Finally the day arrived when we had to leave for the much awaited trek to the fabled Valley of Flowers and Hemkunt Sahib. We had our tickets booked for the August Kranti leaving from Mumbai Central at 5:40pm and reaching Hazrat Nizamuddin (Delhi) next day at 10:30am. The journey was good with beautiful sunset sights and good food. The chicken curry served was very good so were the other snacks (One reason to love the Rajdhani and August Kranti).
To avoid traveling by bus to Rishikesh (7 hours of pure torture if you take the public transport busses), we had reservations done for the Kaling Utkal mail which leaves from H.Niz. at 2:35pm and is scheduled to reach Haridwar by 8:30pm. You may expect some delays as this trains comes all the way from Puri. Another better alternative would be taking the New Delhi – Dehradun Janshatabdi which halts at Haridwar.
As the train was running late we reached Haridwar at 9:45pm and had to search for transport to reach Rishikesh as our night halt was at the Bharat Bhumi – A GMVN hotel in Rishikesh.
We went to the taxi stand and enquired about the taxi fare which was a steep Rs.680 for the 25km distance. We decided to take the 6 seater rickshaw (which eventually fill upto 10-15 peple) or try the state transport busses. The bus stand was bang opposite the taxi stand so we decided to give it a shot. It was a total chaos at the bus stand with busses huddled together all trying to move out. We asked a few drivers and in 5 mins we were aboard a bus to Rishikesh. We reached Rishikesh in 40 minutes and in 32Rs ….. The fare being 16rs. for each of us. A way better deal than taking the super expensive taxis and the unrealiable 6 seaters (they call it Vikram locally).
We took a rickshaw from the Rishikesh bus stand to reach Bharat Bhumi guest house. The night accommodation is included in the Tour No. 12 package of GMVN. The room was large and clean and also had a TV and a geyser … which became a luxury in following days
Had dinner at the Bharat Bhumi Guest House (sadly, nothing much to write about it) and we retired to sleep.
Reporting was at 7am so after a hurried breakfast we loaded our luggage and got into the minibus which was going to take us around for the next 7 days. Our guide MS (that’s what we called him as we never really understood his surname) introduced himself and other to the rest of the group which seemed to be a very energetic lot and had come from various parts of the country.
Our first halt came at Devprayag – the convalence of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi which forms the Holy Ganga river. A beautiful sight indeed, barring the unrecessed and unplanned developement on every available inch of the river banks…see it below.
After 5 mins of photoshoot we were back on our way only to stop somewhere in Srinagar for lunch.
The roads were no smooth sailing, with patches of freshly cleared landslides and the fear of one happening anytime ensured nobody slept in the bus. Everyone aboard was thrilled with the beauty of the Himalayas and terrified at the same time with the treacherous roads.
By 4-4:30pm we reached Pipalkoti for a tea-break and to freshen up at the GMVN guesthouse and then by 6 we reached Joshimath where we were going to stay for the night. The rooms very basic (to say the least ) and we could hear our neighbors talking and then snoring as well.
After a rather disappointing Alu-tikki chaat adventure, we returned to have dinner at the GMVN guesthouse and retired to sleep.
Early morning, I and Hemant visited the Shankaracharya Math which is a 5 minute uphill climb from our guesthouse which also served as a great place to view the surrounding beauty of Joshimath.
Had to depart at 8 pm to reach Govindghat and catch the 9 pm gate. Also, we had to take stuff required 3 days along with us and the rest was to be kept in the bus as we had our cleaner to look after it. Another alternative to dump your excess luggage is at a cloak room at Govindghat which would charge Rs. 10/day per bag. We decided to pay that amount to the cleaner instead.
At around 8pm we left Joshimath and were mentally gearing up for our 15 kms trek to Ghangria which was to commence from Govindghat. The way to Govindghat was beautiful with Mountains and numerous streams flowing through them which looked liked streaks of silver.
On reaching Govindghat, we had decided to hire ponies for some of our group members and also for carrying the luggage of those who were to walk up. I happily gave up my sack to be loaded on the pony as I readied myself to walk those 15 kms. There were almost 7-8 of us who decided to walk and rest took the ponies. We started at around 10am and within 10 mins. could feel the scorching sun burn our skins and we were gasping already. There were several pony wallas pursuing us along the way and I was already resisting the temptation about striking a deal with one of them. According to the Govt rates you can hire a pony (one way to Ghangria) for Rs. 465. However, as the tourists were comparatively less during the time, there were several ponywallas open to negotiate this rate.
However, again thinking of how badly I needed to lose weight, I gave up the idea of taking the pony and trekked on the stony path with frequent stops to catch our breath. After some initial breaks for the nimbu pani, chaat etc, the group slowly dispered in 2s and 3s. Hemant stuck with me as he had no other option.
