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Gungotree ( Gangotri ) - The sacred source of Ganges

July 4, 1850
Mohammed Abdulkarim
Scenery and Places


The above image is found from the book The Indian Empire Illustrated, The London Printing and Publishing Company Limited.

When sufficiently recovered from the fatigue and bruises attendant on the journey to the source of the Jumna, it is not an unusual occurrence for European tourists to arrange an expedition from Kursulee to the springs of the Ganges at Gnngootree, in the Himalaya. The shortest route from Kursalee to that place may he traversed in four days; but as it is the most difficult one, the natives always endeavour to dissuade travellers from taking it, recommending, in preference, a losver and more circuitous, but more easily access!hie path. The former road leads over an arm of the Bundapooch mountain, which separates the valleys, or rather channels, along which the sacred rivers hurry from their icy birthplace* The greater part of the tract is desert and uninhabited, conducting the wayfarer through regions of rock and snow, destitute of the habitation of man, or of supplies for his use : by this route, also, there is danger that fuel may be wanting for that necessary solace to the weary—a .blazing fire ; a serious object when the necessity for dispensing with everything like superfluous baggage, obliges the traveller to And shelter for the night as best he cau T in caves and clefts of the rocks* Oue of the most formidable evils reported of this route, is the bi$~ka-kowu } or poisonous wind, said to blow over the highest ridge of the mountains, and to bring with it exhalations from noxious plants on the borders—a very natural supposition among a race ignorant of the causes of atmospheric influences at ho great an elevation. Having prudently determined upon the longer route, the travellers will proceed on the descent to a village named Nan gang, which when, after encountering some slight diffi¬ culties, they at length reach, will afford prospects that amply compensate for the incon¬ veniences sustained in the approach to them. Below is spread a rich and cultivated ] scene; hanging terraces (common to the hills) waving with grain, and watered by sparkling streams which wind along the bases of high ridges coveted with wood, and sometimes shooting up into peaks crowned with foliage. Beyond these, the giant moun¬ tains appear In all their sublimity—some having their crests mantled with snow; others clothed with majestic forests of venerable timber; and, again, some bleak, bare, and barren, rising in gloomy majesty from the bosom of green and sunny slopes which smile below them. Between these different ranges are deep ravines, dark with impenetrable forests, and rendered more impressively mysterious by the wild music of the torrents that roar through their hidden depths \ while presently their streams issue into open day, and are seen winding round green spots richly covered with fruit-trees and glorious flowers. Such, or nearly such—for every traveller sees them under a different medium, and from a varied point of observation—are the prospects which beguile the tourists as they slip, rat her than walk, down the almost precipitous side of the mountain. Nan- gang forms the first ha I ting-place on the route to Gungootree; to reach which several days* march have yet to be endured, with more mountains to climb—more forests to thread-—more rocky streams to ford. A diversity in the timber is now apparent; the tree most abundant being the chesnut, of which there are here many of most magnifi¬ cent growth* Plenty of game is found at this elevation; among which is the mcmal, a feathered wonder of the Himalaya; and several varieties of the pheasant tribe, which flutter amongst these vast solitudes, and often pay welcome tribute to the guns of invading strangers.

On t lie line of march from Nan gang, several delightful halting-places are reached— grassy terraces carpeted with straw berry-plants and wild flowers; amongst which the cowslip, the primrose, and tlic buttercup, unite to recall vivid tliolights of fields at home. Leaving this luxuriant vegetation, the road approaches the summit of a ridge covered with snow, and presenting the appearance of a spot hemmed in on all sides with thick* ribbed ice—vast, chilling, and impassable. Emerging from this semblance of an arctic prison, the path descends'through the snow to the boundary line between the districts of the Jumna and the Gauges. The extreme limits of these river territories are marked in the manner usually adopted in rude and desolate places, by huge heaps of stone, many of which have been collected together by Europeans, who Lave sought thus to comme¬ morate their pilgrimage and their success.

