May 3, 2009

Valley of Flowers: The Approach

Route covered so far:
DelhiHaridwarRishikesh – Devprayag – Srinagar – Rudraprayag – Karnaprayag – Nandprayag – ChamoliPipalkoti JoshimathAuli GovindghatGhangaria

Govindghat to Ghangaria:

One kilometer away from Govindghat’s main road, the zigzag mule track begins at Pulna and I notice it has a mark of being 13 kms away from Ghangaria. Journeying from Govindghat to Ghangaria would mean an ascent of 1,220 metres (over 4,000 feet).

It is past 11:30 am. Filled with enthusiasm, I am so enamored with the beauty of the place that, save for a brief stop by at a roadside kiosk to buy a plastic raincoat, I begin the trek right away. The raincoat came of use as it kept drizzling on and off during the rest of the journey. Though it is cool, the looming noon sun beats down on me mercilessly, and makes me wish I had begun the trek early that morning. But then I take solace in the fact that I had a glorious time during my overnight stay at Auli.

I trek relatively easy carrying my backpack for the first two hours during which I ascend about 400 metres or so. At one point, during a steep climb, I suddenly realize that I’ve got to ascend more than 800 metres for the day and then begin to acutely feel the strain of the weight of my backpack. Then I recalled Murphy’s law that backpack strap width decreases with distance hiked. To compound that, I feel its weight miraculously kept increasing. Not just that, as if it is meant to ease my woes, its weight load kept migrating up and down my back as I continue walking. I felt at that time that 80% of its contents could have been left behind at home, but then who knows, the 20% left behind might be just what I need.

Mountain Village

Jokes aside, my backpack weighed about 7 kilograms and on hindsight, had I known that it was nothing but an upward incline all the way, even for that little weight, I’d have taken the help of one of the porters right from Govindghat itself. After trekking for 3-4 kms, I cross the beautiful Bhuyundar village, a cluster of modest houses with the backdrop of misty mountains. I chance upon a porter - who was to charge me only Rs 200 or so to carry it up to Ghangaria - and toss my backpack at him with relief. Thereafter my ascent gets easier and I am comparatively more relaxed to enjoy the rest of the journey.

Pilgrims on animals

For those who are not in the mood for trekking, there's a choice of hiring an animal. For that matter, there are crudely assembled palanquins available for the benefit of the faint hearted (pilgrims mostly, as I believe hikers are tough); and to carry children, also pittoos. Pittoos, porters of mostly Nepali origin, carry kids of the pilgrims in cane-woven baskets on their backs.

A pilgrim being carried on a palanquin

Whether a mule is hired, or a palanquin or a pittoo, one ought to be ready to balance well, because those paths can be treacherous at times. I’d strongly suggest to trek, and enjoy the opportunity to stop at free will to absorb in the splendor and beauty of bountiful nature. It is definitely worthwhile trekking at one’s own pace to soak in the beautiful Himalayan experience.

I come across many pilgrims on their way to or returning from Hemkund Sahib. When compared, trekkers going to or returning from the Valley of Flowers are far and few. The path is, at places, strewn with mule dung. I often hear the pilgrims chanting ‘Waahe Guru’ when able to spare a breath; some of them filling palms of climbers with glucose, toffees, and to those who need it, words of encouragement to egg on. Little do they know that I am one of the few on my way to the Valley of Flowers, not Hemkund, where most seem to be obviously heading. I am quite surprised to see some of these pilgrims undertaking the arduous journey barefeet! But then I often feel the power and strength of religious sentiments is beyond my comprehension.

Brahma Kamal, a rare Himalayan plant
(it was misty when I shot this picture)

I stop often to admire the exotic flora and the many spots of cascading waterfalls from the great heights into the valley before joining the roaring waters of the flowing Lakshman Ganga. The river flows almost parallel to the trek path and gives me company most of the way. The long journey is a bit tiring but beautiful all the way.

River Lakshman Ganga flows

Twice, I take tea-breaks at shacks during the 7 hours trek. I watch pilgrims looking dreamy through the mist plodding along the steep trek path, wearing colorful raincoats. Both times, I choose a spot that has the River Lakshman Ganga running close to the shacks. The effect of the gurgling river has a soothing effect. The marvelous feeling of sipping tea in such surroundings is something that I can’t experience even in 5-star surroundings.

