Kedar Ganga Valley

Brigadier Ashok Abbey

The Kedar Ganga

The Kedar Ganga, flowing in the upper reaches of the valley

The Kedar Ganga valley is a priceless jewel of the Himalaya, set in the majestic Gangotri region of Uttarakhand. Today, this serene, almost hidden valley is visited by climbers, trekkers, nature lovers, naturalists and pilgrims alike.

In the upper reaches of the mountainous district of Uttarkashi, lies the famous pilgrim destination of Gangotri. Dedicated to the Goddess Ganga, reaching this pious dham, one of the Chardhams, is the journey of a life time for many devout Hindus. Synonymous with the mythological legend of Goddess Ganga, who descended from heaven to earth at this point, where she was received in the thickly, matted locks of Lord Shiva, this small settlement today is full of ashrams, rest houses, small hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, Bhagirath Shilla and the famous Gangotri temple.

Every year Gangotri comes to life in May, when the Kapat (gate) of the temple opens until Diwali in autumn, when it closes and the Goddess moves for its winter sojourn from the revered temple, downstream to Mukhba, a village in the Bhagirathi valley.

The mini township of Gangotri, is part of Western Garhwal, located at an altitude of 3205 m, in the Uttarkashi district of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. It is also the gateway to the Gangotri National Park (GNP), the third largest National Park in India. Located in the upper Uttarkashi district. It covers an area of approximately 920 sq miles. The Park has dense coniferous forests, rugged mountains with snow-capped peaks and fast flowing perennial streams. It is drained by the sacred Bhagirathi river, emanating from Gaumukh (cow’s mouth), the snout of the Gangotri glacier.

The Gazetteer of Garhwal describes Gangotri, erstwhile part of Tehri State:1

Kedar Ganga Valley

Kedar Ganga Valley

A temple in Tehri state, situated in 31° N, and 78° 57’E. It stands at an elevation of 3145 m above the sea on the right bank of the Bhagirathi, the chief feeder of the Ganges, 12 km from its source in the Gaumukh glacier. The temple is a square building, about six metres high, containing small statues of Ganga, Bhagirathi and other mythological personages. It was erected by Amar Singh Thapa, the Chief of the Gurkha commanders in Garhwal, in the 19th century. During the summer large numbers of pilgrims visit this place, and several dharamsalas have been built for their accommodation. Flasks filled at Gangotri with the sacred water are sealed up by the officiating Brahmans and conveyed to the plains as valuable treasures. In the winter the temple is closed and the priest migrates to Mukhba, with the Goddess.

Immediately south west of Gangotri temple, almost in its shadow, gushing waters of a fast flowing mountain river, join the Bhagirathi at Gangotri. Flowing rapidly from south to the north, with its tumultuous pristine waters cutting and carving an impressive gorge, this is the mighty Kedar Ganga. At its confluence with the Bhagirathi at Gangotri, just above Gauri Kund, the waters of Kedar Ganga become immortalized and synonymous with the perennial life giving waters of Bhagirathi and the Ganga.

The Kedar Ganga drains the Kedar Ganga valley. The valley lies immediately south of Gangotri, as part of the extended Gangotri complex. It covers approximately 144 sq kms and is rimmed by a series of breath taking mountains of exceptional difficulty and grandeur. The near continuous, high ridge line encloses the valley from the east, south and west, giving it ready access only along the Kedar Ganga gorge, from the north. The Kedar Ganga valley to the north and the north east direction is bounded by the Bhagirathi river, which emanates from Gaumukh. To the west and the east, it is bounded by the Rudurgaira Bamak and Meru, respectively. To the south, the valley is hemmed by the Khatling and the Phating glaciers. To the far east, in the near vicinity lies the Gangotri glacier.

Kedar Ganga valley, looking southwards towards Gangotri


On the eastern gateway of the Kedar Ganga valley, stands the imposing Bhrigu Parbat (6041 m). Along with Patangna Dhar on its western shoulder, this then is the natural gateway to the Kedar Ganga valley. From Bhrigu Parbat, whose eastern and western shoulders run parallel to the Bhagirathi, its south east ridge rises to the Manda massif, dominating the Manda Bamak.

