Valley of Flowers, Auli and a taste of heaven!

Tripoto
12th Aug 2017
Photo of by Sourav Shukla

I was introduced to valley of flowers through some blog, I remember not remembering a word of it, but in my mind got itched, pictures, of the unparalleled beauty of this place. Vicariously, I had been planning and doing this trip for over a year, but for the real trip the only certainty I had kept was that I am going to spend at least a couple of days in the valley.

Valley of flowers, if you don't know already, is a national park that spreads over 87.50 Sq. kms, runs at least 8 km in length(I guess aerial , because the pathways run for much longer) and 2 in breadth, in Chamoli, Uttarakhand. Together with Nanda Devi National Park that falls in the east, the park is a UNESCO world heritage sight.

After finalizing the departure date, I pre booked (the only pre- booking for the whole trip) my ticket in Delhi-Gopeswar overnight bus..

Day 1

Cometh the day of the journey, cometh my precious fear of long bus rides on swirling roads, surprisingly enough I held up well on the 15 hour bus ride, probably thanks to the fellow on my adjacent seat with his expertise on what to eat, and more importantly why not to eat much. I nearly ended up visiting his village and around, having no itinerary on me, but that story didn't shape up, yet.

Using the two hour window in Rishikesh, when every vehicle weights for the clock to hit 04:00 and the traffic to resume, I started conversing with the locals who were on the bus and got educated on the route map. As it turns out, the road to the valley diverges from Chamoli, so no point wasting an hour going to Gopeswar . From Chamoli it was easy to get a SUV ride to Joshimath and from there till Govindghat (the supposed last point of motorable road). The whole journey took about 18 hours, but being back on my feet was all the rejuvenation i needed. A half a mile walk, and I was staring at the entry point for the trek, filled my details in (many people avoid it),borrowed a cell phone and called my mum, according to whom I was still in Delhi, and with nothing on my mind, started the trek.

One has an option to share a ride on a SUV for the first 4 kilometres, I chose to trek (and regretted the decision a few times, later on), with an intent to push myself and also because of a certain group of 18-20 members ,I had decided to trek along with. However, as soon as the concrete road ends and rest of the trek begins, one is spoilt, for good, by the views. Any section of the trail is never more than a stone's throw away from a water body or a cascade, add to that the lush greenery which paints the route, any amount of fatigue seems reversible. But as the sun set behind the mountains.. complete absence of sleep, minimal food intake, not so perfectly balanced rucksack and quick gains made in altitude started taking their toll. I didn't realize that I had pushed my body when it probably didn't want to be, first 16 km's of the trek were still glory and roses, but on the last strech of a kilometer or less I simply ran out of fuel. Fortunately, some of them in the group still had some energy left along with some energy bars and medicines, for the first time I had felt like quitting (luckily not an option) on a trek but then finally reaching their campsite, enervated, was a short relief much cherished. The tents pitched up some 600 metres before Ghangaria village make up a great sight, but were priced at a rate, nearly half of my little budget. And walking a little less than half a mile at that time wasn't something I was looking forward to, nonetheless, I decided to do it. But at 10 pm, walking at snail's pace, getting a bunker bed at the Gurdwara, or for that matter anywhere didn't seem like a working plan to many. So I started talking, and came to my rescue, two Rishikesh lads, who had their own tent and offered to share it with me for no charges at all. Happiest moment of the day!

I could finally enjoy dinner (which I got at a discounted price, thanks to the group), and optimistically look forward to the next day. After our dinner we checked various spots to pitch our tent, took an hour to finalise, and when our adventurists thought it's going to be cakewalk now, came the surprise, the tent they took from their friend was not just any usual one and with no light other than flashes of our phones, we were puzzled. To make the matters worse, came the rain, we got inside with our half erected tent, little wet and very much shivering. When the rains finally stopped we took another shot at it, and when we were finally ready to sleep, the clock showed 01:00 am.

tell me if you too wouldn't rather walk on these roads..

Photo of Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

getting the vibes?

Photo of Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

just look at the water plunge!

Photo of Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

clicked this the next morning, but already got too many pictures of the next day..

Photo of Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

this is the pretty mess that had us covered for the night

Photo of Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla
Day 2

My four hours of sleep was uninterrupted, although not enough, as I realised later on. But when you wake up to the astonishing beauty of waterfalls straight out of rising mountains, covered with candy clouds, you don't reckon there is much you can't do. With that energy I was sure going to scale every bit of the valley, let me just make a pitstop at the Gurdwara, and freshen up. But when I sat down, I realised I was unwell, luckily Gurdwara's dispensary had a little something for me. Medicines combined with a couple of hours of nap, in some random room, and I felt being in a better shape in order to make most of the day ahead. So I pulled myself out of the bed, kept my bag in the luggage room and got back on the road.

