“Nature has always had more force than education”
Dear Readers I am back with a new story on my trip to Uttarakhand. Last ten days, I travelled to this beautiful serene state.
Uttarakhand formerly known as Uttaranchal is a state in the northern part of India. It is often referred to as the Devbhumi (literally “Land of the Gods”) due to many Hindu temples and pilgrimage centres found throughout the state. Uttarakhand is known for the natural environment of the Himalayas the Bhabahar and the Terai .On 9 November 2000, Uttarakhand became the 27th state of the Republic of India being created from the Himalayan and adjoining north-western districts of Uttar Pradesh. It borders Tibet to the north, Nepal to the east and the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh to the south, Himachal Pradesh to the west and north-west as well as Haryana on its south-western corner. The state is divided into two divisions – Garhwal and Kumaon with a total of 13 districts. The interim capital of Uttarakhand is Dehradun the largest city of the state, which is a railhead. The High Court of the state is located in Nainital. Two of the most important rivers in India originate in the region – the Ganges at Gangotri and the Yamuna at Yamunotri. These two places along with Badrinath and Kedarnath form the Char Dham a holy pilgrimage for the Hindus. The state hosts the Bengal tiger in Jim Corbett National Park – the oldest national park of the Indian subcontinent. The Valley of Flowers a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the upper expanses of Bhyundar Ganga near Joshimath in Garhwal region, is known for the variety and rarity of its flowers and plants.
I had a very strong desire to trek to the Valley of Flowers so when I saw an advertisement of Women on Wanderlust(WOW – a travel group only for women), I immediately booked myself a place. I prepared well for the trip according to the tips given by WOW. Soon the D-day arrived and I was excited as well a bit apprehensive as I was going solo for a long trip with women I have never met before. My flight was via Delhi. On reaching Dehradun Airport I could easily identify the group of enthusiastic & chirpy ladies to whom I introduced myself (we were familiar with the names due to the whatsapp group created by our buddy Kumud prior to the commencement of the flight).It was a pleasure to meet women from different parts of the country – Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad & Pune.
A paradise for nature-lovers, Haridwar presents kaleidoscope of Indian culture and civilization. Haridwar also termed as ‘Gateway to Gods’ is also known as Mayapuri, Kapila and Gangadwar. The followers of Lord Shiva(Har) and followers of Lord Vishnu(Hari) pronounce this place as Hardwar and Haridwar respectively as told by some. It is also a point of entry to Dev Bhoomi and Char Dham (Four main centres of pilgrimage in Uttarakhand) Viz. Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.
We were met by our buddy Kumud outside the Airport and were introduced to Natasha- the photographer for our trip. After the customary introductions, we hopped into the Traveller waiting for us and soon reached Padmini Palace – the restaurant where we had a sumptuous lunch. After lunch, we drove down to Haridwar which is an hour’s drive from Dehradun.
The Group at Padmini Palace
The drive began my initiation to the hills of kumaon-Garhwal – a heaven on Earth. We reached Haridwar around 3.30 pm and checked into Regenta Orko’s.
Our Room at Regenta Orko’s
I had a nagging thought regarding my roomie but was lucky and delighted to have a caring and a simple lady from Hyderabad as my roomie with whom I got along very well and were inseparable throughout the trip. After freshening up, we went down to join others for the Ganga Aarti at Har Ki PaudiWe left at 5 PM and reached the ghat early to book our places. At Rs 100 per person you can book a comfortable place for yourself. By this time,It was only 5.45 pm and the Arti would start at 6.45 pm.We set out to the chaat gali where we relished mouth watering Gol-Gappas(paani-puris) and Aloo Tikkis(Potato patties deep fried in Ghee/Oil) – the taste of which I will not forget for a long time( reminded me of the chaat of Civil Lines in Allahabad near Palace cinema).Not to forget the plate of Rabdi which was perfect – not too sweet. After relishing the chat and Rabdi
Chaat Gali and the Bustling Market in Haridwar
We hurried back as it was time for the Ganga Aarti at “Har ki Paudi”. The Aarti was mesmerising and I felt grateful to be part of a large crowd offering prayers in the setting sun.
Ganga Aarti at Har Ki Paudi
We returned to our Hotel around 1930 hrs and dinner was served at 2100 after which we retired to our rooms as we had an early start for a long drive to Rudraprayag the next day.Our stay at Regenta Orko’s was comfortable the food was good and the breakfast spread was generous.
