Sundarananda was a student of the famous and reclusive yoga master Swami Tapovan Maharaj, (1889–1957) who wrote the classic yoga book Wanderings in the Himalayas (Himagiri Vihar) about yogic life in the Himalayas in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sundaranand lived with Swami Tapovan in the then inaccessible area of Gangotri at the source of the Ganges river, considered one of India’s most sacred places.
Since 1946, he has lived next to the Ganges in Gangotri, at 10,400 feet, in a modest hut (Kuti) which his master Swami Tapovan bequeathed to him on his death. Swami Sundaranand has lived there alone throughout the severest winters without any comforts or conveniences. He has witnessed up close the gradual shrinking of the Gangotri Glacier from which the Ganges springs forth, and has chronicled his devotion to the natural beauty of the Indian Himalayas as an accomplished photographer. A museum devoted to environmental protection and spiritual guidance, containing Swami Sundaranand's Himalayan photography, is now in the planning stages. It will be located in Gangotri on the property of Sundaranand and his master.
As an ascetic, he took the brahmacharya sadhu vow over 59 years ago and now devotes his life to a rigorous daily practice of meditation and spiritual practices. He continues to be a principal advocate for the ecological preservation of the Himalayas, the Ganges and its source at Gangotri.
Over 50 years, he has taken more than 100,000 photos of the shrinking Gangotri glacier in the Indian Himalayas. He now travels India raising awareness of the Gangotri's rapid demise.
Nicknamed "the Sadhu Who Clicks" because of his photography, he is a noted mountain climber having scaled over 25 Himalayan peaks, climbing twice with Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Sir Edmund Hillary paid his respects to Swami Sundaranad in the 1980s at his Gangotri hut. Of the Gangotri glacier, Swami Sundaranand says:
"In 1949, when I first saw the glacier, I felt as if all my sins were washed away and I had truly attained rebirth. But now, it is impossible to experience that Ganga of the past."
Swami Sundaranand is also the subject of a feature documentary film 157 mins. produced by The Center for Healing Arts titled Personal Time with Swamiji. The film was directed and edited by Victor Demko and was shot at Sundaranand's home in Gangotri.
Swami Sundaranand is the author of the book Himalaya: Through the Lens of a Sadhu with over 425 photographs spanning 60 years of his work. He sought to capture the Eternal in Nature and to document the region as it once was with a special emphasis on planting the seeds of hope and inspiration to solve the environmental concerns of the area. A lookout point and plaque down river from Gangotri has been built and dedicated to the Swami's work and efforts. The book also contains a letter of endorsement from the former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
- Himalaya: Through the Lens of a Sadhu Published August 2001 ISBN 81-901326-0-1
- Brancaccio, David; photographs by John Siceloff (2008-08-01). "Gangotri: The Clicking Swami". NOW (PBS). Retrieved 2008-08-06.
- Wanderings in the Himalayas, English Edition, Published by Chinmaya Publication Trust, Madras-3, 1960, translated by T.N. Kesava Pillai, M.A.
- Elixir Magazine, Spring 2006, page 87
- "Melting Ice: A Hot Topic, Climate Change and the Crysosphere" (pdf). Our Planet:The Magazine of the United Nations Environment Programme: 4. May 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
- Janaki Kremmer (3 January 2007). "Himalaya's receding glaciers suffer neglect | csmonitor.com". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
- Personal Time with Swami-ji, 157 mins Film, The Center for Healing Arts
- B. John Zavrel (Fall 2003). "Book Review: HIMALAYA: THROUGH THE LENS OF A SADHU". Prometheus:Internet Bulletin for News, Arts, Politics and Science. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
- Directed and Edited by Victor Demko, Film Synopsis, The Center for Healing Arts