Enchanting Mother Ganga... Our First Dham - Gangotri

Day 2 – Uttarkashi-Gangnani-GANGOTRI-Bhaironghati-Harsil-Bhatwari-Uttarkashi

Part II (Gangotri)

Moving ahead from Gangnani, we passed through small villages like Jhala, Harsil (more on that later), Dharali and Lankachatti with hills, deep gorges, snow capped Himalayan peaks and the River Bhagirathi Ganges flowing alongside giving us constant company all along. We were gaining height with every passing minute but it wasn’t just the altitude that was rising. There was one more thing… my excitement and anxiousness to meet the Ganges in its purest form – at its source!

10 am – Situated at a staggering altitude of 3142 meters or over 10000 feet above sea level, folded in the wraps of the splendid hills of Garhwal… we were finally here – Our first Dham – Gangotri – the source of the River Ganga.

Parking lot at Gangotri - Char Dham
The parking area in Gangotri

The weather was pleasant, a cool breeze blowing across with the sun providing us with the much needed warmth. For such a prominent pilgrimage destination like Gangotri, the place almost wore a deserted look, a far cry from what one can expect in the season period when one has to park one’s vehicle as far as up to 4 kms due to the heavy pilgrim rush and cover the rest of the distance on foot.

Narrow Lane leading up to the Gangotri temple Char Dham
The narrow empty lane leading up to the Gangotri Temple

An almost empty lane led us to the main Temple complex. There were no pandas (priests) in sight to catch hold of you, half the shops were closed and though Gangajal bottles lay in abundance, there was no one to buy them!

Gangajal bottles in the Lane leading up to the Gangotri temple Char Dham
Shops selling Gangajal bottles and other religious paraphernalia

As we reached the embankment, the Ganga glistened in the sun. Complete silence filled the space. The only noise was from the gurgling river water, the whistling breeze, the occasional clanging of temple bells and the chirping of birds.

The holiest river of India - The Ganges glistening in the sun at Gangotri - Char Dham
The holiest river of India - The Ganges at Gangotri, Char Dham
Gangotri - Char Dham
The mighty river Ganga, worshipped as a living Goddess
in various forms at Gangotri

In spite of the hint of sunshine, it was quite cold down there. My woolen socks were no resistance to the ice cold rocks, and the same applied to my hand gloves. My hands were numb and the sole of my feet hurt. But I was too happy and excited to mind any of it.

River Bhagarathi in the backdrop of the beautiful snow clad Himalayan peaks, Gangotri - Char Dham
Distant snow clad peaks were clearly visible from the river bank.
Oh! it was heaven, it must be!!

Due to the extreme cold, I couldn’t brave myself to bathe in Her waters but we did sprinkle a few drops of the holy water onto ourselves and even drank a few drops of it. I sat down there on one of the boulders… even the mere sight of this bliss giving Goddess was something… She was flowing graciously from the high glacial peaks hauling with her an entire civilization, the ancient legends and myths, a complete legacy that has long held on…

River Bhagirathi in  Gangotri - Char Dham
People at the main bathing ghat in Gangotri
How can I explain the magic of Her unwavering presence, the power of Her benediction, that ecstasy, that sheer thrill of being in the presence of Gods… It was surely stirring me in some inexpressible way…

River Ganges known here as the Bhagirathi flows down calmly
The Trident - a form of Shakti aptly placed on the banks of the river Ganga
at Gangotri - one of the Shakti sites of the Char Dhams

We filled some Gangajal bottles for ourselves and our relatives back home and proceeded towards the main temple.

While ascending up towards the temple, one comes across the sanctified Bhagirath Shila, a stone slab where King Bhagirath had meditated to bring the river Ganges on earth…

Bhagirath Shila in Gangotri
The Bhagirath Shila near the banks of the Bhagirathi River

The history of the holy River Ganga - How the Ganges came on Earth

According to the traditional history, a Suryavanshi King Sagar, after killing the demons on earth, decided to perform the Ashwamedh Yagna (horse sacrifice) as assertion of his supremacy. The horse was to be taken on an uninterrupted journey around the earth accompanied by his 60,000 sons. Indra (the ruler of heaven), fearing their success and his throne, stole the horse and tied it in Kapil Muni’s ashram while the sage was deep in meditation. The sons came across the ashram in pursuit and on finding their missing horse there, rudely demanded the saint for the same.

