Just looking at pictures of the Gharwal Himalaya would make just about anyone want to go there. It has some of the highest granite walls on the planet and is home to the source of the famous Ganges River, Gaumukh. A pilgrimage to over 4000m where Sadhus wear no shoes in below freezing temperatures for religious reasons.

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To get to the start of the hike is actually one of the hardest parts. From Rishikesh its quite the journey and will take around 10 hours. First you will need to take a shared jeep or local bus from Rishikesh to Uttatkashi. Let me start by saying that the jeep is a million times better than the local bus. They stop when you want and it is a much more pleasant journey. We actually took the bus there and then the jeep back so 100% go with the jeep.
At the bus station in Rishikesh there is a section just for the jeeps. You have to get there early, like 4 or 5am as it is a long trip and most people want to go early. Once you are at the bus station find the jeep going to Uttarkashi and then bargain for the price. From memory the jeep was around 500 rupees one way. As we took the bus it is the same except we got on a bus and not the jeep. The bus took us all the way to Uttarkashi with just one stop for some food. Once we were in Uttarkashi my wife wasnt feeling so well so we actually stayed there for a night so that she could get better.
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The following morning we asked the locals and they said that it is best to take a jeep from town to Gangotri. We went to where the jeeps were and made sure that we got there early, around 5am. When you take the jeep its first come first served so the later you are then higher the chance is that you will be stuck in the back with 6 other people for the ride. Its much better to get there early and claim your seat. Let me tell you it is much better sitting in the front seat than being crammed in the back with your shoulders pinned for 5 hours not being able to move.
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Once the jeep was full we were off. This part of the trip is amazing. The scenery opens up as you get higher and higher. Around 10kms outside fo Gangotri you cross this insanely deep gorge with sheer cliffs that plunge down to the river below.
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Town of Gangotri on a beautiful sunny day. The hike to the source of the Ganges starts on the left of the river just               after the temple.
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After 3 hours we finally made it into town. The first thing that I noticed about Gangotri was that it was very basic. The walkways are very small and no cars can enter as this is the end of the road. My wife and I didn’t book any accommodation and found it as soon as we arrived. Some people will approach you once you get out of the jeep but it isn’t too bad. One guy had a place just across the bridge and we decided to stay at his small guesthouse. I can’t remember the name but all the places are around the same price and same quality so it doesn’t matter too much.
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One thing to be mindful of that it is very cold up here and there is only electricity for 2 or 3 hours at night. There is no mains power so all the places run off a generator. So as you walk the walkways at night you’ll see all the people sitting outside with wood burning in small cans or tins. It is a very cool place and one that I will one day go back to. You just feel something special about being there.
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The guesthouses offer basic rooms with very big, heavy blankets that will keep you warm at night. There is no heating in the rooms and the night we stayed it was below freezing in our room so a big blanket is definitely important. It’s not often you’ll sleep in a room below freezing so be prepared for that one.
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Taking a break on the trail up to Gaumukh
The next morning we packed up our things and were off up the hill. If you have some stuff you don’t want to bring you can leave these with the owner of the guesthouse. I trusted the guy but I locked my bag and also took everything valuable with me, you just never know what can happen.
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If you love to book ahead then maybe this trip isn’t for you as its best to just do it on a whim. Most of the guesthouses aren’t online but if search on google maps you can find the phone numbers and call ahead to see how busy it is. When my wife and I went it was in October and the end of the season so it wasn’t busy at all.
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The autumn colours are incredible

The trail to Gaumukh passes through the big temple on the left hand side of the river and just continues on. You’ll come to an army checkpoint where the military check people and where you pay for your entry permit. The cost is 600 IDR per person if you are not from India and 150 if you are. This permit is good for 3 days which is plenty of time.
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If you want to go only to Gaumukh then its best to go without a company and a guide but if you want to go to Tapovan, which is past Gaumukh then its better to hire a guide. Here you will have to cross the glacier to get there and while crampons aren’t needed, its best to be roped up and have someone who knows how to rescue you if you fall in a crevasse.
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Once you’re through the checkpoint it’s a long 14km walk to the camping at Bhojwasa. The path is never steep and just goes up gently all the way. Here you’ll see plenty of religious people walking up in the freezing cold wearing no shoes at all. The trail is very beautiful and the views the whole way are spectacular. You can fill water bottles from the side streams coming down but you must treat the water with some purification tablets. Also try to filter the water through a cloth or your t-shirt to get the dirt out. I filled one bottle and I could see 3 little worms in there. I tipped the water out and then filtered a new lot before adding the purification tablet. This seemed to work because afterwards there was no evidence of any worms or dirt.