Garhwal for centuries has been an end point pilgrim destination for Hindus. Devotees braving all odds, have since times immemorial endeavoured to reach the sacred shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, in their quest for eternal salvation. Historically, foreign visitors were never welcome in this region. In their zeal to reach the source of the Ganga in 1808, Lieutenant WS Webb along with Captain FV Raper explored the Bhagirathi valley, short of Gangotri. As the area was vast and rugged, mapping posed numerous challenges. It was in 1936, that Major Gordon Osmaston of the Survey of India, who after carrying out a number of detailed surveys in the area, as part of a greater survey from Sutlej in the west to Kali in the east, authenticated the actual layout and heights of the complex Gangotri area.

The Kedar Ganga valley lies close to Gangotri and is the closest amongst the valleys, whose waters flow into the Bhagirathi. Rishis and pilgrims alike have frequented this valley to visit Kedar Tal, a glacial lake of great reverence, located in the upper part of the valley. Patangana Dhar, which towers above Gangotri and subsequently peters away at Gangotri, too is sacred land, at the base of which Pandavs are supposed to have prayed. Numerous udiyars (meadows), naturally formed in the folds of Patangana Dhar, have been a place of penances for many sages. Its multi stream waters or gads, after mixing with waters of Kedar Bamak, Kedar Tal, give birth to the voluminous and gushing waters of Kedar Ganga.

As one moves up the Kedar Ganga valley, the visitor is dwarfed by the ever rising Patangna Dhar to one’s west and the mighty Bhrigu Parbat to the east. The trail from Gangotri, winds steeply up the western flank of the Kedar Ganga valley gorge. Passing through a daunting landscape and thickly wooded Birch, Rhododendron and Fern forests, interspersed with fast flowing mountain streams, the camp site of Bhoj Kharak is reached after eight kms of a near continuous ascent. Kedar Kharak, further up the valley is located on a lush green meadow, on the extended western lateral moraine of the Kedar Bamak. The tree line gradually peters out between Bhoj and Kedar Kharak. In between Bhoj and Kedar Kharak, is a landslide prone area, caused due to surface erosion. With a fast flowing Kedar Ganga below, this area has to be crossed fast but with utmost caution. From Kedar Kharak, a gradual ascent through a boulder strewn area, over a recessional moraine, takes the visitor to Kedar Tal.

Kedar tal or Shiva's lake

Birch forest

Moving through a Birch forest

The serene, glacial lake of Kedar Tal lies in the upper Kedar Ganga valley, some 17 kms south of Gangotri, at an altitude of 4752 m. This near vertical shaped lake, lying from north to south has a dimension of approximately 1200x300 m. It is located on the western lateral moraine of Kedar Bamak, with stupendous views of Thalay Sagar and Bhrigupanth, rising to its south and east. The lake is also one of the main feeders to Kedar Ganga. Also known as Shiva’s lake, it is primarily fed by the melt waters of Kedar Bamak and streams draining from the catchment areas of the rim of peaks joining Jogin, Thalay Sagar and Bhrigupanth. The eastern bank of the lake, serves as a base camp for attempts on the Thalay Sagar, Bhirgupanth and Jogin. The base camp is also home to numerous epitaphs and memorial plates of climbers, who have lost their lives climbing these hallowed mountains. On clear days, especially in the pre-monsoon period, the near placid waters of the lake reflect Thalay Sagar and Bhrigupanth, as if truly blessed by the Lord himself. In September 2019, Kedar Tal acquired a near rusted and a muddy tinge and these sublime views were not possible.

At the head of the valley, virtually occupying the complete valley floor and draining from the Jogin, Thalay Sagar, Bhrigupanth and the Manda Massifs, is the mighty Kedar Bamak. Occupying an area of almost 10x15 kms, the melt water from this glacier gives birth to Kedar Ganga and Kedar Tal. This broken glacier has many colours akin to that of its distant cousin, the Chaturangi Bamak in the Gangotri complex. The multi-coloured, exposed moraine is indeed a spectacular sight!

Although the Kedar Ganga valley lies close to Gangotri, from where it is accessible, it was not until the late sixties, that serious climbing began in this valley. The degree of difficulty of the mountains, coupled with a relatively dangerous approach from a non-descript entry and the fact that peaks around Gangotri glacier evoked more interest in terms of climbing, are perhaps reasons for its comparatively late entry into the climbing diary. Thalay Sagar, Bhrigupanth, Manda and Jogin are the four prominent mountain groups in the valley, each with a climbing history of its own.