- Devprayag is the confluence of the holy rivers Bhagirathi & Alakhnanda river. It is the first prayag on the way to Badrinath.
- Rudraprayag is the confluence of Alakhnanda and Mandakani rivers.The confluence is named after god Shiva, who is also known as Rudra This place distinguishes itself to be having the only lady priest of the temple at the Confluence.There are many legends associated with this place.The man eating Leopard of Rudraprayag hunted and written about by Jim Corbett dwelled here.
- Karanprayag – Karna did his penance here hence the name. It is confluence of the rivers Pinderganga and Alakhnanda.
- Nandprayag is the confluence of the rivers Mandakani & Alakhnanda.
- Vishnuprayag is the confluence of the rivers Dhauli Ganga & Alakhnanda.
Day2 ( Haridwar to Rudraprayag)
We were advised by our Trek leader to have some medicine for motion sickness if anyone suffered from it as the roads were winding and steep. Although my roommate and myself did not suffer from it, we took a pill each as a precautionary measure which made us very drowsy through out the journey——-much to the amusement of our fellow travellers. We started our journey to Rudraprayag at 7.30 am after breakfast. As the traveller sped through the winding roads and sharp bends, we enjoyed the scenery outside of the tall chir and deodar trees.There are a wide variety of chir trees and the lush greenery is very soothing to the eyes. Kuldeep our driver drove carefully and kept us entertained with his collection of local songs. I was jolted out of my reverie when we were asked to alight to view the confluence of the holy rivers of Lohawati,Tamrawati and Alakhnanda.After spending some time taking photographs, we were back in the bus and again stopped to view the confluence of the rivers Bhagirathi and Alakhnanda.
Alakhnanda is the predominant river here along with her tributaries.On the way we stopped for tea at Kaudiyala Monal restaurant. It was drizzling and the view from the restaurant was absolutely mersmerising. We took many shots of the Alakhnanda river.
View from the Kaudilaya Monal Restaurant
Next was a Bhutta(Corn) stop – farm fresh Bhuttas(Corn) at 30 bucks. My roomie liked it so much that she had 2 of them. Some of us had nimboo paani(Lime Juice) which I refrained from having, since was not too sure of the quality of the water.
We lunched at the Chahat restaurant where the food was okay but the views from the restaurant were jaw dropping. Some of us trekked further down and took some awesome shots of the river along with a small temple on its banks.
We started our onward journey at about 1410 hrs and reached Monal Resorts at about 3.30 pm.We were told to assemble at 5.30 for a closer tryst with the river Alakhnanda.
After freshening up and settling ourselves, we were ready at the designated time for our next adventure.The pathway leading to the river was a descend of steps and vegetation which was scenic – mandating a few shots with the camera. Quite often I was trailing in the group as I was busy taking photographs trying to capture my experience as much as possible. The water of the river was cold and we spent about 2 hours frolicking in the waters taking many photographs.The river flowing between the mountains and the setting sun made it very picturesque.
Fun at the banks of Alakhnanda at Monal Resort
Before it became too dark our Trek leader took us to an old bridge(only two persons were allowed at a time).The view down from the bridge of the river flowing between the mountains and the setting sun created an aura and it was absolutely divine and peaceful.
We took a jungle trail on our return journey which was quite exciting.On our way back, we also paid homage in a small temple.
The Jungle Trail to the Resort
We also encountered a gaggle/flock of Geese which were the pets of our resort.
Soon dinner was served as we had an early next day.Food at Monal resort was average, the staff were courteous and co-operative.
Day-3 (Rudraprayag to Govindghat)
After breakfast we started our onward journey to Govindghat. We refrained from taking any medicine as we wanted to be alert to enjoy the drive On our way we got down to see the confluence of Pinderganga and the Alakhnanda rivers.We took a tea break at a small restaurant named Indralok in the village known as Peepal Kothi.Both the names being unusual, they stuck to my memory.On the way we could see Tapovan Hydel Project of NTPC in Joshimath.We also had a fleeting glance of the Haathipahad & Sleeping Beauty Mountains.We drove past the Narsingh temple & the Vishnuprayag Hydel Project and reached the Bhagat Hotel at about 1330 hrs – our resting place for the night. After checking in, we left for Badrinath around 1345 hrs which is about an hour’s drive but we were delayed as there was a landslide. we got down and drank water and filled our bottles with water from the cold stream and clicked some photographs.We were lucky to have a very peaceful darshan(viewing) of Lord Badrinath.
