A post on the most exotic place that I have visited till date. The most adventurous trip of my life (so far!). This place is surely a paradise on earth and no words can express the beauty of this place. You need to experience it. Visiting this place had been my dream for quite a while and this dream came true in August of 2010. This paradise has a name. It’s called Valley of Flowers.
The Valley of Flowers is a National Park (for flowers!) in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Frank S Smythe, a British Mountaineer discovered the valley during an expedition to Mount Kamet nearby. He has written a book titled ‘The Valley of the Flowers’ on his experiences in the regions around the valley. This book gives an insight into the geography of the valley and is helpful to try and get a hang of what is in store.
Valley of Flowers in mythology
The Valley of Flowers finds mention in Hindu mythology too.
Mahabharata talks about the valley of flowers from where Bhima brought Sougandhika pushpa to Droupadi, after killing all the demons living in the valley. It is also the place where Bhima meets Hanuman! Mythology also has it that Hanuman picked the Sumeru parvat for the Sanjeevini herb to cure Lakshmana from the valley of flowers.
Mythology apart, Valley of flowers gets a mention in Swami Rama’s “Living with the Himalayan Masters”, where a chapter is dedicated to this valley. He explains vividly how staying in the valley for long makes a person ‘lose his memory’ (forget everything else)!
There were five of us (Me, Nagesh, Vivek, Pratap and Parimala) who went on this journey to Valley of Flowers. To begin with let me entertain you with the sights of the valley itself. I will shortly do separate followup posts on the trek to the base camp, our travails during the journey through the mountains of Uttarakhand and of course for all those interested in going to the valley, details of our planning and travel itinerary. [UPDATE: next post covers our journey through the mountains of Uttarakhand][UPDATE 2: the post on the hike up the route from Govindghat to Ghangharia and back is up now]
Valley of Flowers – our First Glimpse
We had reached the base camp at Ghangharia late in the evening the previous day. The D-day had finally arrived. The morning was pleasant and the hills looked majestic. The views of the hills from the GMVN Hotel were breathtaking to say the least. It was a delight to see tufts of mist rising high above the trees.
After an early breakfast of porridge we set out to the Valley of Flowers. We wanted to take a guide along with us on the first day and went looking for Rajneesh Chouhan’s shop in Ghangharia. I had read online about this guy who has done innumerable trips to the valley and dons the role of a guide as well. Rajneesh set aside another task he had for himself and joined us to guide us up to the valley. We had taken a porter along to carry the camera bags.
We bought tickets at the check-post at the entrance to the national park and excitedly went ahead. Lots of exotic birds were here but not easy to sight. We sighted a mountain mouse near the entry gate and it looked so cute.
The path twists, turns and climbs past streams and some hills for around 3 kms after which the valley comes into view. We saw some exotic flowers of different colours and hues along-with some fruits and mushrooms. The fruits of pine trees could be seen from this altitude! The peaks of the hills looked so imposing. Rajneesh was adept at walking here and we had to hurry to be with him. He showed us a tree which had been made hollow by a bear. The hollow was large enough for Rajneesh to scramble inside easily!
The valley of flowers starts near a gorge of the Pushpawati river which downstream merges with the Bhyundar Ganga to form the Lakshman Ganga. This in turn merges with the mighty Alaknanda at Govindghat. The gushing of the Pushpawati river as it wound its way though the valley was so soothing. A rickety bridge helped us approach the other side.
As we approached the valley, we saw a glacier in frozen state and felt that we had been transported to a magical land. The valley was engulfed by low hanging clouds and the sight was mesmerizing. The scene was so similar to the one I had seen when I heard first about this place on the television – the sight which had implanted the dream in my mind. The visibility was low and we could not see beyond a few yards. It was drizzling on and off. The slopes of the valley were covered with pink flowers that week. Apparently flowers of different colours bloom at different times and the slopes change colour weekly! You don’t believe me, no? You will find a mention of some of the species that bloom in the valley on the wikipedia.
