Valley of Flowers – part I 17-20/8

The Valley of Flowers trek begins from Govind Ghat, which is usually less than a 24 journey from Delhi by 2 trains, a bus and a shared taxi, with brief halts at Haridwar, Rishikesh and Joshimath. But thanks to multiple landslides, cancelled buses, and our own exhaustion (we slept one whole day away!) the journey took three days with overnight stops at Rishikesh, chamoli and Joshimath.

Landslides are pretty common in the monsoon in these hilly areas, and this isn’t the best season for trekking either but it is the only season in which the valley of flowers has any of its famed flowers, so you really have no choice if thats what you’re going to see.

Govind Ghat is just one long street with shops dhabas and pretty drab looking multi storey guest houses on either side. The only bright construction is the gurudwara, at the far end of the street. The town comes alive only from June to October, when thousands of Sikh pilgrims flood this place to begin the trek to Hemkund. The first 14 km of this trek is the same as the one that we had to make to get to the Valley of Flowers, so we had plenty of company along the way.

We began our trek bright and early and hired a mule to put most of our luggage onto. We had planned to take the trek nice and slow and enjoy it instead of trying to set any speed records, but before we knew it the porter, Adil, had taken off with the mule at top speed and we were stumbling after them to keep pace.

The 14 km path is paved with stones and even has hand railings for some of the way, but the path is quite often relentlessly steep, winding up from Govind Ghat at — ft to the village of Ghangria at — ft. After the first half hour of climbing at top speed, we were already on the verge of collapse, when we saw an elderly Sikh couple, both of them tall and walking erect with luggage balanced on their heads, chanting ‘Wahe Guru’ and walking at a steady measured pace. This was just the inspiration we needed at that point. There are a few people who get carried up to Ghangria on horse or mule-back, or by porters – either in cane back-packs, or in these palanquin-like platforms hoisted by four people, but the majority of people do the trek on foot. In fact all along the route, you see people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels, some bounding up effortlessly, others puffing and panting like we were, but all unshakingly pushing on upwards. At many times we were stopped by pilgrims who were doing the return journey who would hand out glucose or candy to us, or others who would give us an encouraging word or two to carry on.

But the sprint behind our mule ended up being a bit too much, and Iswar pulled a muscle. We’d covered a little more than 6 km in less than two hours, but we didn’t think we could go on at that pace, so at breakfast we decided that Adil and the mule would go on ahead of us and he said he would leave our luggage at one of the hotels and get us a receipt for it.

At nine we finished breakfast and started off again, but at a greatly reduced pace with many many stops on the way. The good thing is that we took time to look at the landscape around us and take some photos. The mountains rise up all around the path, very close, a bit like an amphitheatre that looks down on the path. For all of the way the river Lakshman Ganga is rushing down the mountain, either way below the path or at some distance away from it, but for one lovely stretch, you walk along a rocky beach right on the banks of the river.

It took us another 4 hours to cover the next 5 km. I’d read earlier that the last 3km was the hardest, and by this time Iswar looked like he was on the verge of collapse, so we decided to hire two mules to take us up the last bit. The mules turned out to be quite temperamental. Iswar’s mule, called Tamanna, seemed to be in some sort of competition and refused to let mine – Kajal – overtake, while Kajal constantly wandered off the path to check out some random flowers or vegetation.

In any case, one hour-long bumpy jumpy roller coaster of a mule ride later, we had sore butts to complement our aching feet and we were outside Hotel Kamet, where our luggage had arrived hours before.

Here are some photos of us and mule.

And the village of Ghangria from where you can enter the Valley of Flowers

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