Journey to the Valley of Flowers

14 Aug

Nature rewards you after hard work. Getting to the Valley of Flowers in the middle Himalayas is a very long journey – almost 3 days from Bangalore. Its a trip that requires planning and getting in shape – but eventually the reward is worth the effort. For anyone wanting to make a trip to Valley of Flowers and Hemkunt Saheb this Blog will provide all the details.

A quick Summary of the trip

  • The journey : Bangalore – Delhi – Dehradun – Haridwar – Joshimath (6050 feet) – Gobind Ghat – Pulana – Ghangria ( ~ 9500 feet) – Valley of Flowers ( 9500 – 12000 feet) – Hemkunt Saheb (14500 feet)
  • Almost 50 kms of trekking ( I did 35 by trek and 15 by Mule) which treats you to Fresh air & Divine views
  • 25 hrs of driving in the rugged Himalayan landscape – we travelled in the monsoon and witnessed at least 25 landslides – by divine grace we were not impacted by rain or landslides and sailed thru smoothly.

You can do this trip in 8 days but I decided to spend a few days at Gurgaon to meet friends and visit the Akshardham temple – A masterpiece where you can easily spend 4 – 5 hrs. Having travelled to Delhi so many times in the past 15 years this was one landmark that I had not visited. The story of the young sage Swami Narayan is fascinating and has close similarities to that of Shanakrachary. We missed the fountain and the light show in the evening – but I am sure I will come back to this well maintained energised place.

Swaminarayan Akshardham, New Delhi

Day 0 : Bangalore – Delhi – Haridwar 

My friends house at Gurgaon is also a temple – so much of peaceful energy, and it was a great start to an exciting 8 days ahead. He was kind enough to drop me at Platform 16 Ajmera Gate, Delhi Dehradun Shatabadi. This is the last platform – so if you get dropped on the other side of the station its a very long walk . I reached Haridwar at 11.45 and was in my Hotel by 12.45 ( Regenta Hotel – Royal Orchid on the Haridwar Rishikesh Road). My friends from Bangalore had taken the morning flight and they also reached the hotel by 3 PM. That evening we stopped by the Sapta Rishi Ashram and the Adhbut Mandir on the way to Har Ki Pauri to view the Ganga Arti. Aug is not busy season, because of monsoon and the “kavad” season is over  – the Ganga was in spate, frothy and muddy. Haridwar is a chaotic place and the Ganga Arti at the Har Ki Pauri  was a shade compared to what I had seen in Varanasi or even Rishikesh. (Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are believed to have visited the Brahmakund in Har Ki Pauri in the Vedic times). For all the noise we make on Hindutva it would be good if Indian temples and places like Haridwar , Rishikesh and Varanasi are kept as clean as the Vatican or the Golden Temple. On our way back we had a tasty dinner and had an early sleep (Given the long travel ahead I made it a point to eat light and avoid gravy / spicy food all long )

Day – 1 : Haridwar – Joshimath (278 Km – 12 hrs drive) 

We left our hotel at 6 AM and reached Joshimath at 5.30 PM. The journey was pleasant – our 14 seater Tempo Traveller had only 9 – so there was enough space to stretch your legs. Enroute we crossed Rishikesh – Dev Prayag ( Bhageerathi & Alaknanda confluence) – Srinagar – Rudraprayag ( Alaknanda – Mandakini Confluence) – and finally Joshimath and checked into Auli – D. A decent hotel with basic functionality – neat rooms , geyser, decent food. The weather was hot and humid all through and only near Joshimath did we start feeling pleasant. The road is good – you ascend from the plains to 6050 feet over 278 km so the ascent is smooth – no sharp U bends. We stopped for breakfast and lunch (No branded restaurants on the way – food is decent but the ambience and cleanliness of the dhabas is sad, toilets are disappointing, big challenge for women travellers who comprise almost 50% of the Trekkers to the Valley of flowers)

Day – 2 : Joshimath – Gobind Ghat – Pulana – Ghangria 

After a breakfast of Aloo Paratha, Poha and Chai we left at 7 AM by the Tempo Traveller. Our next stop was Govind Ghat – 20 Km ( 45 min). On the way we stopped to admire the Vishnu Prayag – the confluence of Bhuyandar & Alaknanda – a place where sage Narada is supposed to have meditated.