The next point of great interest is the summit of a ridge whence the first view of the Ganges is obtained; a sight which never fails to raise the drooping spirits of the Hindoo followers, and excites no small degree of enthusiasm in the breasts of European travellers also. The sacred river, as seen from this height, flows in a dark, rapid,, and broad stream; and though apparently at no great distance, must still be reached bv several toilsome marches. Prom a height about two miles above Gun goo tree, the first glimpse is obtainable of that holy place, which lies sequestered in a glen of the deepest solitude—lonely, and almost inaccessible to man ; for few there are who persevere in surmounting the difficulties of the approach. A considerable distance has now to be traversed over projecting masses of rough stones—flinty, pointed, and uncertain ; many being loose, and threatening to roll over the enterprising individual who seeks a foothold amongst them. Sometimes the face of the rocks 1ms to be climbed from cliff to cliff; at others, where there is no resting-place for band or foot, ladders, formed of notched trees, are placed in aid of the ascent; while awful chasms, and precipitous ravines, are only crossed by some frail spar, flung loosely across from side to side* These frightful rocks inight suffice to form insurmountable obstacles to any invasion of the holy place; but religious enthusiasm on the one hand, and scientific research, stimulated by curiosity, on the other, render the barrier inadequate for the purpose of resisting the efforts of man* The difficult nature of the access, however, prevents any great concourse of pilgrims, whose less fervent, devotional requirements may be satisfied by resorting to altars more easily attainable upon the lower stream of the hallowed river.

The grandeur of Lbe scene that opens upon the travellers as they at last stand upon the threshold of Gungootree, cannot be described by words. Hocks piled upon rucks in awful grandeur, their summits broken into points, aud rising upon one another in indescribable confusion, enclose a glen of the wildest character; at the extremity of which the mighty Ganges-—beautiful in its every haunt, from its birthplace to its junction with the ocean—pours its infant waters over a bed of shingle, diversified by jutting rocks, and even here shadowed by the foliage of some fine old trees. The devotee—who umioiibtmglv believes that every step he has taken towards the source* of the liolv river i which, from his childhood, lie lias been praght to look upon as a deity, will lead him towards eternal beatitude—seldom terminates his pilgrimage at (run goo tree, because the true source of the stream is actually to be found much higher in the mountains and amidst solitudes still less accessible to man, Stimulated by the fervour of relMous^eal or goaded forward hy the ever-craving requirements of*science, these silent recesses have, however, been invaded; and the true birthplace of the Ganges no longer remains a mystery to the world*

Long before the commencement of the present century, the upward course of the Ganges had been traced, by Hindoo devotees, to the great range of the Himalaya; and it was believed by them to have its origin in a vast and inaccessible lake, far north of that chain, through which it passed by a subterraneous passage into India* The opening whence it issued on the south side of the mountains, was called by the pilgrims Gan- goutri, or the Cow's Mouth —tin appellation it still retains* The portion of the river supposed to be on the north side of the range, had been approached at some remote period by Lama surveyors of Thibet; but their researches terminated at a ridge of mountains that skirt the south and west of the Lama's territory, and all that intervened between that point and Gimgoutri was purely conjectural. A few years since, scientific and political reasons combined to induce the government of Bengal to depute Captain Hodgson, of the 10th native infantry, to survey the upper portion of the Ganges; and that officer, in pursuit of his mission, on the 31st of May, 1817, descended to the bed of the river, and saw the Ganges issue from a low arch at'the foot of a vast bed of frozen, snow* It was bounded on each side by rocks ; but in the front, over the debauche, the mass was nearly perpendicular; and from the river to the surface the height was above 300 feet* From the brow of this curious facade of snow, which lav in distinct layers, as if marking each accumulating year, numerous large and hoary icicles were suspended* The width of the stream was about twenty-seven feet, and its depth from ten to eighteen inches; the height of the arch being barely sufficient to let the water pass from its cavernous recess* The altitude of the spot was computed at 12,914 feet above the level of the sea; and the height of an adjoining peak, which Captain Hodgson called St. George, was estimated at 22,240 feet,

A pilgrimage to Gungootree is accounted one of the most meritorious actions that a Hindoo can perform ; ami, in commemoration of a visit to this holy place, some pious Goorka chieftain has left a memorial of his achievement and his devotion in a small pagoda, erected, in honour of the deity of the place, on a platform of rock, about twenty : feet higher than the bed of the river. The Brahmins who have the care of this temple, are accommodated with habitations in its close vicinity; and there are a few sheds for the temporary residence of pilgrims, many of whom, however, are content with such shelter as the neighbouring caves afford* The usual ceremonies of bathing, praying, and marking the forehead, are religiously observed at this place; the officiating Brahmin taking care that the fees are duly paid* Notwithstanding tiie stern and solitary nature of his retreat, at some periods of the year he may be said to lead a busy 1 ife—conversing with devout pilgrims, and carriers of the sacred water to distant lands, who require the authentication of his seal to verify the purity of their much-coveted burdens.

Like all the large rivers of the torrid, and the adjacent parts of the temperate zones, the Ganges is subject to periodical inundations, both from the melting of the snow on the southern declivities ot the Himalaya, and from the heavy rains that fall during the monsoons .

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Ismail Mazari

average rating is null out of 5

Very good information.


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