A beautiful meadow with enchanting blossoms, the Valley of Flowers, is a place famed for the soul-stirring scenery it provides when the flowers are in full bloom. God's Eden is a must visit!
By Arpan Kanthal
It all started when one of my friends was told by a driver about a valley, nestled amidst the majestic Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi, Rathaban and Nilagiri. A valley covered with flowers in varied shapes, sizes, shades and scents, a valley so beautiful that it is considered an abode of the fairies by the locals.
After a month of planning, I finally managed to book tickets to Delhi. I could barely wait. It was just a matter of time before I could see the place rumoured to be ‘God’s Eden’.
The Valley of Flowers is part of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, in the Chamoli District in Uttarakhand. The final lap of the journey involves trekking from Govindghat. The route-map to Govindghat by road is as follows:
When you plan, do keep two buffer days to handle unpredictable contingencies like landslides/cloudbursts, which are very common in Garhwal region. Remember that night travel is not allowed in the mountains, so plan your journey accordingly.
I wasted no time upon reaching Delhi. From Delhi I caught a bus to Haridwar at around 3:00 p.m. and reached Haridwar by 8:30 p.m. You get numerous shared taxis, buses, autos going towards Rishikesh round the clock. I got down at the Rishikesh bus stand at 9:15 p.m. where the first bus to Joshimath was to leave at 3:30 a.m. the next morning.
A local tea vendor suggested that I take the press cab, which delivers newspapers to far-flung areas; hence there are no night travel restrictions on them. As I was travelling alone, I took my chance. A cab-ride at night can get scary. After reaching Joshimath at around 2:30 p.m., I immediately set out for Govindghat, catching another shared taxi, which I later discovered to be the last one for the day. Once you reach Govindghat, you have completed the easiest part of the journey.
I call this phase ‘the grind’ because this is the time your muscles are tested to its limit, by the rough and rocky mountain terrain waiting ahead. After offering a silent prayer at the gurudwara in Govindghat at 3:00 p.m., I set out towards Ghangaria. This place is the base camp for both the Valley of Flowers and the Hemkund Sahib. The distance was 14km.
I began on a sprightly note. An hour and 3km later, the hop had reduced to a crawl. I was so tired but then reminded myself how beautiful the valley would be and that thought spurred me to continue on my trekking journey. I realised that a climb becomes arduous only if you think of it as a roadblock. So, I lifted my head up to take in the beautiful views around me, instead of fixating on the stony path, and I realised what I had been missing all along. I forgot the fatigue when I saw the path lined with beautiful flowers in all shapes and sizes. Numerous waterfalls and magnificent peaks were standing guard against the marauding sun, giving the valley a shaded comfort.
The climb to Ghangaria ideally takes 6-8 hours and passes through the picturesque villages of Pulna and Bhyundar. It is very important to start early and finish before daylight fades. Ensure that you take plenty of rest on the way as there is a lot more trekking to be done in the following couple of days. Fortify yourself with plenty of glucose-water.
I managed to reach Ghangaria only by 8:30 p.m. (five and a half hours). I had to trek two hours in the pitch-black forest with just a flimsy beam of light from my torch for company. It was a scary experience. Upon reaching Ghangaria, I rushed to the nearest guest house and slept.
Two hours later, I woke up shivering, only to realise that I hadn’t pulled the blanket on. The temperatures go below zero at night, so do carry warm clothing. Accommodation is freely available, but during the peak season (June-August) do book your rooms at the GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) guest house in advance.
Owing to the place’s remote location, everything is priced at thrice the original price, so make sure that you carry most of your stuff, including food, with you. Be prepared to pay exorbitant prices for mediocre food. It is advisable not to try out fancy food items and stick to tried and tested stuff.
In retrospection, I committed two mistakes that a backpacker should never commit:
1. Measure the complexity of a trek by its distance
2. Carry a backpack weighing 12kg
If trekking is not your idea of fun, and you only want to visit the valley then you can hire mules to carry you to Ghangaria. Cost is 700 rupees per person one way.
After breakfast, I set out. Crossing a flimsy makeshift bridge made from sheet metal, I reached the entrance to the park. The entry fees to this haven was 150 rupees, a price that does no justice to a place which gives so much joy to people. The guards ask you to be back by 6 p.m. as camping inside the valley after dark is not only illegal, but dangerous.
The 6km trail which starts from the check post and ends somewhere in the valley is by far the most beautiful trail I have ever walked. The moss-covered logs, the majestic pine trees, the river roaring and the eager anticipation of the first valley-view, leads to a euphoria beyond words. The valley officially starts when you cross the 5th makeshift bridge as the scent of numerous flowers reach you.
The path itself is lined with flowers of so many vivid shades and wondrous perfumes. This is a trail open to your exploration. Avoid walking fast and savour every whiff of fresh air mixed with the smell of flowers and every view of the snow-clad peaks.
Back in Ghangaria, I stumbled upon Rajneesh Chauhan’s shop, a treasure trove of information about the valley. Rajneesh knows the valley and its trails thoroughly and conducts guided tours. After grabbing a few souvenirs from his shop, I headed back to my room for some sleep. The next day would be more arduous.
Along the way to Ghangaria, you will meet many Sikhs. They are however conspicuous in their absence in the Valley of Flowers. This is because, every year between June and September, Sikhs throng to Hemkund Sahib on a pilgrimage.
Hemkund is the name of the lake formed by water from the melting snow caps and glaciers in this region. Undaunted by sub-zero temperatures and the risk of hypothermia, thousands of devotees take a holy dip in this lake. I decided to go ahead and join them.
The water was so cold, it felt as if icy needles were pricking every pore of my skin. I could barely finish my third dip before rushing out. But strangely enough, after you get out of the pool you start feeling warm, partly because the temperature outside is lower than your body temperature and partly because of the sense of achievement of completing what seemed to be insane in the first place.
After quickly drying myself, I went to the gurudwara to offer prayers. Inside, I was given a warm blanket and a hot ball of sweetened rice. Only then did it really hit me that I had done it, that I had accomplished what I set out to do. What seemed and was deemed impossible by most, was now on my ‘done and dusted’ list. After offering my heartfelt gratitude I rose from my spot, only to be whisked away by a gentleman to the langar (Gurudwara kitchen) for some hot tea and a bowl of steaming khichdi. Both the tea and the khichdi were marvellous, and so was the hospitality of the people. I had my fill as I needed every ounce of energy to complete the 19km trek back to Govindghat.
Again, if you are not willing to trek to Hemkund, you can hire mules to take you to the peak, for prices ranging 500-700 rupees per person up and down.
I started my descent quickly hoping to reach Govindghat before daylight faded and reach Joshimath where I intended to halt for the night. From Joshimath, there are frequent buses leaving for Rishikesh, starting from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. from the GMOU (Garhwal Motor Owner’s Union Ltd.) office. You could also get shared taxis to Srinagar/Rishikesh but make sure you start early as night travel is not permitted on the road leading to Rishikesh. You can hope to reach Rishikesh by 6:00 p.m. in the evening.
Landslides are a problem and I encountered one on my way back. As my shared taxi crossed the last landslide-affected region and drifted away from the mountains, I experienced mixed emotions. Sad, because I was leaving, but happy as I had got a glimpse of God’s Eden.
A trip to the Valley of Flowers is one that every travel aficionado must try once in a lifetime. The stunning landscape coupled with the euphoria one feels as he or she gazes upon fields of beautiful flowers is one that cannot be described in words. You must go see it for yourself to understand the magic of this place.
The author Arpan Kanthal is a Systems Analyst and loves to travel and write about it.
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