REDISCOVERING THE GANGA HIGH ALTITUDE TREKKING AND RAFTING EXPEDITION 2014-2015

EXPEDITION –       REDISCOVERING THE GANGA

HIGH ALTITUDE TREKKING AND RAFTING EXPEDITION

i) High Altitude Trekking: Gangotri-Gomukh-Tapovan

ii) Rafting: Devprayag-Haridwar

 

From:  8th October to 21st October 2014

Duration: 14 days

Participants: 4 nos. + 1 (Guide)

 

The moto of our expedition was :

i) To keep Ganga clean and spread the message of fraternity along the states over which the River Ganga flows.

ii) To inculcate the spirit of adventure and water sports among the youth.

iii) Monitoring water quality of different important places

iv) Photography of ghats, temples, monuments along the river bank with proper documentation

v) Study the bank erosion along the river side.

vi) Study of the people along the river bank.

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Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose in his book ‘ Bhagirathir Utsa Sandhane’  had posed two questions and  answered them himself  – “Oh,river , where are you coming from”,  “From Mahadev’s Jata”.

 

The river Ganga originates from Gomukh and traverses about 2550 kms upto Sagar Island estuary. From Gomukh (source) to Haridwar it is very turbulent, from Haridwar to Rajmahal  it’s ferocity is medium and from Rajmahal to the sea it is less fierce.

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To learn new  unknown facts and explore  the reasons for the high ferocity as well as get acquainted further  with the Ganga, with the sponsorship of the Minstry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Government of India and  under the ageis of Sea Explorers’ Institute, five of us, namely, Parimal Sannigrahi, Soumen Naskar, Debasis Naskar, Rupam Bhowmick and Tapas Chowdhury we set out on this expedition.  In the august presence of SEI’s Secretary General, Mrs. S. Chatterjee  we left for our expedition on 8th October 2014 from the institute.

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We reached Haridwar in the early hours of 10th October 2014 and it was evening when we reached Uttarkashi.  As soon as we started climbing up we observed how the roads were badly damaged and the unstinted efforts of the Uttarakhand Government to repair the same. We could see  how ferocious  this calm river could be  – width of the river had increased,  river bank was eroded, houses, hotels and bridges were raised to the ground, uprooted trees were lying helter skelter by the riverside.  Kolkata could not have even the slightest feel  of the actual havoc unleashed by this natural disaster.36

After spending the night at Uttarkashi, next day early morning we went to obtain the necessary persmission from Uttarakhand Government as this is mandatory for visiting Gomukh and Tapovan. Then we left for Gangotri and as we proceeded we realized that there were many surprises awaiting us further up. Here the damage inflicted by nature was more severe and widespread than what we witnessed on our way from Hrishikesh to Uttarkashi. The desire to shoot photos and admire mother  nature crossed our minds. 26In the late afternoon we reached Gangotri which is about 10498 feet above sea level. At this altitude the oxygen level had reduced. It was very cold and we could not even touch the water.

On 12th October 2014, we started for Bhujbasa, at an altitude of 12,440 ft. and we had to walk 14 kms through a difficult path by following  the track marks left behind by trekkers. Our guide and porter accompanied us. Around 9 a.m. in the morning, we reached Gangotri temple, where we performed puja and sought Gangotri Devi’s blessings and left for Bhujbasa.20 The weather was very pleasant and the sky was clear and blue. We started walking with steep  mountains on one side and a deep gorge on the other through which Ganga was flowing restlessly sometimes assuming a width of 20 ft. and sometimes only 5 ft. over both big boulders and small pebbles. On the mountain path, at some places we could hardly land on one foot, besides there was loose sand and if you were a little careless the consequences could be very dangerous. In fact if we fall from such height into the deep ravines, no trace would be found. We came across a lot of small waterfalls and at some places there was nothing called a path and we had to cross the waterfalls holding on precariously to the hanging branches of trees and a narrow makeshift tin and bamboo bridge which could collapse at any time or be carried away by the rising water.