We reached Govind Ghat by 8.30 AM and had to stand in a Q to complete the registration process. We unloaded our luggage and took a Jeep to Pulana – 4 km away. From Gobind Ghat you will lose Mobile Connectivity – all you will have is very sporadic BSNL land line connection at Ghangria. The trek to Ghangria starts from Pulana – its a 11 Km trek , not very steep. If you walk at a relaxed pace it will take you about 4 – 5 hrs. We started at 9.30 and reached our room at Ghangria by 2 in the afternoon. You also have an option of riding a mule for Rs 850/- or be carried in a basket by a Nepali Sherpa or to take a chopper from Govind Ghat ( 5 Min – Rs 3500, Operates only if weather is good) . Most people walk – the guide had loaded our luggage on mules so that was easy. This is the first trek – energy levels are high – and I strongly advocate that you walk this stretch. There are nice views of forests , waterfalls , gushing springs. the pathway is cobbled – lots of shops on the way to stop for lemon juice or food or snacks. Keep your rain cover handy in your small backpack – the weather is very unpredictable. It did rain after almost 3 hrs of trek and the rain did slow me down.

Ghangria is the base camp for both the Valley of Flowers and Hemkunt Saheb. Located at 9050 feet its a small hamlet that operates only for 4 months from June to Sep.

You have an option of staying in a small basic functionality hotel or in tents. The Tents may have better views but not electricity and running water. Blue Poppy the company that had planned our trip had booked us at a small inn called Krishna Place – its the type of room I may not have stayed even when I was in college. Small , Cramped, Basic , the quilts and bedsheets were dirty, the limited staff were stinking  – two of us stayed in a room designed for 3 – we used a bed for keeping our bags , there was no place in the ground to keep any bags.

The good things – You have electricity and running water and Hot Water was provided by Bahadur ( 1 bucket / day is free – extra is Rs 50/bucket) – the hotel provided Tea , Bottled water , Pakodas , Maggi etc and also a Foot Massager – who charged 200 Rs for a 10 min massage. That was a luxury for the first few days – before we realised that his rate was higher than that in a high end spa at Bangalore. The guy also washed and ironed clothes – we were in for a shock when he told us after washing that he charged Rs 150/- per piece. But thats the premium you pay at 9500 feet.  There are a few dhabas nearby that serve good food – all our meals were at Gangotri – from piping hot Upma at 6 AM to Rajma, Chole, Noodles and even Dosa – we had no challenges with good hot food all thru the trip. I stuck to Khichdi most of the days. Tea Coffee is served using Milk Powder – you do get curd , but I think even that is made from milk powder. Price for food is reasonable.

Day – 3 : Ghangria – Valley of Flowers – Ghangria

I had been praying for months for a safe trip with good weather and it was a joy to see clear sky at 5 AM. After a warm bath and breakfast we started our trek at 6.30. A short distance later you complete the registration formalities.(Our guide had taken all the details and entry fees earlier and done the needful so we had no waiting period). Entry pass is Rs 150 valid for 3 days The busiest day at the Valley of Flowers has seen 500 visitors , in July – August the average crowd is about 200 / day. the best part of this trek is that no ponies are allowed – you walk or you are carried by a Sherpa.

Climbing has always been easy for me – it coming down thats a challenge on my knees. Sunny skies and the excitement of the final destination nearby energises you and I covered the 4 km to the entrance of the valley of the flowers in 2 1 /2 hrs . Its a beautiful scenic trek thru forests and gushing springs. The weather is pleasant and perfect for trekking. the views are amazing.

If you re tired and thirsty drink some water  from the spring – its energising and refreshes you, full of minerals. This is how life was as God made it and we messed it up. Every 30 minutes I stopped for doing a few Pranayams and deep breathing – this really helps in ensuring that the oxygen content in your blood is high. All along your trek you are walking along the Pushpavati river.

The climb was easy and at 9.15 I was in the Valley of Flowers. This UNESCO world heritage site is spread over 30 square kilometres. the end point is the Tipra Glacier ( 14,500 feet) – from the entry of the Valley of Flowers to the Tipra Glacier is a 10 Km Trek ( 6 Hrs) and you can pitch a tent there for the night.

