Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana

9th Sep 2016
Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana 1/1 by Paraj Singh


There comes a point in your life when you’re forced to take decisions that have been postponed. Fueled by lack of courage, we drive ourselves to insanity analyzing each direction and failing to do the important thing; take a goddamned decision.

After taking a few such calls, August was a month that had stirred up my illusively perfect life. It was left unrecognizable in a matter of days. Emotionally out of sync, professionally unfulfilled and generally directionless, I decided to do what I hadn’t in 2 years.

I booted up my system and impulsively booked the Valley of Flowers Trek from the Indiahikes portal. I had hit ground zero and I knew the mountains would help me rise above my current state of being. Ascending thousands of feet above the rest of the world was a way of leaving it all behind. When most people would choose to get high, I decided to go high. As you gain altitude, you also gain perspective and clarity. Perspective and clarity; the lack of which we hardly feel, confined to the recycled air of our self-imposed silos.

Day 1

Day - 1: Bangalore to Delhi - Haridwar

A day before my flight, came the announcement of the taxi strike. The TN-Karnataka Cauvery dispute meant I’d have no way of getting to the airport in the morning. Unless of course, I was to leave tonight and spend 8 hours at the airport waiting for a 9AM flight. And so I did. I knew right then, that this journey would be something out of the ordinary.

Fast-forward to noon as I stepped out of the aircraft into the unfamiliarly sultry Delhi haze. After a traffic choked drive to a friend’s house in Safdarjung, I took a quick nap and prepared for my overnight journey to Haridwar. I’d be starting from the Inter State Bus Terminal or ISBT for short.

I find myself unpleasantly surprised to find my seat double booked (2 people booked on one seat) and the driver tells me I’ll have to get off. Thank you, Redbus. Mustering my inner Delhi-ite, I sang to him a symphony of words I never thought I knew and he agreed to let me ride on the only empty seat there was. Behind a tart of a man who believed he was flying Etihad Business, insistent on reclining his seat as far back as it would go i.e into my lap. After he repeatedly failed to understand the somewhat basic concept of long legs, I gave up. Forcing myself to smile at my luck, I settled in for an uncomfortable night hoping things could only get better from here.

Pro-tip: Book yourself a train early on and avoid my plight. There are plenty of options to choose from for a comfortable journey.

Day 2

Day - 2: Haridwar to Govindghat

The bus reached Haridwar at around 3AM and I checked into Hotel Chitra Grand, a couple of hundred metres from the city centre. Turns out, there were a few more people from my group staying there too. After a quick shower and a nap, we walked to the railway station where our pickup waited. A group of 15, we’d come together from across the country (One even from the Middle East) and we stood outside the railway station, together for the first time. We were to pick up our trek leader Kamal from Rishikesh. We later learned that he once held the record for the fastest basecamp to summit ascent for Mt. Everest. His modesty was even stronger than his resolve.

Pro-tip: Skip the rickshaws and walk. Most of the hotels are very close by.

Stashing our bags in the back of the TT, we began the arduous, 10-hour journey to Govindghat. The awkwardness of not knowing each other seemed to fade away with the fresh mountain air filling the cabin. We came from different walks of life, but all agreed on one thing; the need for a hearty breakfast.

Driving for about 3 hours past a hundred restaurants with wafting aromas of freshly made paranthas, we stopped at one with a riverside view. Those who live for coffee will need to reevaluate their life’s purpose. The beige milky mess served here is nowhere close to Namma Pilter Kaapi. So it was Cappuci-NO-Thank-You for me. The paranthas hit like the Japs hit Pearl Harbor with no survivors. Wasn’t long before we were all counting imaginary sheep over fences as we drove onward. The air started to thin as we gained altitude and green hills gave way to vast gorges and imposing mountains with the Alaknanda always ambling along beside us. We stopped at the cramped town of Pipalkoti for a late lunch before we began the final leg of our journey, through the twists and turns of precariously carved rocks.

It grew dark as we covered the final few kilometers and the river, now a deafening roar reminding us what lay in wait, should we slip. We reached Govindghat at about 8PM, tired and sore from sitting upright all day. It’s a quiet little town which is a transit-point for pilgrimages to Badrinath and nearby places of religious interest. We checked into our rooms overlooking the river through the valley and waited patiently for dinner. Most cellphone networks have no coverage from Govindghat onwards. BSNL is the only one that caught a fluctuatingly faint signal. I had a week without notifications, calls and texts to look forward to. A much needed digital detox after a year in advertising.

