Journey to Valley of flowers and India’s last village

Photo of Journey to Valley of flowers and India’s last village by Vivek XR

August has always been a special month for me. Not because I was born in August but because it was the month of August in 2013 when I stepped into the world of hiking & trekking. Being fortunate enough to spend my graduation life in the Himalayas, I got the chance of experiencing life in the mountains. It's been now more than 6 years and trekking has somewhere become an integral part of my life.

Coming back to 2019, it was the time to plan something for August. After some brainstorming, I narrowed down to two options - Hampta Pass and Valley of Flowers. And as the title says, I went for the infamous Valley of flowers trek. But just choosing the destination wasn't enough. Having encountered risks of getting trapped in Kerala last year due to floods, I had to put in a lot of effort to convince my parents. They were too adamant on not letting me go solo during the monsoons that too in Uttarakhand. While I was struggling to convince them, the incoming news of roadblocks due to cloud burst made the situation worse. But finally, they agreed to let me go with a group and a guide. Something better than nothing, that was a moment of relief for me. I quickly booked a slot for the trek via Thrillophilia and was all set to go.

6 Days: Delhi → Haridwar → Joshimath → Govindhghat → Ghangria → Valley of Flowers/Hemkund Sahib → Ghangria → Govindhghat → Badrinath → Mana → Joshimath → Haridwar → Delhi


Day 1

Day 1

Haridwar was the meeting point of the group that I was going to join. Being quite a famous trek in Uttarakhand, I was expecting a mix of people from all over India with a mix of experiences. I took an overnight bus from Delhi and reached Haridwar around 5 A.M. The bus from Haridwar to Joshimath, my first destination was supposed to come around 7 so I had two hours to kill.

Photo of Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India by Vivek XR

The plan was to roam around the streets of Haridwar but unexpected rain showers spoiled the party. With nothing much to do around, I sat at the bus stop, waiting for the time to pass by. The sky got cleared, and I went out in search of the bus.

The journey from Haridwar to Joshimath takes around 10–12 hours depending on how many landslides and traffic jams you encounter. We were all set to depart from Hardiwar around 7.30A.M when we realized that a couple of folks weren't in yet. They were still on way in the train which was running late by 3 hours. What a better start one could have thought of? More time to wait for, more time to kill. It was only after 1.5 hours that we left from Haridwar. And as expected with the sun coming up, traffic also increased. It was going to be a long day but I was prepared with my window seat on the left.

This was my first time in the Gharwal region and the excitement of encountering picturesque landscapes was mad. We crossed the five prayags- Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandaprayag, Vishnuprayag, multiple landslides, 3–4 roadblocks and after a long journey of 11 hours reached Joshimath around 10P.M. Our night stay was going to be at a dorm and many weren't happy about it ????since the package mentioned stay in hotel. But that wasn't the priority, I just wanted to sleep and start the next day journey asap ????.


Day 2

Day 2

The end destination for the day was going to be our base camp at Ghangria at 3050M. We had to go till Govindghat via bus, followed by a jeep ride of 4kms to reach Pulna village and then trek for about 10–12kms to reach Ghangria. The weather was clear that day with soft sunlight and clouds in the sky but as the saying goes nothing can be predicted about the weather in the mountains. We were prepared for the worst with the hopes of the best.

We reached Govindghat around 10A.M after which our guides went to arrange the jeeps. Since a lot of people visit the Valley of flowers especially in the months of July-August, there was a long queue of people waiting for the cabs.

I decided to take the alternative and started walking towards the destination. 4kms isn't a long-distance and seeing the kind of queue, I was expecting to reach around the same time as the group. After a few minutes, I was joined by 3–4 more guys of our group who also choose to walk. It was a great morning warmup to prepare our body for the forthcoming trek.

The narrow stone-paved trail from Pulna to Ghangria which goes along the river Lakshman Ganga has a mix of steep ascends and descends. This combined with the continuous altitude change makes the hike more interesting and challenging! But the real thrill was yet to come.