We walked 3 kms inside the valley – it was mystical , foggy , surrounded by mountains, brooks and waterfalls all around you – and flowers in a multitude of colours and shapes. Just you and nature. Its nice – but if you have expectations of meadows of flowers as far as the eye can see then you may be a tad disappointed. Which I was – the Valley of Flowers met expectations – did not exceed. It was very nice but it was not jaw dropping spectacular

 

 

 

 

 

We had packed lunch – there are no shops on this route , and after lunch we started the trek back to Ghangria by 12 noon. Going back is always tougher – and to add to the challenge of climbing down it started drizzling. The pathways here are not cemented – its just rocks of different shapes that are on a path – its wobbly and pokey – and on an incline it can be risky. I struggled and moved step by step , inch by inch and finally made it back to the room dead tired by 4 PM , almost 4 hrs. (Most people do not venture 3 Kms deep into the Valley)

A Foot massage followed by a nice warm bath , and a nourishing dinner and I slept like a log at 9 PM (My friends ensured that they were warmed up by a Patiala Peg – there is no liquor available at Ghangria , so ensure that you get it with you or buy it at Joshimath , the stores at Joshimath close by 6 PM – so chances are that by the time you reach its closed)

Day – 4 : Recovery Day 

Last 2 days I had trekked 25 Kms and I was tired. The Tour Company had smartly planned 2 days for the Valley of Flowers – in case of heavy rains there was a backup day. Fortunately for us this backup day was the rest day. The last 4 – 5 days I had been getting up at 4.30 , and was tiring – I needed rest. Guess what – this was the only day in our travel that it was raining heavily. My colleagues decided to walk around and visit a waterfall close by and see the tents. I stayed back in the room to catch up on my strength.

Day – 5 : Hemkunt Sahib 

Located at 14,500 feet – the trek from Ghangria to Hemkunt ( Also spelled as Hemkund ) is steep. You scale 5500 feet in less than 6 kms. The pathway is in better shape than the Valley of Flowers – but most of the route is not as scenic as the Valley of Flowers. Climbing becomes difficult because of the steep altitude and lower oxygen. You have an option of taking a Mule ride – which I did. We left sharp at 6.30 and reached Hemkund at 8.30 – there are many shops on the way on this route. It was a bright and sunny day with Blue Skies. Good to reach early as it gets very foggy after 11 AM .

In his previous birth Guru Nanak is said to have meditated at this spot. Its a beautiful serene place with a glacial lake surrounded by 7 peaks. The mist plays peek a boo with the lake and the whole experience is magical. Right behind the Gurudwara is a place where Lakshman is said to have meditated – and there is a temple in memory of him. Hem Kund as the name suggests is a Snow Lake – and the Gurudwara is open only from June to Sep, rest of the year it is not accessible because of heavy snow. Best period to travel is September.

The water in the lake is freezing , but the strong sardars brave the cold and take dips bare bodied. After a walk around the lake I went and sat inside the Gurudwara from 9.15 to 10 AM. The “Ardas”  is at 10 AM  and at 12 AM ,  we attended the 10 AM “Ardas” after which very tasty Halwa was served as Prasad. Stepping out we had piping hot Khichdi and Tea. Our friends who started the trek at 5.40 AM made it by 9 AM (Which was great – most people take 5 – 6 hrs to climb up)

The rare Brahma Kamal flower blooms in plenty in and around the Hemkunt Saheb – we could see them as we started our trek back. We climbed a small hill – with no path just to get closer to these rare and beautiful flowers. There was a sense of accomplishment and peace as I sat next to the flowers.

I started the trek back with gusto but after an hr my feet started hurting. The steep incline puts pressure on your toes and I was mentally holding back running down – allowing gravity to help me in the way back. I ploughed along for 5 kms and finally the last 1 km I had to take a pony ride. the master trekkers in our team went down almost sprinting in less than 2 hrs.

Day – 6 : We head back to Joshimath 

After breakfast at 6 we started our journey back to Gobind Ghat – the plan was to reach by 9 and then head to Badrinath and Mana on the way to Joshimath. By now my feet were tired and I took the Mule back. We were at Gobind Ghat by 9 – collected the Prasad from the Gurudwara and headed towards Badrinath.

Its a 2 hr drive and the road has many tricky spots where landslides happen frequently. We had been informed that the road was closed for the last 2 days. Fortunately when we reached the roads were open. But there was the risk of landslide in a 100 metre stretch.

Having come so far I wanted to go but the fear of the majority over ruled the faith of a few. We travelled ~ 600 kms in the fragile Himalayan landscape safely and I was sure that we would have passed this 100 m stretch also – God had opened the path to us after 2 days – Badrinath was empty and we would have had great Darshan – but it was not to be. In 2010 I was at the gates of Badrinath but it was very crowded and the Q time was 3 hrs – and we were not able to get a Darshan – I am sure I will get lucky the 3rd time.