One among the many amazing things about the trail? one can get their water bottles filled from any of the taps or natural waterfalls (obviously, it tastes better than any packaged water), every couple of hundred yards, so no need to carry extra liters of water. Also, the path is well laid out, so even if their is no one to be seen in the distance(a ridiculously improbable event) , getting lost is a difficult prospect ( though, the path divides itself into two very early, one should make sure if they haven't carried on towards Hemkund) However, if you don't want to keep yourself thinking about the name or family of flowers or weeds, don't go without first educating yourself a little.

Covering distances at fairly laid back speeds, alone, sometimes with my last day's group but generally with random people, I couldn't ask for a better ambience to hike, it was.. picture perfect. But because I had left for the trek as late as 10 am, and time for returning back was around 17:30(at least going by the rules), the farthest I managed to go, was in the proximity of the very famous grave of Joan Margaret Legge (an English botanist, who died there in 1939) and already the crowd was unexisting . If someday, you plan to be there, push yourself a little more and walk as far as possible, the views just become better and better, and don't worry about the timing as such, it's not absolute, but be safe!

Coming back, I found, was exponentially easier, and in a couple of hours I was all the way back. I had pictures(captured from my phone) alright, but trust me, even with a dslr, it would be a herculean task to capture even a distant imagery of the beauty that the valley stores.

The night was to be spent in one of the bunker beds of the Gurdwara and the dinner was to be cherished at the 'langar' , but before that an intimate encounter with the bread pakoda, jalebi and gulab jamun, right outside, was mouth watering on a 'is this what they serve in heaven?' level.

While my time there, Sikh pilgrims from the other side were present there, and hence my fascination with the culture, natural geography and the language ( now spoken less and less on this side of the border) found its event horizon. I was hoping to catch a conversation with a few people (I couldn't) , but I did manage to talk to this little girl, for whom, when I told her about my lack of any sort of belief, and particularly believe in any God, was surprising, I asked to talk to me a bit in Urdu but she was bored and done with me very soon.

I had been allotted the middle bunker but because I saw all the top most bunkers empty, I went ahead to get comfortable in one, and with the double bed all to myself (how I perceived it, one can always get a bed in Gurdwara), I was all set to sleep for a good 7-8 hours. But being the light sleeper I am, no amount of fatigue could make me have an uninterrupted sleep, but that's me, budget travellers should look no further than the all accepting shrine, just remember to be respectful!

what's the big deal if the first thing i saw outside was this?

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

told ya there are no dull moments here!

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

they told me i looked like Walder Fray with the cap/

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

my cover pic on facebook seems to be edited a bit actually !

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

Raincoats with 2 pieces are a mess, avoid them. Enjoy if it gets rainy ,sunny or both!

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

yes the valley was dominated by a pinkish shade, yes the flowers of many more shades didn't bloom at that time, not everything has to happen,i was lucky enough..

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla
Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

"those shades, those 'makes me wanna camp here ,and never go' shades!"

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

alluring are not they?

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

like some fairy tale?

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

or it was actually one?

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

can one ever get enough of this place?

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

i guess not!

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

because happiness is real!

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

odd attempt at getting that effect from the phone..

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

Yes. Alive.

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

Dear Uttarakhand , exactly how much water do you have?

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

imagine this was your backyard?

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

Behold..the list!

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

she was not bored yet :-D

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

91 C

Photo of Valley of Flowers National Park, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla
Day 3

Our mind plays several tricks on us, but making us think that free will exists, triumphs over all the others, subconsciousness has a neat trick of planning everything ahead. And the 'intuitive-plan' for the day was 'Hemkund Sahib trek'. Although the 'valley of flowers' trek is much longer, some may find Hemkund Sahib trek more challenging, for it asks quick ascend and takes you up to an altitude of 4632 metres.

I started my day early and was overjoyed to find the himalayan hamlet in all it's misty glory. The trek, which requires climbing stairs for the large part of it (in contrast with how I like the trek), was definitely not easy, but rewards you with mind blowing views. Now, on a trek like this with pilgrims outnumbering travelers, I wanted someone to answer a few of my little queries and with no Internet availability (for good), almost all of them were very much answered by eavesdropping(and talking to) on the tour guides of other groups. I managed to interest myself with learning to identify the flowers that one can find at that staggering altitude of about 4000 meters.

By the time, I reached the top, fog began dominating the scenery (if there wasn't so much of noise, it could have looked very similar to 'Kun Lun') and Hemkund sarovar looked every bit of the surreality I hoped it to be, surrounded by small peaks on three sides.