Finally after a lot of stops and whining and complaining to Hemant, I finally found my pace and decided to walk very slowly but steadily, which was the best way.
After some 4-5 kms of walking we reached Bhundyar, a tiny, but cute village on the way. A trek to the Kakbhushandi Tal starts from here. It is a 24km trek and takes around 5 day. You can enquire around for guides who can arrange everything and take you on such treks.
The road is laced on both the sides with numerous stalls where you can quench you thirst for tea, coffee, colddrinks, nimbu pani (called shikanji locally), glucon-d, jaljeera etc. and satisfy your hunger with Alu parathas and Maggi noodles (2 things which formed our staple diet for the next 3 days :).
The walk is strenuous to say the least. The roads are built with stone and have a gradual climb. For us, as we were trekking after god alone know how many months, it was just one word – TOUGH – firstly the climate to which we are not acclimatized enough, secondly the sheer distance – IT KILLS. 15kms, a gradual climb – trust me guys this is long road to walk.
We stopped at around 1pm for a bite at one of the stalls and shared a Alu paratha. Refreshed, we made our next halt at around 4pm after crossing a very pretty bridge across the river to have another dose of Alu Parathas and some nice hot tea. These were surprising different from all we had earlier. The guy had cooked the Paratha in a tandoor and garnised it with a fat dollop of Butter….it was yummmmy to say the very least – especially after walking almost 11kms, it tasted divine.
With newfound energy from the tandoor parathas and piping hot tea, we were back on our track. At around 6:30, FINALLY, we made it to Ghangria. Our pony group had reached long back and had settled down. We were put up at a Hotel Deepak instead of the GMVN which was rated un-inhabitable by our group which had reached earlier as there were bunk beds and one loo to be shared by 10.
Hotel Deepak was a tiny hotel with a decent restaurant. We four – Hemant, Me , Archana and Vivek were accomadated in one room. To our relief, the loo was clean and functional.
After a quick dinner we retired to sleep. However, we all were so tired with the arduousTrek that we were unable to sleep properly. …. One might wonder if that’s possible.
We were all super-excited to visit the Valley of Flowers. The whole group was ready, armed with raincoats and cameras. As always we were the last to join :P. The group had also arranged for a guide, Rajnish Chauhan who would take us through the Valley and introduce us to the variety of flowers. A bit about him: Rajnish seemed to know the valley very well and is a very good photographer as well. He has a small shop next to the Devlok hotel in Ghangria and sells momentos, pictures that he has taken (very good collection of Birds and flowers that he himself has shot…with a camera I mean. He also arranges treks in the near by areas.
Half a km. ahead of the hotel we arrived at the Valley checkpost. You need to pay a minimal entrance fee and camera fees only if you are using professional cameras. The flowers had started making appearances right from here and the entire path was covered with various variety on both the sides. It had started drizzling and we were compelled to put on our rain gear. The actual valley was 3 kms ahead. The road to the valley is very pleasant and enjoyable, though there are a few steep patches. The complete route is dotted by pretty flowers like Balsam, geraniums, Saxifrage etc. You can also spot some beautiful, himalayan birds on the way.
As we neared the valley, the variety as well as the number of flowers increased dramatically. The banks of the river were covered with tiny white and yellow flowers and the mountain sloped seemed to be covered with a carpet of white flowers. The mesmerizing beauty of the valley was unfolding infront of us and we all took long breaks to take it all into us.
Finally, after a 3 km trek, and on crossing a tiny bridge across a gushing stream of ice-cold water, we arrived the Valley of Flowers and at the entrance were greeted by Himalayan Balsam in full bloom lending a pink hue to our surroundings.
Rajnish Chauhan briefed us about the valley and the surrounding peaks. We all halted for a while to rest. We had walked almost 4km from Ghangria, and decided to call it a lunch break. After filling up ourselves with the Alu Parathas (again) which we carried as pack lunch, with an amazing beauty surrounding us and clouds passing through us, it was already past noon. The earlier days trek had proved to be too tiring for us and we decided against going further into the valley, much against our wishes. We did want to go upto Legge’s tomb, the botanist who slipped and died in the valley while collecting flower samples. But, the tomb was almost 8kms ahead and we really lacked the energy to go on.
So we roamed around a bit more clicking pictures and more pictures before finally deciding to take the road back. The road back was more of a descend and hence it was much easier for us.
Reached our hotel by around 4pm. All were so excited with the valley of flowers and we were mentally making plans for our next and a longer trip to the VOF.
After a quick snack we all settled for a long session of chit-chat and travel story exchanges.
While all this was happening, I was contemplating about whether to walk it up to Hemkunt or to take a pony as the climb to Hemkunt is a pretty steep one and much more tiring than Govindghat – Ghangria (this actually got me thinking about taking the pony).
……………….. More on Hemkunt Saheb Later.