Pro-tip: As always, avoid over-eating and do your stomach a favour through the winding roads. Skip the lassi, pakodas or really anything heavy.

Anil joined us all the way from Lucknow. One of the fittest and most uplifting people I’ve ever come across, he’s a marathon runner and yoga expert at an unbelievable 50. He was pacing himself for a quick run just before dinner as I saw him on the road below adjusting his fitness tracker. Dressed in flip-flops, a polo tee and heavy tracks, I decided to join him. And off we went, jogging in pitch dark with nothing to guide us except instinct and the faint glow of the stars. As he glided effortlessly over the steep terrain, I found it hard to keep pace. The conversation made it even harder to breathe as my sweat stained tee turned into a clingy mess. I somehow managed to save face as we returned to the hotel after about five kilometers and thirty minutes. I hadn’t run in two weeks and I was certain my legs would curse me tomorrow. Satiated by a hot dinner and Indiahikes’ famed hospitality, we turned in for the night excited for what lay ahead.

Pro-tip: Do yourself a favour, train and get in shape. It'll help you enjoy the trek without getting winded every 3 steps.

Day 3

Day - 3: Govindghat to Ghangaria

6AM had us out of our beds clambering for a hot shower, probably the last for a week. Armed with loaded bags and a thirst for viewpoints, we set off to the valley below where jeeps waited to take us up the last stretch of motorable road. Our clattering wheels knocked rudely upon the valley’s calm as we crossed over a bridge of steel. We were greeted by slivers of rain that tasted like little drops of heaven. Out came the ponchos and the rain was powerless to dampen our spirits. We walked along a riverside path bearing scars of the flood that ravaged Uttarakhand in 2013. The water, now a mere shadow of the torrents that brought the mountain state to its knees.

We trudged on through trees enveloped by clouds and stopped to catch our breath in one of the prettiest valleys you’d ever see. Two glacial streams come together to form the Alaknanda as it flows flanked by cloud covered sierras. Thankful for hot lemon tea and Maggi, we crossed the river and began the upward hike to Ghangaria. The skies cleared just as we merged into the mountain’s green lap and climbed higher. We stopped a few times to grab a bite and some hot tea. The path to the Valley from Govindghat is the same as the one that leads to Hemkund Sahib. You’ll meet a lot of pilgrims, old and young on their way to or on their way back from Hemkund Sahib on foot or atop mules. Keep your eyes on the path and steer clear of mules running down. Fair warning: Mule dung is aplenty here and you might want to wash your shoes once home.

Say Cheese!

Photo of Govindghat, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

River-crossing on the way to Ghangaria.

Photo of Govindghat, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Candid. No, really.

Photo of Govindghat, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

The landscape changes during the last kilometer to Ghangaria and trees give way to a vast clearing with tents and a helipad. Taking a much-needed break, we wait for everyone to regroup as we snack on some dates and almonds from Dubai, courtesy of Snehita. This cheerful, bubbly woman was the insulin shot we all needed from time to time and would light up any room that she walked into. The clouds, slowly making their way up the valley towards us is a sight that’s hard to forget. We gather what’s left of our strength and the last five hundred meters pass by in a blur.

Clouds creeping up.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Pro-tip: There's plenty of places to chow down on the way, so you might want to skip bringing your own snacks.

We enter the enchanting, single-street town on aching calves and cussing knees. Lined with little shops, restaurants and hotels, Ghangaria is where we’d camp for the next couple of days. Nestled between jagged, barren peaks, this scenic hamlet remains uninhabited and inaccessible from December to April. Orange flags adorn the stone street, providing a welcome contrast to the blacks and greys. There are landline telephone booths at Ghangaria you could use to make calls at Rs. 5/min. It’s a place that’s stayed rooted in time as the world moved on. The air, ripe with the nostalgic gasps of city-folk passing through.

Entering remote Ghangaria.