When Kapil Muni opened his eyes, all 60,000 of them were turned into ashes. Sagar asked for forgiveness, but the curse could not be reversed. However, Kapil Muni suggested that if the holy Ganga, the river of heaven, were to come down to the earth, the touch of Her waters would ensure the liberation of the princes.

Many descendants of Sagar failed in their efforts to bring the holy Ganga to earth, until Bhagirath was born. He continued his severe penance until Ganga agreed to come down to the earth from the heavens. But Her surge was so fierce that her fall was sure to cause disorder and disaster. Thus, Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiva to contain Ganga in His matted locks, who in turn agreed thereby releasing only a few drops of Her celestial waters. That is the reason why, the Ganges is called River Bhagirathi here and it becomes Ganga only at Devprayag after meeting the Alaknanda.

The river thus flowed on earth, delivering the sons of Sagar from their curse, cleansing all that was impure in Her path and how it continues to do so even today!

Walking up a few steps from the Bhagirath Shila, on the left bank of the thundering Bhagirathi Ganga, stands the Gangotri Temple raised on a plinth, about 20 ft high, and done up in white stone. The shrine is topped with a gilded roof and crowned with a golden spire.

Magnificient Gangotri Temple made with white granite
The magnificent Gangotri Temple

The temple at Gangotri, believed to have been consecrated by Adi Shankaracharya, is built by the the Gorkha captain Amar Singh Thapa in the 18th century. However, the temple was renovated in 1935 by the Maharaja of Jaipur, Madhosingh, which is why its architecture resembles the Rajasthani style.

Majestic Gangotri Temple - Char Dham
The Gangotri Temple in the lap of the Himalayas

Photography is prohibited inside the temple as is the case with all the famous temples in India. But one thing that was different was that there was absolutely no pilgrim crowd, just the lone priest, me and my family (due to off-season of course). With no pushing and shoving, no peeking above shoulders and no one pesking you to move-on, we were almost feeling like a VIP getting some kind of a special darshan!

The priest pointed out the various deities in the sanctum – in the centre was the main deity Goddess Ganga draped in a beautiful white embellished sari surrounded by others like Lord Ganesha, Mother Yamuna, Lord Shiva, Mother Saraswati, Bhaghirath and Goddess Durga - before handing us the prasad of makhanas.

Idols of Lord Shiva, Goddess Ganga and King Bhagirath
in the Temple premises

Gangotri – A dream of all Hindus?

I now understand why Gangotri is a dream of all Hindus, the ideal pilgrimage destination. The place complete with its aura of spiritual tranquility is magical… Really! Here time stands still… Very still!! It throws you off in a trance... even if you do not have the luxury of faith, the town still doesn’t disappoint and leaves you mesmerized!

12 pm – How I wished time could just stop that day… the place was heavenly, perhaps even better and I could have spent hours there… doing absolutely nothing! But a fair bit of distance was still to be covered… It was time to move…

Related information

Rituals at the banks of the river Ganga

Various rites and rituals like shraadh and pind daan are performed on the banks of the River Ganga and are believed to deliver the pilgrims forefathers from various cycles of rebirth. The water (Ganga Jal) from Gangotri is also collected to be offered at the 12 Jyotirlingams, Kedarnath and Rameswaram.

Season - When to visit Gangotri

The temple opens on the auspicious day of Akshay Tritiya (May) and closes down on Yama Dwitiya or Bhai Duj (November) and remains closed down for the rest of the six months every year. During that time, the idol is taken to the nearby Mukhba village near Harsil (25 kms from Gangotri). Considered the winter home of the Goddess, the devotees are required to pay their obeisance at the village for the 6 month period.

Temple Timings –

4 am - Utthapan (Awakening) and Shringar (Adornment)
6 am - Mangala Arti (Morning Prayer)
9 am – Rajbhog (The morning feast)
2 pm – Shayan (Sleep)
3 pm – Utthapan (Awakening)
6.30 pm - Shringar (Adornment)
7.45 pm - Sandhya Aarti (Evening Prayer)
9 pm - Shayan (Sleep)

Note that the timings might be a little bit different in summers and winters.