By the time we reached a huge rock which is one of the first landmarks of the valley it started raining. Rajneesh advised that we should not go ahead and return back when the rain reduced. We could not afford being stuck in the valley if any landslides occurred along the way. And yes, landslides are a distinct possibility on the hillside during the rainy season.
It was almost lunch time. We had our lunch consisting of some parathas that we had packed in the morning. A Himalayan Finch couple were hopping across the plants close to the rock where we had taken shelter. We managed to get a record shot of these beauties as visibility had worsened.
When the rain had abated we set back towards Ghangharia. It was so disappointing that we had not gone even halfway through the valley. We managed to reach back at the check-post before 5 PM which is the closing time. Camping inside the valley is not allowed. For this, special permission is needed and one needs to be doing botanical research in order to get it.
At the check-post we met a French couple who had managed to trek from Govindghat to Ghangharia in less than 3 hours (it took us 9!!) and wanted to go ahead either to the valley or Hemkund Sahib! But it was almost closing time for both places and they had to return back to Ghangharia.
Nagesh and Vivek went back to the hotel while Pratap, Parimala and I stayed back near the check-post to get some bird photos. We saw quite a few exotic birds but none of the shots were great. After a while we headed back towards Ghangharia. The market was bustling with activity. Almost all shops offer massages to soothe the frayed muscles. This is mainly for the pilgrims returning from the much harder trek to Hemkund. A group of kids wanted me and Parimala to take their pictures and we obliged them!
Valley of Flowers – Again
Our original plan had been to spend two of our three days in the mountains in the valley of flowers. The delay in reaching Joshimath due to the Kawad Yatra near Haridwar (more on that in a post later) had already cost us a day. Added to this, as the first day in the valley had also been disappointing due to rain and bad visibility not letting us venture much inside the valley. We therefore had the choice of going back to the valley or head to Hemkund. We could do only one of them. 4 of us, Pratap, Parimala, Nagesh and I wanted to go back to the valley. Vivek decided to go to Hemkund alone.
The sky looked less dreary compared to the previous day. We set forth with hope to the valley. This time the weather conditions were favorable even though there was intermittent drizzle. Given that we knew our way around we did not employ Rajneesh’s help. We also managed to reach the first big rock inside the valley sooner than the previous day. A large group of trekkers from Pune were also there.
The valley looked as enchanting as before. The weather was reasonably conducive for photography. But then no pictures can do justice to the majestic beauty of this place. You have to see it to believe it. We drank water from the streams gushing around the path and also collected pebbles as souvenirs.
My goal for the day was to trek at least upto Margaret Legge’s grave. Margaret Legge was a botanist who slipped to her death here as she was collecting flower samples in 1939. An epitaph has been constructed in memory of her by her sister. We managed to reach Margaret Legge’s grave which is below the slopes and a deviation from the main path leads one there. There we met the chief forest officer of the state of Uttarakhand and his retinue. They had just returned from the other end of the valley where they had sighted a new species of flowers growing in abundance. During our conversation he suggested that we go there. However, since it was almost lunch time and clouds were taking on a sinister look we decided to have lunch and head back.
We had trekked almost till the end of the valley. It was a cheerful day. The return to the check-post was uneventful. We reached Ghangharia by 4 PM and had pakodas with hot masala tea. Vivek had already returned from Hemkund. He said that the visibility was pretty bad there. He had managed to see the Brahmakamal (Tiger Lily) flower which is found along the path to Hemkund.
Sights of the Valley
I am sure you are all pretty eager to go beyond my words and see the place for yourself. The slideshow below should hopefully give you an inkling of the beauty of the place and why this place is surely a paradise!
Thus ended our magical sojourn to the Valley of Flowers. I hope to go back to the Valley of Flowers again someday and then will probably go post the monsoon (around September maybe). They say that during this time while the amount of flowers would have reduced, the sights of the Himalayan peaks around the valley are a sight to behold. Someday for sure!
As promised, I will be back soon with the other posts around this magical journey. Till then….