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

We checked in to our dorms, thankful for a homely place to rest our weary bodies. While the rest decided to cool off by napping or getting a massage, a few of us still had some juice left. Backpacks off and chappals on, we decided to explore Ghangaria. Across the road from the gurudwara, we chatted over pakodas and chai as the light faded leaving the pre-winter chill in its wake. The temperatures dropped and we succumbed to our exhaustion the moment our heads hit pillows. Day 3; 13 kms and a hundred stories.

Day 4

Day - 4: Ghangaria to Valley of Flowers

The day we all waited so eagerly for had arrived. Like a shy bride veiled by clouds adorned with drops of icy rain. Well rested, we set off towards the valley with spirits higher than the peaks that surrounded us. We left the shingled town of Ghangaria behind as the skies threatened to lay a watery carpet beneath our feet. Thankfully, threaten is all they did.

A few hundred meters later, the path splits into two. To the right lies a steep, cemented, well-made trail heading to Hemkund Sahib. To the left, disappearing into the wilderness lay a pebbled trail. The Valley of flowers was where we were headed.

Ghangaria from a distance.

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh


Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Being a protected wild-life sanctuary, it is mandatory to provide names at the check-post. We are to return before 5PM and have our names ticked off against the list.

We’re accompanied by a guide/photographer who’s spent his life cataloguing various species of flowers, birds and fruits in and around the valley. As we walked, he would tell us about a particular plant, give us a berry or two to chew on. He took one look at me and asked me if I’d like to try some wild mushroom, which I obviously did. Remember to ask me about that, should we ever meet. We crossed a large metal bridge over an angry stream which would turn into a full-fledged river in about a week.

From here, you can spot the remnants of the old, easy trail, another casualty of the 2013 floods. Then came the testy, spiral climb alongside the mountain which formed the new trail into the valley. Sheltered by trees and set to the backdrop of the gurgling maw of the river below, I fell in love all over again. Stepping surely over loose rocks and twigs, stopping only to take a million pictures, we finally entered the valley.

Believe me when I say this, nothing can prepare you for the first time you lay eyes upon the valley. Words, inevitably fail me at this point. The pictures try their hardest to capture what is best described as a sensory overload.

Feeling it yet?

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

The diversity of the Valley of Flowers.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

The other side.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Look at those ice shelves.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

A meter-wide pebbled path running through sloping floral fields on either side. Towards the right lay a descent to the river and to our left, an ascent to the peaks. Far beyond the valley tower snow-capped peaks among which, Hathi Parvat and Mt. Nilgiri are the easiest to recognize. They appear briefly before evanescing into a curtain of clouds. July to August is the best time to visit the valley as it is usually in full bloom then. Honestly, it’s worth a visit year round owing to its stellar beauty and serenity. We venture deep into the valley, smelling flowers and tasting berries as we go. Keeping in mind that the deeper we ventured, the longer we’d have to walk back, we sat down for lunch by a silent stream overlooking the valley. My hunger was satiated, but my mind could not get enough.

Lunch with a view like this.

Photo of Valley of flowers National park, Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Mt. Nilgiri to the left and Hathi Parvat on the right.

Photo of Valley of flowers National park, Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Follow me down, to the valley below.

Photo of Valley of flowers National park, Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh
Photo of Valley of flowers National park, Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh
Photo of Valley of flowers National park, Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Sadly, it was time to head back. Trying to imprint as much of the valley in our heads as we could, we returned to the refuge of the foliage that covered the path back down the mountain. Even the slightest rain makes the pebbles slippery and the steep descent tricky. So tread light and slow to avoid stumbling or falling. Making our way back to Ghangaria, we’re a lot quieter than when we set out. Spent, both physically and sensually. Overwhelmed by nature’s very own masterpieces. We retrace our steps to the thriving town, passing the check-post as we walk by. We return, only to find the serenity of our little mountain haven soiled by a larger, louder trek group who’d just arrived from Govindghat. We freshen up and settle on a ledge overlooking the courtyard below where they gathered. Like a bunch of judging seniors we gazed, amused by their antics. Eagerly waiting for dinner, we indulged in cheerful banter, oblivious to the ruckus around us. And then it rained.

The path to the Valley of Flowers was treacherous to tread when it rained. We were told that if the weather didn’t clear up by morning, both groups would head to Hemkund Sahib together. For reasons I cannot disclose, Kamal da was the one most excited by this prospect. Another thoroughly satisfying day had come to an end.

