The journey to Gangotri is a quiet escape from the city. It's getting dark. It's been quite a while on the Bhagirathi shore. The river is turbulent and ferocious. It engulfs everything in front, roars and darts with a million crore horse power. Close by are the Himalayan peaks that shine in the golden rays of the setting sun.
Nature's music is carried along by winds that blow from Cedar forests. The mind, heart and soul unite in an experience beyond words.
As per Hindu faith, Ganga fell into the Earth to liberate the forefathers of Surya clan king Bhagiratha after being pleased with his penance. The river is known as Bhagirathi because it sprang from Bhagiratha's penance. Ganga is Bhagirathi at its origin. At Uttarakhand's Devaprayag, the turbulent Bhagirathi joins the demure Alakananda. From thereon, there is no Bhagirathi or Alakananda, it's only Ganga.
Mussoorie in Uttarakhand is some 6,500 feet above sea level. We started from Landour, which is 1,000 feet above Mussoorie, early in the morning. After a day-long journey through the hills, and past Uttarakasi, we reached the beautiful little village of Harzil. Kedarnath is behind the Sreekanda peak on the right side of Harzil. One can also view from here the summit of Bandarpunch, the mountain whose name means monkey's tail.
Yamunotri is on the other side. All around are lush green valleys, streams that carry clear water, snow-capped hills, and dense Cedar forests. Apple plantations stretch to long distances. Every apple tree has half-mature fruits.
The setting sun drew golden pictures in Bhagirathi with its last rays. Himalayas were sinking into the dark.
From Harzil, we drove to Gangotri, some 25 kilometers away. A little distance away, we get to see remnants of a centuries-old hanging bridge across the river: Wilson's Bridge, it’s name. It was built by a British soldier who fled the British army during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and sought asylum in Harzil. Known as Pahadi Wilson, he built the bridge with wood. There's an iron bridge nearby, but remnants of Wilson's Bridge are still there.
Wilson's cottage is near Harzil. He was known as Harzil Raja later. Wilson, who became a successful industrialist, married a beautiful Pahadi girl called Gulabo and lived on here.
Garhwal hills still keep his memory. Tales narrated by mothers and grandmas describe Wilson as a ghost. They say Wilson's soul still roams the hills and valleys as he had loved Harzil so deeply and never wanted to leave the village. They also describe Wilson riding on an Arabian horse with his beloved on the remnants of the bridge. Local people say they hear the clatter of the horse hoof on moonlit nights.
The road built parallel to Bhagirathi is superior to national highways. The view is stunning all around. The soft wind blowing from Himalayas had a fragrance experienced never before.
Harzil to Gangotri was an hour's drive. The temple dedicated to Ganga devi as part of the Chardham yatra is located here. Gangotri is 3,000 meter higher than sea level. The temple stays closed for nearly six months during heavy snowing. The river's origin is not far from here. It's a steep climb to reach there. Water coming from melted snow is colder than snow itself.
Pilgrims were gathering Ganga water in the bottles they had brought along. Time lies frozen on both sides of the river. Holy Ganga runs its mission, beyond birth and death, providing salvation to countless lives, reminding us that time is eternal, as she keeps waiting for the ones who are yet to be born.
(The writer is a Delhi Malayali working in the New York-based Population Council. Fond of traveling, Jose lives in Dilshad colony for the past three decades.)