Visiting the Valley of Flowers National Park was a dream of mine, is by now known to you all too well. I am sure there are many more like me who will want to and should see this heaven on earth. Here are a few pointers on how to plan for this trip. These are our experiences and could help you too.
When to go and Why to go
The valley can be visited only between June and early October. At other times, the valley is covered with snow and inaccessible. The major “flower bloom” period is July and August. That said, July and August is also peak monsoon around here and you need to be prepared for difficult journeys on the road given the omnipresent landslides and a relatively painful trek up from Govindghat given the slush. June can be a bit too early sometimes. September is the best time to go if sighting the Himalayan peaks that flank the valley is the main intention. There will still be flowers too.
The first time I heard about the valley, a UNESCO world heritage site, was way back in 2007-08 when I saw a programme on Travel and Living channel on TV. It looked like heaven. The valley was engulfed in mist. A group of trekkers walked across the slopes filled with flowers of various hues and colors. Below is a very similar sight we saw during our trip. That should be enough motivation, I am sure!
Planning the Trip
The first and foremost requirement is to figure out travel and accommodation arrangements. We were planning to go sometime during August as it would still be the peak season for flowers and the monsoon would hopefully have abated a little. First thing was to go through various blogs written by people who have been to the valley before as well as the tours organized by various operators to this region. Amount the “tours”, we were not quite satisfied about the itineraries as they seemed too hectic without much time being spent in the valley. Their typical idea seems to be to cover many places within the shortest time possible! Figuring out the credibility of these operators who were unknown for us was another challenge.
Based on recommendations from a colleague and another relative (who was also planning to visit VOF as well!) we landed up on the option of taking a customized tour from GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam). Having gone through the tour now, the custom tour through GMVN is my firm recommendation to anyone wanting to do this trip.
The next best bet is to take the fixed itinerary trip from GMVN. That did not suit our requirements due to the following factors :
- It included Badrinath and meant spending only one day in the valley whereas we wanted to spend at-least two days in the valley.
- The trip started on a Tuesday from Rishikesh and ended mid of next week making it inconvenient for us to travel from Bangalore and be back within a week.
GMVN has offices in multiple cities around India and one of them is in Bangalore. We went on a weekend in early-June and met Mr. Anurag from GMVN. For those of you in or around Bangalore, the GMVN office in Bangalore is located on KH Road or Double Road as it is more popularly known. You can reach Mr Anurag at +91-988-618-0515. He helped us chalk out an itinerary for us based on our requirements. Below is the itinerary that we came up with.
Day 1- We would fly to Delhi on the morning of August 6 (Friday) and catch the 4 PM train to Haridwar and stay there overnight.
Day 2 – Start journey to Joshimath the next morning in an Innova and stay there overnight.
Day 3 – Go by car till Govindghat in the morning and trek to Ghangharia.
Days 4 and 5 – Valley of Flowers.
Day 6 – Visit Hemkund Sahib.
Day 7 – Trek back to Govindghat and go by car to Birahi which is after Joshimath.
Day 8 – Drive back to Rishikesh.
Day 9 – Spend time in Rishikesh. This could also be the additional buffer day in the case of trek/journey getting delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. [little did we know how beneficial this buffer day would prove eventually! And no, landslides weren’t to be blamed!]
Day 9 – Take the train back to delhi in the morning and evening flight to Bangalore.
Of these, the GMVN end of the bargain included
- The stays in Haridwar, Joshimath, Ghangaria, Birahi and Rishikesh. We opted for deluxe rooms everywhere except for Ghangaria where there wasn’t any choice. Food wasn’t included at any place.
- The travel from Haridwar to Govindghat and then from Govindghat back to Rishikesh was by a GMVN operated Innova (lucky for us we opted for a air-conditioned Innova!).
The cost of the tour was pretty reasonable as there were five people in our group consisting of Me, Nagesh, Pratap, Parimala and Vivek. FYI, the whole lot, including the stay and the travel worked out just a little under INR 60,000 for all of us put together.
Preparations for the trek
The valley can be reached by the following route. The road is motor-able till Govindghat which is a small village around 18 kms away from Joshimath towards Badrinath. From Govindghat one can walk or take a mule/pitthu (be carried on the back of a porter in a basket!)/palanquin(borne on the shoulders of four men) for 13 kms to a village called Ghangharia which serves as the base camp for treks to the valley or a pilgrimage to the sacred Gurudwara of Hemkund Sahib which is a holy place for the Sikh community. To reach the valley from here, we need to trek for 4 kms after crossing the village. The valley is spread over the next 10 kms and is around 2 km wide. This map snippet from Google should give you a idea of what we are talking about. The map is centered at Govindghat, the start point of the trek. You can trace the hike path up from Govindghat to Ghangharia (referred to as “To Hemkund Sahib” in the map) and then pan around to see where Valley of Flowers is located.
For me, who had never been on a trek before, this seemed like a daunting task. It doesn’t help that our lifestyle did not include any form of exercise either! Therefore we built up a home-grown recipe of stamina building. We started exercising a month before the trek. We would cycle daily for around 10-15 kms on the exer-cycle. Brisk walks for around 3-4 kms on the weekends became part of our routine too.
What to take along
While on a trek it is important to have the right gear as well. In addition, the nights up in the mountains are cold and one needs protection. We chose Decathlon for most of our gear. For the hike, we wanted to ensure that we carried stuff which was durable, light and which we could be stowed away without much care. Therefore, we got ourselves trekking shoes, socks, t-shirts, pants, torches and water bottles. Some binoculars and of course cameras to capture the beauty. Nagesh, Pratap and Parimala were the “photographers” and I filled in with some photography of my own too :-) Vivek was clear that he just wanted the memories!
We were going in the monsoon and that meant being prepared for hiking through rain. We got ourselves rain-cuts and dry bags for this purpose. To ensure that we can manage the cold, we got some thermal wear and excellent fleece jackets (from Decathlon again) which were extremely light but super effective. All this had to get carried in an effective manner and that meant backpacks.
Another aspect is being prepared for water. We did not want to buy “bottled water” as we didn’t want to add to the plastic waste. A wonderful alternative was the Steripen water purifier. It was useful through our tour, even in the plains at Haridwar and Rishikesh ensuring that we did not have to “buy” any water. The streams inside the valley anyway had wonderful water flowing through them and the Steripen took care of whatever little impurity that may have existed.
Guess that’s about it! Hopefully you do find it useful when you prepare for your own trip. Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below. Let me end this series of posts on the Valley of Flowers with a slideshow of ALL the pictures from the trip.