Gangotri - An amazing drive
Don't forget to look around and enjoy the journey!
The Uttarkashi Gangotri Highway is truly one of the most scenic drives in the country. There is something to stop you at almost every turn. This is one route which possibly doesn’t get as much attention as Leh Manali, but in terms of scenic beauty, it’s no less!
Gangotri is revered by Hindus as the place of origin of Ganga (Ganges) – the holiest river. It is one of the highly revered Chota char dham, and sees a huge number of devotees every year.
The idea of standing in serpentine queues, pushing each other, just to get a glimpse of the Almighty doesn’t really appeal to me, and I actively try to plan visits to such popular places when the rush is low. This trip was no different. Visiting in off season not just gives you ample time to not soak in the beauty of the place but also provides some solitude to introspect.
To be honest, the motivation for this trip was something else, not the Dham yatra per say but when you are already this close, how can you miss visiting it?
From Delhi, Gangotri is roughly 500 kms away. NH-33 connects Haridwar and Gangotri. While it is possible to drive down in a day, I would highly recommend breaking the journey midway, or at Uttarkashi. We did the same, and in hindsight, it was a good decision which saved us and the trip!
D1: Delhi to Uttarkashi
This is a mundane route passing through the towns, or rather bottlenecks of Roorkee, Haridwar, Hrishikesh. There are quite a few detours one can take, to bypass the ever congested and boring NH-334. We took one close to the town of Roorkie to stop and admin a British-era aqueduct. More details and visuals are in the video below.
Day 2: Uttarkashi to Gangotri
From Uttarkashi, Gangotri is 100 kms or so, but takes a good part of the day. We took 6 hours to cover the distance. One of the reasons being – the surroundings are so damn beautiful! You will feel like stopping every few mins. This is where our break earlier proved useful. It provided us the opportunity to take this leg of the journey slow, and fully enjoy what was before us.
Locals told us a portion of the highway (to Gangotri) was washed away and no vehicles had arrived from Gangotri since yesterday evening. Since the highway was blocked and we didn’t have much else to do, we had a leisurely breakfast! Lol!
Soon we got some good news about vehicles arriving from Gangotri – the highway was open! Our plan was still on! We left Uttarkashi around 11 AM. Filled up the tank just after the town. No petrol pumps beyond this point.
The administration appeared to be on its toes this time. Workers could be seen everywhere trying to keep the Gangotri highway open even in these adverse conditions. Maybe, they don’t want a repeat of 2013.
Once we crossed Bhatwari, signals disappeared from our phones. In the modern world, that’s true peace! The happiness was short lived as we realised the phones would spring back to life in Gangotri. We had only about 60 more kms to cover and had ample time. That meant – more breaks!
On one of our breaks, we stopped near a tea stall which appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. No villages around or anything. They didn’t even have electricity. The family has been living here since past many years. They have a small shack just adjacent to this tea shop. Thinking about the night at this place gave me goosebumps.
The Uttarkashi Gangotri Highway is truly one of the most scenic drives in the country. There is something to stop you at almost every turn. And we happily obliged most of the time!
A bridge near Bhaironghati, is (or was) apparently, Asia’s highest bridge! One walk on it, and I am not doubting the claim! The photos might not give you the true idea of it’s height, but trust me, it *is* high, I mean H-I-G-H.
The road condition was good for most part with occasional bad roads. The road is narrow closer to Uttarkashi, but seems to spread out afterwards. Road widening work is going on after Bhaironghati till Gangotri and as a result, there is no tar road. But even the dusty trail is a lot better to drive on compared to the Wangtu – Tapri stretch in Himachal.
A few more stops and we rolled into Gangotri at close to 5 PM. 6 hours since we started from Uttarkashi! You can imagine the number of breaks! Lol! The town was bustling with people but locals insisted it was ‘Off-season’ with not many tourists around. Our stay offered a clear view of Bhagirathi. But, we headed to the ghats anyway. They were completely deserted! We enjoyed the peace here.
As darkness fell, temperatures also plummeted and we retreated to the warmth of our rooms. After dinner and some chit-chat, we ventured out again. Due to the weather maybe, the town was eerily quiet, all we could hear was Bhagirathi gushing through the boulders. Water level was substantially higher now. All the shops were closed and very few people could be seen outside.
Within a few minutes, it started raining. Consequently, we rushed back to the hotel and retired for the night.
The video below captures the beauty well (or so I like to think!) of this drive.
This is regarded as the seat of Godess Ganga, and orgin of the holy river Ganga. It is still called "Bhagirathi"at this place, and not "Ganga". The river takes this name further downstream in Rudrprayad where it merges with Alaknanda.
Temple is open from late April to early November. July being off-season, it was completely devoid of crowds. First thing on the agenda was visiting the Gangotri temple and getting some of the holy water from Bhagirathi for people back home. The temple visit was smooth and swift, thanks to no crowd. I shudder to think what it would be like when thousands of people descend here for a Darshan.
The second place you shouln't miss in Gangotri is Surya Kund. After ,Darshan and a hearty breakfast, we visited ,Surya Kund. Situated on the opposite bank of ,Bhagirathi. Mythology says, this is the place where heavens end and our mortal world starts. Geographically speaking, it’s a nice waterfall! Thanks to the monsoons, it had lots of water. Some of the other pictures of this place that I have seen on the internet, show a mere trickle. The force with which Bhagirathi flows through this narrow gorge is just incredible.
Trek to Gaumukh
The origin of Ganga is called Gaumukh - it is around 18kms away from Gangotri. You must have permission from (D.F.O.) District forest officer, Uttarkashi, before you can embark on this trek. Only 150 permits are issued per day, so it's better to plan the trek well in advance.
Places to stay?
During the months the temple is open, there are plenty of options available - dorms, hostels, hotels, camps - both private and Govt. That said, during some of the more auspicious dates when a large amount of people travel to Gangotri, finding accommodation to one's liking, may prove difficult. So, its goo to plan and book in advance, if travelling during the peak season.
To Sum Up
I could not sleep in anticipation of what was to come. Something for which we had travelled this far, suffered all the mist, rains, broken roads etc.
To make matters worse, it had started raining again!
Will we be able to make it to our destination tomorrow?
What if the rain doesn’t stop?
With countless thoughts running through my head, don’t remember when exactly I fell asleep.
Keep Rocking, Keep Roaming!