How to reach
Gangotri - Important Distances

It is approximately 300 kms from Dehradun, 250 kms from Rishikesh, 100 kms from Uttarkashi and 60 kms from Gangnani. It is accessible directly by car and bus.

To view the travel route map for Gangotri - CLICK HERE.

Previous posts from this trip -

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  1. How very special and sacred this must have been for you. And even more so because no one else was there!! Why do you think that was, and also most of the shops closed. The off season? The temple is amazing, it looks so white, like it is made out of snow. What is it made from? Did you have to pay to go inside it? But you got your own special tour!

  2. @ Ginny
    Yes the shops were closed because of the off season and also because half the town had shifted to the winter home Mukhba, as the temple remains closed for about 6 months...
    The temple is made of white stone and there is never a fee to enter a temple, at least till now...
    It was a wonderful experience to be there!!

  3. Hi Arti! May be first time I get the chance to comment when there is no other. I was so thrilled while reading this and seeing the Pics. I don't understand how to thank you for this. This is so special for me. This is my dream too. :)

  4. Thanks Arti for visiting us and am very glad you posted this.
    Gangotri has some development since I last visited. There weren't shops like this and the temple was simple.
    Boulders, waters and the mountains are the same.
    Thanks for bringing me back again.

  5. Ur so lucky to go there....Very beautiful photography Arti can't take my eyes of it..It must have been such a divine experience for you , I had been here with my parents but was v small to remember may be was 5 then...would love to visit again with my family..Lovely post!

  6. excellent. I see you just travel a lot. that too to religious places.great going. greater is the superb narration with pics.
    keep it up.
    all the grace that you get from your visits, much more you get from visits of enthusiasts,to this site.

  7. As always I totally appreciate your posting this. Your writing is beautiful, almost poetical and as for the photos - beautiful, I especially like the last one.

  8. What a wonderful place! The air must be very pure there. Fabulous shots!

  9. Your posts are always so refreshing with wonderful descriptions and amazing photographs!

  10. I always enjoy and appreciate your wonderful posts and fantastic captures and the chance to learn more about the history of your country. Your writing is indeed beautiful, inspirational and poetical. Thank you for sharing the beauty with us, Arti!


  11. What a magical place Arti! The landscape and water seem so pure and well - they are - so out of the noisy world we live in most of the time. Also, the temple is beautiful. I can "hear" the silence!

  12. What a beautiful and Holy place and a beautiful post about it. Thank you for sharing. Somehow yesterday I thought that was the end of a trip (I guess I was still half asleep, it clearly says 'DAy one". I'm glad. It's better to read along as your beautiful trip progresses. Thanks!!

  13. So wonderfully written n informative . Nice to see the place like this with out any crowd . pics are magnificent

  14. Wonderful blog you have here, Arti. I shall definitely refer your blog when I plan my next North India trip.

  15. A small correction if I may:
    It wasn't lord Indra who tied the horse but a Rakshasa (demon) who did so and Sage Kapila (an incarnation of Vishnu) was not in meditation but in a deep slumber beneath the seas. So says Brahma Purana while describing the greatness of King Sagara.
    I really appreciate a detailed post on this sacred place. Wonderful job!

  16. Very beautiful photos and.. i appreciate ur writing.. :)

    Thanx for sharing arti :)

  17. just loved the pics nd narration...m sure i will take guide from ur blog whenever il be visiting any holy place....hey have u ever visited khatusham? lord krishna's temple in khatu village in Rajasthan?

  18. Wonderful arti.. as usual with useful info.
    The pictures are bright and colorful.. I hope, I visit Himalayas someday!

  19. Arti- Thanks a lot for sharing such beautiful pictures- looks intriguing n so peaceful !!

    US Masala

  20. This is a very heartfelt read. I enjoyed reading every word you included here. Thanks for this story.

    Your wonderful photos are a bonus.

  21. @ Chandramouli S
    Actually this is the story i have heard from people around me... and we believe the same things that we learn from our near and dear ones, the society which is close to us, isnt it...