The Kedar Ganga valley is dominated by a series of high ridges, rugged mountains and frozen glaciers. The almost 13.5 kms long Patangana Dhar, rises from Gangotri and continues parallel to the west of the Kedar Ganga rising to the summit of Jogin II (6312 m) and ultimately culminating at the summit of Jogin I (6465 m). While the south ridge from Jogin I, drops into the Khatling Bamak, the west ridge continues towards to Gangotri group, overlooking the Khatling Bamak to the south and the Rudugaira Bamak to the north. The east ridge from Jogin I, after running east for almost 300 m, turns south east for little over three kms, before turning east and then north east, for five kms, finally culminating into the summit of Thalay Sagar.

From Thalay Sagar, the ridge turns north to Bhrigupanth and then onwards to Manda III, II, I and north west to Bhrigu Parbat, before merging with the valley floor at Gangotri, thus enclosing the Kedar Ganga valley from east. The high ramparts of the valley, thus protect in its fold, the holy waters of Kedar Ganga, giving it a distinct, exclusive identity.

Rising like a phoenix from the cirque of the Kedar Bamak, the mesmerizing peak of Thalay Sagar (6904 m) dominates the horizon of Kedar Ganga valley. Undoubtedly, this is the reigning monarch of the valley, its name and shape synonymous with one of the most challenging mountains in the Himalaya. Thalay Sagar resembles a nail which has been hammered hence the name ‘Phating Pithwar’ or Thalay Sagar. Climbing this mountain is regarded one of the ultimate climbs and can test the climbing skills of the best alpinists of the world!

Thalay Sagar has three permanent ridges. The north ridge drops into a col and then rises to the summit of Bhrigupanth. The long southeast ridge continues unabated, culminating into the summit of Kirti Stambh (6270 m), while the west ridge, which overlooks the Phating, Khatling and the Kedar Bamaks, drops and then rises again to meet the Jogin massif. The mountain is a challenge, with sheer mixed climbing faces, protecting its difficult, elusive summit. The mountain was first climbed in 1979, by an Anglo-American Expedition (R. Kliegfield, J. Waterman, P. Thexton and J. Thakray2) from the northwest couloir and ridge. Subsequently in 1983, a Joint Polish-Norwegian Expedition3 made a remarkable ascent by climbing the mountain from the north; from the Col separating Bhrigupanth and Thalay Sagar. In 1984, a British Expedition comprising of Joe Brown and Mo Anthoine, made an unsuccessful bid to climb the north face of the mountain.

In 1999, the north face was climbed through the shale bed by a strong Australian team (Andrew Lindblade and Athol Whimp4), who climbed a 1400 m line graded VII 5.9 WIS. For this climbing feat, they were awarded the Piolet d’Or in 1999. Subsequently, in 2003, a three-member French team again climbed the mountain from the line on the north face with a new variation in the route. A Dutch Expedition (Melvin Redeker, Mike Van Berkel and Cas Van De Gevel5) climbed the NE face from the southeast ridge, making a first ascent in 2004. A four member Swiss team (Stephen Siegrist) made an ascent of the northeast ridge, naming the route ‘Harvest Moon’ in 2004.

In 2017, a three-member strong Russian team (Dmitry Golovchenko, Dmitry Grigoriev and Sergey Nilov), climbed a new direct line, on a prominent virgin buttress on the north face without using Portaledges. In a remarkable effort, they climbed for nine days on a route named by them as the ‘Movable Feast’ (ED2, 5C A3 WISMJ).For this outstanding climb they were awarded the second Piolet d’Or award for 2017.

Indians too have climbed and stood on the summit of this difficult mountain. In 2008, an Indian Team (BS Roy), along with three Sherpas climbed the mountain from the west ridge. A five-member all women expedition from Bengal, sponsored by Kolkata Albatross Adventure Society (Suparna Mitra) using fixed ropes climbed the mountain in 2012. Tusi Shah, became the first woman to climb Thalay Sagar. In 2011, instructors from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi, (Colonel IS Thapa,) climbed the mountain from the west ridge, as part of their Refresher Training. A strong, self-sustained, Indian Army team too made an ascent of the mountain in 2017, climbing from the west ridge (Major Jay Prakash6). Almost all these climbs were made using fixed lines.

