Siva bearing the descent of the Ganges
Gangotri is where the river Ganges originates and the Goddess Ganga resides. It’s a 10 hours drive from Rishikesh, up (and up….) into the Himalayas, passing countless sheep, cows and farmers, always with the breathtaking background of the snow covered tips of this impressive mountain range. We were driving up there from Uttarkashi, which takes around 5 hours, but honestly, it feels like ten minutes; the scenery is so incredibly beautiful, you’re just busy doing all your oohs and aaahs, and suddenly, you’re already there, at 3.100 metres.
Funnily enough, the river at Gangotri is not called Ganges, but Bhagirathi. The story goes like this (it’s a bit of a fairy tale, but too sweet not to be mentioned here): The King Bhagiratha meditated at that very spot, hoping to be heard by Goddess Ganga so that she would clean away the ashes of his ancestors, washing away their sins and granting them final liberation. His meditation must have been incredibly powerful, because Ganga was so moved that she took the form of a river, splashing down the Himalayas and fulfilling his prayers in one go.
However, the King underestimated Ganga’s power which was coming down in form of a river, threatening to not only wash away his ancestor’s sins, as he was hoping for, but simply washing away everything by pure force. Luckily Siva saw what was going on (Siva sees everything, doesn’t he?), and stepped in. He took up Ganga’s force in his long, long hair which he wears coiled up in a massive turban on his head. Of course Siva was strong enough to moderate the river’s flow to prevent the worst, and up until today it is running from Gangotri to Bangladesh, where it merges with the sea at the Bay of Bengal.
This is why still today Siva is pictured with a small splash of water emerging from his turban of hair, signifying the power of the Ganges he managed to absorb (he has a blue throat too, but that’s another story…).
Gangotri as a place of worship is in fact so important, that every Hindu should try to complete the pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime – having said that, the place bears a certain magic that is not lost on Westerners, with many of them performing pujas (religious ceremonies) at the bank of the river with the help of a local priest.
It’s just one of these places where you find yourself doing these crazy things which you previously thought pointless, praying for example. It just does that to people. If you ever get the chance to go, don’t hesitate. It’s simply magic.