After walking for about 9 kms we reached a placed called Chirbasa. The beauty of this place, full of various trees amongst them Chir being the most famous and leaves of different colours like green, yellow, grey, red and pink made us completely forget our tiredness and fatigue.  Here there is an ashram with tin shed for travellers to rest but we did not rest for long as the body would become numb and proceeded for Bhujbasa which was only about 5 kms from here but the arduous mountain climb felt like 25 kms in the plains.  After Chirbasa the path was more steep and the flow of Ganga assumed different dimensions. 61From here we could observe Bhagirathi Peak nos. One, Two and Three. The mountain peaks were covered with  snow and with the golden rays of the Sun falling on them it appeared that they are wearing crowns. Here the sun sets after 3 pm and dusk is early in the mountains due to which it is impossible to walk after sunset.  Finally around 5 pm we reached Chirbasa. The Rishis and Munis used to write their scripts on the leaves of Bhuj tree and at one point of time there were lot of Bhuj trees here and hence the name Bhujbasa. This place looks like a big round bowl  surrounded by mountains on all sides and from here you can have a clear view of Bhagirathi Peak nos. one, two and three as well as  the peak of Shivling.97

In Bhujbasa, the temperature touched  -50C and we were shivering in spite of all the winter accessories at our disposal and everyone was complaining of stomach pain, headache and nausea. We took shelter in a tent.  88Nobody had the desire to eat anything. On that night none of us could sleep and the noise of the flowing river, piercing the silence of the night was reverberating in our ears and it seemed an endless night. On 13th October’14, morning, we came out of the tent  to find that the water kept in the bucket  outside had frozen, the 93surrounding bushes were covered with snow and the sky was so blue which people in the plains cannot even imagine,  just like as we were astonished the previous night  with the sight of the night sky full of stars as if the Gods had blessed by showering  flowers at this birthplace of Ganga Devi.  In the morning Tapas Chowdhury’s call shook us out of our dreams as he said that we cannot waste any more time and we have to proceed.102

Then we ventured out for the dreamland called “Gomukh”, so named because of its resemblance with a cow’s face.  The name Gomukh holds lot of Puranic tales, history and innumerable secrets.  From Bhujbasa there is a steep path followed by mountain road which is more or less plain and Gomukh is 5 kms away.  Earlier there was a cave here but now that cave no 61 88 93 97 102 107longer exists and there is only a wall of ice.  It was so thrilling that we could not believe what we saw – it was a divine sight! All our tiredness just vanished. We walked carefully over the boulders as the river was passing by. There was ice in the upper catches and the glacier’s colour was light grey from below which the river was gradually flowing. This was Gangotri glacier atop which was situated the peaks of Bhagirathi 1, 2 and 3. There were mountains lined up on both sides of the river which flowed across various sizes and shapes of boulders. After recovering  from the initial awe, we took photos with the National Flag, our Institute’s flag and banner as well as collected water for laboratory tests.

Our trail did not end here. We had to proceed higher up as another holy place ‘Tapovan’, situated at an altitude of 14,638 ft.  in Garhwal Himalayas,  considered to be the  holiest Dham  was beckoning us.  It is said that Rishis and Munis found  this  place to be ideal for  their Tapasya as there was no external interference whatsoever. That’s why  the name ‘Tapovan’, situated at 11,500 ft. above sea level.  Geographically, it had features similar to Bhujbasa. It was a landmass down below surrounded by mountains and the mountain peaks could be clearly viewed in front,  amongst which  Shivling was outstanding.

We came across a dry river bed – this is known as Akash Ganga through which the river used to flow once upon a time. We left for Tapovan – it was a difficult  path, in fact there was no path as such, only big boulders. As boulders do not have any human footprints, there was always a fear of losing way but our guide  was very competent and we followed him. The entire path was at approx. 700 slant. At places we had to jump, crawl and sometimes sit and hop from boulder to boulder very carefully and thus covered about 5 kms. Our aim was to return to Bhujbasa on the same day and hence we walked fast and there was no scope for any rest. Ultimately that special moment dawned on us – we reached Tapovan. Truly speaking,  this was the perfect place for Tapasya, unaffected by the pollution of the plains. There were some tents available for people who desired to have night halt. There was a Mounibaba who coordinated everything but  did not speak and only communicated either in sign language or in writing. As time was short, we took some photographs and left for Bhujbasa where we reached at sunset. On the way back we took photos of Gomukh from as close as possible since entry was not allowed beyond 100 metres from Gomukh.