Day 5

Day - 5: Ghangaria to Hemkund Sahib

Much to Kamal Da’s delight, it continued to rain through the night. The powers that be, decided that we’d all head to Hemkund together. And so, we did. The path to Hemkund Sahib is a steep, cemented and well-made one. I must say, I weirdly missed the mules on the clean, faeces-free path to the valley. But the route to Hemkund made sure I’d never miss it again. It’s a long, taxing climb with plenty of little shops with paranthas and Maggi to die for.

Climbing above the clouds, the air tastes cold and crisp at the back of my throat. Faint strains of bhajans emanating from the mountain top beckoning us closer, casting a strangely calming aura.

On the way to Hemkund.

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Hot lemon tea in the clouds.

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

As we cross the final bridge over the waterfall, we are faced with two choices.

Climb the longer but easier, meandering path to the top. Or take 1175 brutal stairs carved right through the mountain. I picked the latter and wished I hadn’t known they were 1175. Mustering what little strength I had, I made my way up. With about 300 stairs to go, I stopped to catch my breath. Just then, an elderly man making his way down caught my eye. He put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘Go on son. It’s not far now.’ in Punjabi. He gave me a handful of mistry (crystal sugar) and khajur (raisins) and said ‘Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh’ disappearing into the mist below. The strains of music from the Gurudwara were enticingly near and I just couldn’t stop. Crossing over the last stair, I set foot onto solid ground at 15,300 feet, reaching the world’s highest Gurudwara.

1175. Starting now.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh
Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Hemkund Sarovar is a glacial lake just beyond the Gurudwara, believed to have healing properties. And it lay placid and mist-kissed against a mountainous backdrop. It was customary to complete the journey by taking a dip in the freezing water. We were advised against it, but I’d been thinking about it all morning. Having come this far, it didn’t feel right to leave without it. Sweaty and hot from the climb, I stripped down to my boxers. The cold air clawed at my skin and chilled my bones. It was now or never. Holding on to the chain, I lowered myself into the water feet first. The water felt like stepping on nails. I held my breath and went under as I counted to three. I felt as though I was stabbed by a million knives all at once, forcing the air from my lungs. I pulled myself up out of the water and bolted to where my clothes lay. My feet were numb and I trembled from head to toe.

Hemkund Sahib Sarovar.

Photo of Hemkund, India by Paraj Singh
Photo of Hemkund, India by Paraj Singh
Photo of Hemkund, India by Paraj Singh

Pro-tip: The dip isn't for the fainthearted. It's REALLY cold, so do it at your own risk.

I dried off and got dressed faster than I’ve ever had to and walked to the Gurudwara.

I went inside and up to the room where prayers are offered. I don’t fancy myself as much of a religious person, but the sense of tranquility in that room was closer to divine than anything I’ve ever felt. The music, the singing and the feel of soft carpet under my tired feet. I knelt and touched my forehead to the ground as I was overcome by a wave of emotions. I felt something inside me give way as I broke into tears. At that exact moment, I knew everything was going to be alright and my journey felt complete.

Inside the Gurudwara.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Them feels.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

I got myself some Prasad coupons and stepped into the kitchen for a taste of the famed langar. Piping hot khichdi and uber-sweet chai was never more welcome than it was that day. By then, the rest of the group caught up and we huddled in the warmth of the kitchen. The clouds showed up and visibility reduced as we started to descend. We took our time to walk down, taking pictures and sipping hot lemon tea. I spotted a rocky ridge that was bare only yesterday, but was now coated with freshly fallen snow. Taking every possible opportunity to click a picture, I decided to put my phone camera through its paces.

Cloud covered sierra.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Caption this.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Wingsuit, anyone?

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Look! Glacier!

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Aaaaaaand it's gone.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh
Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh
Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Watching distant Ghangaria grow larger with every step, we made our way down the last few kilometers of the trail. We reached our rooms just as it was beginning to get dark. On special request from me, tonight’s meal was kadi-chaval and pakodas that had everyone rushing for seconds. We thanked the cooks for a fabulous meal and settled in for our last night at Ghangaria. I remembered waking up at 3AM to pitch darkness and what sounded like a freight train. Coming down in sheets, it was the rain again. Too tired to care, I went back to sleep in a matter of moments.

