Be it man's urge to placate the Gods above or to quench his desire for adventure, Gangotri is an ideal location. Gangotri, the source of the river Ganges and seat of the goddess Ganga, is one of the four sites in the Char Dham pilgrimage circuit. which attracts tourists in large numbers every year. The river is called Bhagirathi at the source and acquires the name Ganga from Devprayag onwards where it meets the Alaknanda. The origin of the holy river is at Gaumukh, which is an 18 km trek from Gangotri. The confrontation with the daunting rivers and attempts to unravel the mysteries of the supernatural world are ubiquitous sights here. Along with the thrill of conquering nature, what one experiences here is the mystical aura that India is so famous for.
Like other Pilgrimage in India Gangotri too has a legend associated with it. According to an old legend, Lord Shiva rewarded King Bhagirath after his penance and Ganga came down to earth. However, due to her pride, and the fact that the earth would be devastated if Ganga came down in her full force, Lord Shiva caught her in his locks. It was then proclaimed that Goddess Uma or Parvati, Shiva's consort, would bathe in the Ganges daily and only then would she descend on the earth. The sacred stone near the temple denotes the place where Ganga first came down to earth. This is why Ganga is also called by the name of Bhagirathi.
According to the legend, King Sagar, after slaying the demons on earth decided to stage in Ashwamegh Yagya as a proclamation of his supremacy. The horse which was to be taken on an uninterrupted journey around the earth was to be accompanied by the King's 60,000 sons born to Queen Sumati and one son Asmanjas born of the second queen Kesani. Indra, supreme ruler of the gods feared that he might be deprived of his celestial throne if the 'Yogya' (worship with fire) succeeded and then took away the horse and tied it to the ashram of Sage Kapil, who was then in deep meditation. The sons of the King Sagar searched for the horse and finally found it tied near the meditating sage. Sixty thousand angry sons of King Sagar stormed the ashram of sage Kapil. When he opened his eyes, 60,000 sons had perished by the curse of sage Kapil. Bhagirath, grand son of King Sagar, is believed to have meditated to bring down the Ganga which brought back sixty thousand sons into life. The Bhagirathi 'Shila' is located near the temple of Ganga where the holy Ganga first descended on earth from heaven.
The small town of Gangotri is centered around a temple of the goddess Ganga, which was built by the Gurkha General Amar Singh Thapa in the early 18th century. Although the shrine of Gangotri is around three centuries old but it was renovated in the 20th century and is a 20-feet high structure of white granite. Ritual duties are supervised by the Semwal family of pujaris. The aarti ceremony at the Gangotri is especially impressive, as is the temple, a stately affair that sits on the banks of the rushing Ganga. The temple is closed on Diwali day every year and is reopened in May. During the winters the statue is taken to Mukhimath village for six months, where it is worshipped. There is a natural rock Shivling (Shiva worshipped in his phallic form, as the originator of life) as well. It is called the Jalamagna Shivling. This is the place where Lord Shiva received Ganga in his locks. It is visible only during winters.
The most famous site nearby is the Gaumukh (literal meaning, cow's mouth) glacier, which is at an altitude of 4200 meters above sea level. It is the geographical origin of the Ganges and is at a distance of 18 km from Gangotri uphill. The Ganges is called the Bhagirathi here. At a distance of 28 km from Gangotri is Cheedvasa, where one can pick up local artifacts. Bhojvasa, at a distance of 22 km, is an ideal camping site.
Nandanvan is a 6-km tough trekking route along the glacier and gives a view of the Shivling. Across the snout of the Gangotri glacier is the sylvan Tapovan, which is known for its exquisite verdure encircling the base of the Shivling peak. From here, one can go to Vasuki Tal, Kalindikhal, at a height of 5590 meters and reach Badrinath.
Dense forests near Tapovan surround the Bhavishya Badri. The Bhavishya Badri is at a distance of about 17 km. east of Joshimath. Pilgrims trek beyond Tapovan up the Dhauliganga River to reach this holy spot. The idol of narsingha (the god with the head of lion) is enshrined here. Traditionally, it is believed that a day will come when the present route to the Badrinath will be inaccessible and the Lord Badrinath will be worshipped here and this is why the place is called Bhavishya Badri.
Harsil is 25 km from Gangotri and is perched at a height of 2620 meters above sea level. It is well known for its resorts. There is the Wilson Cottage, built in 1864, which is often visited. Sat Tal or the seven lakes is wonderful sight and is near the village Dharali (20 km).
Location and Climate
The Pilgrimage in India is couched in the magnificent Garhwal hills, Gangotri is at an altitude of 3048 meters above sea level. It is on the northernmost part of the state of Uttar Pradesh and is very near the Indo-Tibetan border. It is approximately 300 km from Dehradun, 250 km from Rishikesh and 105 km from Uttarkashi. The summers are relatively cool and winters are freezing cold, with rains in the months of May and June. For the devotees and tourists, the gates of the temple are open only in the months of May to November.
Gangotri can be reached in one day's travel from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehradun, or in two days from Yamunotri, the first site in the Char Dham circuit. More popular and important than its sister site to the east, Gangotri is also accessible directly by car and bus, meaning that it sees many more pilgrims than Yamunotri.
The nearest airport is that of Jolly Grant, which is approximately 270 km from Gangotri, via Rishikesh.
The nearest railway station is Rishikesh, to which one can get trains from Dehradun and Delhi.
Gangotri had a population of 606. Males constitute 96% of the population and females 4%. Gangotri has an average literacy rate of 89%, higher than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 91%, and female literacy is 48%. In Gangotri, 0% of the population is under 6 years of age.