Josh takes a dip in the glacial source of The Ganges
The mountain village of Gangotri was empty when we arrived. There was a small handwritten note taped to the wall of the Indian Forestry Office, which read “No Permits.” The next bus or taxi scheduled to either arrive or depart wasn’t until the following spring. Uttarkashi, the nearest town, was 100 kilometers away, across the heart of the Himalayas. Our Lonely Planet guidebook, which had claimed the trail to the Gamukh Glacier was open until the end of November, had proved to be decidedly and quite noticeably wrong.
“We might not make it to the source after all, guys” JJ aptly observed.
After a series of negotiations and bribes involving various forestry officers, a thoroughly inept mountain guide, and a shady-looking hotel owner who kindly was willing to give us a Jeep ride back to Uttarkashi for only 10-times the normal cost—we had our permits.
“We’ll make it by hook or by crook,” Vishal kept saying. We needed to both hook and crook.
Our “guide,” for lack of a better term, carried nothing and talked on his cell-phone for most of the trek, until he lost service; then he wandered off by himself. His “job,” as it were, was to make sure we came down the next day. Not that the hike was particularly arduous, but rather because the forestry officer wanted to leave the next day, and the previous American couple who had done the trek had taken over a week to complete the 36 kilometer out-and-back hike. For this service, we paid him $1,200 rupees a day.
JJ suffers from acute altitude sickness
All of the team got altitude sickness. It tends to happen when one travels from sea-level to 13,000 ft. in 48 hours, but we were on a tight schedule, and dealt with the discomfort as best we could. Josh and I woke up with splitting headaches at the ashram 4km below the glacier. JJ had a migraine and felt “like shit,” as he told us; and Vishal—well, Vishal only made it to the ashram after taking a long nap, and stopping to rest every 100 meters. He made the call not to continue up to the toe of the glacier with us the next day.
It was a clear, cold morning when Josh, JJ, and myself finally made it to the source of the Ganges River. The air temperature wasn’t more than 35 degrees F. and the only reason the river itself was not completely frozen was because it was moving rapidly downhill. We all still had headaches, and I could hear JJ occasionally moaning to himself “Oh, God…” That’s when we stripped down to our boxers and jumped in.
We made a friend on the trail; a British-Egyptian named Kareem. He had also negotiated his way into a last-minute permit, and decided to jump in with us too. Check out the video below.
It’s all downhill from here, right?