Next day, i.e. 14th October 2014 on coming out of the tent we found the sky to be cloudy and there was slight snowfall.  Rupam Bhowmick mentioned that we had to leave as early as possible and accordingly we packed our belongings and left. When we were near Chirbasa the snowfall had increased but the snow was melting on hitting the stones thereby making the path watery and slippery. After another 2 kms the snowfall had turned into rain. If this had occurred when we were climbing up there would have been no end to our misery as there was great risk of slipping on the path, not to speak of landslides. Anyway, we reached Gangotri around noon. One thing we noticed  in our journey was that there were many tourists mostly foreigners, majority being men and women from France and Germany apart from Switzerland, America, Sweden and Italy.  Among Indians, we could spot many people from West Bengal.

After collecting  samples from the water flowing in Gangotri for chemical tests,  we proceeded  towards Uttarkashi. We spent the night at Uttarkashi and next morning we left for Hrishikesh.

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The second part of our expedition was rafting. This was a rare and unique experience which cannot be described in words. Normally people do rafting from Shivpuri to Rambala in Hrisikesh, a distance of about 26 kms.  but we did rafting from Devprayag to Hrishikesh, a distance of about 84 kms  touching Shivpuri and Kodalia. In the course of the river Ganga, amongst the various prayags,  Devprayag is geographically the most important. After originating from Gomukh the river Bhagirathi meets the river Alaknanda here.

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The consternation of these two rivers is known as Ganga. After collecting water from Devprayag we climbed on to the rafts.  With the help and guidance of local guides as well as our own experience we set out on our kayak.

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We could almost touch the mountains which were not visible clearly earlier.  After negotiating many bends, with astonishment and thrill, we glided with the flow of the river, which initially was quite calm but gradually became fierce and the rapids were increasing. In the rapids, at times our raft was almost at 800 vertical angle and the gushing of water drenched us.

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The current was very strong and at times our rafts almost capsized thereby endangering our very lives. There were huge boulders all along as well as gigantic whirlpools and due to the fall of the river from heights there were graded holes and it was very difficult to negotiate major portions of the river.  After such breathtaking experience,  we successfully  reached Shivpuri by the end of the day.

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We spent the night in a camp by the river which was flowing about ten ft. away with high mountain peaks dotted with various trees in the background. We were also gripped by the fright of attacks by wild animals and the silent darkness all around was quite scary. This rare  experience will  remain etched in our memories forever.

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Next morning we again started out on our raft, took many rare photos and observed how the erosion of the banks had widened the river and changed its direction. We noticed many hotels, ashrams and temples on both sides of the river and people bathing on the ghats and the dirt and the filth of the town  floating on the river and thereby polluting it.    At Harkipouri the water was not even ankle deep and we learnt that from Dussehra to Diwali  every year with a view to clean the river, access is  closed beyond Bhimgora bridge.

One of the main objectives of this expedition was to create awareness amongst people to keep Ganga clean. We were glad to note that the local people and shopkeepers came running to prevent people from throwing any waste in the river and at present washing clothes, throwing flowers etc is totally banned here.

On our way back, we wondered as to what we gained from this long expedition. We witnessed the nascent form of Ganga, the small stream, then the violent force of Ganga, change of its course and the havoc wrecked by it in Uttarakhand which has been totally devastated.

It was also heartening to note the speed and confidence with which Uttarakhand has overcome this catastrophe and is on the way to recovering from this calamity. The mainstay business of this  State is  Tourism and the Uttarakhand Government is sparing no effort to build new roads, bridges etc to revive its economy. Even the labourers are very sincere and hardworking. To encourage tourists, camps comprising of 20 tents each had been set up at 32 places from Shivpuri to Hrishikesh. To attract tourists there are various sports like rafting, trekking, buggy jumping, flying etc. which provides job opportunities to many local youngsters.

We also desisted ourselves from throwing even a piece of paper or any other waste in the mountains as well as in the river and also persuaded others to follow suit. That’s why on our way to Gangotri when we came across a group of students and teachers from a school performing a cleaning drive,  we also joined them.

Armed with the slogan “Keep Ganga Clean” we went to the Uttarkashi D.F.O’s office, where we met the Sub Division Forest Officer, Uttarakhand Government, Mr. R.B.Singh who complimented us for our efforts and also encouraged us to conduct more  such expeditions in future.

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We are hopeful that if this cleaning drive is initiated from the source of Ganga to Mohana and people from all over the country participate in it, then Holy Ganga would surely be more clean and  tranquil.

We are enclosing a report of water quality analysis of the water collected from different important places.

 

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