Sunday, May 24, 2009

Trek to Valley of Flowers, Hemkund & Kedarnath : August 1990

Impossible to take a step without crushing flowers. This observation by Frank Smythe, who accidentally discovered the Valley of Flowers (VOF) in 1931, was enough for me to plan a trek to VOF in August 1990 with Jambukewaran and Deshpande, my office colleagues. Those days, GMVN brochure was the main source of information about the details of the VOF trek. The idea of trekking VOF in monsoon season was somewhat not appealing but that was the best season to see flowers in VOF [ mid-July to mid-August]. We reached Haridwar via Delhi from Mumbai and stayed overnight [Samrat Hotel @110/-].
Day-1 : Haridwar-Joshimath (280 kms)
We commenced our road journey from Haridwar at 8.00 in the morning by a hired Maruti van. Although it was almost a rain-less day, we encountered first landslide near Byasi on way to Devprayag. After about an hour or so, the debris were cleared and traffic resumed. The next landslide was somewhere between Pipalkoti and Joshimath resulting in the partial road block and slow movement of traffic to and fro Joshimath. We reached Joshimath at around 6.00 p.m. by which time the last gate for the road beyond Joshimath was closed for the day. We had to stay overnight at Joshimath [Kamet Hotel @70/-].

Day-2 : Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangaria [20 kms by road and 14 kms by trek]

We took the first gate at 6.30 in the morning from Joshimath for Govindghat in the cloudy weather. After reaching Govindghat, we descended by a side path for about 500m and after crossing the suspension bridge over Alaknanda river, we reached near Gurdwara. After depositing our non-essential luggage at one of the shops in the vicinity of Gurdwara and buying ponchos, we commenced 14 kms trek to Ghangaria.

Govindghat

Beginning of trekking to Ghangaria
A group of sikh pilgrims on way to Ghangaria

The mule track was all along Lakshaman Ganga stream which eventually meets Alaknanda river. After about 3 kms, we reached Pulna, a small hamlet where many pilgrims stopped for a while for rest. At this point, it started raining which became heavy as we proceeded towards Bhyundar. The rainwater flowing across the mule track made our progress slow. The water level of the Lakshaman Ganga stream had already started rising and at some places it was close to the trekking path. There were many waterfalls on the way, a couple of them being the large ones. By the time we reached Bhyundar, we were completely drenched even with our ponchos on. The rains and the cold weather made us shiver as we stopped at Bhyundar for rest. After a cup of hot tea, we decided to move ahead as walking was a better option in cold weather than taking rest.


Waterfall somewhere between Pulna and Bhyundar

A swollen stream very close to the trekking path towards Bhyundar

The torrential rain continued to lash as we commenced our final lap of the day's trek to Ghangaria. The overhang of clouds with heavy rains deprived us of any scenery on the way. The steep climb under heavy rains made our progress very slow. We reached Ghangaria ( 3050m) by 4.30 p.m. Fortunately rains had abated but the weather was still cloudy and cold. Without doing much scouting, we took a room at Hemkund Lodge [@60/-]. After dumping our luggage, we spent the rest of the day sitting near the cooking place of the lodge to get our wet cloth dry. We left the place only after dinner and retired to our room quite early.

Day-3 : Ghangaria-Valley of Flowers-Ghangaria (5+5 kms trek]

After the breakfast of Alu Parathas and tea, we started our trek for VOF around 7.30 in the morning in cloudy weather. After paying the entry fee (Rs.2/- per head + Rs.2/- per camera), a short walk led us to a point where the Forest Department's board indicated the direction to the left for VOF and the right to Hemkund Saheb. The first 2 kms of trek was paved alongside the Pushpavati stream which flows from VOF.

On way to Valley of Flowers from Ghangaria

A make-shift wooden bridge over Pushpavati stream

As we moved further, we came across the first broken glacier over the trekking path which was not difficult to negotiate. However, the subsequent two glaciers which we came across were large ones completely covering our trekking path. Fortunately, PWD workers had already made steps and the sticks which we were carrying come handy in negotiating the snow path without much difficulties. As we were at the end of our snow walk, the valley became visible between two mountains which become clearer as we moved ahead. The valley looked beautiful with carpet of plants with flowers surrounded by meadows with snow-caped peaks visible at the far end.