Photo of Ghangaria, Uttarakhand, India by Vivek XR

After a tiring trek of 6 hours, I reached the base camp ⛺ ️by 4P.M. I was probably the first one to reach and sadly the first one to tell the bad news to our support staff. Yes, "bad" news. The staff wasn't aware of the count of the people that were coming. They had done preparations for only 10 people while the size of our group was 30 ????. There was already a batch of 30 people staying since yesterday. Neither the campsite was apt to accommodate 60+ people nor did they have enough tents. Though there are hotels in Ghangria, August being the peak season, everything was full. The tension in the camp started to rise as more people reached the camp. Though we were at an altitude of 10,000 feet, the temperature at our campsite was way too high!

The situation improved after a long line of arguments with the solution to adjust more people in bigger tents and arrange stay for some in the nearby guesthouses/tents. Food wasn't a problem since they had enough ration and more could come the next day from Pulna but the place was limited ????. Now there were around 50 people staying in the area of 30 with only 3–4 staff to handle them. The support staff wasn't at fault as well since they were kept in dark by the trekking company itself. They were doing the best that they could do.

That night six of us stayed in a 4 men trek. Everyone was tired and sleep was all one needed but nature had its own plans ????. We somehow managed to fit in the tent and slide in our sleeping bags. Though not for very long. Around midnight, everyone woke up as it was raining heavily and water had started coming into our tents. We had left the window coverings open for ventilation and water was coming in via them. One of the guys made the effort of going out to fix them, but that wasn't enough. Our tent didn't have any rain cover and there was a risk of water dripping in if the rain continued. Nothing much to do at hand, we covered all of our stuff with rain-covers and went back in search of some sleep.


Day 3

Day 3

The last night was fun. We managed to survive and didn't wake up again. Though some of our stuff got wet but the majority was still safe. We got our morning wake up call at 5 since the plan was to leave by 7.

Valley of flowers is a national park and is managed by the forest officials. One has to take a ticket from the forest department check post before starting the trek. We reached the check post by 7.30 and a long queue was waiting for us ????. This was for the first time when I had seen so many people on a trek. The group was totally scattered and we had to wait for more than half an hour till everyone arrived.

The trail from Ghangria to Valley of flowers is mostly uphill and is quite narrow. With so many people moving on a narrow path, one could hardly feel as if they were on a trek. The distance from Ghangria to the starting point of Valley of flowers is around 4km, after which you can roam around for 8kms. I tried to keep up the pace since more delay in reaching the top would have meant encountering more crowd. It took around 1.5 hours and the valley was in front of my eyes.

It was different, it was amazing, it was beautiful.

The landscape was quite different from what I had seen in the past. I slowed down the pace and started roaming around the place. Gladly there weren't many people in the park yet! I kept on wandering and went till the grave of Joan Margaret Legge. She was a botanist from England who died on 4 July 1939 while collecting samples at Valley of flowers.

Photo of Valley Of Flowers, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, India by Vivek XR

The whole group hadn't arrived yet and I had a lot of time to spend in the valley. I stayed there for around 3 hours and decided to return back at 1P.M. The descend was going to be quite easy but there was no hurry. I was enjoying the views, wandering alone in the picturesque valley. One of our guides also came back after leaving the group at the top since he had to be there at the check post to ensure everyone returns back before 5P.M. I sat along with him and one more guide, listened to some of their stories and returned back to the campsite by 2.30 P.M.

With both of the batches still on the trek, the only folks at the campsite were our support staff. I joined them in their kitchen tent and gossiped until everyone arrived. It's always great interacting with people who had been living in the mountains for so long. It's easy to go on periodic treks but it's difficult to survive in the mountains on an everyday basis.

