One of the most important things in life is knowing when to stop, and if necessary to turn back.
This is as true in the case of trekking/hiking as in the case of life.
You need to assess your abilities and decide the next step. A leap of faith may seem romantic but reality is a very different game.
So when Deepak told us that we should not go further we trusted him. He had seen us hike for an entire day. He had expressed high hopes, which were duly dashed by my vertigo and my highly hilarious hiking prowess. He realised soon enough that, unlike Jaya, I was made of softer stuff. He was a smart lad, not in the same category as Taju, but enough to understand us. He did take good care of us. He entertained us with his stories of his home in Nepal and his family. He told us stories how this trail has punished those who take it lightly. And he graciously accepted our offers of plain water, chocolates and dry fruit (the best friends a hiker can have) during the far too many nutri-stops.
This was the Gaumukh trail. Not a tough one, but one that tests you with length and lack of support facilities.
The Kedar path was longer and way steeper, but there were places at regular intervals where you could refuel yourself. But this was a part of the Gangotri National Park. After the checkpost (a great song and dance about plastics though the path is littered with bottles and ‘carrybags’) you get nothing. So you keep on walking.
You only get rudimentary arrangements at Chirbasha.
Then there is no sign of humanity until Bhujbasha. There are quite a few pressure points in this trail. The Path is extremely narrow at places.
Torrential streams coming from up above are bridged logs and planks.
The biggest pressure point is the hill with falling stones. You have to obey your guide and practically run across. The local mountain goats walk on the ridge and these stones (from pebbles to boulders) find themselves flung towards the river. All you have to do is not to get in their path. Fortunately our journey was goat free, hence it was also free of rolling stones.
The very final bit of the path is quite tricky. Completely rocky and not quite good for tired feet. I won’t categorise it as a pressure point for it will not threaten your life. It will only threaten your limbs!
When you reach the point overlooking Bhujbasha you breathe two sighs – one of relief the other one of wonder. No, I am not talking about the breathtaking views of Bhagirathi Peaks or the peak of the mighty Shivling.
I am talking about the complete absence of Bhuj trees. This place was once full of those trees that gave us our ancient parchments (Chirbasha is still full of Chir trees) but human hands have completely denuded this place. The pilgrims were not always progressive enough to comprehend that trees don’t grow without trees. The mighty Bhuj forest became the customary sacrifice in man’s quest for divine grace.
Bhujbasha is just a few scattered buildings and a weather station. The temperature drops to uninhabitable as soon as the sun hides behind the western hill. The bravehearts pitch tents.
We had reserved dormitory beds in the establishment run by GMVN. The dorm room proved to be surprisingly warm. And the common Indian toilets were also adequately clean. There is one more establishment in Bhujbasha – the famous Lalbaba Ashram. This Ashram is now quite developed. It is no longer a large room with Lalbaba presiding. There was a time when Lalbaba used to let people stay for free, and used to get angry when money was offered. He wanted grains and vegetables with which he could feed the visitors. Now money works fine.
We woke up at the scheduled time. But Deepak told us that a large landslide is happening. We did hear something and I had felt a couple of tremors in the night. As it is, the trail from Bhujbasha is difficult for laypeople and most turn back without seeing the actual Gaumukh (the mouth of the glacier from which Ganga is born). So when Deepak said we might find it challenging to progress we decided not to risk it. There is a time and place for everything, this probably wasn’t ours.
The return to Gangotri was equally taxing. But we found entertainment in the inexperience and discomfort of younger and more fashion-conscious pilgrims (it has been proved beyond doubt we are bad people). But we got angry when we met a team consisting of parents and two young children who had committed the cardinal sin of starting around 10 in the morning. They had come barely 3km of the 14 and the father was huffing and puffing like the steam engine from Sholay! He refused our instructions. We had humbly suggested they reconsider. Their pace, their apparent fitness and the expression on the faces of the lady and the two kids were signals enough that they would find the walk problematic. However, the man indicated in broken Hindi that we should mind our own business. He was definitely Bengali.
On an informative note, in order to go on this hike you need to apply for permission online. They allow 150 people per day. There is a single night permit for those visiting Gaumukh and a two nights permit for the Tapovan groups. If you are confident and fit, aim for Tapovan. The trekkers will tell you Tapovan is nothing much, there is only an waterfall you have to climb. But see the videos on youtube. Always remember climbing up is easy. Coming down is not. The permits will be issued from Uttarkashi (there is an office near the Uttarkashi GMVN bungalow and another about 20km away). Or you can try your luck and apply at the forest checkpost 2km into the trail. While at Uttarkashi, do visit the temple.
It is one of those rare calm and quiet and non-invasive places. I loved it. And Uttarkashi also gave us a brilliant sunset.
If you love mountains you should go on the Gaumukh trail. This trail gives you overwhelming views of peaks which you can only find on maps.
The path is not kind, but it is not quite the toughest. If hiking seems hard, one should go till Gangotri.
The way is fascinating. The gorges are deep, the river more rapid and the rock formations are out of this world. The temple is simple.
Suryakund is brilliant.
Eons ago the Ganga probably had its origin nearby. Now the glacier is melting at a rate quite remarkable. No amount of human intervention can stop it. In fact, as long as there is human intervention (or human beings) nature will continue to suffer. Humanity does not learn.