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Ganges Glacier Video - A Trek to Gaumukh, Source of the Mighty Ganges.
Himalayan Pilgrimage Part II

The Himalayan mountain range is about fifteen hundred miles in length, extending along the northern frontiers of Pakistan, India, China, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. The width of the Himalayas varies from one hundred and fifty to two hundred miles. The average height of the northernmost part of this range is twenty-thousand feet. Here lie some of the highest peaks in the world, like Everest (29,028 ft), Annapurna (26,504 ft), Dhaulagiri (26,810 ft) and Nanda Deva (25,645 ft). These towering giants have attracted some of the best climbers and adventurers of modern time, however one out of every ten persons who challenges the Himalayas forfeits their life.

The source of the mighty Ganges (Ganga) River lies far to the north of the office buildings and industrial parks of New Delhi in the Garwal Range of the Himalayas. The first scheduled stop is Hardwar and Rishikesh, one hundred and twenty miles from Delhi.

The Himalayan foothills, known as the Vindhya Hills, meet the plains of India in the holy city of Hardwar, the doorway into the "Land of the Gods." The name 'Hardwar' itself is derived from the combination of two Sanskrit words, hari, which means 'God' and dwara, which means 'the doorway.' Hardwar literally means, 'the doorway to God-realization.'

Here the Ganges runs strong and clean, as refreshing as any mountain stream anywhere in the world. Pilgrims generally bathe in the waters of the Ganges during the early morning hours. And throughout India it is a common practice that no one will take a bath at home when a river is nearby. A chilly dip in the holy river at Hardwar reminds one of its origin from the Ganges glacier. From Hardwar it is only fifteen miles to Rishikesh, the location of numerous yoga schools and ashramas and five days travel to the Ganges Glacier.

GangesAlong the way is Devaprayag, the confluence of the two main tributaries of the Ganges River. Here, the deep blue waters of the Alakananda-Ganga come down the valley from the Badarinatha mountains to meet the waters of the Bhagiratha, which shine like a silver ribbon from heaven.

From here it is a tortuous hundred miles or so on treacherous mountain roads to Lanka the last stop by vehicle before embarking on the trek to Gangotri and Gaumukh. In Lanka accomodations are spartan, an old army tent and no bath available.

Ganges GlacierFrom Lanka it is an arduous ten mile trek through beautiful forests to Gangotri at an altitude of ten thousand feet. The temperature drops significantly from a warm eighty-five degrees in the valleys to a cool forty degrees in the highlands. Here at the base of the glacier valley, the Ganga surges forward, plunging forty feet into a deep and narrow ravine.

The trail continues at a steep incline up the northern side of the valley with the river far below to the right, at times the path is only ten inches wide with a drop of ten thousand feet. All around are the awesome towering snow-capped peaks of the Bhagiratha mountain range. Indeed, one feels the insignificance and helplessness of mankind in comparison to these mighty mountains. These last fourteen miles to the rivers source are long indeed due to the steepness of the climb and the thinness of the air.

The Glacier at 14,500 feet elevation stands three hundred feet in height and covers the entire width of the river valley. At it's base in a tiny cave called Gaumukh the mighty river begins as a small stream. Behind this magnificent wall of ice, the peaks of Sudarshan Parbat, Sri Kailash and Mana Parbat rise steeply, crowning the sacred river like temple spires.

These mountains are said to be the abodes of the Gods, which no human being should try to enter. This experience certainly brings to mind the saying that 'God is great and man is but a visitor in this world.'

 

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