Blue Sheep grazing

Blue Sheep grazing in the upper valley area

Alpine style ascents have also been recorded on the mountain, by some leading alpinists displaying style and elegance, with the mountain only attracting the best of their ilk. Over the years, French, Russians, Koreans, Dutch, Bulgarians, Americans and Indians have climbed the mountain, in varying styles. 16 ascents have been recorded over nine different routes and variations on this enigmatic mountain. Still many formidable challenges remain, especially from the great south and east faces, beckoning the climber.

Bhrigupanth (6772 m) lies north of Thalay Sagar and south of the Manda group. It is connected to Thalay Sagar by its south ridge and via its north ridge to Manda. Its southeast ridge connects it to Meru West. The mountain stands tall, dominating the Kedar Bamak and the Kedar Ganga valley to its east and the Kirti and Bhrigupanth glaciers to its south east and east, respectively. The mountain was climbed by an Indo-American Women’s Expedition (Arlene Blum7), in 1980, from the south face route. The same year a Japanese Alpine Club team (M. Tsukaham8) abandoned their attempt, after death of a member in an avalanche. Another eight-member Japanese team, (U. Sasaki9) in 1981, attempted the west shoulder of Bhrigupanth unsuccessfully. In 1982, Japanese team of the Senshu Alpine club Osaka, (K Yakamura10) made the second ascent of the mountain from the south face.

1982 saw the first Indian team attempt the mountain (BP Roy11). On 8th Oct 1983, an 11-member Taiwanese Expedition (Chang Ming Lung), made an ascent from the northwest face. However, three members were tragically killed in a climbing accident. In 1984, another Indian Expedition (SK Mehta12) attempted the west face unsuccessfully. The first ascent of the west pillar route was made by a strong Polish Expedition (R Kolakowski13) in 1987. In 1988, another ascent of the mountain was made by a Spanish Team (J Vicente14). In 1989, a large Indian Expedition (DT Kulkarni15) attempted the mountain from the west face, but failed to climb the mountain. Other teams too have attempted to scale the mountain with varying success. Today, Bhrigupanth, stands tall in majestic splendour, but is seldom attempted, primarily due to technical difficulties and objective dangers. It is undoubtedly one of the prized attractions of the Kedar Ganga valley.

The Manda massif, comprising of Manda I (6510 m), Manda II (6568 m) and Manda III (6529 m), lies to the north of Bhrigupanth. The north ridge of Bhrigupanth drops to a col and then rises on to Manda III (6529 m). Manda II, which lies in between Manda I and III, is the highest. The three summits of Manda dominate the Kedar Ganga valley to its west, the Bhrigupanth glacier to its east, and Manda Bamak to its northeast, whose waters flow into Bhagirathi. The almost six km long ridge line of Manda massif is serrated with no easy access.

The west face of Bhrigupanth (6772 m) and  Manda III (6529 m)

The west face of Bhrigupanth (6772 m) and Manda III ( 6529 m) viewed from the upper valley

It was only in 1969, that mountaineers, attempted to climb any of the Manda peaks. Manda I was first attempted in 1969 (GR Patwardhan), from the Manda Bamak. The first reported ascent of Manda I was made by an Indian, Bengal Expedition16 in 1978, although no details of the climb are available. An American Colorado Garhwal Expedition to Manda I (Mark Udall17) unsuccessfully attempted Manda I, from the Manda Bamak, in May-June 1981. Mark Udall, post the expedition remarked “Manda’s summit will be reached someday soon, but the successful climbers will have to work hard and even suffer a little.” In 1981, an ascent of Manda I, was made via the west face from Kedar Bamak, by a four member Mumbai team (Dr Minoo Mehta18). This was the first authenticated ascent of the mountain. In 1982, a Japanese team, Ehime University Alpine Club (M. Sasaki), climbed the mountain from its north ridge, after approaching the mountain from Kedar Bamak. In 1989, a six-member Giripremi expedition from Pune (Umesh Zirpe) attempted Manda I from Kedar Ganga valley, but aborted their attempt 1200 m short of the summit, due to technical difficulties. In post monsoon 1991, Giripremi (Sanjay Doipode) again attempted Manda I from the Japanese route of the north ridge, but failed to reach the summit, due to lack of adequate equipment. They however made the first ascent of Bhrigu Parbat (6041 m). In 1982, Americans led by Mark Udall, returned, but this time to climb Manda II (6568 m). Peter O Neil, Peter Athens and Mark Udall reached the summit on 9th Oct 1982. They climbed the col between Manda II and III and then to the summit via the south ridge.

