Long trek to Tapovan - the heavenly field in the mountains.

Bhojwasa Travel Blog

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Starting toward Gaumukh, Tapovan.
This was the day! I had been waiting years to come back to the Himalayas for a good trek. The last time was in '96, and I missed 2 if not 3 opportunities to come back. So this day was the golden day when I would do another mountain trek that would tax me, and that would be memorable! Besides, I was going to have to do a 2 day trek in the same day. Wondered how bad it would stress my body. But I was glad I finally made it so far, and farther.

The day was like no other in recent memory. Cold beyond anywhere I'd been in the past few years. And on top of that the big group started waking up at 04:00, all sorts of alarms going off and the general din starting. I somehow managed to grab some more shut-eye till 06:30. Dark and chilling, the water has iced over at places.
The edge of the Gangotri glacier near Gaumukh.
I had one paratha for breakfast, and some life-saving hot chai, and packed 4 parathas for lunch. There would be nothing else to eat till late afternoon when we could get back. Around 08:00 is when the sunlight started to descend into the valley and we set off. Part of the big group was already making their way to Gaumukh, and a few other trekking groups as well. We overtook most of these slowpokes and covered the not-so-steep 4 km walk to Gaumukh by about 09:00. 5 steep km more to go for Tapovan. Most of the streams on the way were iced over, as were the logs to cross them.

Instead of going down towards the river though, we started climbing. Tapovan is on the other side of the glacier, at an altitude few hundred meters higher than Gaumukh. We started toward the Gangotri glacier, and soon were crossing it bit by bit.
Mountain goats at Tapovan.
This was the toughest part of the trek for me. There was really no path per se to follow. We had to step from one big boulder to another to some smaller rocks and so on. In between there would be something similar to a trail for a few tens of meters and then vanish again. The porters/guides/locals there would make small piles of rocks at places to indicate the path. Some muddy patches of the trail were also iced over, the ones in the shade.

As I moved upward, I could see on one side of the glacier the Kali river going into it and the peak of Mt Kailash through its valley. Through the same valley is the path of Neer-tal apparently. Further along, at the base of the Bhagiratha peaks one can make out the plateau area of Nandanvan. We were moving towards a steep rocky ridge beyond with lay Tapovan.
Me in front of Mt. Sudarshan.
Once we crossed the glacier and started climbing along the steep trail to Tapovan we saw a few frozen pools of water, and a couple of huge crevasses in the Glacier. Once while crossing the glacier, could hear a loud cracking sound too, probably some portion of the ice moving and cracking. After 5-6 breaks along the way and some steady climbing I finally made it to the plateau of Tapovan at around 11:00. The guide wouldn't stop however, he was leading me straight to one of the "ashram"s there. We went to see this Shimla baba guy who lived there. The path took me along the Amar-ganga stream that flows through Tapovan. It was iced up at several places, and we also walked a certain distance through the previous day's snow.
In front of the view of Bhagiratha peaks.
That day however, the sun was still coming down brightly through a clear sky.

After some excellent chai that the guide made at Shimla baba's place, and some parathas for lunch we relaxed for a while. Watching a family of mountain goats grazing in front of us, taking in the sights and the fantastic panorama. This place is really amazing - a huge flat field, right at the base of Mt Sudarshan, which dramatically rises above it. The view from there consists of the glacier stretching across on both sides, Bhagirathi peaks and Nandanvan across from it, Khada-patthar (Kedar dome) in the distance and some parts of Neru visible, not forgetting the majestic view of Sudarshan. There were a few tents set up right at the base of the mountain in the snowed up field.
Gaumukh - the icy caves which issues forth the Ganges.
I was taking pics, and just the worst time for my camera batteries to die on me, at the most awesome place to be in the entire trip. What a load of ****ing luck! I managed to squeeze in a few pics anyway.

In a little more than an hour we set off again, to get back whence we came from (in a manner of speaking). On our way down the steep slope from Tapovan to the glacier, we saw several groups making their way up with their porters to set up camp. Surely not my kind of place/weather to camp in ... brrrrr! After 3-4 breaks we descended to Gaumukh, some distance from the actual cave since there's always a danger of falling rocks or cracking ice there. I took another holy wash in the Ganges and filled up on the purest "ganga-jal" (Ganges-water) there is. I ate the rest of the paratha there, and fed some of it the to some of the stark black Himalayan Mynah birds.
Black Mynah near Gaumukh.


After starting back again, we took another long break (no thanks to the guide). I just chilled out, spacing out, gazing into the river and examined the "damage" to my feet, while the guide happily yakked away with some guy this he knew. After this we walked non-stop, to cover the 4 km back to the lodge at Bhojwasa by 16:00. No sooner had I reached and begun to relax, than a Bengali family arrived at the lodge and noisily arguing/negotiating about accommodation there. Those buggers wanted a "suite" to stay in - a tent/dorm that was the only thing available at this bleak place. All sorts of arguing and noise broke out in the family - although amusing at first, it got to be pretty boring and even disgusting shortly. So I decided to get away from there. I chatted up one of the police guys posted there, and he led me to the shack of this research group there.
View of Mt. Sudarshan at Tapovan.
We sat there for a long while, discussing things with the PhD student whose team was conducting research on the Gangotri glacier - discussing all things Indian and foreign and life and geology and what not. Interesting conversation over some nice hot evening chai. I returned to the dorm when it got dark, only to find a bigger yet group of more Bengalis in my dorm. Why do all these Bengali tourists have to be so annoying and noisy?!

After a decent dinner, I really needed to stay away from the dorm, so I walked around in the dark and sat in the relative quiet near the river. Somehow managed to catch some sleep later - amidst the group's yakking till 10 in the night, one loud snorer, and alarms at 5 the next morning. Sigh - what a unbefitting evening to an awesome quiet day of trekking and chilling out.

-- Ashish Bhambhani
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Starting toward Gaumukh, Tapovan.
Starting toward Gaumukh, Tapovan.
The edge of the Gangotri glacier n…
The edge of the Gangotri glacier …
Mountain goats at Tapovan.
Mountain goats at Tapovan.
Me in front of Mt. Sudarshan.
Me in front of Mt. Sudarshan.
In front of the view of Bhagiratha…
In front of the view of Bhagirath…
Gaumukh - the icy caves which issu…
Gaumukh - the icy caves which iss…
Black Mynah near Gaumukh.
Black Mynah near Gaumukh.
View of Mt. Sudarshan at Tapovan.
View of Mt. Sudarshan at Tapovan.
Middle of the high altitude field …
Middle of the high altitude field…
The high altitude field - Tapovan.
The high altitude field - Tapovan.
Bhojwasa
photo by: ashishrb