Valley of Flowers vs. Kalihani Pass Trek
In my long-time career as an outdoor leader, I have observed one particular thing that in this field there are some Adventure programs which are highly overrated for some reasons. So, I will be throwing light on one particular trek, the Valley of Flowers of Uttarakhand that desperately needs a reality check.
The Valley of Flowers has bothered me a lot in several ways but it doesn’t mean people should not visit this place. Of course, people have their own choices but my personal belief is that it doesn’t qualify to be called as a trek. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention to disrespect its beauty since any place in the mountains has it’s own charm. I am rather penning down my thoughts as an adventure enthusiast.
During the initial stages of my career, I was assigned to lead batches in Valley of Flowers, an overappreciated trek in the state of Uttarakhand. Before going for a new trek I do a lot of research about the whereabouts of the trek, so I was not keen beforehand only because in several articles and blogs apart from being photogenic there was nothing interesting about the Valley of Flowers that could make me excited.
But to my horror, it turned out exactly the way I had expected. I had to spend two months on one slope and worst of all from an adventurist's point of view it almost made me doubt whether I am working in the right field.
Exactly two years later I got a wonderful opportunity to explore the untouched Kalihani Pass trek in Himachal Pradesh. This finally gave me the opportunity to put things into perspective and provide a reality check by clearly distinguishing between a factual adventure and the supposed "adventure" which is nothing but a mere outdoor experience.
Here, I will showcase the ways in which Kalihani Pass Trek deserves to be labeled as the ultimate adventure one should look forward to instead of the Valley of Flowers.
1. Reaching The Start Point Of The Trek
The starting point of Valley of flowers is the extremely popular holy town of Govind Ghat which also serves as the starting point of a beautiful pilgrimage, Hemkund Sahib. The town is surrounded by huge mountains of Nanda Devi National park. To reach Govind Ghat takes a huge amount of time. The nearest airport is Jolly Grant in Dehradun from where it is 280 km but most of the trekkers choose the railway which makes it understandably economical but the nearest railway station is in Haridwar which also is 285 km from Govindghat.
In papers, it may appear to be quite normal to reaching this starting point but during monsoon season Uttarakhand receives an unimaginable amount of rainfall which leads landslides and roadblocks along with other issues which cause the participants to reach Govind Ghat by midnight. Imagine starting your trek straight away the next day of this tiring and hectic road journey.
The "trail" to Valley of Flowers is well supported with dhabas and refreshments
On the other hand, reaching the start point of the Kalihani Pass Trek is pretty simple compared to Valley of Flowers. The starting point is a small and unknown village known as Sangchar located 30 km from Manali.
The trail of Kalihani Pass from Sangchar village is as raw as it can get
Putting things in perspective, you need to endure an overnight journey from Delhi to Dehradun or Haridwar followed by one full day of a bumpy drive to Govind Ghat which you will most likely reach by late night or possibly midnight.
Can you imagine how hectic this journey is and the worst part is that you haven't even started this so-called trek? Bleh!
On the other hand, reaching Manali is so much easier. All it takes is an overnight bus journey from Delhi to Manali and the next thing you know you have stepped foot on the trail on very the day you reach Manali.
Isn't this much more convenient? Especially for a trek this monumental.
2. First Day Of The Trek
The day one of the Valley of Flowers is comparatively hectic when compared to Kalihani Pass Trek without much reward. You realize that there is a 4 km road journey left towards the exact starting point for the trek which is Poolna. It seems funny after that long of a journey from Haridwar to Govindghat you made on the previous day, yet again you are getting in a vehicle.
God! This road journey never ends.
VOF - Dhabas, dhabas and more dhabas
Now about Poolna, no doubt the surrounding is beautiful but the point where the trail starts makes you feel like you are entering a carnival. With so many people there selling ice cream, snacks, etc it feels like a well-developed tourist spot where you have come for sightseeing which absolutely irritating for an adventure enthusiast and a trekker.
