Mountainous peaks, flowing rivers, fresh water streams, the heavenly feeling of being with nature, wilderness in all its glory….. the list just goes on and on. This is what an enthusiastic group (most of them strangers to the 2 of us) of 15 trekkers had in mind when they planned a trip to the Valley of Flowers in August 2016. Having heard a lot of stories about the beauty of the Himalayas and colorful valley, we entirely forgot about where we stood on the fitness scale to be able to do a trek. Good or bad, our tickets were booked, shopping was done and excitement was running high.
The Valley of Flowers is an Indian National Park located in the Western Himalayas in the State of Uttarakhand. IT is open only from June to October and is covered by snow for the rest of the year. August and September brings out the Valley of Flowers in all its vibrant hues dominated by a sea of tourists from far and wide. \
Day 1: 11 of us met at Bengaluru International Airport to go to Dehradun. Meeting everyone for the first time, we thought breakfast together was the best way to build a rapport… All the South Indian food lovers tucked into delicious Masala dosas and idlis soaked in piping hot sambhar as they know they were not going to get this cuisine for a week.. and then came selfie No.1 to mark the beginning of an EPIC trip..
We reached Dehradun by 6 p.m. and met our 4 new friends who joined us from Hyderabad. The excitement was palpable. A hearty dinner followed by a few more selfies set the tone high for next few days. A group of strangers in the morning already felt like family.
Day 2: We had to leave Dehradun by 6 a.m. to reach Govindghat by evening to meet our guide and kick start our trek. Packed bread butter and jam sandwiches, loaded ourselves into 2 vehicles and off we went.
The drive from Dehradun to Govindghat is a long and arduous one, nearly took us 11 hours but the beauty was mesmerizing. Winding roads through the Panch Prayags (Dev Prayag, Rudra Prayag, Karna Prayag, Vishnu Prayag and Nanda Prayag) accompanied all along by the majestic Alaknanda river along with a few halts for chai and pakode is something we would all cherish for a long time to come.
Finally, we arrived at Govindghat at 6 p.m, a town in Chamoli district which lies at an altitude of roughly 6000 feet. Here we met our trek leader from Roads and Journeys , Taarak ( our protector, literally!!!!) and Pradeep, our guide. Roads and Journeys is the company we had signed up with for the trek. I really don’t know how most of us( being first timers) would have pulled through this trek without these guys. Such warm, sensitive, encouraging and courteous human beings.
We had a quick briefing session with Taarak about what the next 4 days had in store for us.
Day 3: The next morning began with all of us setting off in very high spirits from Govindghat to Ghangaria (our base camp situated roughly at an altitude of 10,000 feet. The trek is for approximately 14 kms spanning across lush greenery, cool fresh water springs, little hamlets that serve piping hot tea and Maggi and of course an everlasting trail of mules which just do not seem to care about the trekkers!!
We had to stop at the check point to register ourselves and get ID cards made (just in case of a disaster). The first half of this walk was really fun since everyone was fresh and excited.
But after a point, the weather played spoilsport and made the walk even more difficult as the climb was steep and we were clothed in jackets and raincoats! It took roughly 6 to 8 hours to cover these 14 kms and finally at dusk we reached the small village of Ghangaria. A quaint little hamlet which is just one road long. Lined by guest houses and tiny hotels on one side it was going to be our “sweet little paradise” for the next 3 days. We quickly went into our designated rooms and asked for “maalish and garam paani” A quick massage by one of the local maalishwalas who had his own theory of how the muscles need to be relaxed after a trek, a lavish hot dinner and off we went to bed, excited to go to the Valley of Flowers the next day.
Day 4: A sumptuous breakfast early next morning with packed lunch and off we went to the Valley of Flowers, situated at roughly 12000 feet, in all its beauty. The walk to the Valley is for kilometers and is not all that exhausting. Snaky, stony paths with the constant sound of the Pushpavati river lashing on the rocks is all you need to be prepared for.
A light drizzle with the sun peeping out in between added to the beauty of the Valley. As a much needed respite, no mules are allowed on this path since it is quite narrow, hence a fresh, relaxing climb. It can be quite a romantic one too for love birds!! On reaching the Valley of Flowers, we understood what Heaven on Earth truly means. It is simply breathtakingly mesmerizing. Acres of greenery with pockets of pinks, lavender, yellow and white transports you into a different realm altogether! I fail to wrap my head around its beauty.
And then, the clouds descended and it poured incessantly…. But nobody was to be held back. A few of us decided to trek further into the Valley to look for more beauty (greedy as we had become). And as we were rightly told, it just got prettier and prettier with every step. And I absolutely had to chase my dream of drinking icy cool water from a freshwater stream!!! It made me feel like I was in a fairy tale. And I did exactly that and made sure I have a picture of it too..
We had to make do with whatever little we could see through the rain. Nevertheless, we kept posing and clicking all the way. Come rain or sunshine we had decided to make the most of this trip! The trek back to Ghangaria was quite exciting as well, because of the rain and poor visibility. However, slowly and steadily we climbed down in approximately 3 hours.