Encountering first snow on way to Valley of Flowers

Walking over snow towards the valley

Cloud formation over Valley

The valley opening between two mountains

It was around 11.30 a.m. as we entered the valley. The weather was cloudy with occasional light rains. It was a mesmerising feeling for us to walk in the midst of green carpets with long stretches of wild flowers plants as far as my eye could see. Many of the flower plants were as high as 6-7 feet. The observation of Frank Smythe was, however, no longer valid after 60 years as a narrow path made by a steady flow of trekkers existed. [ I understand that forest authorities have paved this path with stones]. Nevertheless, in many places, it was impossible to avoid brushing with plants and flowers while walking in the valley. In some places, we had to physically push these plants sideways to walk further.



First encounter with mass flowering as we entered the valley


The valley of green carpet with wild flowers

Wild flowers-1

Wild flowers -2

Wild flower-3


Wild flowers-4

We saw varieties of wild flowers many of which I had not seen in any of my earlier visits to Himalaya. It was a visual treat for all of us to see from an higher elevation the light breeze swinging the flowering plants giving an impression of a multi-coloured carpet being laid in the valley. We were surprised that compared to the pilgrims crowd at Ghangaria, there were not more than 8-10 trekkers in VOF including our group to see the nature's spectacles. One of the members of other group was heard complaining to their Leader in Marathi. " Have you brought me here all the way from Mumbai just to see therda chi phula ( Impatiens flowers) which I could have seen in Borivali National Park in rainy season?" Each person has his own perspective of looking at the nature. The pilgrims were here mainly to complete their visits to Hemkund Saheb. Additionally, they would rather make a visit to Badrinath than 'wasting' one day in VOF for seeing some jungli phuls (wild flowers).


Me, Deshpande and Jumbukeswaran in VOF

Wild flowers-5


Wild flowers-6

The most common wild flower in VOF

Multi-coloured wild flowers

We had already spent about an hour in the valley and still there were miles to go where we could see the stretches of wild flower plants merging with meadows all around. The the constant cloud movements, however, eclipsed the view the snow covered peaks. Since the muddy path was already water-logged and it was raining a bit, we decided to return. We reached Ghangaria by 2.00 p.m in a cold and cloudy conditions. We had our lunch at one of the dabhas and rest of the day was spent mostly in the same dabha to get some warmth from the cooking place with several rounds of tea and assorted pakodas to justify our sitting in the dabha for long time. We also visited the Gurdwara just to enquire about the possibility of getting a better room for the stay but a large pilgrim crowd taking shelters in the Gurdwara premises was good signal that rooms were full.

Day-4 : Ghangaria-Hemkund Saheb-Ghangaria (6+6 kms trek)

After the usual breakfast of parathas , we left Ghangaria at around 6.45 a.m. for Hemkund Saheb in a sunny but cold morning. After about 200-300 meters walk from Ghangaria, a stony path to the right goes to Hemkund (6 kms). After initial plain walk on the stone-paved path, we came across a large glacier which was broken into two parts, the dividing line being the stone-paved path. We saw a few buffalow grazing on the broken glacier which had slided through the slopes and settled in the valley. Perhaps some small patches of grass must have grown through the thin snow layers.

Ghangaria seen from trekking path to Hemkund

Trekking junction - left to VOF and right to Hemkund Photo by Deshpande

On way to Hemkund by the side of a broken glacier

After crossing the glacier, the climb became steeper which was obvious as we were to gain altitude by more about 1300m in a 6 kms trek. The steep climb forced us to take rest quite often to regain our normal breathing. Even the mules carrying pilgrims and other supplies were breathing fast as seen from the foam accumulated around their nostrils. On this stretch also, we came across some of the wild-flowers we saw in VOF. As we gained altitude, the wild flowers were replaced by a series of brahm kamal plants. As we were close to our destination, the weather turned cloudy and in some places we were virtually walking in cloud and mist making our progress slow. Fortunately, it did not rain much. We reached Hemkund at around 11.00 a.m. At first, the constant movement of cloud and mist around the lake did not give us any idea of the topography of the area. After taking a quick dip in the ice-cold water of the lake, we took a round of the lake starting with Lakshaman (Lokpal) temple and ending with a visit to Gurudwara with star-shaped roof which was under renovation .

