“ Travel and change of place imparts new vigor to the mind.”
The next day was the exciting Trek to “Valley of Flowers”.
Day 5 (Trek to the Valley of Flowers)
The excitement for the trek became evident when me and my roommate woke up at 4.30 am and due unavailability of hot water so early, used my kettle to heat up water required for our morning routines. Unfortunately, a minor incident dampened my spirits – The tea cup placed on the side table which was a bit wobbly tilted, accidentally spilling the hot tea on my foot, causing profuse burning sensation. I immediately placed my foot under running cold water of the tap for about ten minutes and applied an antiseptic cream which eased the burning sensation. Bharti (my roomie) was very calm all through, comforted me and assured that nothing would happen. After some time, we inspected the foot and was relieved to see that there were no blisters. I informed the Trek Leader of the incident who also inspected my foot and assured me that everything would be fine. With a bit of apprehension, I put on my shoes for the trek. In all this melee, we got a bit late for breakfast and had to hurriedly gulp some porridge and pick up our packed lunch(cheese sandwiches and Aloo parathas).With trepidation, I started walking. Initially, I felt some burning sensation which much to my relief, soon subsided. We had packed our backpack the previous night and made it as light as possible as advised by the Trek Leader.
About Valley of Flowers
Valley of Flowers is a fairy-land situated high in the Himalayas of Uttaranchal, at an altitude of 3,600 meters above sea-level, protected by snowy mountains. Unknown to humans for centuries, this enchanting valley lay frozen during the colder months and burst into its youthful beauty every year, as the snow melted with the advent of summer. Every year, the valley was splashed with colour as it bloomed with hundreds of species of flowers, taking on various shades of colours as months progressed. Finally one day, nature condescended to bless humans with this heavenly sight, when Frank Smith – mountaineer, explorer, botanist – chanced upon it in the monsoon of 1931. He authored a book called “The Valley of Flowers” which unveiled the beauty and floral splendours of the valley and made the world sit up and watch. It was declared a national park in 1982, and now it is a World Heritage Site. The locals, of course, always knew of the existence of the valley, and believed that it was inhabited by fairies. The valley is spread over an area of 8 km X 2 km. The entrance fee to the valley is Rs 150 for Indians and Rs 600 for Foreigners. Ponies are not allowed but a porter or a palanquin can be hired. The valley has an elevation of 3352 – 3658 m.
The Valley of Flowers is a 3 km climb from Ghangria. We crossed a bridge across Lakshman Ganga, which originates from the Hemkund lake. After the bridge, the path bifurcates – the right one goes to Hemkund and the left one leads to the Valley of Flowers. No mules are allowed into the Valley. The difference is soon noticeable- the smell of mule-dung which had gotten to our heads is replaced by the fragrance of the flowers. We were lucky as when we started, the weather was clear and we donned our caps and sunglasses with a lavish application of sunscreen. After some time, I felt as if I was alone but to my surprise observed Abhimanyu checking on me. He later walked fast to check on the other trekkers of our group. I met a group of Enthusiastic Trekkers from Russia besides a number of Trekkers of different nationalities.
After crossing the check post, there is a stream coming down from the left, and one has to cross it over a makeshift bridge.
The path goes down and there is an iron bridge over Pushpawati river which hurtles down with great fury and meets Lakshman Ganga at Ghangria. Exotic flowers start right from here. Here we were met by Botanist Rajneesh who showed us many species of Flowers and plants. On both sides of the path there were variety of flowering plants – impatiens and a variety of geraniums were commonly seen.
The Botanist also demonstrated how the impatiens would burst open when one touched its seed pod. The seeds are edible and had a nutty taste. We also saw edible and non-edible mushrooms along the beautiful maple tree lined pathway. We were shown a plant(the name I cannot recall)- the fruit of which has cancer curing properties. We also saw Oregano, Himalayan Thyme, Bhoj Patra Tree, Silver Fir and Himalayan strawberry bushes. The flowering season of Rhodendrons is April so we could only see the trees. There were lots of rugged yellow balsams. The path to the valley is well laid with stones – the reason being as it rains very frequently, a muddy path would soon be washed out by rain besides it being mucky.
