29 Jun Gangotri: The Trek to Gaumukh Glacier
Written by Megan Sarka, India: Gender and Religion
It’s not easy trying to explain emotions and feelings in words, so I tried to find one to explain what I feel about the mountains, and the undying love I have for them.
n. a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details — raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, the feeling of fresh mountain air engulfing your lungs — briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, an act that is done purely for its own sake.
Gangotri, and the trek to the Gaumukh glacier (the source of the sacred Ganges River), were my first taste of the Himalayan mountain ranges, and it’s safe to say they stole my heart.
The 16 km trek to Bojwasa Ashram on the way to the Gaumukh Glacier was everything I imagined and more. The narrow path often escalates, taking you around corners with a view that leaves you breathless. The 360° view of forest, majestic and misty mountains dominating the landscape, blue sky, and crisp, fresh air make every bit of effort worth it. I was very fortunate to have good company by my side to bask in our love for the mountains together. However, even while alone, I felt that solitude is bliss as I found myself stopping often for a moment of silence to just stand, look up at the sky, and contemplate how awesome life is.
The weather was nothing short of perfect; beautifully sunny, with a refreshingly cool mountain breeze. The clouds had even rolled in for about half an hour, and I couldn’t help but smile as the rain poured down over my face. The feeling is otherworldly – the Himalayas hold great power within them.
As we arrived at the ashram, the sun quickly fell behind the mountains and the temperature slowly dropped. It felt so good to layer up and get warm after long, hot, humid days in Delhi and Dehradun.
It was dinner time, and eating at the ashram was a very cool first experience for me. We sat cross-legged in rows on the ground with fellow pilgrims as prayers began and food was served: roti, soy, dahl, rice, chai, and water, with rice pudding for dessert. The rice pudding was a hit (definitely a favourite of mine), and after a long day’s trek, the warm meal was a huge comfort and greatly appreciated.
By this time, the stars had emerged. Guesses started to be made as to where the Big Dipper, Mars, and the North Star were hiding. We hiked a little ways from the ashram to escape the light, and fully immersed our minds and views in the Himalayan mountain range sky. We found a comfortable position to gaze in, and Christophe fittingly put a cherry on top of my night by reading quotations from my favourite astronomer and scientist, Carl Sagan. I have deep gratitude and love for those moments under the stars, in the middle of nowhere, so far from everything I know. You gain a grander perspective of yourself and your surroundings – our earth, a “pale blue dot”, just a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Slowly, we all worked our way back to the ashram for a very cozy, sardine-like sleepover. There was no lack of body heat and everyone kept warm, to say the least.
In the morning, I brought my breakfast of porridge and chai down by the roaring Ganga River. I was lucky to share a moment with a new friend as the sun rose up, peaking over the mountains. This happened perfectly, as I thought I had slept in too late to see the sun rise over the mountains, but it turns out it happened without planning.
There’s nothing quite like a chai in the mountains. I’ve enjoyed it on a few occasions in India now, and it’s a top experience for me – I’m going to have to bring a thermos of chai on all my treks back home from now on.
After sunrise, and an enthusiastic morning yoga session instructed by Jonah, we started off to the glacier. It was only 5 km from the ashram, and then we were to head back to Gangotri. We rocked it out in under an hour and soaked up its beauty. I laid on a boulder close to the bank of Ganges and stared at the blue sky. In a state of blissful contemplation, I took a deep, soul-filling breath of fresh air and was fulfilled. I got my traditional ‘headstand in the mountains pic’ and I was complete.
The hike back is like a whole different trail. Coming around each bend and turn offers completely different perspectives of surrounding mountain ranges.
Coming out of the rockies and back into the alpine forest, the ethereal mountain peaks gaining distance but remaining fascinating, my feet ached and my soul was satisfied. This was a massive highlight of my trip and an unforgettable memory. It gives me a hunger for more Himayalan adventures, and a new appreciation for this holy, sacred place.