Trekking Guide for Source of the Ganges & Tapovan, India

An easy trek that takes you to Tapovan meadow and one of the most beautiful views in India. The Bhagirathi River is considered the source of the Ganges River. The trek follows the river to its beginning at the toe of Gaumukh Glacier. Many pilgrims believe that visiting Gaumukh Glacier is an important part of their pilgrimage to the Ganges’ holy sites. This trekking guide for Source of the Ganges & Tapovan describes the trail and campsites and includes pictures of some of the incredible views.

When to trek – The best time to trek is before or after monsoon season. Therefore, go in June or Sept to the end of October

What to bring – In addition to the usual hiking and camping equipment be sure to bring: warm clothing especially for night and a warm sleeping bag (temperatures can get to -15°C at night).

Do I need a guide – For almost all multi-day treks in Uttarakhand you do require a guide. For this trek you don’t need a guide to get to the toe of Gaumukh Glacier, but if you go up the Tapovan meadow you do require a guide. There are many guiding companies in Uttarkashi, but make sure your contract on their services and costs are clear and in writing. Our company (Mountain Source) tried to double our fee when we returned from the trek saying that they missed a few expenses in their quote. You can also hire trekking guides in Rishikesh, but the costs will include transportation for guide and equipment.

Getting to Uttarkashi – There are many local buses that leave every hour from the Rishikesh bus station. It’s a long 7 hours on a bumpy, mountain road. Uttarkashi is a very rough town. There are no decent, budget hotels and only 1 or 2 decent restaurants in town. Be prepared to pay more, or stay in rougher accommodation.

Getting to Gangotri – If you don’t hire a guide, there are many jeeps and share-jeeps at the jeep stand in Uttarkashi. The jeep stand is a few blocks west of the bus station and will cost 1500Rs. If you use a guiding company, they will arrange jeep rides both ways. The drive is 3 – 4 hours.

Getting back to Rishikesh – If not organized by your guiding company, there are usually plenty of jeeps waiting at the entrance to Gangotri. They’ll take you to Uttarkashi, then you can catch a local bus to Rishikesh from the bus station.

Do I need a permit – You do need a permit to trek to Tapovan Meadow. The fee in 2018 was 600Rs for foreigners.

Note:
• We did this trek at the end of October 2018. It was comfortable trekking weather during the day and very cold at night (-10 to -15°C).
• This is not the same Tapovan as on the Kuari Pass Trek.
• Trekking times listed below do not include breaks. Total trekking times each day are a range of published times. Intermediate times are our actual times and we were acclimatized and carried only day packs.
• There are no ATMs beyond Uttarkashi.
• There are other treks that can be continued passed Tapovan meadow The trekking season for these treks ends in early to mid-October due to snow.

For the full story and all of our pictures, click here.

Day 1 Gangotri (3050m) to Chirbasa Camp (3600m)

Trekking time 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hrs; Ascend 550m

The trek leaves from a marked stairway in the middle of Gangotri village. After 15 minutes you reach the park check-in where you have to show your permits. From there, it is an easy walk, gaining 550m in 2 ½ hours. There are great views of Gangotri 1 right from the start of the trek and then later you will get views of the beautiful Bhagirathi 1, 2, 3 at the end of the valley. In high season there are many dhabas (rugged tea shops) along the trail, but by late October most had closed. Just passed the dhabas is a small trail leading downhill to the first camp, Chirbasa. It’s in an open meadow with amazing views down the valley of Bhagirathi 1, 2, 3.

Day 2 Chirbasa (3600m) to Bhojbasa (3790m)

Trekking time 1hr 20min – 2hrs; Ascend 190m

A short day that continues along the same easy trail as day 1, with incredible views of Bhagirathi and North Meru. This campsite is typically busier and has 3 or 4 ashrams and a government hostel. Most of these need to be booked well in advance but if you’re going to Tapovan your guide will bring all of the camping equipment so ashrams are not necessary. Days 1 and 2 can be combined for a 14km day, but most trekking guides break it into 2 days especially since most trekkers are not acclimatized to the elevation.

Day 3 Bhojbasa (3790m) to Tapovan Meadow (4340m) and return

Trekking time 2 1/2 – 4hrs to Tapovan, 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hrs back to camp; Ascend 550m, Descend 550m

The trail continues for 45 min on the same good trail. The views of Meru and Bhagirathi improve as you get closer. Not long after you get your first views of Shivling and then soon after, you will reach a shrine of Shiva lingams. After the shrine, the trail crosses a boulder field for 20 minutes until you can see the toe of Gaumukh Glacier and the starting point of the Bhagirathi River. From here you can see the two mountains of Shivling and Bhagirathi high above. Pilgrims usually only reach the Shiva lingams or the toe of the glacier, but our main objective was to hike up to the meadow of Tapovan which is above the glacier. Our guide tried to make us cross the river over ice and snow covered rocks. He said the trail was on the other side up a steep, loose gully with a lot of rock fall. We didn’t believe him and think he was trying to get us to turn around. Instead we followed the well-marked, but rugged trail across the glacier which went over large boulders, glacier ice and small crevasses. The 3rd picture below shows the sketchy gully that our guide tried to scare us with. The trail is to the left of this gully on the scree slope. The final stage is to hike up to the top of the ridge. It was a steep 300m climb but it’s worth it for the breathtaking view. Tapovan meadow has an unbelievable 360° view of the most gorgeous granite spires towering above. There are a few sadhu-run dhabas on the meadow where you can stop for tea, or even stay for the night.

The trail back down from Tapovan is very steep, and it took almost as long to get down to the glacier as it did going up. Return to Bhojbasa on the same trail as going up.

Day 4 Bhojbasa (3790m) to Gangotri (3050)

Trekking time 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 hrs; Elevation loss 740m

We walked all the way back to Gangotri on the same trail that we hiked up. There were a few jeeps waiting in Gangotri, our guide organized one to drive us back. We drove to Uttarkashi on the same day, arriving around 4pm.

For more of our treks click here, or go directly to Goecha La (Sikkim), Kuari Pass (Uttarakhand),  Hampta Pass (Himachal Pradesh),  Great Lakes Trek (Kashmir), Markha Valley Trek (Ladakh), Hidden Valley Trek (Ladakh), Phuktal Trek (Zanskar), Everest 3 Passes Trek (Nepal), Manaslu Circuit (Nepal), Upper Mustang Trek (Nepal), Jumolhari Yaksa Trek (Bhutan), Kalaw to Inle Trek (Myanmar), Pinnacles Trek (Borneo), Carstenz Pyramid (Indonesia).

For pictures from Richard’s Everest summit click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFmsecd6yN0   

Coming up next: Trekking Guide for Kuari Pass, India

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Northern India. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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