I was 8. Maybe 9. My father gave me an Enid Blyton on my birthday. The Valley of Adventure. My first maybe. I was a slow child. When the fast ones were already reading Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, I was happily lounging around the Noddy and Fairy Tales aisle in the library hour. So Enid Blyton’s novels were quite the upgrade for me. I took to it skeptically. And I got addicted to it without a warning.
As I stayed glued to the pages, through school and homework, I read about this amazing adventure in a valley in Austria. That traveled across some abandoned villages that had been burnt down, during war. That stretched across a valley with gigantic waterfalls, acres of green, many patches of wild flowers and undulating hills. And about hidden treasures deep inside the mountain. That could be reached through fascinating caves. The ice caves. Where there were stalagmites and stalactites. One that formed from the roof of the caves, and the others that came up from the floor. Like beautiful sculptures, crafted with a fine hand and eternal patience.
This book gave birth to my bucket list, even before I knew the meaning of such a thing. And not just one. But two. The Valley of flowers. And the Ice caves. While the latter I did a few years ago, during my trip to Austria [ to be covered, somewhere in my blog], I just recently ticked off my first ever travel desire- the Valley of Flowers.
As I mentioned, till very late in my life, I did not know that such a place existed. And then a decade back, as the Internet was opening up things, a friend of mine had happened to make it to the valley. As he told me stories about the place, I knew that if there was a place that could look anything like I had imagined while reading the Valley of Adventure, it had to be this. And oh- so- right I was.
The trek comes after a long journey to this place called Govindghat, in Uttaranchal. I had made my way from Delhi to Haridwar on a Saturday. And spent the day tucking in great food, watching Ganga aarti [ it was Janamashtami- Lord Krishna’s birthday] and doing some light shopping for the day.
Sunday, early morning, at 6 am, I started my way up, towards Govindghat. It is a good 10 to 12 hours from Haridwar and can be quite exhausting. One can take shared taxis to Chamoli, and then change from there for Joshimath or Govindghat. I had booked myself with a trek operator, so I got picked up in a tempo traveler. With some merry strangers, coming all the way from Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune.
After various Aloo parantha and nimboo soda stops, we reached Govindghat around 5.30 in the evening. There are a few hotels in the small town, along with a Gurdwara. Most mobile operators fail to operate there. My troop and I stayed 2 kilometers further up, near a small village called Pandukeshwar- a village that has an ancient temple dedicated to the Pandavas. The hotel was right next to a thunderous river, and had good rooms. But the most delightful thing was running hot water. A good bath was like magic after the back- breaking 11 hour journey.
Next morning, we were to cover a sturdy 14 km from Govindghat to Ghangharia. out of which 4 had become car friendly. So we got ready for the 10 km trek, and started off around 7 am. There is also a helipad that operates a cute little helicopter. That ferries passengers from Govindghat to Ghangharia in just about 2 minutes.
So while we went about our long trek [ that took us approximately 7 hours], wesaw the chopper make busy trips every 10 minutes. The trek was tough in bits, but fulfilling.
The last 4 kilometers were quite steep, but I had kept myself well fueled with bananas and dates- high-octane fuel for treks. On top of that, I had tanked up on Maggi, as soon as I reached the heart of Bhyundar valley. There are shops in frequent intervals. So it is pointless to lug a large lunch pack, or a big water bottle. Mountain springs have been channelized in taps that gushed the tastiest freshest water ever. Needless to say, the view was breathtaking and the route was quite busy. Because Ghangharia is also the last stop before Hemkund Saheb- the holy place for Sikhs. So, one tends to encounter a lot of pilgrims, and yes, a lot of horse/pony dung.
As I reached Ghangharia around late afternoon, it started to drizzle. I met many merry sikhs, old and young, carrying on with “ wahe guru “ and big bright smiles. The drizzle had set a chill in, and I was thankful to reach the tiny hotel I was to stay for the next few days. A bucket of hot water and a hot meal later I was ready to explore the little town of Ghangharia.
Ghangharia – nestled among gigantic mountains, is quite the small base camp, with tiny hotels, sweet shops, a medical store or two, a big Gurdwara, and some other amenity stores. Since the place had no mobile connection, the PCO booths do good business as travelers line up to call home. Electricity has reached this village a few years back.
And the hotels thrive for like 6-8 months. Till it is time to shut down the village and go back to Govindghat or Joshimath, or even further down. There is a small documentary one can watch on Valley of flowers, run by a local NGO, that takes care of cleanliness in the region. After exploring a bit, I was ready to hit the bed by 8 pm. Next day, I was starting at 6 am.
After a good meal of porridge and poha, my day started at 6. 30 am. And I came back tired and happy by 6 in the evening. In those 11-12 hours, I got lost in a world right out of the pages of Enid Blyton.
No words or pictures can do real justice. The place is so vast and sprinkled with bounties of nature that it is almost meditative. In early September, we managed to catch around 25 kinds of bloom. It wasn’t enough for a greedy botanist I am sure, but for a tired city- heart like me, it was paradise.
I climbed steep incline, rested under a big rock, crossed many rushing waterfalls and streams, walked for ages through dense beds of flowers and foliage, without seeing a single person till as far as eyes can see. Stopped million times, to click or just take in the view, or sniff the fragrant air.
Lazed around on a green patch looking at white tufts of cotton clouds drift by, before further continuing towards the river bed. The point where every trekker soaks their tired feet in the ice cold water, and takes in the magnitude of nature in some much needed rest. This was my lunch point.
I rested, ate the picnic lunch and start heading back towards Ghangharia [ the gates to the valley close by 6 pm]. Tired, dirty and with a mind fresh with nothing but pretty images, that day, I felt like a child.
Day 1: Dehli to Haridwar
Day 2: Haridwar to Govindghat: 10-12 hour by road
Day 3: Govindghat to Ghangharia- 10 km trek [ with 4-6 km moderate incline] 4 km by car.
Day 5: Ghangharia to Valley of flowers and back- 14 km- with 4-5 km steep incline
I went on to stay for Hemkund, Badrinath and Mana. But if one wants to get back immediately, then by day 5 they need to trek back to Govindghat. And by day 6, reach Haridwar, to carry on further.