Other part of the broken glacier lying in the valley on way to Hemkund
Pilgrims resting on way to Hemkund

Trekking through the mist on way to Hemkund

There was a brief lull in the cloud movement mist which gave us an opportunity to see the Hemkund Saheb in good perspective. The lake was surrounded by snow-covered mountains with scree and boulders lying at thier slopes. The Gurdwara was located at the shore of the lake. The sad part was that the film in my camera got over. I cursed myself for inadvertantly leaving the extra film rolls at Govindghat.

There were some places around Hemkund which could have been explored by us such as walks to the nearest bases of snow-clad mountains. But at high altitudes, the psychology of most of trekkers, who had just a couple of trekking experiences like us, would be to leave the place as early as possible when the weather was fine. So without exploring any nearby places, we started our return trek around 12.30 in the afternoon and reached Ghangaria by 3.00 p.m. without facing any rain on the way. As in the previous days, the rest of the day was spent in the dabha for lunch, tea, more tea and pakodas and ended with dinner.

A hidden waterfall on way to Hemkund

Wild flower on Hemkund route

Wild flower on Hemkund route
Day-5 : Ghangaria-Govindghat [14kms- trek] Govindghat-Badrinath-Pipalkoti [120 kms - car]

We commenced our trek back to Govindghat at 7.00 in the morning. The plan was to drive from Govindghat to Badrinath for an overnight stay and trek to Mana-Vasudhara falls. We reached Govindghat by 11.00 a.m. After collecting our luggage, we drove to towards Badrinath. As we were just short of 3 kms from Badrinath, we came across a huge water fall which was cascading from the top of the mountain with a great force crossing the road with full force. Our driver, after seeing the force of the water, decided that it was dangerous to drive through the waterfall as the light vehicles like Maruti van may be thrown in to the valley by the sheer force of the waterfall. Even Ambassdor car drivers refused to cross the waterfall and went back. After pondering over the options of going back to Joshimath or crossing the waterfall and walk the remaining 3 kms of distance to Badrinath, we decided to go for the latter option taking only one pair of toursers leaving the rest of our luggage in the van. It would not have been possible for us to cross but for the support of the locals who took us one by one from the cliff side of the road in swift movements allowing bare minimum time to take support of our legs through the water.

We reached Badrinath by walking 3 kms on the road. After a much needed bath in the hot spring, we took the darshan of Badrinath which was all for oursleves. The priests advised us to stay overnight to witness the religious ceremony of Krishna Jnamashtmi ( birth day of Lord Krishna). We could not do so as we were eager to come out of the treacherous waterfall before further rains make it impossible to cross. After spending about an hour or so, we walked down up to waterfalls. Fortunately, we were lucky as we boarded a GMOU bus coming from Badrinath side as it reached the waterfall point and got down on the other side of the waterfall where our driver was waiting for us. We stayed overnight at Pipalkoti [Atul Hotel @60/-]. Since we had now 3 extra days, we decided to visit Kedarnath, the first visit by all of us to one of the chardhams.
Day-6 : Pipalkoti - Gaurikund [155 kms]
After the breakfast of idlis and dosas at a restaurants near bus stand, we started for our next destination Gaurikund at 8.00 in the morning. The rains had made the drive to Gaurikund via Rudraprayag scenic with Alaknanda river in full force. The cloud and mist in the valley did not give us the chance to view the mountains. We reached Gaurikund at around 2.oo p.m and stayed overnight. [Annapurna Lodge @45/-].

Paddy fields on the bank of Alaknanda river somewhere between Pipalkoti and Rudraprayag
Day-7 : Gaurikund-Kedarnath [14 kms trek]
We got up early in the morning and had a bath in the hot springs located very near to our place of stay. After the breakfast of Alu Paratha, we commenced for trek for Kedarnath around 6.00 in the cloudy morning. Up to Rambara, the trek was a gradual climb, mostly in a slushy path. Being rainy season, there were not much of a pilgrim traffic. Just before Rambara, the muddy path came close to a roaring Mandakini river. After crossing a wooden bridge, we reached Rambara. We took some rest as here onwards, it was a steep climb upto Garud Chatti.
Mandakini in spate near Rambara

Since we had already done trek to VOF and Hemkund Saheb, we were well acclimatised to this part of the steep climb. After Garud Chatti, it was about 2 kms, more or less, of a plain walk up to Kedarnath. Having done this trek 5 times so far, I can say that psychologically, this is the most difficult part of the trek/piligrimage as after having done about 5 kms of a steep climb from Rambara, Kedarnath temple looks so near but it was too far to reach. This is also the place where many pilgrims get breathing problem despite walking on a plain path as they are at an altitude of about 12000 feet. But for nature lover, all pains and fatigue are soon forgotten when they encounter the grassy patches full of wild flowers , especially in rainy season, on both sides of the path with a soft sound of gushhing water of Mandakini river .