The Bhoj Patra Tree & Silver Fir Tree
Soon the sky was of full of dark clouds and it started drizzling. As advised we had our rain jackets in our back packs which came in handy. The trek is only 3 kms but the last 1 km is very steep. We(Bharti & myself) were again trailing behind and reached the cave at 12 pm where the rest of the group had already assembled.We were greeted with a hot cup of coffee which was like elixir after the tiring rainy climb. Along with the refreshing coffee, we savoured our sandwiches. This point was the start of the valley which is spread in an area of about 8 kms. Most of us set out to explore the valley which has a two feet wide walkway and the walk is comfortable. we found white to be the predominant colour and the common flowers on this patch were the Himalayan Knotweed which had a heady fragrance. Also seen in abundance were the white leaf Hogweed and a black coloured flower the name of which I cannot recall. The mix of white and black was a contrast and looked very striking with the lush green surroundings.
After walking a bit further we found the valley in hues of pink. The flowers here were the balsams – Shangrila Balsam, Mary Legg’s Balsam and the Gigantic Himalayan Balsam. After walking up for a while, we found a huge rock, sitting atop which, you get a beautiful view of the whole valley, the meadows, the cloud covered mountains and the tall lush green trees. After a group photo session, we proceeded further and after walking for about 3 kms, many in the group wanted to return but six of us including Bharti and self were enthusiastic to continue further and after walking for some more time, we were delighted to spot the Himalayan Cinquefoil or Ruby Cinquefoil.Which we named as red poppy.
Some Flowers of the valley
Some more Flowers of the valley
The flora changes and we spotted many species which were not seen earlier like the Royale’s larkspur, Fern leaf Milk parseley, Bhutkeshi, large Violet Dandelion, Himalayan snowberry, Jimsonweed and the shoefly. We rested for a while and wanted to go further but soon the sky was covered with dark clouds preventing us from proceeding further to visit the grave of Margaret Legge. In 1939, Joan Margaret Legge(21 February 1885 – 4 July 1939) a botanist deputed by the Royal Botanic Gardens arrived at the valley to study the flowers and while traversing some rocky slopes to collect flowers, she slipped and lost her life. Her sister later visited the valley and erected a memorial near the spot.
We commenced our return journey and once again the group was split as each of us walked at their own pace. Bharti gave me company throughout. We walked literally through the clouds and reminded me of the famous Hollywood movie “A Walk in the Clouds”
The Valley Covered with clouds
We spotted some more flowers which we had not seen earlier like the Himalayan Fleece Flower, Rose Carpet Knotweed, Himalayan Snowberry and many more.
After a while, we were hungry and had our lunch of Aloo Parathas
amidst the beautiful surroundings of the valley with the fragrant flowers all around, the majestic mountains, the roaring Pushpawati river and the thick forest in front of us. The view was amazing and kept us all spellbound. We wanted to rest here for some more time but Abhimanyu urged us to resume our descend as the weather changes very fast in the valley.
More Flowers of the Valley
Liguleria Amplexic A species of Buttercup
Reluctantly we started our return journey. Bharti moved ahead and myself along with another member were trailing.
The descend was not very difficult. We had company of Prakash who was from the camp and was patiently walking with us. Soon we reached the checkpost. The policeman sitting on the post checked our names prior allowing us to proceed further. After the checkpost, Prakash waited and we walked ahead. By the time we reached down to the stables, it was getting dark and I increased my pace and reached the camp at 5.20 pm. Bharti had reached at 5pm. On my way to the tent I met the buddy and our Photographer packed and leaving. On enquiring, learnt that the Photographer was not keeping well and so they were returning to Govindghat. I wished her all the best but felt a bit out of sorts for the buddy to leave us in between the tour. On reaching the tent, I opened my shoes and inspected my foot and a heaved a sigh of relief to find that besides a dark patch, all was well. After a good foot message and a hot bowl of noodle soup I felt relaxed. Dinner was served at 1930 hrs after which we packed our backpack for the next day’s trek to Hemkund Sahib – steep and difficult climb, snuggled with the hot water bags and soon fell asleep.
About Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara : Situated at a height of over 15,000 feet above the sea level in the Himalayan ranges of northern India, Sri Hemkund Sahib has emerged as a popular centre of Sikh Pilgrimage which is visited by thousands of devotees from all over the world every summer. Hemkund is inaccessible from October through April because of snow bound paths and glaciar. It is the world’s highest Gurudwara. The climb to the Gurudwara is quite steep and the distance from the camp is 6 kms
Day6( Ghangaria to Hemkund sahib)
I woke up to the alarm buzzing and found Bharti already up. She prepared a hot cup of tea and we chatted for a while discussing the day’s schedule . After a light breakfast, we picked up our backpacks, trekking pole and set out to Hemkund sahib at around 7.15.am.
On the way many a horsemen offered us a bargaining price for the ride but we were determined to trek. The horsemen followed us and admonished us that the climb is difficult so to be wise and take the ponies but we laughed it off and assured them that we can do it. After walking for a km the climb got really steep and we were already breathless. Throwing my bravado away, I decided to hire a pony and we were lucky to spot a horseman and bargained the ride for 500 bucks. Bharti wanted to trek and I felt a bit guilty leaving her behind but hoped that she too would hire one. The horse ride was not easy either, the horseman was managing two ponies and He was not attending to my pony properly. My pony Bunty had a tendency to walk at the extreme end of the path which was very scary. After riding for a km, I realised that I had taken a wise decision to hire a pony as the climb was indeed steep and remembered the previous horseman’s advice. It also took me back 25 years to my riding days in Wellington, when my husband was posted to do the Staff course in the Defence Services Staff College. We passed through a melting glaciar and I spotted many beautiful flowers but the horseman was not ready to stop the horse or click photos. Disappointed I decided to click photos on my trek back. We halted for a cup of tea at about 10 am about 2 kms from the Gurudwara.
I spotted some furry black dogs similar to the ones I saw in Ladakh. We reached the Gurudwara at 10.30 am. It was very cold, so I quickly put on my warm jacket, washed my feet and went for the darshan. (View). I was lucky to reach at Ardas time and I sat for the Ardas for some time and was served with hot whole wheat and ghee halwa known as kaadah as Prasad.
Outside Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara
After paying my obeisance, I was happy to meet two of the members of the group who had also taken ponies and reached early. Prior returning, we took a quick group photo and they headed to their return journey and I proceeded to the lake but was disappointed to find it covered with thick fog.
The Fog Covered Lake
After clicking some photos and paying obeisance to Lakshman temple
I proceeded for the langar where I had hot tea and Khichdi. When I was all set to walk down, I met Bharti and learnt that she too had hired a pony and was going down on the same one and advised me to take the pony as the horseman was good and very co-operative. So, I also decided to take the ride down.
The horseman was really cooperative and clicked many photographs for us on the way including chasing birds to click their photos. We spotted the Brahma kamal, blue poppy as well as a large number of Himalayan Cinquefoil or Ruby Cinquefoil and many more species of flowers some of which we had already seen in the Valley.
As we rode through the picturesque path we found the brave and tough ones still climbing up. we cheered them and continued with our ride back.
Mushrooms and flowering plants growing on trees
On our ride down we spotted some berries which Kundan our horseman told us that the bears are very fond of them they come out at night and finish them off in three days.True or not we believed him 🙂
The horseman brought us back very safely and we reached the camp at 2.30 pm. On reaching we came to know that one member of our group did not go for the trek as she was unwell. After trotting down for two hours we sure had a sore back. The remaining members also took a pony on their return journey except one whom we fondly call as the IBEX (a kind of mountain goat). This being the last day in the camp, we tried to make the most of it by sitting outside the tent and enjoying the beautiful scenery.
