Ganga has been called as the tirath of kaliyug. This tirath (Gangotri) is fast receding. It is said that once Ganga retreats completely, kaliyug will end a few years after that. In this series of articles, we will attempt to trace the epic journey of Ganga, from Gomukh to Gangasagar. Har Har Gange!
In the previous issue, we visited the source of Ganga, as it descends on the earth. The magnificent river flows down as Bhagirathi to the town of Gangotri, lets take a look.
The Town of Gangotri
Considered one of the Char Dhams (the others being Yamunotri, Badrinath, and Kedarnath), Gangotri is a town in Uttarkashi district in the state of Uttarakhand, India. It is situated on the banks of the river Bhagirathi, the trek for Gaumukh glacier starts here. It is on the Greater Himalayan Range, at a height of 3,100 metres (10,200 ft). It is approximately 300 km from Dehradun, 250 km from Rishikesh and 105 km from Uttarkashi.
The Roaring Bhagirathi
Called as Bhagirathi in the area, Ganga is violent and voluptuous in the temple town of Gangotri, the fast moving water making loud roaring noises. One can see people taking a bath on the river banks before visiting the temple. No one, however, is allowed to step in the river because of its turbulent nature.
In and around Gangotri
The magic of Ganga engulfs even before one takes the trek to Gaumukh, with plenty of places to visit enroute, in and around the town of Gangotri including the Gangotri Temple, Bhagirath Shila, Surya Kund, Gauri Kund, Submerged Shivling, Kedar Ganga Samgam, Pandav Gufa, Bhairon Ghati, Bhairon Temple, Kedar Tal and Gangnani.
The original Gangotri Temple was built by the Gurkha General Amar Singh Thapa in the 18th century near the sacred stone where Bhagirath worshipped Lord Shiv. According to another legend, Pandavas performed a yagya here to atone the deaths of kinsmen in the battle of Mahabharata. The temple is an exquisite 20 ft. high structure made of white granite.
We discussed in the last article how King Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiv to bring Ganga on to earth. Bhagirath Shila is the sacred stone where he is believed to have performed the penance at the time.
Kedar Ganga Sangam
River Kedar Ganga flows around 100m from the Ganga temple. Starting from the Kedar Valley, this river meets the Bhagirathi River on its left bank.
Surya Kund and Gauri Kund
About half a kilometre from Gangotri temple lie the Surya Kund and Gauri Kund. These are waterfalls created by Bhagirathi River on either side of an iron bridge. The sound of the water pounding the rocks leaves an everlasting memory.
Submerged in the Ganga water, Jalmagna Shivling reinforces the presence of Divinity in the area. According to legend, Lord Shiv held Ganga in His locks at this spot. The submerged shivling is a natural rock which is visible in the early winters when the water level goes down. The spot assumes greater significance as it is the place where Ganga touched earth for the very first time.
A 1.5km trail from Gangotri, Pandava Gufa are the caves where the mighty Pandavas are believed to have meditated and rested on their way to Kailash. It is a dark cave with mosaics of religious art. It is located on the cliffs above the raging Ganga in a forested area.
Bhairon Ghati & Bhairon Temple
Bhairon Ghati lies near the convergence of Bhagirathi and Jat Ganga at a distance of about 10 km from Gangotri. Bhairon Nath Temple, sheltered in thick forests, can be reached through the road going from Lanka to Bhairon Ghati.
An 18km arduous trek from Gangotri, the Kedar Tal is a sparkling clear lake with the Thalaysagar (sphatik ling) peak as its backdrop. The lake is approximately 15,000 feet above sea-level and is the base camp for scaling to Thalaysagar, Jogin, Bhrigupanth and other peaks.
Located at a distance of 55kms from Gangotri, Gangnani is noted for its thermal springs, picturesque views and untouched natural beauty.
The Story of Harsil
Harsil is a small town, 72km from Uttarkashi and 26 km from Gangotri on the main highway to Gangotri.
Legend has it that long long ago there ensued an argument between River Jalandhari and River Bhagirathi at this place regarding who is superior. With tempers of the two rivers rising, it could have spelled doom for inhabitants. Lord Vishnu (Hari) was then requested to intervene. To absorb the anger of the two, Lord Vishnu turned himself into a massive Shila (stone). The town gets its name from this Har-Sil or Hari Shila.
Even today, after crossing Harsil or Hari-Shila, the waters of these two rivers become less rapid.
A word of caution, these places are not for tourism and must not be frivolously approached for “fun”. The energies in these places are conducive for sadhaks and those treading the path of their Guru to further their own spiritual journey on the path. If they are used for social outings then you will disturb the energies there and bring misfortune to yourself. The various calamities that happen at such places are ample proof of this. These places are for vairagya and moksh, not for fun and games.
If you want to complete a sadhna without disturbances for your spiritual evolution, then these places are ideal for you.