    Honestly speaking, i have not read the Brahma Purana and hence went ahead with this version. Anyways, Many Thanks for taking your time out and pointing that out :)

  22. @ Swati Kaushik
    Thanks Swati. Yes i have visited the Khatu shyam temple in Rajasthan,

    Here is the link if you wish to read it--

    Khatu shyam temple

  23. I regret I missed Gangotri during our Himalayan trip.Your writings are beautiful...I would say, Mittas Hai. I got totally absorbed in it.

  24. What an incredible adventure you are living.....!!!!!!

    I love this magnificient river......it looks magic.....!!

    Fantastic how you explain your route in all the details........I feel to be there right now!!!!!

    Take care .....ciao ciao elvira

  25. सुंदर नदी और पत्थर, साफ गंध.
    मेरे ब्लॉग में आने के लिए धन्यवाद

  26. That was a wonderful round up of the Gangotri. I could feel almost being there sharing your spiritual experience. Gangaji has that effect on you and when she is so pure in the literal sense it must have surely been heavenly. The pics so wonderfully complement the write-up.

  27. Namaste! Thank you for sharing your pilgrimage - transports one to such beautiful, holy places of peace and calm! Glad I came across your blog on best blog posts site!

  28. Pics are great! I am not that Spiritual but sure will take a trip to these places some day :)

  29. Wonderful..really beautiful place, I hope to get to see one day!! Thank you for visiting my blog, you are welcome anytime & I look forward to seeing more here too :) Have a great Sunday!! xx

  30. Wonderful shots. The scenic beauty of River Ganga flow with the mountains in the background are awesome. The location of the temple is beautiful.

  31. Best post so far and truly its a paradise.

    Hi Arti, I have been really busy these days but hopefully I will get some time for my dear blogger friends like you.

  32. Good info, got to visit this ganges valley town. The entire circuit needs to be covered according to, i believe best time to visit may be before winter.

  33. You were lucky to get the VIP like treatment with no push and pulls! Its always nice to be in temple without rush and feel the divinity!

  34. very nice Photos. I will come back, if I have more time! Thanks for you dear comment. (I love also Jab we met!) LG Tina

  35. You are doing a great service to humanity, God Bless...

  36. i visit gangotri place... nice pics

  37. Arti - It sounds like a dream come true. This post was quite the history lesson for me too.
    How wonderful to be there without the crowds. When I think of the Ganges I certainly never think of a sparkling mountain river - though it makes perfect sense. A lovely post.

  38. Hi Arti,
    Very informative, inspiring post!
    I am planning to Visit Chopta/Tunganath in May 2013. I was planning to visit Gangotri too, but your one point brought me up short, that 'in the season period when one has to park one’s vehicle as far as up to 4 kms' :(
    Season starts on 13 May 2013..so will there be surging crowds in mid-May?
    When exactly did you visit Gangotri?

    I may travel alone, and hiring taxi seems a waste. Can I rely on buses / jeeps? Sadly Uttarakhand Transport Corpn does not have online booking.


    1. Hi Anand,

      Thank you for your kind words on the post.

      I had visited the place in October just before the Temple closes down for winter. It was empty then but I've heard of the crowds that throng the Char Dham when it just opens. And because of that, during that time one has to park vehicles far away. Regarding online booking of buses, I am afraid I have no idea about them as we had hired a car from Haridwar.

      Hope you have a good trip. Shubh Yatra. :-)

  39. Like all hindus have always been captivated by the chota char dham. Your wonderful writing sent a thrill through my body and I was just transported into the mountains. But as I write this Lord Shiva has unleashed his wrath and an unprecendent disaster has taken place in the area.Gangotri has been spared so far but today they have given a call to evacuate Gangotri as they are expecting heavy rainful on the 25th.

  40. Excellent narration and pictorial explanation with divine feel. Exactly two years .... and see the furiousness of mother Ganges. As somebody above said now we can "hear" the "silence".

  41. Hey , I never knew this you can reach Gangotri directly by your vehicle. I thought some trekking is required. I am also planning this trip for 4 dhams but always taken aback thinking it requires a long time. But on Day2, you are at Gangotri. Great...

  42. This is a great blog Arti. Glad I found this by chance. Will read through all posts slowly now and plan for my pilgrimage trips to these places.
    Many thanks..

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