I am sure you’ve read about the enchanting Valley of Flowers, my dream destination which a few of us visited in August 2010. The journey to and from the Valley of Flowers was by itself an emotional roller-coaster filled with adventure, difficulties and joy.
We had decided to fly to and fro to Delhi from Bangalore. Then the onward route would be Delhi-Haridwar-Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangharia-Valley of Flowers with overnight stops at Haridwar and Joshimath. The road was motorable upto Govindghat. A 13 km trek from Govindghat would lead us to Ghangharia which would serve as our base camp. On the way back we would be spending one night each in Birahi and Rishikesh respectively. At least that was the plan :-)
We took a morning flight to Delhi and reached in the noon. After lunch at the airport we took a cab to the railway station to board the Shatabdi train to Haridwar. The sweltering heat made the journey tiresome. We were staying overnight at GMVN’s Rahi Motel in Haridwar. After a hearty dinner we retired for the night. A long journey of little over 250km to Joshimath lay ahead of us the next morning. The road leads through some of the most pristine hills of Uttarakhand. But given that it was the beginning of monsoon, there was the ever present danger of rock slides. Beyond the fact that it could be potentially dangerous, the larger trouble was that one could get stuck for hours and sometimes days in rock slides! Our cab had already arrived and our driver Kishorilal advised us to leave by 6.30-7 the next morning as it was necessary to reach Joshimath before it got dark.
The next morning found us ready bright and early and on time set for the journey. Little did we know of the impending disaster that was to descend on us. And descend the Kawadiyas did. The streets of Haridwar seemed to be bustling with the Kawadiyas who come to collect the water from River Ganges and take it back to their villages for offering it to Lord Shiva in their temples. The highway from Haridwar to Rishikesh was blocked and the traffic was just not moving. The street seemed to be choking with all the vehicles and the crowds surging through it. Around one crore people had descended here as per our driver!
The journey from Haridwar to Rishikesh which is a mere 20-22 kms took us nearly 10 hours of which the last 15-18 kms stretch was covered within one hour which meant that we took 9 hours for the first 4 kms! Need I say more?! This was WITHOUT DOUBT the worst traffic jam of our lives. But then as they say in difficulty lies opportunity! Nagesh and Pratap made hay while the sun shone… err I mean clicked fantastic photos of the madness when stuck in the jam! But eventually even that novelty wore off and we resigned to our fate. We thanked our foresight in asking for the Innova with air-conditioning!
We finally reached Rishikesh around 5 PM. Our plans and therefore our bookings at GMVN, Joshimath and onward had gone totally askew. This is where we were so glad that we were with GMVN through and through. Over a few phone calls, our driver had reworked our onward bookings and also got us a booking in GMVN Rishikesh. We found this aspect of GMVN very useful and there were no last minute hassles involved in finding rooms and everything went smoothly for us in this regard. GMVN has hotels at almost every 30 kms or so through Garhwal. So we were not to worry if we got stuck anywhere along the route.
In Rishikesh, we got rooms at Hotel Rishi Lok which was in a very nice location and close to the Rishikesh Bypass. We decided to make the most of this day and ventured to catch the evening Aarti at the Ghat. The whole town was bustling with lots of people. We managed to cross the Ram Jhoola and reach the ghat a tad too late but got a few pics before it became dark. We then visited the Gita temple where one can find one of the smallest renditions of the entire Bhagvad Gita, on one page. Our next stop was at a shop where Rudraksha malas and Shaligram beads were sold. There is also a Rudraksha tree in the Gita temple premises. We then walked along the Ghat and went back to the hotel. After a sumptuous dinner we retired for the night.
We set out early next morning to Joshimath and were relieved not to see any Kawadiyas around :) After crossing Rishikesh, the road runs along the banks of River Ganga all the way till Joshimath. The sight of River Ganga was awesome. This stretch of the river is very popular for rafting upto Kaudiyala, a small village near Rishikesh. The road was scary in many places but the sights were heavenly. We stopped for breakfast at a small village called Byasi and had some delicious parathas.
Enroute to Joshimath, one passes through four of the “prayags” (or confluence of rivers). We passed through Devprayag which is the first prayag on this route. This is where the Alaknanda and the Bhagirathi rivers meet to form the holy River Ganga.
We stopped for lunch at Rudraprayag (The Mandakini merges into the the Alaknanda here). This place became very famous due to the man-eating leopard which had terrorised the residents of Rudraprayag as well as pilgrims travelling to Badrinath for a long time before the famed Jim Corbett hunted it down.
The next prayag was at Karnaprayag where the Pindar river merges into the Alaknanda. After this we passed through Nandaprayag where Alaknanda and Nandakini rivers meet. We stopped for some tea at the GMVN hotel in Birahi where we would be staying on our return journey. The location of this hotel was perfect with a furious Alaknanda river gushing right next to it. What a sight!! Without wasting much time here we set forth to Joshimath as it was almost 5 in the evening. After crossing Birahi the terrain changed all of a sudden. The hills are green and alive is what I was reminded of looking at the lovely sights outside.
We reached Joshimath around 6 PM. We skipped the thought of going to Shankaracharya temple here as we had plenty of work to do. Up ahead was the trek up to Ghangaria and we had to segregate our stuff and take only what was needed during the trek. The additional bags had to be left behind in the cloak room of the hotel here. That took us quite a while and it was too late by then to venture out. We had a hearty dinner and retired early for the night as the next day would be challenging and the trek would start.
The Return Journey
After our stay at the enchanting Valley of Flowers, it was time to bid goodbye to the mountains and drive back down the treacherous roads. Back to Rishikesh. After the trek down to Govindghat from Ghangaria, we loaded all our bags into the car and set forth for Birahi. The drive was uneventful. We were lucky to sight a beautiful rainbow just before Birahi. Around 5 PM we reached the GMVN motel in Birahi where we were given a cordial welcome by the staff. The people of this state are generally very friendly and courteous. We had awesome mixed vegetable pakodas and hot tea.
The rooms were nice and had lovely views of the mighty Alaknanda river which was in full spate given the monsoons. This property is small but situated at the perfect location. This is another aspect about the GMVN hotels that we came to love. Their locations are fabulous. We retired early for the night after a refreshing bath followed by some dinner.
Early morning saw us outside our rooms taking pictures of the beautiful Alaknanda river. We then had breakfast of some hot pooris and toast. This was a welcome break from parathas and porridge which was our staple diet while at Ghangaria!
We left Birahi around 10 AM. We were just hoping not to get blocked by any landslides. At some places the road looked bad and very vulnerable. Our driver wanted to reach Rishikesh soon as he was sure that it would rain heavily later resulting in landslides. We stopped at GMVN hotel in Srinagar for lunch.
By 5 PM we had reached Kaudiyala on the outskirts of Rishikesh near the Ganga river. There is a GMVN hotel here too and this is one of the places where rafting facilities are provided. After sipping hot tea we started towards Rishikesh. As we were approaching Rishikesh it started raining very heavily. The atmosphere was ominous in the hills. With crossed fingers we hoped that we would reach uneventfully. Thankfully we did reach Rishikesh safe and sound around 6 PM.
We would be spending the night in GMVN Bharat Bhoomi Hotel here. This was the biggest of the GMVN properties in which we had stayed during this trip and by far the worst unfortunately. I wonder why the friendliest places were in the most difficult places and not in the plains where everything was simple and easy! We had arranged for a cab to take us to Delhi next morning where we would be staying for a day before our flight back to Bangalore.