Day 6

Day 6: Ghangaria to Govindghat, Badrinath and Mana

I was rudely awoken by the sound of banging at my door. Dazed and a little pissed off, I opened the door and a pair of hands pulled me outside to the sound of excited chatter. Everyone was outside, pointing at the mountains in the distance and taking photographs. I waited for my eyes to focus, wondering what the fuss was all about. And then I saw it. Snow-capped peaks which were merely jagged ridges all week.

Early morning surprises like this = LOVE.

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

I had gained notoriety among the group for getting super excited about snow, stopping wherever I caught sight of it. The man who pounded at my door was beaming like a little boy who’d just discovered the magic of a health faucet. As I gazed, constantly amazed at how the mountains never fail to surprise, it dawned on me. It was time.

The last leg of the trek was here. Time slowed down at some point in the last three days, but it seemed to be speeding up again. We bade our goodbyes and started towards Govindghat at a leisurely half-past-nine. A couple of people decided to take the chopper (3000 bucks one-way for a 2-minute flight) and they set off towards the helipad. The walk back was fairly uneventful apart from an intense conversation about the Indian Railways. I’d completely forgotten about using my sun-hat as we were always under tree cover. The last three kilometers were devoid of trees and not unlike like the Frooti ad, the sun literally sucked the life out of me. I was dehydrated and desperate for some sherbet as we reached the last shop where jeeps waited to take us back. We got back to our rooms and I crumpled into a heap. Utterly drained, I decided not to accompany the others planning to visit Badrinath and Mana nearby. With the fan on full, I tried to get some shut-eye as the sound of their laughter slowly faded.

Walking down from Ghangaria.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Back where we began.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Selfie game going downhill. Literally.

Photo of Enchanted & Enlightened - Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath & Mana by Paraj Singh

Pro-tip: DO NOT forget your sun-hat. The sun can be brutal up here and you'll find yourself unnecessarily fatigued.

I ended up staring at the ceiling for fifteen minutes straight, because I just couldn’t sleep. I decided to get some air and stepped out of my room. That’s when I saw Amruta, standing outside my door. Amruta was from Ahmedabad, and we’d gotten along really well over the past few days. I was surprised to see her as I’d assumed they left sometime back. She’d left something behind and she’d come back to get it. And she decided to pop in and ask me one last time if I’d go with them. I don’t know if it was the realization that I’d be missing out having come so close, or the sight of her open hair blowing in the wind which I’d seen for the first time all week. But I changed my mind and decided to go with them.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the car filled with my favorite people from the group. Snehita, Shrikant, Shrividya, Amruta and Namrta had been absolute sweethearts and if there was anyone worth getting out of bed for, it’d have to be them. I rode shotgun next to this intense looking driver who only spoke Punjabi. We made our way through perilous roads which sometimes had rivers flowing over them. Through undercut rocks and gravelly corners past pristine valleys and towering peaks.

Driving to Badrinath and Mana.

Photo of Govindghat, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Dam. That's scenic.

Photo of Govindghat, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Nature's rock carvings.

Photo of Govindghat, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh


Photo of Govindghat, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

The usually crowded temple town of Badrinath lay deserted under the watchful gaze of towering Nilkantha. We drove through Badrinath as the landscape changed, yet again. Green pastures leading up to cloud covered peaks with the river running through the valley. Four kilometers from Badrinath lies the picturesque village of Mana, the last Indian settlement this side of the border. There are a few places of mythological value here such as the Vyas cave (Where sage Veda Vyas supposedly resided as he composed the Vedas) and Bheem Pul (a large boulder placed by Bheem to help Draupadi cross into heaven). Mana is famously marketed as the last place to have chai before the Tibet/China border. There’s a small café at the end of the town providing a bird’s eye view with tea and crisps to match. Having spent some time taking pictures and drinking excessively sweet chai, we made our way back to Govindghat just as the sun began to set behind Mt. Nilkantha.

Daylight beginning to fade.

Photo of Badrinath, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Nilkantha watching over Badrinath.

Photo of Badrinath, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Picturesque Mana, the last Indian village.