The night was going to be fun again. The sky was full of black clouds and it started raining heavily in the evening itself. This time we thought of sleeping a bit away from the boundaries of the tent and covered all our stuff by rain-cover in order to minimize the damage. It rained the whole night. The last year's Kerala experiences started coming back to my mind. There were thoughts of cloud burst (and worst) hovering around my mind. Trying hard to suppress them, I forced myself into some sleep.


Day 4

Day 4

Another night survived! Last night was a bit scary. All those negative thoughts and my long term friendship with rain, everything was awful.

But रात गयी बात गयी , there was a beautiful day with another steep trek of 7km to Hemkund Sahib in front of us. Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib is located at an altitude of around 4600m and is covered with snow during most of the year. Hemkund is a Sanskrit name derived from Hem ("Snow") and Kund ("bowl"). Dasam Granth says this is the place where Pandu Raja practiced Yoga. In addition, the Dasam Granth says God ordered Sikh Guru Gobind Singh to take bath while he was in deep meditation at the mount of Hemkund.

The trail from Ghangria to Hemkund Sahib is much better, broader and steeper than the Valley of flowers. Being a pilgrimage, there are a number of pony services available as well. The Gurudwara closes everyday at 12noon after the last ardaas so we had to ensure we reach there in time. Everyone was made to leave the campsite by 7P.M but being a difficult trail, the group got scattered. I was again wandering alone throughout the whole route. I encountered people of all ages, regions, languages as if I was traveling through my India. It took me about 2.5 hours to reach the top. The whole hike was truly amazing and challenging.

Tip: Don't take the shortcuts and stairs during the ascend.

After reaching the top, I took the shelter in gurudwara, sat in silence for a while, had the langer and started the descend after 2 hours.

Photo of Hemkund, Uttarakhand, India by Vivek XR

Just like the last day, with no one around, I joined the support staff in the Kitchen and listened to their jokes, stories, and experiences. The group that had arrived before us had left by now and there were enough tents for the remaining people. This was great news but it was our last night in Ghangria. We shifted our stuff to a better and bigger waterproof tent in hopes of having a great last night sleep. But that didn't happen. This time the culprit wasn't the rain but some jovial folks in our tent. All kinds of crazy, stupid conversations happened that night and anyone hardly slept. We also made a plan of taking a detour and going to Badrinath after reaching Govindghat. Our departure from Joshimath to Haridwar was on Day 6 so there was ample time on Day 5. We enquired about the route and everything was good to go.

However, later we found that everyone in the group was interested in going to Badrinath. That meant that we could take our same bus ahead. Though, there was a small problem. There's a small patch on the Govindghat-Badrinath road which gets blocked by landslides on almost everyday and during heavy rains it could take more than a day to re-open the day. In order to avoid the risk of getting trapped there, we had to ensure that we start early and return early as it was going to rain in the evening for sure.


Day 5

Day 5

Everyone agreed to start early in the morning around 6A.M. Some people took ponies, a couple of them preferred Helicopter, rest took the route by foot and by 7–7.30A.M everyone left the campsite. Since everyone had started on time, we were hoping to reach Govindghat by 10A.M. I along with my tent-mates reached Pulna by 9–9.30A.M and there were no signs of anyone else. I smelled something fishy. Nature was making its plans. We waited for about 2 hours, till everyone arrived and we departed for Badrinath around 11.30A.M.

Badrinath is 25 km from Govindghat and except that one patch, the whole road is just awesome. B.R.O has maintained it very well and you'll hardly encounter any broken patches on it. Even after starting way behind the schedule, the situation still seemed under control as we could manage to return by 4P.M. But as I said, natured was making its plans. We reached Badrinath around 1.30P.M and the temple was closed. Later, we found that the temple closes everyday from 12–3P.M.

What next? No one wanted to go back after coming so close. So we decided to visit Mana, India's largest village on that end which is just 4kms from Badrinath and return back by 3P.M. After reaching Mana, everyone was told to return back within half an hour but such orders hardly mattered. Folks were underestimating the risks and enjoying to the fullest. We were getting behind the schedule with every second passing by. After waiting for an hour at Mana, we came back to Badrinath around 3.15P.M.

