Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand
Ghangaria to Valley of Flowers
I woke up at 5:30 am to find a grey tinted sky. It was raining heavily. I was unhappily weighing the probability of the rain stopping soon. We were uncertain of the trek. I was worried about the weather while Shaked was concerned about Tani’s health. Unfortunately, Tani decided to skip the trek and told us to go ahead. After making sure she was comfortable at the hotel, we had a quick breakfast and left at 8:00 am. By that time the rain had turned into a light shower.
We followed the main lane crossing the market which leads to an open space with a staired trail. We soon reached the Ghangaria waterfall where there is a checkpoint for porters and mules to Hemkund Sahib and the VoF. The trail bifurcates from hereon. After taking the narrow trail on our left, we reached an entry gate where we bought tickets for the VoF. For Indians, it costs INR 150 and for foreign nationals, it costs INR 600. The good thing is that the ticket is valid for three days and you don’t have to pay any camera charges unless it’s a professional video camera.
The starting of the trail was easy; an almost straight walk till we reached the bridge to cross the river. The rhapsodic flow of the river was enchanting. It was impossible to hear anything else standing on that bridge other than the roaring sound of the river. I was busy taking pictures and Shaked went ahead. I knew I would catch up with him eventually and took my time.
Once you cross the bridge, the slope increases exponentially. What followed was a steep climb for about 4 km. I was really tired but there was no place to sit on that narrow trail, so I decided I would just keep on walking.
Valley of Flowers
The steep climb abruptly plateaued, opening to a spectacular view of the Tipra Glacier. The last 1 km of the trail is almost flat. We crossed a few streams and were now walking amidst the serene landscape of the Valley of Flowers. It had begun raining a little. I took cover under a rocky overhang.
The beautiful pink flowers and the curvy river, the ecstatic smell in winds and the grumpy clouds ready to shower. I mean the green mountains and the glaciers afar. Nothing has felt this bizarre.
The walk to the valley is itself very beautiful and we found various exotic flowers scattered along the trail. But I wanted to see more. Every sight of the valley was inviting, and Shaked and I started walking further into the Valley of Flowers.
Rain Rain Go Away
It was a riot of colours at every few meters, dominated by pink. We crossed multiple flower beds and quite a few streams. Soon, the light showers again turned into heavy rainfall and we had to look for shelter. Unfortunately, we were about 2 km into the valley and there was no rock, boulder or tree where we could find shelter. I was worried about my camera as well. Hunger and the rain together made us fall back.
We rushed to the overhang at the start of the valley. We ate our paranthas enjoying the view and the melodic sound of the rain. As soon as we were done eating, Shaked suggested we should start walking back to the hotel. But I wanted to venture further into the valley till the river-bed and take some more pictures. Because of the constant pouring, I had hardly gotten any good pictures. So I stayed back while Shaked continued his walk back to Ghangaria.
There was a guide with a group of trekkers who were also resting under that overhang. I asked him how far the river-bed was and if it would be a nice idea to go there alone then. He pointed towards the clouds approaching the valley and said it would start raining heavily soon. To the river-bed and back is almost 10 km and even though it’s a flat walk, it would take me more than 2 hours. I took his advice and decided to visit the valley again the next day. I waited for the rain to slow down and took a few more pictures. Just as I was about to start walking back I saw Ashish coming towards me with Poonam and their daughter. We chatted a little and I suggested that they should rest a little and then go a little further into the valley because the view was really worth it.
The Tale of Soggy Shoes
The walk back to Ghangaria was not an easy descent on my knees. To make matters worse, my ‘water-proof’ shoes had gotten totally soggy. If there are two things I can NOT tolerate in this world is someone snoring when I’m trying to sleep and soggy shoes. Little did I know that by the end of the trip, I’d learn to live with both!
It took me about 2 hours to reach Ghangaria. After refreshing myself I joined Tani and Shaked who were chilling in the balcony. They were waiting for me with a cup of tea. Thank God for such awesome travel buddies.
I was worried about my soggy shoes; especially because I had 3 more days of trekking. I remembered noticing a sign somewhere near the GMVN Guest House, which said something about drying wet shoes and clothes. I found an ironer who used an angethi (a small portable oven of coal) to dry wet clothes and shoes. After a little bargaining, he agreed to dry our shoes and clothes for INR 800. At times like these, I wish I had my mother’s bargaining skills.
Change of Plans
Following the general idea of the itinerary, the next day we were supposed to go to Hemkund Sahib. But I was not done with the Valley of Flowers yet. Once on the road, following your heart always feels better than following any itinerary. I wanted to visit the VoF again and walk the entire stretch of it. Both Tani and Shaked agreed as well. The family thought that they had had enough of walking in the meadows. So they left for Hemkund Sahib as they were on a strict itinerary. I decided to visit Hemkund Sahib once my heart was content with the vistas of the valley.
