tree line about 4km from Gaumukh glacier. But stepping outside our tent the next morning in the barren valley of Bhojbasa, the icy peaks of Bhagirathi (6856m/22624ft) rose in full view, the entire sky above the baby Ganges cyrstal clear and deep blue.




Upper Garhwal

It always feels especially good to be alive after a Himalayan drive. Stepping out the back of my over-packed jeep into the high Himalayan town of Joshimath, after another bumpy ride through the Garhwal foothills, was no exception. Winding high above white rivers at the sunless bottoms of vertigo-inducing valleys, long stretches of the road had been battered by the monsoon into a precarious muddy track barely wide enough for a single jeep. Passing buses was always fun, as were the routine stops for landslides. Some held us up an hour or so while others forced us to hike across and wait for jeeps or buses on the other side to turn around. After watching them casually maneuver their heart-stopping u-turns I'd reluctantly climb inside for what always seemed likely to be the final ride of my life. It had been two heavy months of monsoon and I'd caught the roads at their very worst.Basing in Joshimath, I took a few days to explore the upper reaches of Garhwal, stopping off at Badrinath, the most famous of Uttarakhand's char dham, and taking a two-day trek to Gangharia and the Valley of Flowers. I was a few weeks late for the flowers, but the hike was well worth its 18km climb: while I probably passed a thousand Sikh pilgrims en route to Hemkund Sahib, I found myself almost completely alone in the secluded valley.