On the way back we stopped by at Jyotir Mutt – one of the 4 mutts established by Shankaracharya, he spent almost 14 years here. We were blessed to spend time in front of the Akhand Jyoti that he had lit almost 2500 years back, and pray in front of the “Swayambu” Shiv Linga below the 2500 year old Kalpa Vriksha. This place is brimming with energy and positive vibrations.

Blue Poppy the tour operator delighted us by putting us up at Auli for the night instead of Joshimath. Auli is a hill station at 9500 feet located 15 km from Joshimath.  I had visited Auli a few years back. Its a world famous Ski Town and the ITBP Skiing School is located here. Others in the group took the Cable Car from Joshimath to Auli while I went by the Tempo Traveller with the luggage and on the way stopped by an Apple Orchard. Its a rare joy to pluck an Apple from a tree and bite into it – with the juice flowing down your mouth.

Blue Poppy has very nice Log Cottages at Auli with excellent view of the Nandi Devi. Its mostly cloudy but at 520 AM in the morning I got a good view of the peak. We rested , ate well and were ready to leave the next day.

Day – 7 : We head back to Rishikesh

Breakfast at 6.30 and we started our journey back at 7 AM – we saw multiple landslides that had been cleared and barring a 30 min stop we had a smooth drive all the way to Rishikesh. On the way we did a brief stop at the Dhari Devi temple – one of the 108 Shakti Peeths and highly revered in Garhwal. This is a Kali temple located between Rudraprayag and Srinagar. The temple has the upper part of the Goddess and the bottom part is in another temple called Kalimath in Agasyamuni ( near Uttar Kashi)

 

We reached Rishikesh by 5.30 PM. On the way we passed Vashisht Guha – I love this place and have visited it twice, but it looked like rain was round the corner and we had to abort our plans. At Rishikesh we stayed at the Vasundhara Palace – an excellent property in Muni Ki Reti, 2 min walks from the Ganga. Our friends braved the rain to walk and see the sights of Rishikesh but I preferred staying in the room.

Day – 8 : We head back to Bangalore 

Dehradun airport is closer to Rishikesh – on a Sunday it was a 30 min drive. My flight was at 12.40 and Indigo was nice enough to pre pone my connection at Delhi from 5 PM to 2.40 PM – being the long weekend Bangalore traffic was a breeze and after a comfortable flight I was back home at 6.45 PM

Coincidence – the couple sitting next to me in the flight were also coming back from the Valley of flower trek. They had gone thru a company called India Hikes.

We had gone thru Blue Poppy – a company run by a lovely couple. I was very happy with their arrangement and response. Always ready to customise and help it was a pleasure working with Seema and Devkant Sagwan. Blue Poppy does only Valley of Flowers Trek – they don’t cut corners and try to provide the best. The guide they had provided was excellent.

Other Useful Points ( The company you go with will provide a exhaustive list – this is just a reaffirmation of some important points) 

Valley of Flowers is open from June to Sep , June the valley is covered in snow , July / August is the best time to visit , by Sep the flowers start drying up .

  • 5 Years back 70% of the travellers were foreigners but now Indians have taken over and almost 80% of the travellers are Indians – and they come in all shapes and sizes from 16 year old to 75 + . Gujaratis, Bengalis form the largest groups , while a significant number travel from Bangalore. Its great to see Indians moving from just    ” Seeing Holidays” to ” Doing Holidays”
  • Invest in good gear – a Good trekking show with ankle support is a must
  • Get knee support – coming downhill that will be a big help
  • Ensure to use Sun Screen – we pray for sunny days but at this altitude the sun can be harsh and you will get sun burnt. So even if it is cloudy and rainy as you start remember to use the sunscreen
  • Stay Fit and put in some effort few months before you travel to be in shape. Some people are genetically fit to trek others like me have to pit in some effort.
  • Carry medicines but you don’t need them – on the 1st day night at Ghangria I felt my heart was thumping very fast – but I was able to meditate and bring it down. Don’t panic and take medicines proactively – they are not needed. A strong mind and a fit body is all you need.
  • Eat light – and avoid oily greasy food as you travel
  • This is cash only economy so carry 10 – 15 K with you in currency
  • Can you travel on your own ? Yes some people do but I feel its best to go with an agency that can provide professional guidance and help. An emergency situation is a step away in these regions and thats when you need the help of an agency.
  • Pray and have faith in the almighty – respect the mountains , don’t dirty it
  • Last but not the least – talk to someone who did the trek as you plan and pack , my wife’s guidance and support was invaluable ( she did this trip last year)

 

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