We called it an early night. Everyone was tired from that day and excited for the next. Before sleeping, I prayed to the weather Gods to have mercy on us the next day. (I’m not kidding!)
Come Back Another Day (?)
The morning was really pretty. It was cloudy but it wasn’t raining. With high hopes of getting good pictures, we started the trek. My shoes weren’t soggy but they were still making me a little uncomfortable.
Halfway into the trek and the drizzling started. By the time we finished the climb and reached the flat part of the trek, the pouring paced up. I cursed the capricious weather under my breath; a couple of times out loud.
Though Shaked was quite calm about walking in the rain, Tani was tired and I was pissed. We found a shed just before the 1 km milestone of the valley and gladly took refuge in it. Shaked was carrying his tea kit. He had a small gas-stove and he surprised us with warm cups of organic turmeric tea. We sipped our tea while dwelling on the idle fantasy of how cool it would be if we opened a tea shop in that shed.
We waited till the heavy pouring returned to a light shower and continued our trek. Tani had a childlike wonderment in her eyes as soon as we reached the huge beds of pink flowers. Tani & Shaked went ahead while I was taking my time to capture every frame I could find – God! There were so many.
Because Once Just Wasn’t Enough!
After walking for about 2 km I came across a divergence for Legge’s memorial. Joan Margaret Legge was a British botanist who came to the VoF in 1939 to study and record the species of flowers found here. While collecting flowers on rocky slopes, she slipped and lost her life. In the memory of her work, a memorial was later built by her sister in the Valley. The trail to the memorial is 700 meters off the main trail (on the right). It leads to an open area with a bench overlooking a beautiful view of the mountains.
I further continued my walk towards the Pushpawati river-bed. The further I ventured onwards, the more mystic a panorama was unfolding in front of me. After walking three more kilometers, I was finally at the river-bed where Tani & Shaked were waiting for me. The view was beautiful to say the least and you can get a glimpse of the valley’s aesthetics through my photographs. But the photographs don’t do true justice to its beauty either. You have to visit this Valley to see for yourself.
Closer to The End…One Step At A Time
The hunger and the exhaustion of many hours of trekking topped with the continuous rainfall were getting too much to handle. Even though I wanted to spend some more time there, I decided it wouldn’t be wise to stay any longer. Tani & Shaked were already ahead of me. With each step, I was feeling the lassitude building up on me. I somehow managed to reach the big boulder shed where Tani & Shaked were waiting for me with some paranthas and water. The constant rain and the mist were making Tani anxious and sick. She wanted to trek back right away to Ghangaria and then to Govindghat. But they changed their plan and decided to stick with me instead. With some food and lots of water, I started to feel a little better. I rested for about an hour before we started walking back to Ghangaria.
By the time I reached Ghangaria, my legs had started shaking. It felt like I’d fall in the very next step. By the grace of God, nothing like that happened.
Not All Heroes Wear Capes
Once we were in Ghangaria, we tried to look for a hotel where we might get some kind of heater/blower. Unfortunately, there is no such arrangement in any of the hotels in Ghangaria. My shoes were soggy again. Determined to find heat, I went out making some inquiries. I found an ironer in a narrow lane next to Hotel Preetam who agreed to rent us an angethi for the balcony outside the room for INR 800. If you are thinking that I need to game up my bargaining skills, the feeling is mutual. But trust me it was still worth it.
With an angethi in my hand, I emerged as a super-hero in front of my firang friends. We put our wet clothes and shoes around it on the floor and sat around the fire. Next came rounds of tea and pakodas. Soon we were joined by the family upon their return from Hemkund.
It was the best time of the trip – the seven of us together around the sole source of heat, moving in closer to accommodate each other around the fire, sharing stories and laughter
It Is Time To Go Back
No one was ready to move away from the angethi. We ordered food and got it served to us right there.
Over dinner, we discussed our plans for the next day. The family was supposed to leave the next morning and the duo wanted to leave as well. I was in a dilemma. I really wanted to go to Hemkund Sahib but after trekking for almost 20 km in under 10 hours, I was quite exhausted. After that day’s incident, I wasn’t sure if I should stay back to visit Hemkund Sahib. Ashish and Tani suggested that given the situation, I should go with them. It made more sense and I said yes without any regrets.
Everyone went to sleep right after dinner but I stayed outside for a while. I wanted some time to process the eventful day that I had had. Sitting next to the angethi, I revisited the valley in my head, basked in the echoes of the laughter we’d shared while drowning the shadows of the evening, and smiled at the thought of it. The leftover dry coal half covered in the ash was still lit, and the crackling and the woody fragrance of the smoke filled my nostrils. Soon I too called it a night.
The next morning we started our journey back to Ghangaria and then to Haridwar. Together. And I couldn’t have asked for a better company.