On the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya, let us have a look at places to visit in Gangotri. Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath Dhams make the Chardham Pilgrimage circuit of Uttarakhand, also called ‘Chhota Char Dham’. Gangotri and Yamunotri are two Shakti sites. Kedarnath Dham is a Shaiva site and Badrinath Dham, a Vaishnava site.
In India, there are numerous Hindu pilgrimage circuits visited by thousands every year. The Chardham Yatra of Uttarakhand occupies a special place. Not only do people travel for religious reasons but also for the astounding beauty of the Himalayas.
For places to visit in Gangotri, one has to make it between late April or May and October or early November. Gangotri like any other Char Dham sites in Uttarakhand, above 10000 feet, opens on Akshaya Tritiya, by the Hindu Calendar, which is around late April or May. The temples close after the Puja of Diwali which is celebrated around late October or early November.
We drove more than 100 km from Uttarkashi to Gangotri. The drive was mystical and adventurous through conifer forests, apple orchards and landslide zones. The river Bhagirathi/ Ganga flows parallel to the road. Gangotri town has a parking lot where the car has to be parked and the Gangotri Temple and other places around, need to be explored on foot. Let’s quickly see the places to visit in Gangotri:
The Gangotri Temple
River Ganga originated as Bhagirathi from the pout of the Gangotri Glacier at Gomukh (13200feet). Later at Devaprayag Bhagirati is called the Ganga and she flows through the northern plains emptying in the Bay of Bengal. Ganga is the holy river of the Hindus. The Gangotri temple, situated at the bank of the river is white in colour and looks as pious as the holy Ganga. The temple houses the shrine of Devi Gangey who thousands of devotees worship to attain salvation. It is believed by the Hindus that the Ganga washes all our sins. The temple is surrounded by snow-capped peaks. This is the first among the places to visit in Gangotri.
From the parking to the temple there are loads of shops selling food and items for puja. Dried apples are used as offerings. People who spend a night at Gangotri Town can also enjoy the evening aarti at the temple at around 7.30-7.45 pm.
Legends say that King Bhagirath prayed to Lord Brahma to get rid of the Sage Kapil’s curse on his forefather, King Sagar, and his lineage for five generations then. Lord Bhrama blessed him with Ganga to flow and wash away the sins of the family. But the flow of Ganga would have been untamable if Lord Shiva didn’t control the flow with his hair locks.
We saw the Bhagirathshila which is believed to be the holy rock where King Bhagirath sat and prayed for years. Besides the Bhagirathshila there are other smaller temples of Lord Ganesha, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Kali and others on the bank of the River Bhagirati.
The Bank of the holy Bhagirati or Ganga
Among places to visit in Gangotri the bank of the river is indeed pivotal. Devotees often offer Pujas at the river bank. The river frivolously flows through. The mountains stand tall with glistening snow-clad peaks. I was in some kind of a trance. One should spend some time at the bank absorbing the vibe of the place.
Gauri Kund, Gauri Gufa and Surya Kund
The water of Bhagirati gushing vigorously through the rocks since time immemorial has created natural sculptures. We stood on Gaurishila, a huge flattened rock to look at the gushing water falling from at least 100 feet appearing like multiple waterfalls. These are some of the most picturesque places to visit in Gangotri. On a sunny day, you can even locate rainbows near the fall. The locals name the rocks after gods and goddesses. For example, there is a spot called Gauri Ganesh as the waterfalls in the shape of Ganesha’s trunk. There are some caves like the Gauri Gufa.
According to Mahabharata, the Pandavas on the way to heaven came to the Himalayas. They had rested here at Gangotri too in a cave. This cave is called Pandughufa or Pandav Gufa. This place has numerous smaller caves too. It is a rocky area surrounded by majestic mountains. Holy basil plants are grown around the area. These plants are used for medicinal purpose. Hindus use the leaves for worshipping.
Gangnani is a land of hot spring, Rishikundand a few temples. There are 4 Kunds (pools) of boiling hot water. Devotees often take a dip here and move to the Gangotri Temple. It is said that sage Prashar, the father of Veda Vyas, the author of Mahabharata, attained moksha here.
Harsil and Bhagori
Harsil is a scenic town, 25 kilometres from Gangotri. Though not exactly at Gangotri, it definitely makes it to the list of places to visit in Gangotri. Harsil is a valley surrounded by enormous mountains and River Bhagirati flows through the plains. Numerous waterfalls, apple orchards, stony pathways and wooden huts make the place magical. Handwoven woollens are available here at a reasonable price. Many tourists prefer spending a night at Harsil over Gangotri. The Gangotri Temple closes down after Diwali and the shrine is taken at Mukhba village near Harsil. Devotees visit this winter abode of the Shrine of Gangotri.
Bhagori is a hamlet very close to Harsil. It is a tiny village of 350 families of farmers and shepherds. It looks like a Tibetan influenced village with Chortens and prayer flags around. The village looks like one out of the storybooks.
There are a few trekking routes from Gangotri. They are difficult and time-consuming. Kedartal trek, Gaumukh and Vasuki Tal trek, Tapovan Trek are some of the popular ones. Permits and guides are compulsory.
Mythological stories and such panoramic views throughout the journey etched a memory in my mind that is going to stay forever. Now when we are being unable to make such extensive trips because of the pandemic, these are what we cherish and look up to.
Har Har Gangey!!
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.