Kindly note that my write up here is completely personal. As a Trip Leader, what I did or said during the trip (with group members) is not reflected here at all. The write up totally not about what happened on the trip, it’s no story of a journey! It is pure outburst of feelings! So beware & stop right now if you can get offended easily.
I usually write about my experiences as soon as I complete the trip but this time it took much longer than expected. In fact, it took an occasion to inspire me into writing this! Why could I not? Because I was facing a dilemma inside me, my experience of this ‘trip’ was extremely different compared to all my recent ones. However, I will be harsh and true today! Let’s see how many cuts it takes from the editors :)
To begin with, Valley of flowers was not my preferred trip ever. I knew the logistics of this hike and always believed that it may not be done with an operator. I can’t believe how irony works so efficiently! It managed to get me as “Trip Leader” for the very first batch of 2016. I was not on top of my feelings to begin with but work is worship :). So, like a true professional, I started my journey.
What Mr. Murphy said may not be true but if you are negative (even at the subconscious level), then it starts working very well. I got terribly late for my bus to Rishikesh and Chandni (my fellow tourist) had to use all her tactical skills (she is an entrepreneur, so she has plenty) to get the bus waiting for me. I forgot the tripod that I was supposed to carry for the trip at Metro station (my dad cursed me like hell when he had to collect it at 11 pm from Lost & Found section!). I lost my headphones on my way to the bus stand. Last but not the least, I was feeling extremely guilty while sitting next to Chandni! However, as defined by laws of gravity, once you fall to the bottom, you rise!
The morning at Rishikesh bus stand was a new and refreshing start. The weather was nice and good infrastructure at the bus stand elevated the mood further. We got our shared vehicle towards Joshimath after about 2 hours from Rishikesh. As I mostly do, I tried to doze myself off throughout the road journey in order to keep myself away from sickness (no external agents or chemicals used!). Evening in Hotel Snowcrest, Joshimath was also nice and soothing. I met the full gang in Joshimath from where we had to start the trip next morning.
First real day of this trip, started from Joshimath in a vehicle towards a small bridge ahead of Govindghat. We had a special permit that allows vehicles to move ahead to Pulna village. This saved us around an hour of hiking. Our first hike was to Ghangria, a town that is in between road head and Valley of flowers. When I saw the well paved trail, my fears started to come true. The trail was so well paved that one could drive, if only the gradient was not steep! Another thing about this trip is that a major religious shrine “Hemkund Sahib” is a part of it. You cannot ignore the devotees walking along with you, mostly with extreme faith, some even walk without footwear! A very curious mix of pupil one sees on this trail - one set is the sophisticated, urbane, almost overdressed for the occasion, quite worried about the “high altitude” while the other with simple cotton wearing, having almost negligible (or sometimes even literally nil) footwear, very rustic, fully enthused, and not concerned about anything at all. The third set is the oddest one – those riding mules or worse hanging in baskets over human beings! A disturbing clan, these people irritate you! I have never hiked like this in the last so many years. My childhood memory of “Vaishno Devi” hike was wilder than this! We reached Ghangria after around 6 hours of walk. Usually when I reach a camping site, I am rejoiced but 14th August was no different because it was no camp site. It was a cramped town with many hotels & dhabas (restaurants) with so many people around. I knew I will not have no home sickness this time.
I turned my hopes now to the most famous valley of flowers in the Himalayan region. Not that I haven’t seen flowers in other valleys but I had read a lot about this one, about the variety and landscape. I was more prepared for the annoying Third Set today. The hike to valley was short and easy (only one steep incline on the way) and has a sharp turn at the end. The turn dumps you in front of the first awe inspiring moment of the trip. First view of the valley, when it opens up is very fresh. I explored the valley for a long time and also visited Ms. Margaret. Spent some time thinking about how pristine that valley would have been in the 1930s when she visited, with no towns in between, no rush of people around, and a much richer range of flowers. When despite all the distractions around, valley felt so wonderful, then how would she have felt here? I could spot many flowers, some extremely pretty and some glorified. I tried all angles and depths while clicking the abundance of colours in the valley. DSLR, I had never used you so vigorously :)
First view of VOF
It felt so relaxing in the valley that I never wanted to come back but all good things come to an end. So did the day.
Our next destination was Hemkund Sahib. I lost all faith in shrines, temples, religious structure quite some time ago but I was expecting to see stunning views on today’s route. I was not disappointed at all! The flowers I saw today were prettier than yesterday, Blue Poopy & Brahmkamal were the best.
Continuous rain on our way made the journey a bit irritating but the cloud formations at almost every turn made for some awesome views. Best was saved for the destination, ‘The Hemkund’. A vast waterbody with clouds all around, the periphery well drawn out, discipline & cleanliness ensured around the lake – The overall management of the beauty, at more than 4300 mts altitude, is commendable. I stood beside the lake for some time, trying to capture the view in my memory, and wondered how saints of that age found such brilliant spaces for meditation. I don’t think these days we explore enough.
We made the backward journey memorable with brilliant human interactions through music. All through the way, we were signing and the route did not feel long at all. There is not much to say about the next day (return from Ghangria to Joshimath) when the trip ended but I remember how relaxed I was feeling in the hotel in Joshimath.
The trip was definitely not a trek (like the others I keep doing). The trail offers some stunning views ahead of Ghangria but over arrangement has spoiled the fun to a large extent. In a year or two, I am sure the hotels in Ghangria would be booked online and one does not need any help to walk up to Ghangria anyways. A guide’s support is all that one should require on the way to Valley of Flowers or Hemkund, and that too only for flower education. The trails are so well paved that you do not need anyone for showing that way. Although, I personally don’t understand the point behind calling out names of all the flowers you see. The experience is in absorbing them for your sense of colour & smell to improve. Yet, the names are important for many, so, guides may be needed. Real fun would actually be in understanding the full context of the flower & its family, why is this particular valley host to such diversity, what geological parameters play role here, how have the varieties grown over the years, etc. over which one can wonder and try to correlate the variables in order to find some patterns. Don’t think many tourists or normal guides could (or even want to) do that because such topics could only be explained or understood with some research mind-set.
To me, this trip would always be fresh in my memory. Fresh not just because of the colours, smell, views but also for the unexpected joy I experienced. A peaceful end to a restless beginning!
I leave you to some of the best colors from the valley – Enjoy!
Chitori or Basant (Hypericum oblongifolium)
Doona or Gobka (Allium wallichii)