Where the Ganges is born

Increasing temperatures and man-made environmental disturbances are melting the Gomukh Glacier at a faster pace. Photo: K. Ramnath Chandrasekhar/Chinmaya Mission   | Photo Credit: K. Ramnath Chandrasekhar;K_Ramnath Chandrasekhar

There are only a few places in India that evoke reverence like the River Ganges. It starts in the Garhwal region of the Himalaya from the Gomukh Glacier, which is considered to be one of the sources of the river. It meanders down 2500 kilometres before reaching the Bay of Bengal.

All along its course, it is not only considered holy to innumerable worshippers, but also a support-system for a variety of wildlife and sustains the livelihood of millions of people in the Gangetic plain.

One of the incredible experiences I had while photographing along the river’s course is the one-day, 36-kilometre hike to the Gomukh Glacier.

The trek started during dawn from the deserted mountain town of Gangotri in the Uttarakhand district. It is also one of the holiest pilgrim destinations in the Himalaya.

The Ganges was sparkling in the early morning light and the river was tumbling down huge formations of limestone rocks. The agenda for the day was to trek to Gomukh and return to Gangotri as the weather was becoming unpredictable.

The entire distance was 36 kilometres, which was six short of a marathon, but at a high altitude terrain of 12,000 feet above the sea level!

On the both sides of the path were tall Himalayan mountains with distant snow clad peaks. At terrains like these, one could understand that these mountains are ecologically sensitive.

There were large amount of boulders and fallen trees due to landslides. A herd of Bharals, the mountain goats, showed off its acrobatic skills jumping from one rock to the other and tripping down a few towards us.

After a few hours of trekking along the sparkling narrow river we finally reached the snout (the lowest point) of the Gomukh Glacier. It was humbling to stand in front of the primary source of the mighty Ganges, especially after two weeks of intense travel to document various stories along the river from the Bay of Bengal upwards.

It was a moment of introspection too. The glacier is receding at a faster pace like never before. This was proven by science and has been confirmed by people who have been living close to the glacier for many decades. At the river’s upstream in the mountains, unsustainable development is causing unforeseen floods, landslides and natural calamities while in the plains, pollution is looming large due to various reasons, especially uncontrolled industrial activities.

If we need to ensure secure livelihoods of millions of people that are dependent on this river, we must ensure that the glacial ecosystem and the mountains are protected from rampant destruction and pollution.

(The author is an award-winning nature photographer and co-founder of the Youth for Conservation. In this monthly column he talks about his passion for nature, photography and conservation.)

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 4:36:59 PM |

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