Day 5: The next day was going to be quite strenuous as it was the trek to the Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara and the Lakshman Mandir situated at an altitude of 14000 feet. The trek from Ghangaria to Hemkund Sahib is approximately a 6 kms climb and this is the highest Gurudwara that is located on the shores of the Hemkund Lake. Hemkund literally means “Lake of Snow” and the water is precisely as cold as snow. The highlights of this trek (other than the extremely steep climb) are dense forests, several waterfalls, my better half taking a dip in the icy cold water of the holy Hemkund lake at 4 degrees and an enchanting view of the Himalayas. Not to forget, the feeling of being above the clouds!!!
And so began the trek to Hemkund Sahib. Half of our group decided not to trek but take mules one way as we had all heard that it’s a very steep and difficult climb. The other half of the group decided that come what may we shall climb and conquer!! And so it began. The first 3 kilometers were easy as we too were in high spirits. But then the ordeal began. Constant chants of Wahe Guru by fellow trekkers and pilgrims boosted our spirits and we kept going. Mid way we met fellow trekkers who told us that it would be better if we took the mules too as it would get really difficult towards the end. And then we could suddenly hear the chants from the Gurudwara itself. It almost felt like HE was calling!! Personally, this journey gave a lot of inner peace. Not getting too philosophical, after almost 6 hours of climbing we finally reached and met all our friends who had gone up on the mules and had reached almost 2 hours before us. The beauty of the Hemkund lake surrounded by peaks on all sides is just exotic!! It is an experience of a different world that you just don’t want to let go of.
Sighting rare flowers such as the Brahmakamal and the Blue Poppies is another highlight of the trek.
Stepping into the warmth of the Gurudwara had me in tears. It was a divine and peaceful experience beyond explanation. Even before I was shaken out of the trance we were welcomed by devotees who offered us hot khichdi and piping hot jaggery tea.
Day 6: This technically marked the end of this trip but we decided to make it more exciting by ending it with a helicopter ride from Ghangaria to Govindghat. Seeing the mountains around with a snake like river flowing below is not an everyday experience. We were all like a bunch of kindergarten children being taken for a picnic. The excitement was palpable, more so because the climb that took us 11 hours was completed in 3 and a half minutes in the chopper!!! So just before the group split we decided to take one final group pic at the helipad in Ghangaria and this is how it looks!! One of the best pics in the trip…
The group had decided to go to Badrinath from Govindghat but news of fresh landslides kept pouring in and none of the taxi drivers were ready to take the risk. So the plan suddenly changed from going to Badrinath to Joshimath and Auli.
Auli is an important ski destination in the Himalayan regions of Uttarakhand. So while we waited for our trek leader Taarak and guide Pradeep, and our bags on the mules to arrive, we played a round of dumb charades, did some street side shopping in Govindghat and topped it off with some more chai and pakodas.
A quick stop over for lunch and then came another round of excitement at the ropeway in Auli. This is the longest ropeway in Asia spanning over a distance of 4 kilometers and takes almost 20 minutes. Auli is surrounded by major peaks like Mana, Kamet and Nanda Devi. It was a visual treat to look at the beautiful scenery from a bird’s eye view. Once we got off the ropeway, everyone in the group shot off in different directions to take as many pictures of this Paradise on Earth! Heroes and Heroines came alive posing next to trees and flowers or doing the Shahrukh Khan pose. Pure madness.
We stayed back at Joshimath that night and left for Haridwar early next morning.
Day 7: Saying goodbye was never my cup of tea but all good things must come to an end. With a heavy heart we said goodbye to our guide, Taarak and proceeded to Haridwar for the night, hopeful to see the Ganga aarti. However, our plans crashed thanks to an unimaginable traffic jam which took us 4 and a half hours to get out of!!
Winding up, a HUGE thank you to Taarak (Roads and Journeys), Pradeep and the rest of the group for making this trek such a joyful one and memorable one for Darshan and me. Doing something out of my comfort zone with new people around was quite a challenge. But at the end of this 1 week, I realized that “There is something to learn from every individual we meet.” And I say -A group that treks together stays together!!! People say “The beauty of the Himalayas gives you an instant KICK “. Now I know what it means. It’s just left me longing for more.
P.S: My sincere suggestion to those of you who want to do this trek… It is a good start for first timers since the difficulty level is not too much. So Go for it!!!!
Day 1: Reach Dehradun from Bangalore (via Delhi)
Day 2: Drive from Dehradun to Govindghat (approximately 11-12 hours)
Day 3: Trek from Govindghat to Ghangaria ( 13 kms; 6-7 hours)
Day 4: Trek from Ghangaria to Valley of Flowers and back ( 4 kms)
Day 5: Trek from Ghangaria to Hemkund Sahib and back (13 kms)
Day 6: Trek from Ghangaria to Govindghat ( we took the chopper)
Day 7: Drive from Govindghat to Haridwar or Dehradun
Day 8: Back to Bangalore
Approx. cost for the entire trip: Rs. 28,500
A few random clicks of the entire trip for those of you waiting to go……