A note to Sikh community - "Having now encountered some of the most charitable things that you have on offer, I have begun respecting the things that your stand for, a little more. But I wonder, if the 'hot chai' served at 'Hemkund Sahib' gets to be the coolest thing above all?

People i talked to said that they had a very amazing experience of 'ardaas' there, but not being much of a spiritual person, I skipped the tour inside. But what I did have was a great lunch with one of the local guides I had been talking to in the last stretch of the trek, got to know that the dude(in his 50's) had climbed a few peaks of over 7000 metres.

My chronic headache up to that point, had now become acute, and only after a little inhaling session in the dispensary there (yes, even there), I felt myself again. Not wanting to return before climbing one of those smaller peaks surrounding the lake, I took my chances and sneaked away, thanks to the fog, I wasn't stopped. There too, I had a welcome company of one local guide, chilling out with his beedi, and holding within himself some stories I was made part of.

Coming down, leisurely in every sense, was not perturbed by much, except for the great bunch of interesting people I met and talked to. One guy, whom I am still in contact with, was from Bengaluru, and even with his high fever was just not ready to be confined to his room, talk about travel bug!? At one of those times , sitting on the bench, listening to cultural exchanges in the background, I was quite lost, when a series of known/nearly known faces started to pass by and with every greeting I was saying to myself, 'isn't the sheer number of these exchanges enough to call this a memorable trip?'

One pleasant thing, however, that was most similar to yesterday, molecule by molecule was the mouth-watering delicacy duo of bread pakoda and gulab-jamun. Except, today my decision to munch on them was backed by another guy, with whom while talking, I shared this instant tuned in frequency. So after keeping my bag in the cloak room, I joined him back for a stroll to the waterfall nearby, only to come back to pick my rucksack to shift with him for the night. A random trivia - dude is a professional rock climber and last when I talked to him, had his personal climbing record set at 1000 feet straight up! The couple of hours before dozing off were spent baking a bit with some smoothest music, and talking.

trust me capturing all the mist wasn't quite possible for my phone.

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

beautiful,eh?

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

our evening spot !

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla
Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

these people will never cease to amaze me! look closely ,you'll find there are 3 legs in that wooden frame!

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

picture perfect landscapes!

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

and it keeps getiing better..

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

people i meet click me some really great pictures! cheers.

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

'cloudy is all i need' happiness!

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

'Saussurea obvallata' (or, 'Bramha Kamal' ) ,blooms every 2 years, only for few hours!

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

Sweet things-

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

I forgot what you're called

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

couldn't get a good shot, but still looks quite the thing !

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

near one of those smaller peaks :-)

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

hey boy ,what are you doing this far up?

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

The magnificent Hemkund!

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

And my assasins' creed moment!

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla
Day 4

After a decent sleep, I quickly geared up. Shame I couldn't trek with Vikas, but I knew I had to get moving, so after our little tea session we both got to our diverging ways. At Gurdwara, the breakfast today included puri-sabji and kheer, I know right! On the charts today, was a trek down to Govindghat and a 'to be made decision' about 'where to now?' On the way down, something, there was this conversation with a Gorkha man, who came all the way from Nepal every year around this time to earn some rupees, picking up Kilos of weights on his indefatigable back. He was an expert mountaineer, understood English rather well, could set up tents, but the job he had to do that barely held his family out of economic crisis was lift weights for ungrateful tourists. And that conversation got itched in my mind. Rest of the trek had vibrant colours for me, but those parts aren't exactly best for scripting. After around 4 hours of gentle trek, and a bit of contemplating meanwhile found me waiting for a transport to Joshimath, from where I was going to take the ropeway to Auli.

The ropeway, contrary to what you might have read, operates even if there is only a single passenger. And if you're a group of, let's say of more than 5 people, even the last departure time can be amended, with some luck. At 750rs for both sides (I enquired about one way option, but it wasn't there), the ride is not exactly cheap, but if you want good aerial views, you should definitely consider it. While booking the tickets, you will be asked if you are going to stay the night in Auli or, you're gonna come back the same day. If you do say you're planning to stay, you can be asked about your accommodation arrangements.