Photo of Mana, Uttarakhand, India by Vivek XR

The temple had open but the risk of getting trapped was high. Trying once again for the last time, everyone was given a 30 minute slot at Badrinath to visit the temple and return back but it was of no use. It was already 15 minutes past 4 when we left from Badrinath. The moment we departed, we were stopped at the army check-post. That road patch had got blocked by a landslide and it was raining heavily down there. Officials were adamant about not letting us go since there was no way of crossing that road. We tried requesting them to let us go till that point so that we can cross the patch by foot and somehow reach back to Joshimath. A lot of people in the group had their return flights and couldn't afford to get trapped here for a day.

Photo of Journey to Valley of flowers and India’s last village by Vivek XR

After multiple requests, the officials finally allowed us to leave. They noted our bus number and strength of the group and reported the same to their teams. Though we had left from Badrinath, passing that patch was still a problem. Even if we manage to cross the patch via walking on the alternate route along the river, network issues would create problems in the arrangement of cabs on the other end. The officials were right, the patch was totally blocked and it was raining heavily. There were around 10 more vehicles ahead of us stuck on the road.

There was no other solution rather than walking along the alternate route. However, the problem with that route was a 70 degree descend which in rain had become too slippery. This was the time to rescue. I along with one more guy from our group decided to come with the slow ones at the end while our other two guides lead the front. The officials had tied up ropes on that muddy way to provide support which helped us in the smooth transfer of the people. By God's grace, the whole group managed to cross the patch safely.

This wasn't the end. We still had to arrange a vehicle to get us back. Our guides kept on trying contacting the folks at Joshimath and after continuous efforts call got connected. The vehicles were going to come to a village which was around 2kms from our location. We again made the queue and started walking towards that village. There was no sign of the rain stopping. Kerala memories were flashing back. It was on the same date last year when we were trying to escape from Kerala.

After walking for a while, we got into our cabs and it seemed as if everything was sorted. Everyone was happy and relaxed but this didn't last for long. We encountered another landslide after a few kilometers. A big rock had fallen on the road and there was just enough way for a two-wheeler. The date being 15th August, the regular workers were not available that day. The only good thing at that moment was that there were a lot of people(including locals) who were trapped along with us. The local folks got the number of the JCB driver, went to his home and brought him along with them. The guy came, showed up his skills and we finally crossed that patch.

The rest of the route was much better. It was still raining but the roads were clean and we reached Joshimath back safely.


Day 6

Day 6

Last night's sleep was just great. After such a thrilling day, all of us were safe and sound. But our bus was still stuck near that roadblock. The same bus was supposed to take us back to Haridwar. People who had their return flights were getting anxious and with the low network in that area, all we could do was wait for the bus to come.

Our scheduled departure from Joshimath was at 8A.M. but we were able to leave only by 11–11.30A.M. The bus driver was confident of reaching Rishikesh by 8P.M provided no one will complain about his style of driving. Having no other choice, everyone agreed.

And, what a ride it was! The best fast road driving that I have experienced in the mountains yet. He drove as if he was driving a two-wheeler on a flat road. We were overtaking every single vehicle in front of us. Agreed, it was risky but the driver was confident of his skills. Luckily, it didn't rain much that day and there wasn't a single roadblock that we came across.

The guy lived up to his promise and we were in Rishikesh by 8P.M. Everyone was safe and more than happy since they could now catch their return flights/buses. I had kept a large margin and my return train was at 11.30P.M. Though there was a lot of time to kill but having experienced so much thrill over the last few days, I wasn't left with any more enthusiasm to explore something more!

Photo of Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Vivek XR

The whole trip made my August memorable again. And just like every other trip, it taught me more about this life and almighty nature.


Vivek Sharma writes on travel, life and a bit of product management. You can follow Vivek on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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