Tapovan comes from the two root words tapas – meaning pain or suffering, and by extension religious mortification and austerity, and more generally spiritual practice, and vana, meaning forest or thicket. Tapovan then translates as forest of austerities or spiritual practice.
In Honour to the great saint Tapovan Maharaj this area was named as Tapovan. He authored two books on his travels through the Himalayas: “Wanderings in the Himalayas” (Himagiri Viharam) and “Kailasa Yatra.” Tapovan Maharaj exhibited a deep love for nature and his accounts of his travels demonstrate such. His autobiography, written in Sanskrit is titled “Ishvara Darshana”. After observance of rites and rituals following the Master’s last earthly breath (1957), Shri Swami Tapovan Maharaj’s body was interred into the holy Ganga by a procession of Sadhus. To this present day, there is a simple, solemn and dignified way in which the Uttarkashi monks mark the samaadhi of any sadhu and Swami Tapovan Maharaj represents the ideal of austerity and pinnacle of wisdom which all anchorites aspire to.
Traditionally in India, any place where someone has engaged in serious spiritual retreat may become known as a tapovan, even if there is no forest. As well as particular caves and other hermitages where sages and sadhus have dwelt, there are some places, such as the western bank of the northern Ganges river around Rishikesh, that have been so used by hermits that the whole area has become known as a tapovan.
The most well known tapovan in India is the area above the Gangotri Glacier at one of the primary sources of the Ganges, in Uttarakhand, India. At the foot of Shivling peak, a barren area at about 4,463m (14640 feet) elevation, is a seasonal home to several sadhus living in caves, huts etc. and it has become a trekking destination also. The trekking usually starts from Gomukh and the trek was considered moderate to difficult prior to the destruction of much of the trail from Gangotri to Gamukh by the 2013 North Indian Floods. Tapovan area is base camp for several mountaineering expeditions including Shivling peak, Bhagirathi peak etc. Tapovan area is full of meadows, streams and flowering plants and the meadows are considered as one of the best high altitude meadow in India. There is also a place named Nandanvan near Tapovan, and Nandanvan is also trekked by trekkers and pilgrims. Nandanvan is also a spacious meadow located at the base of Bhagirathi massif.