May 2018 - Uttarakhand

A trip to the sources of the Ganga.

Looming over me, Shivling (6,543m) and Bhagirathi I (6,856 m) two enormous, majestic, mountains, are white against the bright blue sky. But down in the valley, a vicious, ill-tempered wind kicked up the area’s fine dust particles. It envelopes me and a lone, shoeless Sadhu holding an orange umbrella. We’ve left behind two other men with guides. The path re-opened today after a landslide made the pilgrimage to the ‘Gaumukh’, the 'cow’s mouth’, the spiritual source of the Ganges, a deadly proposition, I’m amazed this isn’t considered lethal.

Recalling this moment is not easy. My mind is foggy, the atmospheric haze of the moment seems physically imprinted upon the very brain cells that recorded it. At the time I didn’t realise my head was bleeding from cuts made by falling rocks, it’s likely I was concussed. Adrenaline, an essential ingredient in getting to this point, covered the pain for now. The path, with freshly deposited earth from the landslides crumbled beneath our feet as we paddled across the subsiding topsoil and dust, arms wildly grabbing at compacted clumps of earth, praying they’d hold.

I watch my Sadhu companion push on, this is as close as I will get to the source of Ganga. Indranil, an Indian tourist and the only other trekker willing to come this far, appears from behind, shouting “Stop! He’s half-mind! Don’t follow!” I turn and look at the Sadhu gingerly creeping around another perilously steep section of the ‘path’. I’m inclined to agree with Indranil. I’m tired, and scared, I’ve had enough.

Whilst the scenery above us is majestic, our immediate surroundings are bleak. We’re stood on an incredible cascade of slate. Slabs of lethally sharp rock lie at mad angles, scattered atop one another, they tip like see-saws as you cross them and some slide a little. It’s best not to look down, broken slate pieces point to the sky, it’s impossible to see solid ground beneath.

I can’t think of a worse or less appropriate spot for a selfie, which is what Indranil asks for. He points to the dull, mud-coloured pool below and explains this is ‘Gaumukh’ or ‘Mouth of the Cow’, it’s the spiritual source of the legendary river. I had expected something more awe-inspiring. However I did take three of the photos in the gallery below at this moment, in hindsight it looks pretty spectacular!

A glacier used to reach this spot, until a landslide last year altered the place entirely, the ravages of climate change are wreaking havoc in the Himalayas. No longer crystalline water, the loose dust particles cloud the water before it flows across India, first past devotees at Gangotri, where Hindus bathe in the Ganga, and onwards.