I continue trudging along. Tired towards the end, the journey of the last 2-3 kms only gets more steep but there is no time to rest my weary feet as I am intent on reaching Ghangaria before sunset. Then I come across a helipad area, and a cluster of tents. I know from what I had read online that this is an indication that I have almost reached.

Approaching Ghangaria

Finally after 6 pm, I am glad to reach Ghangaria. Being a base for hikers and pilgrims going to either Valley of Flowers or Hemkund, I find the place is crowded for mountain dwelling standards. I intend to stay at the GMVN accommodation, though fully aware of an unsuccessful attempt at making an advance reservation with them. Their website stating booking can be made only 3 days in advance was also of little help as I had left on my journey by then. As I head towards the GMVN quarters, I notice a major part of their building gutted by fire. Upon inquiries, I learn that their remaining wing is fully booked as their dormitory was destroyed by fire. I sincerely hope it is not a case of arson at this great height in the Himalayas!

The sun having set now, I scout around and fortunately find a damp-walled but tidy lodge with clean attached bathroom and promptly check into it. It is getting dark, and the mist enveloping the area gives me little idea initially of how actually the place looks like.

In the twilight, at one point, I watch the fog clearing up and voila..I see before me just a few feet away from the lodge a huge mountain side, like a tall wall looming right in front of me. I feel it real close like a spectacular wallpaper on my PC monitor but this is real and beautiful nature! It is an exhilarating experience spending time in the midst of these towering peaks some of which are at a height of more than 20,000 feet above sea level.

Ghangaria from a height

I cover up well to protect from the freezing weather to go out for some early dinner in anticipation of having an early night in Ghangaria. I am just one night away from the day that was to dawn when I would be in the Valley of Flowers finally. With pleasant thoughts of anticipation of that day, I fall asleep.

“Towards the end, the mountains have appeared nearby,
yet not close enough not to be in awe of them.”

To be continued…
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34 comments:

Arun said...

been reading the series with great interest. The Brahmakamalas in the mist look very pretty.

What is the big green building in the last image? The gmvn lodge?

indicaspecies said...

Arun,

That's the Gurudwara where most of the Sikh pilgrims take a break and/or spend night(s) before embarking on the strenuous journey to Hemkund Sahib. I am led to believe that if anytime there is no room left at GMVN lodge or any of the other lodges in Ghangaria, hospitality at the Gurudwara is guaranteed.

koand said...

ciekawy blog , czyta się z zainteresowaniem ,pozdrawiam :)

indicaspecies said...

Koand,

What does that mean?

oo7 said...

wow yar...
how much did it cost??

as always i am jealous grrrrrrrrr

indicaspecies said...

Bond,

Enjoying the beauty of nature costs nothing. Other costs are minimal, and hailing from the state of Uttarakhand, you should know it better.

oo7 said...

yaar i have not even able to visit rishikesh...been planning for last 2 years.
always short of money.

have an interview ...hopefully i will get through.
then i am gonaa go places
i so want to wander around.

indicaspecies said...

Hey,

You are in Nainital, right? A hop, skip and jump can land you in Rishikesh. Don't miss the Ganga Aarti once you are there.
So, all the best with your interview and hope you get to travel lots.

oo7 said...

right now.. i am in super hot noida,Doing my internship.

keeping my fingers crossed for the interview.
thank you...and tc

indicaspecies said...

Cheers Vicky!

Final_Transit said...

Hi Celine,

The trek narration to Ghangariya was beautiful. 7kgs is definitely heavy, but maybe you could have chanted something like: 'Murphyaya Namah' to please Lord Murphy?? (he's always a pain) :)

cheers.

indicaspecies said...

Hey Priyank,

Murphyaya Namah..lol!
If I chanted that I'd be enlightened in no time and know more and more about less and less until I know absolutely everything about nothing..haha!

Shantanu said...

At first glance I took the Brahma Kamal to be tulips. Interesting flora in these heights.

Rajesh said...

Amazing snaps. I can use this as excellent travel guide for the trip to this place, whenever it happens.

indicaspecies said...

Shantanu,

To think of over 300 species of flowering plants in that Valley is awesome!

indicaspecies said...

Rajesh,

Thank you for your kind words, and I do hope you get an opportunity to be there.

Vamsee said...

Celine,
Your posts are always such a treat to read and this one is no better. You build up the story very well. I am waiting for the next installment. beautiful snaps!!

I can't believe you did this trek all by yourself. 7kgs would have been a pain...will remember to hire a porter when I do this.

indicaspecies said...

