Glaciers’ Breath ll – Gangotri Update l

First steps towards Gangotri Glacier involve words from an impeccable source. For six decades Swami Sunderland has climbed, wandered, and worshipped the great bodies of ice and stone from his simple home in Gangotri. He arrived here and was held by the silences, and the divine mountain gifts. Whatever the reasons for the great bodies of ice to recede, they do recede and Swami is as wise and observant as a family member.

Swami Sunderanand - A man who's soul belongs to the mountains and ice bodies

Swami Sunderanand – A man who’s soul belongs to the mountains and ice bodies

While visiting him for thoughts upon the plight of the mountains, the future of conservation and care for the heights in general, he uttered the words “When the ice disappears, the gods will disappear”. Prophetic and direct, there was little doubt as to his meaning. We need water and we need to care for the great Himalayan Water Towers. Locals understand the inextricable link that mortals and water have, but there is a feeling that this intuition isn’t shared beyond the mountains. In the cities where faucets are turned, there perhaps needs a greater connection to the sources of the fluid that passes through them.

Chai is served thick, fast, sweet but with variations

Chai is served thick, fast, sweet but with variations

The entire region is a place of devotion to Shiva and it is from his locks of hair that the Ganges springs, it is said in mythology. In fact it is the Bhagirathi River that we’ll follow upstream in amidst tea breaks and conversations over tea. A veritable transporter of glacial and spring water to the Ganges, it is the Bhagirathi that is at the very source of the source, so to speak. Our journey will head upstream, up and onto the glaciers that feed so much of the fresh water into one of the world’s great waterways, the Ganga.

The rivers are what we have come for but the rivers are fed by spaces far above their banks

The rivers are what we have come for but the rivers are fed by spaces far above their banks

We’re here to document, to see, and to simply be amidst a world that is devoted to water at every level. The National Park theme works here it seems as much as any ‘system’ can, keeping people and people’s clutter at bay. The Himalayan layers have forever been fascinating platforms by which to ‘see’ and feel, and here in Gangotri it was no different. Temples, pilgrims, ice winds that embrace and find all surfaces line this little hub at the cusp of the world of ice.

Light disappears on Gangotri Temple

Light disappears on Gangotri Temple

Shots of masala chai, a meeting with the team that will aid Debra Tan and I ascend and wander, and a last edit of kit and we are off. Nepali porters, friend Dilip Talekar’s detailed notes upon his last journey to the region and recommendations, and little bits of that wonderful narcotic mountains air are with us as we slowly press west into the great valleys that will lead us to the second largest glacier in Asia.


Nothing ever happens without a team and this case it is a coming together of sorts with new friends, old friends and a plan to ascend onto ice.

It is a series of ice bodies that act as diminishing tributaries to the great Gangotri Glacier.

...always time for yet another, last last tea.

…always time for yet another, last last tea.

Pilgrims battle altitude and cold, swami’s tuck away in silent retreat huts, and the rare Blue Sheep abound in this tunnel of ice and worship. To our right torrents of thick glacial water with its telltale green opaqueness roars. We are in the land of Shiva, and the land of Shiva points upwards….

About JeffFuchs

Bio Having lived for most of the past decade in Asia, Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories with an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications Kyoto Journal, TRVL, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, Silkroad Foundation, The China Post Newspaper, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others. Various pieces of his work are part of private collections in Europe, North America and Asia and he serves as the Asian Editor at Large for Canada’s award-winning Outpost magazine. Fuchs is the Wild China Explorer of the Year for 2011 for sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes. He recently completed a month long expedition a previously undocumented ancient nomadic salt route at 4,000 metres becoming the first westerner to travel the Tsa’lam ‘salt road’ through Qinghai. Fuchs has written on indigenous perspectives for UNESCO, and has having consulted for National Geographic. Fuchs is a member of the fabled Explorers Club, which supports sustainable exploration and research. Jeff has worked with schools and universities, giving talks on both the importance of oral traditions, tea and mountain cultures. He has spoken to the prestigious Spanish Geographic Society in Madrid on culture and trade through the Himalayas and his sold out talk at the Museum of Nature in Canada focused on the enduring importance of oral narratives and the Himalayan trade routes. His recently released book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’ (Penguin-Viking Publishers) details his 8-month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world’s great trade routes, The Tea Horse Road. Fuchs is the first westerner to have completed the entire route stretching almost six thousand kilometers through the Himalayas a dozen cultures. He makes his home in ‘Shangrila’, northwestern Yunnan upon the eastern extension of the Himalayan range where tea and mountains abound; and where he leads expeditions the award winning ‘Tea Horse Road Journey’ with Wild China along portions of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. To keep fueled up for life Fuchs co-founded JalamTeas which keeps him deep in the green while high in the hills.
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