Having had the valley on my mind for two years, I was finally able to see it in June 2011 when I set on a 6 day break from city hokum along with family. Since parents were accompanying us for convenience, we hired an SUV with driver and started off with a well laid out plan and advanced bookings for all our stays. I wanted to complete my journey before the onset of monsoon. During monsoons landslides are a plenty and I decided to pay my homage to this wonderful valley in the last week of June. Though, the valley was not at full bloom, it sure was emerald green and I don’t regret my decision.
If you have a thing for nature and adventure and can deal with a lack of amenities -this is a place you must visit.
Timing your visit~ The valley, located in western Himalayas in the Uttarakhand state of India, is open for visitors (most of them scholars) only between June and October. This region is unapproachable the rest of the year due to heavy snow.
Day 0~ Delhi-Haridwar-Rishikesh
We started at 9:00 AM from Delhi, accommodated border formalities at Ghaziabad and adjoining Pacific mall for buying supplies – 1 crate of mineral water, another of juices, packaged snacks, and extra memory for my camera. We made few stops for lunch and Tea breaks on the way to reach Rishikesh by 6.00 PM. We decided to have dinner at the famed Chotiwala Restaurant after crossing Ram Jhoola and started to look for a decent place to stay for the night.
The Rishikesh Debacle and a Lesson Learned ~ I have been to Rishikesh many times before and am confident of the abundance of staying and eating options there. But I was thoroughly mistaken. June is also the month when the holy yatra to Shri Hemkund Sahib, the most revered Sikh pilgrimage site in India, and Char Dham Yatra, the most revered Hindu pilgrimage, starts and Rishikesh is the gateway to this route. The small city is inundated by pilgrims and tourists at this time of year. Advanced booking for hotels, dharamshalas, gurudwaras, B&Bs is a must. Grab what you get. Only a few high-end-luxury options were available to us which would have cost us our entire travel budget. At one point we were considering driving back to Haridwar city but with some rotten luck we got a shady place at very undeservingly high prices – the only solace: it was at a stone throws distance from Ganges.
While Driver was away for obtaining the necessary permit (required for all vehicles going further from Rishikesh), we explored Rishikesh.
Important – have a good meal before leaving Rishikesh because you might not find good eating options enroute (read it as costly and poorer in quality).
We stopped for an hour at Devaprayag absorbing the view. Moving ahead there were a few disruptions on road due to repair work which slowed our pace. We reached Joshimath at 8:00 PM – there were just a few cars on the road after it went dark.
The knowing that we are alone in the wilderness, the darkness that rendered a ghastly appearance to mountains, and the dangerous roads kept us anxious for an hour of our journey.
We had prior bookings (@INR 2500 per night for a 5 bedded family room with bath not attached but located next to the room) at hotel Dronagiri (the first building on right when you enter Joshimath) which has in-house restaurant. The staff was courteous and took our order for dinner and time for morning tea while we were settling in our family room. After hot water baths and a very satisfying Dinner, we decided to sleep.
Lesson Learned – Leave Rishikesh early and avoid driving after dusk, it is a long journey and roads give-in some times causing delays.
Day 2~ Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangaria
We woke to euphoria. The hotel staff served morning tea/coffee in bed. The window framed first morning light breaking over snow capped mountain peaks (all windows face valley) – and we could not stay inside then. After breakfast we checked out at 9:00 AM and resumed our journey, though we had to wait for an hour for gates to open for our side of the traffic. Another hour and we were at Govindghat – the road ends here and we would take on feet from here. We packed a pair of change in backpacks and deposited remaining luggage in the gurudwara stores, shopped for walking sticks (a must for trekking as they help you climb and support you downslope), and looked for a porter. Everything is expensive here – mineral water is double the cost and porters overcharge. We hired one for INR 700/- for carrying our baggage upto Ghangaria. All set we started trekking towards Ghangaria, a 14 kms up-down-around the mountains alongside the river Lakshman Ganga. Its a pleasant and beautiful trek except for the mules which are used to carry weak-willed individuals on this path. By the time Sunlight started disappearing we were in Ghangaria. Ghangaria is a temporary town which bursts into activity with the onset of tourist season, it serves as a base for both the Hemkund as well as the valley of flower trek. We had advance bookings at Hotel Devlok (@INR 14750 for two non-deluxe triple bed rooms with attached bath for 3 nights). The ground floor of the hotel serves as a restaurant, serving mainly North Indian Food.
click for pics – Click here to see more pictures from this part of our journey.