Afer paying our obeisance we proceeded to have lunch which was at Hotel Devlok – GMVN( a Govt of Uttarakhand Undertaking)The food was good and the hot chapattis were relished by all.
After lunch we proceeded to the last village- the Mana Village. On the way we saw fields of vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage growing in abundance.We observed an ageing population in the village, the young ones might have migrated to nearby cities looking for jobs.The men as well as the women folk were all engaged in some kind of work- the ladies busy knitting sweaters.There were small shops on both sides of the path selling woollen items.The women were also selling faran(a kind of seasoning for yellow lentils)and tea masala.We bought a few packets each costing 10 bucks.There are many places to visit in this village viz.
1) The bheem Pul
2) Saraswati river
3) Ganesh Gufa
4) Vyas Gufa.
The Saraswati river also known as the Goddess of Knowledge has its origin in a mountain near Mana Village. It is visible and above surface for about 100 mtrs before it submerges underground and travels a distance to finally join the confluence of Rivers Ganga Yamuna and Saraswati at Sangam near Allahabad.
Above the Saraswati river is the Bhim Pul, another major attraction of the village. It is a natural bridge built from a huge rock by the Pandava brother Bhima for his wife Draupadi. Lying in the interial corners of the town, it is believed that this was the place from where the Pandava brothers started their ‘ascent to heaven’ (swargarohini). During their transit, Draupadi was unable to cross the river and hence Bhima lifted a huge rock and placed it here which today is known as the Bhim Pul.
A short distance away is Shree Ganesh Gufa where the epic Mahabharata and other ‘Purans’ are said to have been composed by Lord Ganesh.
A steep climb up is the Vyas gufa where Ved Vyas is believed to have lived while composing the four Vedas. It is also the place where he is said to have dictated the Mahabharata to Lord Ganesh. A distinct feature of the temple is the roof which resembles the pages from Ved Vyas collection of his Holy Books.
After the visits, all of us returned to the traveller except one member who lost her way and could not be contacted on the phone as there was no mobile network. After waiting for some time, our Trek Leader Abhimanyu went looking for her and traced her. On our return to the Hotel, we had early Dinner as the next morning was the trek to Ghangaria.We packed our main bag, the back pack and kept our Trekking Poles ready as this was going to be an important accessory for the trek.we left behind the used clothes in the traveller as now our main bags were to be carried by ponies to Ghangaria as we trekked to the place. We called up home and also gave the number of the camp as the place only has network of BSNL/CELL ONE.Hotel Bhagat was passable hotel, the food also was just okay but the view from the hotel was very beautiful.
Govindghat is a pristine hamlet adorned by pilgrims and adventurers alike in the Chamoli district of Utttarakhand State.It is located on the way to Badrinath at the confluence of Alakhnanda and Lakshman Ganga rivers.Govindghat is also the starting point of the trek to Hemkhund Sahib and the Valley of Flowers.Govindghat lies at an altitude of 6000 ft(1800 m)
The weather of Govindghat remains pleasant throughout the year but the winters are harsh.The place remains closed from November – April.You can either hire a mule or avail the services of a local porter to reach Ghangaria from here.
Since Govindghat is nestled on the banks of river Alakhnanda, a major part of it was disrupted during the 2013 floods.
Ghangaria is a small village on the way to Hemkund Sahib, a popular pilgrimage site for Sikhs which is about 6 km from here and the Valley of flowers – a national park known for its variety of flowers about 3 km from here. It is located in the northern Himalayan ranges at an altitude of 3049 meters in Uttarakhand state of India
Ghangaria is situated at the confluence of the river Byunder Ganga and Pushpawati , which forms Lakshman Ganga, that later meets river Alakhnanda at Govindghat. It is the last human habitation in the Bhyundar valley. This place is usually used by travellers as a base camp to visit Hemkund and Valley of Flowers. It is only open from May till September. The rest of the year, the valley is covered with snow.
Ghangaria can be reached after a trek of less than 11 km. Shared taxis are available up to 4 km from Govindghat. Ghangaria has a helipad.One can also hire a porter or mule or a helicopter to avoid this strenuous trekking. Ghangaria has various hotels including one from the GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam), restaurants serving Punjabi, Chinese, Garhwali dishes, shops, camping grounds and a big Gurdwara to accommodate pilgrims. Earlier only satellite telephone service was available, with only one outgoing call allowed for the entire village at any given time, but now you get weak network of BSNL GSM and IDEA GSM operators.