Photo of Badrinath, Uttarakhand, India by Paraj Singh

Pro-tip: Don't miss out on Badrinath and Mana. They're just 45 minutes away and the journey is breathtakingly beautiful.

Once back, we had a de-briefing session during dinner with everyone talking about their journey. Indiahikes does their bit to leave the mountains pristine by encouraging each trekker to pick up trash in a cloth bag called the ‘Eco-bag’. Mine was always full to bursting by the end of each day, which is probably why I was awarded the Green-getter title. We sat on the terrace stargazing and conversing, probably for the last time. Locked in embrace with the nippy mountain air, we wished we didn’t have to say goodbye. Tomorrow would be the long drive back to Haridwar which none of us were looking forward to. But it was upon us, nonetheless. We needed to be well rested. I didn’t get much sleep though, with the week’s happenings playing in my head like moving pictures.

Day 7

Day - 7: Govindghat to Haridwar

We got an early start and were on the road by 7. Our phones connected to the grid after a week off it. Nothing signals the end of your vacation like notifications. Half an hour into the journey, I decided to check the status of my train booking. I always took pride in knowing that I’d never missed a train, flight or bus. It was this very arrogance that cost me. Much to my horror, I was booked on the train that left last night from Haridwar. And I ended up having to book a flight from Dehradun, the following morning. That meant staying an extra night in Haridwar instead of taking the night train to Delhi. The prospect of a good night’s sleep in a hotel room softened the blow to my ego.

Pro-tip: Be ultra careful when making bookings. Consult a calendar if you aren't sure. Also, don't rely on IRCTC for much help.

The journey was long and it grew hotter as we descended. The A/C was doing its job worse than the solitary fan that served the driver. We stopped for lunch at a deserted resort where we put away some solid food. We reached Haridwar around half-past-seven and bid adieu to the others. I checked into a hotel with Amruta who was also flying to Delhi. True to its name, Hotel Midtown was right in the centre of the city, an overcrowded bustling street littered with shops of all sizes. Chaotic yet harmonious in a way only India can be. September sees the nation-wide celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi and the fervor was ten-fold here. As expected, we were bombarded by the sound of Ganesh processions well into the night. Being a light sleeper, it was a miracle that I got any at all. Perhaps I was too exhausted to care. Or perhaps it was the ridiculously heavy dinner that filled a gaping hole.

Day 8

Day - 8: Haridwar to Bangalore via Jolly Grant & Delhi

I awoke to my first alarm in days. We checked out and took a cab to Jolly Grant airport. The ride to the airport was almost as short as the flight to Delhi. In a matter of hours, I found myself smack dab in the middle of modern civilization. The mountains, a distant memory. Distant only, because I’d left them so far behind. The day wore on in the company of friends and beer, culminating with a late flight home.

I landed at half past one in the morning. The cool September breeze, a much appreciated change from the muggy Haridwar and toxic Delhi air, welcomes me home and I can’t hold back a smile. Bangalore, I’ve missed you. I think one of the reasons I love traveling is because of how coming back home feels. Even though I’ve made this trip a thousand times, the drive home is one of my favorite parts. To me, it’s more than looking forward to home-cooked food and your bed after a week of being away. The person that comes back differs greatly from the one that leaves. The last homebound hour, gives me time to reflect on my experiences. The things I’ve seen, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and the feelings I’ve felt.

The mountains for me have always meant new beginnings. I was coming back to a new job I was really excited about. I was coming back to a new band after three years of not having played onstage. I was coming back having enriched my life with lifelong friends.

But above all, I was coming back with a sense of clarity and perspective only the Himalayas could provide. There was a lot on my mind that needed straightening out and the mountains did exactly that. There’s no telling what the mountains can do for you.

Armchair travelers go only as far as their remote control will take them. Travelogues like this one serve as a looking glass into the writer’s experience. But I urge you not to take our word for it.

Wondrous secrets lie buried deep within mesmerizing valleys. Unravel them with your own eyes. Enchanting tales lie beyond mysterious peaks. Waiting for you to eavesdrop.

Go forth and craft your own story instead of just reading someone else’s. I promise you, it will be everything you expect it to be. And a whole lot that you didn’t.

My favorite from the Valley.

Photo of Bangalore, Karnataka, India by Paraj Singh