Are you in a city?
It doesn’t stop there, the trails are shrouded with horse poop all over, which feels disgusting. This shows how heavily used the trail is. One hopes things will become better but the hope is useless as things become worse. Throughout the trail, you will come across small dhabas all the way till Ghangria as this route is also a part of the Hemkund Sahib pilgrimage which is a Holy Yatra and thus it is understandable. But as an adventurer, it is not a very decent sight.
Lastly, the unnecessary difficulty one faces on the very first day of VOF further adds a point against this excursion. Govindghat is at a height of 6500 ft and the first-day halt is at 9800 ft so with an ascent of 3300 ft and a distance of 9 km it is very exhaustive. I have always mentioned that the first day of the trek should be light and short because your body takes time to acclimatize but in this case, as I have noticed the participants really struggle on day one in terms of acclimatization.
A steep ascend on a well-paved path
On the other hand, in Kalihani pass trek the day one is pretty basic, as you start your trek from the village of Sangchar to the first campsite Jammu Paani which is around 1.6 km and takes merely 2 hours. And in this two hours itself, you will be entering a proper trail compared to the paved man-made path of Valley of Flowers.
The trail is totally untouched and the view from the trail is just mesmerizing. You will get to see the major portions of Manali from a certain point.
Manali as seen from the trail to the first campsite of Kalihani Pass
The only downside of this day is there are some sections which from a distance feels like meadows but instead you will be walking through bushes which you may notice is the only downside. It is exciting to walk through these bushes as now and then you will be greeted with lush green clearings which is one of the key features of the Dhauladhar Range of Himachal.
An exciting walk across dense bushes only keeps you on your toes, wait and see what comes after this.
Valley of Flowers basically has only one halt in between which is Ghangria and it is extremely crowded, packed with dhabas and hotels. It is thronged with people making you forget you are in between a trek. Makes you realize that you are halting between two tourist spots and is really frustrating. I have even found sweet shops and normal grocery shops as well.
Come on! Who wants to witness these during a trek?
So the next three nights you will end up staying in Ghangria because this is the only point in common to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. So every day you will be doing back and forth from the Ghangria since you are not allowed to camp and thereby experience the beauty of the Valley of Flowers to the fullest.
Hotel and what not en route to VOF
Personally, I feel that the magnificent Gurudwara of Hemkund Sahib just beside a giant alpine lake and the valley itself are the two most beautiful aspects of the trek. Apart from these two, there is nothing to look forward to in terms of adventure.
Lovely campsite with dreamy settings on Kalihani Pass Trek
Now I will clearly put Kalihani pass way ahead because you are not only camping in the midst of flowery fields for several days but also walk on the major part of the trail that is in between meadows, ridges, and snowy patches just before the pass.
Look at the view. Look at the thrill you get from walking on this untainted path.
Every campsite is picture perfect and different from one another which makes it more interesting. Especially the campsites of Riyali and Sughor both of which are terrific in every sense.
Postcard-worthy Riyali campsite
Sughor is the stand out among all. On one side there is an open valley of meadows and on the other side, it is surrounded by high mountain passes of the Dhauladhar range. All these make the perfect experience of an adventure.
Sughor at 4000 M, if this doesn't get you high I don't know what will.
The Valley of Flowers has two milestones namely the valley of flowers itself and the glorious Gurudwara of Hemkund Sahib. The path all the way from Poolna to Hemkund Sahib as well as the deviation to Valley of Flowers is mad-made with decent maintenance. After the disastrous floods of 2013, the trail has changed drastically.
The footpath of Valley of Flowers
Now comes the extremely strenuous ascend to Hemkund Sahib which takes a heavy toll for the participants but the trail is not up to the mark. With dhabas established on the trail along with palanquins makes it quite demotivating.
BTW, did I forget to mention more horse poop on the trail?
That is simply annoying.
But the aura surrounding Hemkund Sahib is soothing and divine. This undoubtedly is a great place to be during your time spent in the Valley of Flowers.
Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib
Coming back to Valley of Flowers, while entering the national park you will have to book a ticket which exactly gives a vibe of a tourist going for sightseeing. The worst part being you will not have enough time to even experience the beauty of the valley.
A close to 4-day arduous journey that you took only for the Valley of Flowers and you don't even get to enjoy it at your own pace.
Since camping is not allowed at Valley of Flowers, due to good reasons of course, you will have to come back to Ghangria by evening which is again.
Gosh! How many times will you stay in the same location?
Time to reconsider your choices, isn't it?
Start of Valley of Flowers
The Kalihani pass is not limited to the Pass only. It has several other milestones such as the elliptical Rani Sui Lake surrounded by wonderful meadows of Dhauladhar range, and the top of Khanpara Tibba which offers stunning views of the snowcapped mountains of Dhauladhar range.
Khanpara Tibba with its gorgeous carpet of green
And, guess what?
You get to camp in the midst of epic meadows and flower-laden grasslands with mindblowing visuals of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
Walking on the untainted trail of Kalihani Pass is an outright delight
Last but not the least the pass itself, reaching the Kalihani Pass is a thrilling endeavor which you will never forget along with the stunning views of the well-known mountains of Pir Panjal range like Mt. Indrasan and the glorious Mt. Deo Tibba en route the pass.
Spectacular view of the Pir Panjal Range en route to Kalihani Pass with Mt. Indrasan and Mt. Deo Tibba (Top Left)
Overall, the Kalihani Pass trek is a healthy contender to the other popular monsoon treks like Hampta pass or Brighu Lake of Himachal. And, we have already established the fact that this trek surpasses the severely underwhelming Valley of Flowers.
Wow! Can you imagine the majesticness of this Trek?
Now comes the most relevant point where Kalihani Pass has an upper hand over the Valley of Flowers as the best monsoon trek of India.
It is true that the Valley of Flowers has a vast variety of flowers like Gearanium, Phlomis, Anemone, Marsh Marigold, Sinuqefoil and many more.
Flowers of VOF
These are the most recognizable variety of flora in the Himalayas. These are the facts which made Valley of Flowers what it is today and as a visitor, I am really fascinated with the valley but if you as adventure lover not at all.
With the same variety of flowers available even on the Kalihani Pass Trek and the chance of camping in the middle of these beauties, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
The presence of flowers like Phlomis, Hyaa, Common Yarrow, Sinquefoil, Primula, Marsh Marigold, Anemone, Gearanium, Potentila, Hill Poppy, Erigeton, Noble Yarrow, Rhododendrons and plenty more on the trail is absolutely magical.
Flowers on Kalihani Pass Trek
Picture a trail through dense green meadows, a crisp white glacier on the side, towering snowcapped peaks surrounding you and numerous streams flowing alongside and you are walking with these gorgeous flowers scattered all over.
Not only do you get to spend enough time exploring the flower-laden campsites for nature buffs this is as good as it can get. The towering landscapes and scintillating valley and mountain views complement these flower beds and present to you a tailor-made perfected trek.
Plus, the biggest advantage of zero human traffic takes the experience of this trek to a whole new level. Too amazing to comprehend.
Ultimately, the Valley of Flowers is nothing but a Yatra. Period.
Having said all this, I want to make it clear that this write-up is not a personal attack towards one of the most beautiful regions of the Himalayas. From an adventure enthusiast's perspective, the Valley of Flowers offers nothing but a shit trail (Literally) with the only upside of the fantastic Gurudwara of Hemkund Sahib.
As an outdoor leader, the everlasting goal is to provide accurate information and experience which can set the correct example of an adventure and not fool people by saying otherwise. Hopefully by providing a reality check on Valley of Flowers as an "adventure", I could help you make the right decision.
Want to know more about this trek? Find all you need to know in this blog on the highlights of the Kalihani Pass trek.