We placed order for the book on Valley of Flowers, thanked the camp boys and the cook Hari for providing us with delicious food and looking after us well. We packed our belongings and made preparations for the next day. Some of the members decided to take the helicopter and some ponies but Bharti and self were very confident of trekking down the beautiful pathway which we were uncertain of seeing in the near future !!!
Day 7( Ghangaria to Govindghat)
We woke up to a rainy morning and the helicopter services were cancelled. So pony rides for them instead.
We were ready in time and started our trek as the route was familiar. It rained throughout the trek. Bharti had a minor problem with her toe and we decided to walk slowly looking for more flowers on the way. We could sight many new species the names of which we didn’t know and clicked many good photographs. we were soon overtaken by the pony riders and the younger members. I enjoyed the path more this time savouring and filling my lungs with fresh mountain air.
The Trek down to Govindghat A local protecting himself from rain
Enroute we stopped for some fruit chaat and again for Maggie and tea. We reached Pulna at 12 pm and took the 4 km jeep ride to Govindghat where the Traveller and Kuldeep were waiting for us. After identifying and getting our luggage loaded in the Traveller,
We went to Pandukeshwar to visit Yogabadri and Vasudeva temple built in the 9th century A.D. After Darshan(view) and a quick group photo, we stopped at Hotel Bhagat for Lunch. We then started our onward journey to Rudraprayag which is 135 kms and took us about 5 hours. We checked into Monal Resort and to our delight we were allotted the same rooms. Some of us went down to the river the next morning.
Day 8 (Rudraprayag-Rishikesh-Haridwar)
Rishikesh is approximately 50 kms from Haridwar. It has a spectacular view of jungle-clad hills and is the confluence of River Ganges and Chandrabhag. Since ancient times, yogis, rishis, sages and sanyasis were attracted to Rishikesh to practice yoga in this peaceful location. It is rightfully known as the “abode of sages”. It is famous for its yoga world wide. Every year during the month of March, a week long International yoga festival is hosted by Rishikesh. Apart from spirituality it is also a hub for adventure activities such as rafting, camping, trekking and bungee jumping. Tourists throng the place throughout the year. It is known as the Yoga and the white water rafting capital of India. Two big suspension bridges play a major role (such as nerve system in body) in day – to – day life of Rishikesh. These two bridges (Jhulas) are known as Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula (Named after lord Ram and his brother Lakshman, the heroes of the Ramayana, who supposedly crossed the river Ganges here.
We stopped for lunch at Nirvana Bistro a unique restaurant and I had my first non – veg meal of pasta and sizzler. We had to wait for a while as it started raining – the weather changes very fast in the hills.
We then visited the monkey infested Lakhman Jhula – a member was attacked by a monkey to snatch her shopping bag.
We somehow managed to shoo away the monkey. We briefly shopped for some trinkets in the Tibetan shops from where I made some small purchases. Thereafter we all assembled at Honey Hut and relished a blue berry pastry and lichee ice cream. We resumed our journey at 4 pm and reached Haridwar and checked in at Regenta Orko’s at 7 pm. We had an early Dinner and packed again as tomorrow would be the last day of our trip. Abhimanyu and one member disembarked on the way to Haridwar to proceed to their respective places in Dehradun.
Day 9 (Haridwar to Dehradun)
Dehradun is in the Doon Valley on the foothills of the Himalayas nestled between the river Ganges on the east and the river Yamuna on the west. The city is famous for its picturesque landscape and slightly milder climate and provides a gateway to the surrounding region. It is well connected and in proximity to Himalayan tourist destinations such as Mussorrie and Auli and the holy cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh along with the Himalayan pilgrimage circuit of Char Dham. It hosts training institutions of national importance such as the Indian Military Academy, ITBP Academy and Indian Forest Reserve, Zoological Survey of India (ZSI).
