There are times while making the climb towards the source of the Ganges when you wonder whether the two-day trek to Gaumukh from Gangothri is really worth it. As you climb up the steep hills, your mind is more focused on the ascent than on the astounding mountain scenery. But the Ganges is no ordinary river and to view its source is to witness the birth of the earthly manifestation of a god. It is said that the goddess Ganga was sent down to earth after a heavenly feud, that her descent was broken by Lord Shiva's matted locks and that she finally reached earth as seven streams.
The forbiddingly beautiful Shivling Mountain hangs 6543 m (21470 ft) above the blue-green Gangotri Glacier, which marks the emergence of this great river. When looking at the Ganges here in its purest state it's hard to imagine how mighty and muddy this holiest of rivers will become downstream. To journey down it is not only to follow the path of a geographical feature, but also to look deep into the heart and soul of India. Millions come to her to wash their bodies and to wash away their sins. Rivers are central to Hindu culture and they play pivotal roles in life and death; this trip takes you through some of India's most significant holy places.
After journeying back to Gangotri you can travel by road to the hallowed cities of Rishikesh, Haridwar, Garh-Mukteswar and Prayag, before finally arriving at the most sacred city in India - Varanasi. Once there, the true significance of this great river becomes apparent, as worshippers line its steps and magnificent temples, forming a procession along the riverbanks. Few rivers, if any, are granted such high status and the sheer power of the Ganges to draw you and thousands of others towards it is awe-inspiring.
On foot and by car
TIME IT TAKES
Seven to ten days
WHEN TO GO
April to July
The sight of :he breathtakingly beautiful azure Gangotri Glacier.
The temple at Mukteshwar Mahadeva - a shrine to the goddess Ganga.
Dashashwamedh Ghat adjacent to the Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi.
The Golden Temple - a focal point in Varanasi.
The shopping area of Vishwanath Lane in Varanasi.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
To Hindus this journey is a pilgrimage of huge religious significance, Be mindful of the fact that there are restrictions on footwear, photography and even the presence of women in certain buildings. If you are not of the Hindu faith then it is always advisable to ask whether you can enter temples and shrines.