Zig-zag trekking path to Kedarnath from Rambara

Wild flowers on the way about 2 kms before Kedarnath

Kedarnath temple complex in the shadow of cloud-covered Kedar dome

Kedarnath temple

We reached Kedarnath at around 12 noon. After checking in Himlok Hotel [@60/-],
we had an 'exclusive' darshan at Kedarnath temple since there was not a single pilgrim inside the temple. This encouraged Jambukeswaran to go for some special puja. After taking the receipt for the said puja, we again went inside the temple, sat in front of the hump-shaped shivling, chanted the mantras with priest and bathe the shivling with water, milk and ghee. It took about half an hour to cokmplete the ceremony.

Kedarnath temple seen from the backside

Kedar dome forms the background to the Kedarnath temple

Day-8 : Kedarnath-Gaurikund [14kms trek]-Haridwar [234 kms]

We started from Kedarnath around 8.00 a.m. in ther sunny morning. As we walked towards Garud Chatti, the Kedarnath peak which had so far elluded us due to cloudy weather was now visible. After a short stop at Rambara, we reached Gaurikund at 12 noon. After locating our driver near the bus stand ( there was no cell phones those days) we commenced our last lap of journey to Haridwar which was smooth. We reached Haridwar by 7.00 p.m. We returned to Mumbai after taking a day's halt at Delhi.

Meadow on the other side of Mandakini near Kedarnath

Pilgrims returning from Kedarnath going towards Garud Chatti

Terrace farms seen somewhere between Kund and Rudraprayag


Photos by the author



9 comments:

Adit said...

hello Mr Kamath. Your photographs are breathtaking! Could you let me know if we can publish one or two of them in the magazine i work for? Please send me your contact details. My email id is aditya.kundalkar@gmail.com

Sadanand Kamath said...

Thanks for your comments.
Regarding publication of my pictures, I have separately sent you E-Mail.

Nemesis said...

Hello Mr Kamath,

That sounds like a very nice journey!!

:)


I am planning a trip from Pune to Valley of flowers and was wondering if I could email you a couple of queries. You help would be much appreciated since I do not have any sort of experience in planning trips.

-Rashmi

Sadanand Kamath said...

My E-Mail Id is kamathstci@rediffmail.com

You may also like to browse through http://www.indiamike.com/india/trekking-and-mountaineering-in-india-f89/valley-of-flowers-and-hemkund-sahib-t39509/

In the same link, you can also go through a couple of more threads on Valley of Flowers.

If there are any querry not answered by the abovementioned link, you can e-mail me with your querries.

Virag Sharma said...

Excellent Travel log in simple word :-)

Ritu said...

Its amazing.

Thank you sir. Its 2010 and I am lucky to see these pictures now !

We are leaving for all the same places in July this year. Its been wonderful to see what youve written and postes.
Gives us a very good feeling.

Lots of blessings and love to you.
Thank you.

Nalini said...

Hello Mr. Kamath, we are planning a trip to VoF and Hemkund Saheb starting 31st august (14 women!) and your simple and informative blog give us some insights. Thank you for posting the pics and the details!! the pics are beautiful and i am sure we are in for some breathtaking visuals as well!!
Regards,
Nalini Kidambi

Sadanand Kamath said...

Thanks Nalini for your appreciation.

I take it that you are doing VOF first and then proceeding to Hemkhund Saheb. When trekking to Hemkhund Saheb, it is advisable to walk slowly and take rest in between until your breathing become normal.

My best wishes to all of you.

Rohit W said...

Very Nice Travel blog Sir. Can we use some of your pics and linked your blog in our website blog.We are car rental company and have travel blog.

Regards,
Rohit