Day 3~ Ghangaria-Hemkund-Ghangaria
We set out to begin our trek at 8:00 AM and were surprised to see that other people (the place was full of Sikh devotees) were already reaching the top (they must have started to climb at 5:00 AM). The climb of 7 KM is steep, the cobbled path is difficult, and the air is thin. After an hour it became difficult to climb even 500 mtrs without a break. We were at the kund (lake) at the time for noon prayer. After spending 2 hours there we set out to descend at around 2:30 PM. In the afternoon, the weather changed suddenly and it went foggy and drizzled a bit. The trek path crossed two small glaciers – due to sunshine they melted and slipped destroying the trek path on our way return. The administration and volunteers kept the anxious crowd undercontrol and helped them pass a person a time. Being trapped there for an hour was unnerving. The darkness fell while we still had a KM to descent. We slowed our pace and reached Ghangaria at time for dinner. Some members of the family went feverish due to physical stress and needed medicine. We were prepared with medical supplies for treating muscle cramps, food poisoning, fevers, cuts and bruises.
Lesson – Weather changes abruptly in mountains hence preparedness is essential (raincoat and torch can be life saver)
click for pics – Click here to see more pictures from Hemkund trek.
Day 4~ Ghangaria-Valley of Flowers-Ghangaria
Next morning, after having a heavy breakfast consisting of stuffed parathas (Indian Bread) we started for valley of flowers at 9:00 AM. The park stretches over an expanse of 87.50 km² and encompassed in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (223,674 ha) which is further surrounded by a buffer zone (5,148.57 km²). This Reserve is in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 2004. An entry fee of INR 300 for Indian national and INR 1500 for Foreign nationals is charged. We were advised by the Forest Check Post to be back before 6:00 PM since the weather tends to deteriorate in evenings and it can be fatal to be trapped in the park in a bad weather (there are no risk from wild animals). The trek runs parallel to river pushpavati and is pleasant mostly, though at few points the path may be destroyed or dangerous. Since not many people visit the valley the trek path is very clean and in better maintenance. We walked at leisure and enjoyed the scenary, stopping for pictures in between. We reached the valley in an hour and half and spent a few hours there wondering at its vast beautiful expanses and the knowledge that we were nearly alone in that vast valley, with only 15 other trekkers as informed by the forest officials at the entry gate. Around 2:30 PM when the clouds started to descend from the mountain peaks and we knew we were up for a rainstorm, we headed back. The return was faster and we were back by 6:00 PM.
Stepping out of the valley gate I thought to myself “If beauty can kill, consider me slain!”
click for pics -You can visit the valley through the lens of my camera on this album. It is a good way to know about what to expect if visiting in late June or early July.
Day 5~ Ghangaria-Govindghat-Badrinath-Joshimath
We left by 7:00 AM for Ghangaria and stopped for rest at two places – The river point is a good place to rest and enjoy the scene for a while. By noon we were at Govindghat. It did not take much time to collect our baggage, locate the driver and resume our journey. On our driver’s suggestion we made a quick trip to Badrinath which is located about 25 KM from Govindghat and were back in Govindghat by 4:30 PM. At Govindghat, there was a massive traffic buildup for about 2 KM on the road due to excessive inflow of tourists. However, we were able to make it to prior booked Hotel Dronagiri at Joshimath by Dinner time. We went to sleep after advising the hotel staff on our early departure the next morning.
click for pics – Click here to see pictures of road and views on journey between Badrinath and Gobindghat.
Day 6~ Joshimath-Delhi
After breakfast we set out on our journey back home. The plan was to cover as much distance as possible and look for a place for stay when the night falls. However, in the hands of our skilled driver we were in Haridwar by 5:00 PM and decided to head for home. During this leg of our journey we took minimum breaks and stopped for food in Srinagar (was bad experience) and Roorkee (Domino’s on the highway was a good choice though the staff was a bit slow in serving as compared to fast paced Delhi). We were at home in Delhi by 11:30 PM on Saturday. We ran ahead of schedule and saved a lazy Sunday for relaxation and recovery.
You should not visit if you~
- are physically unfit or suffer from heart conditions
- suffer from breathing problems such as asthma (the air becomes thin at higher altitudes)
- stickler for hygiene (the facilities at Hotels/B&Bs of this make-shift town of Ghangaria are not top-notch)
- Plan early and book stay in 2-3 months in advance (we discovered that the rates for accomodation at Ghangaria were very steep for those who had no advance bookings and some pilgrims paid INR 1000 per night for bedding and space in open galleries of hotels or gurudwara.
- Diesel generators are deployed for electricity hence the room lights go off at 9:00 PM. Carry extra cells for camera or charge it early. There are no geysers in bathroom and hot water for bath, which was actually just lukewarm, was available @INR 50 for half a bucket
- Minimal meals for a group of 6 cost approximately INR 1000 at Ghangaria.
- ATMs are not available hence carry sufficient cash.
- Carry torches, very good sunscreen, basic medicines, raincoats, and wear good quality sports shoes.