The Valley of Flowers series continues into the third post. The road journey with all its twists and turns lasts only up to Govindghat. The base camp for Valley of Flowers is however the tiny hamlet of Ghangharia. To reach Ghangharia from Govindghat, one has to hike/trek up a set of formidable hills. The distance – 13 kms one way.
As you already know, we had stayed overnight at the GMVN resthouse in Joshimath. On D-day, we left Joshimath for Govindghat at around 7 AM. Govindghat is around 18kms from Joshimath. We descended through the beautiful hillside near Joshimath and passed Vishnuprayag where the Dhauliganga merges into the mighty Alaknanda. Just after Vishnuprayag, the first twist in the tale occurred!
We encountered landslides at two places on the route and were stranded for quite some time on a bridge just after Vishnuprayag. The road to Govindghat is the same as the road to Badrinath from Joshimath. Therefore there were many pilgrims, headed both to Badrinath and Hemkund around. People power came to the fore and travelers on the route managed to move the rocks and clear the road for vehicles to pass. After breathing a sigh of relief we managed to reach Govindghat around 9 AM.
The first thing to do was to arrange for porters to carry our bags up the hill (no! we still weren’t in shape to haul our bags up the hill!). After a heavy breakfast of parathas we picked some sticks for hiking and as it was drizzling also added some rain covers for the camera bags (extra protection!). The Lakshmanganga (which downstream merges into the Alaknanda) flows next to Govindghat. The climb begins immediately after crossing the footbridge over the Lakshmanganga. The first part of the climb is seriously steep and the hills looked extremely imposing up close from this town. The mist covering the hills gave them an ethereal look! The many people and mules climbing up the hill looked like tiny toys going up the hill. Most of them are actually pilgrims to Hemkund.
We set out around 10 AM hoping to reach Ghangharia before it got dark. The slush along the path and the hustle and bustle of other tourists, porters and mules ensured that our progress was pretty slow. Thousands of Sikh pilgrims who wanted to visit Hemkund were trudging along. The intermittent drizzle would make us wear our raincoats only to remove them within a short while. Reason – our bodies were generating tons of heat and sweat! The preparations in terms of fitness that we had done before embarking on this trek proved to be really useful. Yes, we could have taken the mules but we were not keen on doing that unless it was inevitable. Few of the pilgrims were distributing glucose powder at frequent intervals along the way.
The first major milestone on the trek for us was the midway restaurant located midway to Ghangharia. We reached there around 1 PM. We asked for Maggi. Never did a bowl of Maggi taste better! After relishing the bowl of hot Maggi we proceeded further. The “real” name for the whole valley is Bhyundar Valley. This is named after the Bhyundar village at the start of the valley. We passed Bhyundar village on our way. The villagers of Bhyundar lead a tough life and one of their largest sources of income are the scores of pilgrims and tourists that climb up this route to Hemkund.
While the scenery around was breathtaking, we were finding it difficult to enjoy the scenery as we needed to concentrate where we stepped. The slush was treacherous at some places and we had to ensure that our feet were placed at proper spots. The hiking shoes (from Decathlon) that we had purchased for this trip were very useful in this terrain. The galloping mules coming from behind also resulted in a drop in our pace. One mule nearly brushed me (and another lady climbing up) off the cliff-side! Close shave. My dream trip would have ended in dreadful fashion hadn’t I managed to hold onto the edge of the path. Slowly but surely tiredness began to set in and progress was slowing down.
It was almost 5 PM when we reached a restaurant near a bridge which was around 2-3 kms from Ghangharia. We sank in the chairs there and sipped some masala tea. Light fades early in the hills and a little panic began to set in. We could hardly make it through the difficult path in broad daylight. God save us once it was dark (we did have torches though :)).
In the pilgrims climbing up, there were a lot of elderly women. A group of these elderly women were finding the going extremely tough and on the verge of totally giving up and losing hope given the fading light. Nagesh and Vivek decided to help them out. We split our group into two. Me and Parimala went ahead with Pratap while Nagesh and Vivek stayed back with the ladies to help and guide them up as they did not even have torches and the morale boosting was much needed.
Darkness set in quick and fast. With the help of torches we managed to find our way. There was a distinct chill in the air. Suddenly on rounding a bend, Ghangharia came into sight. It was a moment of complete exhilaration! We reached the GMVN hotel at Ghangaria around 7 PM. We had trekked for almost 9 hours.
The staff immediately took us to our rooms. Our bags which had been “muled” up had arrived long back. Rooms at the GMVN in Ghangharia are basic but very clean. One has to appreciate GMVN a lot for their outstanding hospitality in such inhospitable terrain. Kudos to their outstanding efforts. The staff had sent the tel maalishwala (a Masseuse). He rubbed some oil to loosen our legs which had become very stiff. Don’t recall what exact oil he rubbed. Whatever it was, the massage proved to be soothing. After taking bath with hot water delivered to our rooms we set out to have dinner. We retired early for the night as we wanted to have an early start the next day. That was going to be the day we would get to set eyes on the Valley of Flowers. The very reason we’d put ourselves through all this.
The day of return dawned upon us after spending two blissful days in the heavenly Valley of Flowers. With heavy hearts we bid our farewell to the hills.
We were expecting the downhill trek to Govindghat to be easier. If time permitted we could visit Badrinath in the afternoon. But the slush at some places was very treacherous due to the recent rains. Accompanied by the porter we started on our way down. The sights that we had missed on the onward journey here due to darkness came into view. A group of swiss tents just outside Ghangharia looked so colourful against the backdrop of the lush green hills. We also saw the Kanjilla Helipad from a distance.
We did the first 3-4 Kms pretty swiftly. But then came the difficulty. My left knee started hurting badly and I was finding it very difficult to walk. I had a mild case of the runner’s knee! I was finding progress very difficult and this slowed down the whole party. The Badrinath plan had to be dropped right away. With frequent stops to rest my legs, the times we were taking to cover distance went downhill and literally at that! Nagesh encouraged me a lot and ensured that we reached Govindghat well in time.
The pain notwithstanding, the sights were mesmerizing. On the way we saw many colourful birds and even a group of Langurs. We also found Ganja (Cannabis) growing abundantly near the path. We also saw trees laden with apples.
The pain was making me feel that the journey was lasting an eternity but the sights were making me forget the pain at the same time! Quite a unique experience, I must say. When we finally sighted the hamlet of Govindghat my joy knew no bounds. A tiresome trek had come to an end for me. Our Innova was waiting for us there. The driver had already got the bags we had left behind at Joshimath and we left immediately for Birahi where we would stay the night before driving back to Rishikesh the next morning. We would then leave back for Delhi the day after. Bringing to an end one of the most memorable trips of my life. At least so far!