Day 4(Govindghat to Ghangaria Camp)
We were all ready to start at 7.30 am after a light breakfast of porridge and toast but got delayed as some ladies were not ready and we finally left at 8.15 am.The distance to Ghangaria is 13 kms.The group was divided into three lead by kuldeep with Kumud in the middle and Abhimanyu bringing up the rear.After our bags were loaded on the mules we set out with excitement as we had come all the way to see the valley of Flowers.Ghangaria is the base for both VOF and Hemkund Sahib.We trekked for about 700 m and reached Pulna where the jeeps were waiting for us to the point from where the trek starts.The jeep charges Rs 35 per person. For those who cannot walk the entire distance, ponies, pitthus/porter( a basket in which you sit and the person carries you on his back) or helicopter(Rs 3500 per person) can be hired.The Helicopter services are available depending on the Weather and number of passengers. The rates vary for the mule or the porter/pitthu and you have to negotiate and depends from where you hire. In case required, I would recommend hiring from the start point since as you climb higher, you would meet horsemen returning with their ponies but will demand a higher rate for a short distance as your desperation would be visible and there being fewer ponies available(From the camp to and fro they usually charge Rs 1400).
After making a pass where our photos and biometrics were captured, we sat in the jeep and travelled 4 kms. From here, the 9 kms trek starts along a well laid path.The sound of our trekking poles tak- tak along the route was novel. There are markers on the way which we were informed are not accurate.My roomie and myself took our time enjoying the trek and clicking photographs.The track leads through the forest and there are cautionary boards on the way. The pathway is lined with rhodendrons, deodar and pine trees. The flowering plants and the roaring river Pushpavati add to the beauty of the path.There are shops selling Maggie,cold drinks,water and fruit chaat. One has to be careful while walking as you will encounter the mules/ponies carrying passengers and other types of loads as this is the only way to transport goods. The pathway also gets narrow in some places. The trek till the bridge is not difficult but gets steep thereafter.
I was amazed by Abhimanyu’s pace as he walked up and down with various lots – the ones who were ahead and the ones who were trailing.We stopped at the fruit chaat shop for a plate of lip smacking fruit chaat (50 bucks a plate).
The Chaat Shop
There are reasonably clean washrooms on the way which can be used by paying 10 bucks.We crossed two more bridges over the roaring Pushpavati . The waterfall was thunderous and we took some very good photographs.
The entire trek is very picturesque but it is not easy.If you walk at your own pace enjoying the scenery unfolding, you will not feel very tired. As my roomie and self were doing just this, we were the last ones in our group. We were in no hurry as we wanted to savour each moment.
The Scenic Trek to Ghangaria Camp
Some of the younger members reached the camp as early as 1 to 2 pm but we reached at 3.30pm. After checking in and settling ourselves at the camp which was going to be our home for the next 3 days, we headed for lunch.
There were 8 tents in our camp.The first one was the Dining area.Our tent was no 6. It had electricity and points for charging mobile phone/camera, an emergency light, two relaxing chairs, a table, a mirror,an attached toilet with wash basin, a small stool to keep our stuff, a bedside table and twenty four hours water supply.
Hot water buckets were delivered to the bathroom.The camp is located amidst very beautiful and scenic surroundings which made me very excited. In the evening, we were served hot tomato soup in our tents. As the sun set, it became very cold the temperatures dropping to 1 degree, by which time, I was longing for a cup of tea.The kettle and tea bags I had carried came handy and both of us enjoyed a hot cup of tea.To ease our aching foots we had a foot massage for 200 bucks which eased and relaxed our tired feet. Dinner was served at 8pm before which, we gathered outside the open space of the camp, put on some music and danced. As we were the only occupants of the camp, we called up home in turn.The call rates here are Rs10 per minute – a small price to get connected to your loved ones. After dinner we snuggled into our blankets and were delighted to be served with hot water bags which we tucked under our feet and soon fell asleep dreaming about the next day as we were going to trek to the valley of flowers.
“Climbing the hills and valleys in open air. Our lovely moments now we can share. The Earth has music for those who hear”
I will pen our trek to the Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, return trek to Govindghat and our return journey from govindghat to dehradun in part 2 of my blog.