The trail to Gaumukh is very big and easy to follow. The scenery is amazing aswell.
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Once you make it to Bhojwasa head straight for the GMVN Guest House. It can be hard to book this place in advance, if not impossible so head there early in the day to get a spot. You’ll need your passport and you’ll have to fill out the big book with all your information like every other guest house in India. My wife and I paid 300 rupees each for the tent accommodation. I thought this would be terrible and cold but to my surprise this was actually an amazing choice.
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My thermometer read -7 outside at night but inside the tent it was amazingly warm. With some other people sleeping inside all the body warmth heats up the tent and makes it very comfortable. The tent can sleep 8 people but in our tent there were just 4, including us so it was great. You can also sleep in the guesthouse but when we arrived this was full so we had to take the tent. I would highly recommend the tent as it was very comfortable and cozy. The GMVN also has some amazing food for a great price so be sure to load up on the amazing Indian food up there.
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The trek from Bhojwasa to Gaumukh is 4km and can take anywhere from 1-2 hours. The scenery is incredible and you’ll be stopping to take it all in on more than one occasion. This part of the trek is truly breathtaking and seeing Shivling to close is a sight to behold.
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Mount Shivling as seen just before the glacier.
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Once you make it to the mouth of the glacier you’ll see some Indian pilgrims spraying the water on themselves and dipping their feet in the water. They are literally right underneath the huge wall of the glacier and this is extremely dangerous. There are reports of people being crushed to death from falling ice and you can see the evidence of falling ice blocks as big as cars there for yourself. So take care when you are here and keep your distance.
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An Indian pilgrim stands right under the huge ice wall
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It is an incredible place and one where many pilgrims make the trip every year to see the source of the very famous Ganges river.
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You can see the evidence of where the huge chunks of ce have falled down. A very dangerous place to be if you get too close
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Once you’ve been up here and seen it there is just one thing left to do – walk back to Gangotri. If you want you can easily stay in Bhojwasa and explore the area or you can just hike back to Gangotri. My wife and I hiked the 18kms back to town and it was much easier than going up. The path is downhill the entire way and you can be back in Gangotri in 3 or 4 hours. Most of the jeeps and buses leave early in the morning as the trip back to Rishikesh is very long so more than likely you’ll have to spend one night here after the hike.
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We actually found a different hotel in Gangotri the 2nd time around, right near the main shops. The thing about here is that you can’t actually book a Jeep or the bus as it goes on a first come first served basis. You just have to ask what time the first jeeps leave and then go before to make sure you make it.
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We got up early the next day and made our way to the jeep/bus stand. The whole area is alive and well from dawn with shops selling breakfast for those travelling that day. We found a jeep and paid the driver 500 rupees each for the 10 hour trip back to Rishikesh. This was infinitely better than taking the bus because the driver would stop whenever you wanted and you can open the windows and get some fresh air.
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We got back to Rishikesh that evening and checked into a nice hotel with a hot shower and 24 hour electricity. It was a big travel, especially because we only went for 3 nights up in the Gangotri National Park and one in Uttarkashi. The roads are pretty wild and at one point a car had plunged hundred of metres down the side of the mountain. Local people had a winch and were trying to hoist it back up. An incredibly scary situation to be in. So if you need a break from the 10-12 hour bus or jeep ride it is advisable to atleast stay in Uttarkashi on the way up.
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All up the trip was pretty affordable. For 2 people it was around 2000 Rupees for transport, 2000 rupees for accommodation, 1200 for National Park entry and another 2000 for food and drink. Gangotri is an amazing place and if you have the time and energy to get there you wont be disappointed. If you really love hiking in the Indian Himalayas check out this hike of the Hampta Pass in Manali.
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Logistics for the trip

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Take the bus from Rishikesh Bus Station as early as possible i.e. 4am. Cost will be around 350 Rupees. You can use Redbus to pre book as this is a great site but doesn’t have everything on here so sometimes its better to just go to the station early.
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Stay overnight in Uttarkashi and then take the jeep the next day from the jeep stand.
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There seems to be a new procedure where you need to get a permit from the forest department but this can be done at this website
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The cost is 600 rupees and you can bring this to the checkpoint at the entry of the park. This negates the need to pay at the gate otherwise you can just go to the start of the trek and pay there.
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Gangotri has everything so there is no need to bring any food or snacks. Do bring warm clothes and gloves and be prepared for temperatures below 0.
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Pre book the GMVN guest house here.
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Have you been to Gangotri or are planning to go? Please leave a comment and let me know how you got on.