Manda III, the second highest mountain of the massif, was first attempted by a British team from the north face. The mountain is unclimbed and awaits a first ascent. Despite being relatively close to Gangotri, Manda I, II and III are seldom attempted. The Manda group is a challenging proposition for any climber, who has sound technical expertise on rock and ice.

Tucked away in the corner of the Kedar Ganga valley, true to its name and resting in solitary seclusion, stands the Jogin massif. This massif comprises of Jogin I (6465 m), Jogin II (6342 m) and Jogin lll (6116 m) and lies southwest of the upper Kedar Ganga valley. It forms the apex of Patangna Dhar, from where it extends northwards towards Gangotri. The ridge connecting Jogin massif and the Patangana Dhar, stands as the great divide between the Rudra Ganga and the Kedar Ganga valleys.

Jogin III is located southeast of Jogin I. From Jogin III, the ridge further moves in a southeasterly direction, moving further east and then northeast to Thalay Sagar, thus enclosing the Kedar Ganga valley from the south. Jogin III was first climbed in 1967, by an Indian expedition (GR Patwardhan). Jogin I and III were climbed by students of 19 Advance Mountaineering Course of NIM, Uttarkashi (Colonel JC Joshi) on 22nd June 1970. The peak towers above the valleys of Rudugaira Bamak, Khatling Bamak and Kedar Bamak, to its northwest and west, south and southeast and east respectively.

Jogin II, which is the most challenging mountain of the Jogin group, was first attempted unsuccessfully by an Indian expedition from Bengal (Amulya Sen19), in 1970. In 1980, a team from Jadavpur University (Amit Chaudhary20) climbed all three summits. This included the first ascent of Jogin II. In 1986 a British Police Team21 repeated the feat of climbing all three summits. The Tri Services expedition, organized by the Indian Army (Lt. Colonel SC Sharma) in 1997 also climbed all the three summits of the mountain.

In 2018, post monsoon, the National Security Guard (NSG) conducted one of its Pre-Everest training expeditions (Brigadier Ashok Abbey and Major Jay Prakash) in the Kedar Ganga valley, to Jogin I and III. The team approached the mountain along the Kedar Ganga and established base camp at Kedar Tal on 13th Sept 2018. Two high camps were established at 5861 m and 5980 m. Jogin I and III were ascended together on the same day, by two different teams, after a straight forward climb on 15th and 17th Sept, respectively. The NSG team also undertook the task of cleaning all camp sites on the mountain. Open and partially closed old garbage pits of bio non-degradables were cleared off the mountain and brought down to the road head at Gangotri.

The Jogin massif, although the farthest, is readily accessible and is often attempted by Indian climbers. Jogin II, which is located northeast of Jogin I, is a comparatively difficult proposition, with a complicated icefall to negotiate. The traverse from Jogin I to II is still to be accomplished—a challenging prospect for future climbing in the valley!

The Kedar Ganga valley is an environmentally well-sustained valley, blessed with a rich, high altitude ecosystem. The valley is characterized by a narrow entrance, steep cliffs and thick Birch forests. The lower channel of the Kedar Ganga cuts a deep gorge, making the initial section an interesting proposition to traverse. Dangerous landslide prone sections and consequent soil erosion, is distinctly visible especially in the middle sections, between Bhoj and Kedar Kharak and also between Kedar Kharak and Kedar Tal, making movement slow and hazardous, at places.

The Flora of the valley is akin to that of the GNP. The lower reaches of valley have sub alpine conifers, while at higher elevation, it comprises primarily of shrubs and high altitude pasture and verdant meadows. Himalayan Birch, Pine, Deodar and Oak form the basic tree line of the valley, which ahead of Bhoj Kharak becomes sparse and ceases to exist after Kedar Kharak.

