Chardham Yatra - Gangotri via Uttar Kasi
Barkot to Uttar Kasi (Day 8 July 8, 2006) : 100 km 4 hrs drive
Early morning by 7.00 am, after breakfast of bread toast and cereals, we left Barkot on our way to Uttar Kasi, situated at the bank of River Bhagirathi. Temple of Lord Vishwanath is located here. The scenic drive with sharp hair-pin bends and magnificent views of the mountain peaks and ranges, deep gorges with the river Bhagirathi flowing way down below is a beautiful sight to watch. Due to the narrow roads and hair-pin bends and sharp curves, it is not possible to travel more than 25 kms in an hour. Driving along these roads requires patience and care. Most drivers are experienced and careful, though occasionally we hear of major accidents as well. In fact, about an hour after we passed one of the difficult areas en route, an Uttaranchal Road Transport bus with about 45 persons plunged 600 ft down into the Bhagirathi river, killing instantly some 13 or 14 persons with the rest suffering serious injuries. While these buses and many private cars, buses and vans carry thousands of pilgrims daily, the danger of the narrow roads, hair-pin bends carved out of mountain areas is always there. Drivers are very careful and many of them wait at locations where there is enough space for the in-coming car/bus/van to pass.
We visited the Lord Vishwanath temple, there is a big iron trident here. We were told by our escort and guide, Vivek, that anyone can apply ones finger and the trident will oscillate but if one used his/her full hand, it will not oscillate at all (We never tried the experiment!). We stayed here in Hotel Shiv Ganga, a good hotel on the banks of Bhagirathi River.
Uttar Kasi to Gangotri and back to Uttar Kasi (Day 9 July 9, 2006) : 100 kms each way 3 to 4 hours drive each way
The route from Uttar Kasi to Gangotri is very picturesque, more than what we had seen thus far. We get the most magnificent view of the Himalayas. Uttar Kasi is at an elevation of about 1100 meters (or about 3500 ft) whereas Gangotri is at an elevation of about 3048 meters, so we go up nearly 2000 meters in height as we traverse the 100 kms distance to Gangotri.
We left by 7.15 am to Gangotri and arrived by 11.00 am. From where the car was parked, we had to walk a good 1 to 2 kms to get to the mouth of Gangotri, where there is a temple for Goddess Ganga. There is also a small structure with King Bhagirathas statue placed therein. The mythology behind Bhagirathas efforts is: King Sagar (the great-grandfather of Bhagiratha) was doing an Ashwamedha yagna. As part of the yagna, King Sagar had to let out a horse to roam about freely. If no one stopped the horse freely moving about, it established King Sagars sovereignty over the region which is the pre-requisite for completion of the yagna, with a view of scuttle it, is of course, Lord Indra (anyone completing 100 Ashwamedha yagnas will become the new Leader of devas). Even though Indra could afford to wait to attempt to scuttle efforts of completion of Ashwamedha yagna performances, Indra generally doesnt take chances and will try to scuttle (not directly but indirect) any and all such yagnas conducted by anyone. He saw Sage Kapila doing penance and meditation and tied King Sagars horse close to the meditating Sage Kapila. King Sagar dispatched his 60,000 sons to find out who has tied up the horse. They naturally suspected Sage Kapila as the one who has tied the horse and challenged him who, on being disturbed from his meditation, opened his eyes. By the yogic powers of Sage Kapila, Sagars 60,000 sons were burnt to ashes. Neither King Sagar nor his descendants could help provide salvation to those burnt until Bhagiratha decided to do penance to propitiate Gods to bring Ganges from Heaven so that Ganga will wash away the sins of his ancestors and provide moksha to them all. Bhagirathas penance was so severe and serious that his efforts have become synonymous with extreme hard work. We routinely use the similie or phrase Bhagirath Prayatnam or Bhagirathas efforts to indicate the very hard work persons have to do to achieve something very difficult. After such penance, Gods were pleased and decided to send Ganges from Heaven to Earth. The question arose who will be able to bear the force of such descent of Ganga from Heaven to earth. Lord Siva agreed to receive Ganges on His hair locks. The mythology states that Siva also slightly went down from his sitting position when He received the Ganges. Our guide Vivek told us that when water level is low, one can see a submerged Shiv Linga in the vicinity. To be able to see the spot where Bhagiratha did the penance, to take waters from Gangotri and do Abhishek at the Siva temple (near the Gangotri temple for Goddess Ganga) and to bring Ganges water from Gangotri are the highlights of this visit.
For the first time in our journey thus far, we faced rains. The walk from the car to Gangotri (about 1.5 to 2 kms) with our rain coat, umbrella in hand, with waters of Ganga flowing very strongly all these ensured that we have to give up our plans for bath at the Gangotri site, instead we had prokshan of water from Gangotri and brought a bottle of Ganga water with us from the origin of Ganga river, the Gangotri area.
The original site of Gangotri is now moved up, by about 19 kms to a place called Gaumukh, over the many centuries since the original flow of Ganges from Heaven. One has to trek along the glacier from Gangotri to Gaumukh. This trek will require minimum of two days to really get to the origin of Ganga (and only those who have the stamina and health will be able to do it). None from our group or among the many devotees who visit Gangotri do the difficult trek to Gaumukh. Very few of the annual pilgrims attempt the trek to Gaumukh. However, many folks from villages all over Uttaranchal, UP, Haryana and Delhi do the walk from their homes to Gaumukh to bring water from the origin of Ganges and to do Abhishek to Lord Siva at Haridwar, Rishikesh and many other Siva temples during Sravan month. These pilgrims walk from their homes to Gaumukh and back yes, I meant from their homes (and we saw them, every day of our travel, walking!) and not only from Gangotri to Gaumukh. The distance for villagers from Roorkee, for example, to Gaumukh will be about 300 km or so (round-trip walk means about 600 km or more!). These villagers spend 6 to 8 weeks of their time, some doing this every year! We bow down before, and offer our respects and pranams to, the faith, and dedication, of these village folks!
We returned from Gangotri after spending couple of hours, left Gangotri by about 1:30 pm and reached back our hotel at Uttar Kasi by about 5 pm.