The ride lasted for a smooth 25 minutes and the view of Nanda Devi peak, at times, was majestic. When I reached the last tower, I was greeted by two gentlemen,who asked me if I was interested in renting the tent, which was a great deal, but I had planned to look for the dorm. Since it was already 15:30, I was adviced to explore the meadows first rather than wasting my time looking for accommodation, which I could do later on,hopefully. So after taking out my water bottle, and sellinge down my rucksack, I was all set to go on the hike. The trail, considering it was a jungle trail looked well laid out, and I walked.. pursuing some beautiful open spaces between the magnificent golden oak forests. When I found my first meadow, quite small in area, I knew it wasn't the one I was told about, so I carried on to the second and then the third one. Even from that distance the last ropeway tower was quite visible. So I thought to explore some more, and when I eventually stopped and decided to turn back, I took some shortcuts that my mind mapped out. After trekking for some time, I felt, may be I am not on a right path, it was a not ideal but I wasn't worried as such. At one of those coming infinite turns, when I took a step and settled my feet on the semi- dry leaves, thet rustled, and at the exact same time a huge boar turned its head, looked right at me and scared me to the core. I panicked, faked calm to myself and took a step back, that look made sure I fall back completely. I checked my phone and, there was network of airtel, but realised I had ousted my balance just a couple of hours ago, so I collected all my calm, accepted that I was lost and tried to think straight, not having my rucksack, enough warmers and water wasn't helping . But I needed to walk, which I did, I kept walking but with every step I was getting deeper into the jungle, I could see fresh footmarks of boars and was hoping not to see any bear footmarks. Whenever I thought I found the way out I had to fall back. There came a time when I lost it, said to myself that this won't end well, but I had no option but to put those thoughts to coffin and walk, so I did and found a stream , the best sign in a long time, and I felt immensely happy. A happiness that didn't last long, as sooner than later, I reached a near dead end, had no option but to turn back and try another way. By now, trees had started blocking a fair amount of sunlight, the clock was definitely ticking for me. I was probably more tired than, I was after the 17 km trek of the second day, but the fear was triumphing, luckily so. After another countless turns, slipping on slopes and falling on my back, I finally found a pipeline, definitely the most reliable hope and I held on to it, but still expecting despair. But this time I was taken to the largest opening in the woods, I could see human establishments in the distance. Now it should have taken hardly half an hour to walk dowm the slope, cross a small stretch of forest, and just lay flat on the ground, but it didn't. The moment I reached the arboreous stretch, I panicked and came back to the top again to mark my path and not falter again. Eventually, I did get out of the situation.

The two gentlemen waiting, quite worried told me some scary stories of recent deaths, the real threat of bears(ever more as it was their breeding season) and delightfully told me how lucky I was, they had already searched the areas of the jungle where they thought I might have been. We shared loads of stories and at the end I felt this unique bond and a sense of safety sitting at that picturesque spot, sipping on some tea while shivering badly, because I didn't have time to take out my Hoodie while telling my story!

I decided to not look for any dorm or anything so I stayed there, ate with them, got the hospitality I hadn't experience before and slept better than any of the previous nights.

i wandered off only few meters from the trail and found this place, it looked like a river used to flow here //

Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

that untiring back ..

Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla
Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

Nanda Devi peak rising in the distance..

Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

One throne amidst peace!

Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

things one should not encounter, when lost

Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

there is a story here, i decided to cut out!

Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

when cattles don't let saplings flourish on the ground..

Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla

And they gave me THE book to read..

Photo of Auli, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Sourav Shukla
Day 5

Even though, Auli was astoundingly beautiful, and I hadn't even visited the most visited spots, for some reason I decided to keep Auli for a time in the future, I'll surely go back there to revisit my memories but for now I was going back to Delhi.

Of course there was a back up plan of wandering off to somewhere else, if I find myself in a situation such as a long wait for some bus. But everything worked out quite well and I reached my place a couple of hours past midnight.

The Himalayas, people there, and people I find while travelling have always been kind to me, as was the case on this trip . Even though I did push myself, often more than anytime before, I realised, there is actually no limit to it, and so next time, hopefully, I can raise the bar. And more than anything, this trip took me one step closer to clarity (even if not absolute, or in any unidirectional sense), kind of the only thing i wanted.

Have patience, we don't like buses rolling down the mountains!

Photo of Delhi, India by Sourav Shukla

Now,If you write a story while you're still living the moment, or when the experiences and emotions haven't sunk in yet, you'll probably end up writing the most about that conversation you had, or that moment when adrenaline rush was at its own everest, or may be about that view, the most spectacular view you've had ever seen.

Don't get me wrong, those moments have their own story, probably in some more poetic form. But when you start seeing the fuller picture, how those moments of boredom, pain, complain, fear and despair end up reshaping you, probably to your elementary state, you know you'd have done injustice to those moments by excluding them.

If you haven't travelled solo yet, you must, if you've done that already, forget whatever you read, just write your own story.

Thanks for the read.. Keep Travelling!