A tiny village 10,000 ft/3,000 m up in the Himalayas and 200 mi/320 km northeast of Delhi, Gangotri, India—along with nearby Badrinath, Yamunotri and Kedernath—is one of the four great mountain shrines in the Garhwal Himalaya, a vast region of primeval forest and towering mountains. It's also the base for a one-day hike to the source of the Ganges (beware of rock slides), which emerges from an ice cave in Gangotri Glacier some 13,800 ft/4,200 m above sea level.

Accommodations in Gangotri are alarmingly elemental. Heavy winter snows force residents to move down the mountain for six months of the year. There is no electricity and little heat, so nights are often spent huddled under thick woolen quilts. It's a 14-hour journey by clattering bus from Rishikesh to Gangotri. Helicopter shuttles are also available, weather permitting.

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