Vamsee,

Thank you for your nice words. For this trek, I have had travel companions with me as written in the Introductory post of this series.

Vinita said...

Hi Celine,

I've been following all your entries with awe. I dream of traveling a lot myself, but the farthest I've been to in India, is Manali, Himacahal. Whats your profession....I mean, how do you get to travel so much? ( am Jealous you know... ;-) ). Nice snaps. Please keep them coming.

indicaspecies said...

Hi Vinita,

Thanks. Manali is awesome, and I intend to pass by there again during my next trip to HP. I'm a regular office-goer with a 9 to 5 job in a law office. As am passionate about travelling, I try to make it happen. Thank you for dropping by Vinita.

AJEYA RAO said...

Beautiful Tents...I am planning to head to the mountains this year again...hopefully it happens

Indrani said...

Lovely!
Do you travel alone?and trying for a lodge at the end of the day? doesn't it frighten? I cannot imagine unbooked travel.
Seeing a Brahma Kamal for the first time.

GMG said...

Hi Celine! Another hectic week and my tour of blogosphere suffers... ;)
But nothing took my breath away more tahn just reading you going up the hill with a 7 kg backpack... I'll need some oxygen... Great post, lovely photos, but I should have read it some thirty years ago... ;))

Blogtrotter just ended the tour of temples in Old Town Vilnius and waits for you there. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

indicaspecies said...

Ajeya,

They are. Hey, I do hope your plans to head to the mountains fall in place.

indicaspecies said...

Indrani,

Thanks. I've had my share of solo travels but for this trip, as I wrote in my Introductory Post, I had company. For a trekker, seeking a lodge at the end of the day is not really frightening. As for me, I am ready for the unexpected as it adds to my sense of adventure.

indicaspecies said...

Gil,

Thank you. Trust me, young man, you can do it even now.;)
Have a good weekend.

Vinni said...

Hi Celine,

Always a pleasure to read you blog and the interesting stories for your travel. Did you try you hands at eating Maggi in the Himalayas? Trust me the same ordinary Maggi tastes so nice in the mountains when ur trekking!

Do let me know.

Happy Trekking.

Vinni

Vinita said...

Hey, where did you go from Ghangaria? Pls put up the next post soon!

bendtherulz said...

Braham Kamal in mist....whow !! I actually dont have any image of Braham Kamal.
Looking forward to next post...your walk in VOF....hey dont get lost, though its so damn magical...!!!

Shantanu said...

Had read this post some time back but came back again to see if it makes me feel better... looking at these tranquil cool surroundings as I read this in super hot Pune. This summer has been so hot!

GMG said...

Hi Celine! Sorry for the absence, but I’ve been busy with my parents’ health; almost 180 years to care... But it seems you have been absent too... ;))
Blogtrotter is showing the new Vilnius as well as the old University. Hope you enjoy and have a great week!

indicaspecies said...

Vinni,
Haha..maggi noodles in the Himalayas is a must - hygienic, and convenient as a quick fix to hunger pangs, and yes, you are right, Maggi tastes delicious while trekking. While in Garhwal, I recall having Maggi also on the return journey from Hemkund and on the way back from Mana to Badrinath. Thank you for dropping by and your good wishes.


Vinita,
From Ghangaria, I went to spend a day in the Valley of Flowers...hehe!
I've been busy...work, IPL, a bit of travels, but shall continue writing and put up the concluding post on a day in the Valley shortly. Thank you for your continued interest.


BendTheRulz,
But you must have come across Brahm Kamal at least a few times during your sojourns to the Garhwal.
Yes, my next post will be about a magical Day in the Valley. Currently writing it and should be put up in a few days. Thank you for dropping by again.


Shantanu,
I know exactly how hot it has been as I am just back from a trip to Mumbai and parts of Sahyadri. Will put up some pictures soon.


Gil,
I hope your parents are feeling better, and yes, I did enjoy Vilnius, thank you.

San said...

How I love the sight of those houses scattered in front of the mountain. I've read that it's auspicious to live with a mountain behind one's back.

You must have lost some weight after hauling that weight up the path. But the vistas must have been worth that weight in the proverbial gold.

indicaspecies said...

San,
I'm glad. I always lose weight prior to (in order to be fit to trek) and post a trek (because of the trek)..but then yes, as you beautifully put forth, the effort of hauling myself up (let alone rest of stuff) is worth the weight in gold.;)