Thoughts & Ideas

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Trip to the Valley of Flowers II - The Trek

The next day (day 5) we left early in the morning on a shared Sumo for Govindghat (8000 ft), which is about 30 kms from Joshimath on the road to Badrinath. The trek to Valley of Flowers (VOF) and Hemkund Saheb (HS) starts from there. We reached Govindghat by 8.30 am and had a lovely breakfast of tandoori pyaaz paratha before setting off for the trek. One has to first cross the river Alaknanda on a small non-motorable bridge and then start walking. There is also an option of riding a mule or pony! It was then that we realized that there was no way we could do the climbing while carrying our luggage. Help was close at hand, with numerous licensed porters offering their services and we hired one to carry our luggage from Govindghat to Gangharia

There was a regular procession of people, old and young, men and women, who we met on the way on the trek beyond Govindghat. They were nearly exclusively Sikhs traveling to HS on pilgrimage. There were also many small shops all along the way selling edibles and water. We had thankfully also bought small walking sticks on Shridhar’s suggestion. These were about 3 feet long with a metal pointed cap on the base and were very helpful in maintaining balance while climbing on the uneven steep pathways. The pathway goes along the Laxman Ganga as it tumbles down in haste to join the Alaknanda

We reached Gangharia by evening and found a small lodge – single room with attached bathroom (Rupees 600 per night), which was relatively clean and spacious. Electricity was available only for about 2 hours in the morning and evening and, on request a bucket of warm water was available in the morning to take a bath. There are no regular telecom facilities beyond Govindghat, either fixed line or mobile. However, at Gangharia sat-phones were available at Rs.20 per minute. Gangharia has a large Gurudwara where langar was available, but somehow we did not have any meals there. 

Next morning (day 6) after having a hearty breakfast and stocking up on chips and chocolates we started for VOF. Since camping and overnight stay is not allowed in the Valley of Flowers, Gangharia is the logical base camp for the trek. Travel beyond Ghanghria is on foot at nature's pace since the entry of ponies is also prohibited. The trek is subject to strict ecological discipline and the trekker is expected to be concerned about the ecosystem of the region. 

A little beyond Gangharia there is fork in pathway, with the left hand path leading to VOF and right path leading to HS. And lest I forget to warn you dear reader, the pathway upto Gangharia is full of mule shit inspite of constant cleaning by an army of sweepers. The sight and smell is quite unforgettable.

As we trekked towards VOF breathing became extremely difficult and we had to stop every few steps. We then met up with some people who were returning and who advised us that the going onwards was very difficult and warned us against continuing. We nearly lost courage but being eternal fool hardies, decided to continue. A little later, on the way we met a forest guard who advised us that breathing was difficult due to the extremely low oxygen levels and suggested we should keep walking slowly while taking deep breaths and would surely reach our destination. This gave us much encouragement. 

There were very few people on the route to VOF from Ghangharia, as most pilgrims to HS have no interest in visiting VOF. The 4 kms of slow climbing was very difficult going but we, somehow managed to reach the VOF by mid day but were too exhausted to go deep inside the valley. 

What beautiful scenery on the way and what beautiful flowers growing naturally. I had heard and read so many times about glaciers but saw them for the first time and also walked on one!   We reached VOF by mid day, but did not have any energy left to explore it further and decided to return by 1 pm since the trek back is also quite strenuous. By 5 pm we were back in Gangharia and fit only to flop down on our beds. 

Apart from the flowering plants, the place is also populated with wild animals like the Himalayan birds, butterflies, Tendula, Musk deer, Bharal Mountain goats, Himalayan bear, mountain leopards, Himalayan tail less rat etc. We looked hard all over the place through our binoculars but did not see any of larger wild animals. We did get to see a number of birds and of course the unique Himalayan tail-less rat. 



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