This valley is a naturally protected heaven for high-altitude wild life. Being isolated and not easily accessible, the valley supports a variety of animals and bird species and that too in reasonably good numbers. Large herds of Bharal (Pseudois nayaur) are regularly sighted between Bhoj and Kedar Kharak and between Kedar Kharak and Kedar Tal. Himalayan Buck or the Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogastar) too inhabit the upper valley. The Snow Leopard (Pantheria uncia) and the Himalayan Black Bear (Selenarctos thibetanus) have been sighted. The Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) and the Himalayan Snow Cock (Tetraogallus himalayensis) are spotted regularly in the lower reaches of the Kedar Ganga valley.

The Kedar Ganga valley is a priceless jewel of the Himalaya, set in the majestic Gangotri region of Uttarakhand. Today, this serene, almost hidden valley is visited by climbers, trekkers, nature lovers, naturalists and pilgrims alike. The valley offers some of the best climbing in the Himalayan range, with much left to be accomplished by the intrepid mountaineer. The invigorating environs of the valley leaves the visitor mesmerized and is a haven for the rich Fauna and Flora that are the permanent residents of the valley, which it aptly supports.


Ashram - A place of religious retreat
Bamak - Glacier
Bhagirath Shilla - The rock where Rishi Bhagirath prayed
Bhoj - Birch
Bhrigu - Sage Bhrigu
Bhrigu Parvat - Mountain named after Sage Bhrigu
Bhrigupanth - Mountain of Rishi Bhrigu and his place of penance
Chardhams - The four pilgrimage points - Yamnnotri, Gangotri, Badrinath, Kedarnath
Deepawali - Hindu Festival of Lights
Dham - A pilgrim destination of great significance
Dhar - Ridge
Gad - Mountain stream
Gaumukh - Mouth of cow
Gauri Kund - Bathing place of Goddess Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva
Kapat - Door
Kedar - Lord Shiva
Kharak - Place of halt/rest
Khatling Bamak - Meeting place of hundred glaciers
Manda - Origin of Mandakini river
Pandavs - Sons of Kunti (mythology from the Mahabharata)
Panth - Path
Parbat - Mountain
Patangana or Patangain - Path of Ganga
Phathing Pithwar or Patan piton - Hammered like a nail from the sky
Rishi - Sage
Shilla - A piece of rock / stone
Shiva - God of Destruction
Tal - Lake
Thalay Sagar - Sea of glaciers, mountain which has a thousand lakes under it
Udiyar - Cave

This article covers several aspects of the Kedar Ganga valley - its religious significance; its climbing history and details of the Flora, Fauna and other geographical features.

About the Author

A highly experienced mountaineer, Brigadier Ashok Abbey has been climbing for more than 39 years. He has climbed extensively in the Great Ranges, namely the Himalaya, Karakoram and adjoining mountain ranges. He is a retired Indian Army officer, and last served as the Deputy Commandant and Chief Instructor at the High Altitude Warfare School, Gulmarg. He was President of the Himalayan Club from 2010 till 2015. Brig Abbey is currently President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.


  1. British Garhwal, A Gazetteer Vol XXXVI by H J Walton, ICS
  2. THJ Vol 37, Page 17
  3. HCNL 37, Page 25
  4. Andrew Lind Blade, AAJ (1998) Page 69-77
  5. Mike Berkel AAJ (2004) Page 86-89.
  6. THJ Vol 72, Page 203
  7. THJ Vol 41, Page 175; HCNL 34 Page 17
  8. Indian Mountaineer 8, Page 127
  9. HCNL 36, Page 3
  10. HCNL 37, Page 3
  11. Indian Mountaineer 11, Page 120
  12. HCNL 38, Page 14
  13. HCNL 41, Page 39
  14. THJ 45; HCNL 43, Page 24
  15. HCNL 43, Page 24
  16. HCNL 32, Page 46
  17. THJ Vol 39, Page 68
  18. THJ Vol 39, Page 60
  19. THJ Vol 31
  20. THJ Vol 38, Page 173
  21. THJ Vol 43, Page 45

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