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Tapovan…Come to Believe

Shivling peak, one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, is also the spiritual phallic symbol of lord Shiva which stands majestically in the meadow of Tapovan (wilderness of penance). According to the Hindu mythology, king Bhagirath did penance here for centuries to bring down Ganga from heaven to wash away the ashes of his dead ancestors. Bhagirath’s hard penance compelled the vigorous Ganga to come down to earth whose tempestuous flow was cushioned by Lord Shiva with his locks. Tapovan is situated exactly above the Gangotri glacier which is the origin of the Bhagirathi river or the holy Ganga. Gaumukh, Tapovan and Nandanvan are the bonus treks for the visitors coming to the Gangotri temple which is one of the major pilgrimage shrines of the Hindus. Gangotri temple (3046 meters) is well connected with metal road and is often thronged with pilgrims and adventurers alike.

The granite temple of Gangotri was built by the Gurkha commander Amar singh Thapa in the early 18th century. It was later rebuilt by the Maharaja of Jaipur after it was damaged in an earthquake. There is a crowded market in the entrance of the temple with a number of eating joints and lodges. However, for peace seekers, there is a Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) guest house which can be reached after crossing the beautiful Gaurikund waterfall through a bridge on the Bhagirathi river. There are also numerous trekking agents around who provide trekking and camping equipment on hire. The path from Gangotri to Gaumukh is well defined with a number of tea stalls en route. Chirbasa, meaning land of pine trees, is 13km from Gangotri where a GMVN guest house stands in a quiet corner.

Further 14km from Chirbasa is Bhojbasa (3800 meters), meaning the land of Bhoj Patra (Paper Birch tree), where a GMVN guest house is located slightly off the route. However, the road side tented shelters provide delicious food and night shelter for very less money. There is also an ashram at Bhojbasa where mostly pilgrims stay for the night. The Next day’s 5km trek to Gaumukh is a gradual ascent with a fantastic view of the Bhagirathi trio peaks and a glimpse of the cap of the Shivling peak. Gaumukh (3669 mtrs), meaning cow’s mouth, is the snout of the gigantic Gangotri glacier and is the opening of the sacred Bhagirathi river which becomes Ganga after the confluence with the Alaknanda river at Deoprayag. There is no night shelter at Gaumukh but there are surprises beyond that point. Gangotri glacier is about 2km wide and is situated in an amphitheater of 6500-7000 meters high peaks which include Mana Parbat (6758 meters), Satopanth (7084 meters), Vasuki (6792 meters), Kedardome and the prominent trio of the Bhagirathi 1,2 and 3. Shivling (6543 meters), an exceptionally spectacular peak in the entire Himalayas, stands alone in the vast Tapovan meadow. The trek to Tapovan starts from the left side of the Gaumukh snout and goes through the Gangotri glacier towards the brief but steep climb to the ridge of the Tapovan meadow.

There is no defined path to cross the Gangotri glacier as it is always moving. A trained guide is recommended. After crossing the glacier, it takes a steep climb of approx. 30 minutes to reach the awe inspiring grassland of Tapovan. The presence of the giant Shivling peak right in front of the eyes is mesmerizing. Tapovan is a vast meadow with a tiny stream dissecting the grassland. It is an ideal place for camping. However, there are two tiny huts also which belong to the sadhu babas who can provide food and night shelter. Next day, don’t forget to watch the first ray of sun on the Shivling peak, the phenomenon itself becomes meditating and the name of the place ‘Tapovan’ is justified. The view of the Gangotri glacier from Tapovan is another spectacle. The moving glacier is one of the biggest and slowest phenomena of nature.

Explore the meadow and return the same way or via the Nandanvan meadow (4400 meters) crossing the glacier. Nandanvan is the base of the Bhagirathi trio peaks and Gaumukh can be reached after crossing the Raktvarn glacier (called so because of the blood red color boulders in its moraine).The trip from Gaumukh to Tapovan and Nandanvan can be very adventurous. The varied hues of the Shivling and Bhagirathi peaks and the warm hospitality of the Sadhu baba make it an unforgettable experience in a place which can turn any atheist into a believer.