Forest Reserve of India
A call from home the previous evening made me anxious about the heavy rains and flooding situation in Mumbai and I was worried about the situation in Mumbai Airport. I was relieved after watching the news in the morning that the Airport was functional. We checked out at 09.30 am as two of the members had an early flight. On the way to the city, Abhimanyu joined us for a city tour of Dehradun. Our flight was in the evening and we had about 4 hours for sightseeing. Accordingly we headed to the Indian Forest Reserve Institute and reached there at 12 pm. We got an hour to see the place and were excited to see the cross section of a 700 years old Deodar tree and just brushed past 3 museums. Photography was not permitted inside the museum.We also passed by Indian Military Academy(IMA) .We were delighted to find gentleman cadets crossing the road with their bicycles.
FRI Dehradun is one of the oldest institutions of its kind and acclaimed the world over. The institute’s history is virtually synonymous with the evolution and development of scientific forestry, not only in India, but over the entire sub-continent. Built over a lush green estate spread over 450 hectares, with the outer Himalaya forming its back drop, the institute’s main building is an impressive edifice, marrying Greco-Roman and Colonial style of architecture, with a plinth area of 2.5 hectares. The building was listed for a time, in the Guinness Book of Records, as the largest purely brick structure in the world. The institute has a developed infrastructure of all equipped laboratories, library, herbarium, arboreta, printing press and experimental field areas for conducting forestry research quite in keeping with the best of its kind anywhere in the world.We found the Institute very well maintained.
We tasted some sweets and chaat at Quality Restaurant and also packed some sweets for home. We left around 2.30 pm for the airport which was an hour’s drive and reached the airport well in time to catch the flight. There was much bonhomie and camarederie amongst the members during the trip and it continues even today. Our destination till Delhi was same and thereafter to Banglore, Chennai, Pune and Mumbai. I returned home enriched with my experiences and shared the same excitedly with my family and friends. I am not a botanist the names of the Flowers are purely on memory and notes that I took during the trail.I am looking forward to visiting Uttarakhand again.A big thank you to Abhimanyu for a memorable trip and also clearing my doubts while penning this story & Bharti for some excellent shots.The photographs taken by WOW photographer is still awaited.
“You Don’t have to be rich to travel well”
Here are some tips :
1) Carry a good pair of shoes(sports/trekking). A good sports shoe is good enough. Bulky shoes make it that much more difficult to walk. A sun cap/hat, sunglasses & sunscreen.
2) Track pants and T shirts are comfortable clothes to wear.
3) Carry your rain wear at all times. The weather changes rapidly. For Hemkund carry a warm Jacket.
4) Make your back–pack as light as possible.
5) One Trekking Pole is essential.
6) Carry a bottle of water. You can refill from the streams.
7) Talk less while Trekking. you lose your energy also don’t sit down to rest ,the body cools down and needs that much energy to warm up on high altitudes that is wasting your energy. So, conserve your energy.
8) Take small strides as you are not running a race and enjoy yourself !
9) Carry woollen cap, one woollen jacket, a pair of woollen socks. Ghangaria gets cold after sunset.
10) Carry essential medicines for fever, headache, diarrhoea, motion sickness.
Dehradun is the base for Uttarakhand.You can travel by Train or by Air.
By Train from Mumbai: Total 3 trains are running between Dehradun and Mumbai railway station. Some major trains that run from Dehradun to Mumbai are DDN KCVL SUP Exp, Dehradun Mumbai Bandra Terminus Express, Dehradun Kochuveli SF Express
By Air: There are no direct flights ,either there will be a stopover or you have to change your flight at Delhi.Time taken to reach Dehradun is 4-5 hours.
From Dehradun you have to travel by road so the best and comfortable option is to hire a vehicle depending on your group size.You can hire in Dehradun or from the city you stay but always check the credentials of the hiring company before you book.