The Valley of Flowers trek has a lot of tales around it. Stories are usually about travelers falling unconscious from the heavy scent of flowers on the valley floor. Whatever be the stories there is a grain of truth in them. It is rare to find a valley so full of flowers. The flowers are everywhere in myriad of colours: purple, yellow and white. They envelope the valley floor like a carpet so much that there are times when you can’t see the valley at all.
Yet, to see the flowers you need to time the trek right. In July and August when the monsoon is active is the best time to do the trek. There would be a day or two of rains on the trek but the sight of the flowers make up for any discomfort.
A little beyond Joshimath at a piligrim hamlet called Govind Ghat, the trek to valley of flowers(VOF) and Hemkund starts. Leave Haridwar or Rishikesh early in the morning and travel along the Alakananda the river on the Badrinath highway. The roads are precariously cut on the mountains edges and at times you only see the river flowing in the gorge deep below. The journey from Rishikesh to Joshimath takes about 10 hours. Plan to stay at Joshimath for the night as the stay options are more. There is a GMVN and a couple of private lodges to choose from.
Take a shared taxi to Govind Ghat ( 20 kms and 45 minutes away) which is the starting point of our trek to Valley of flowers and Hemkund. Govind Ghat is the starting point for the treks to Valley of flowers and Hemkund. The two treks have a common trail till Ghangria from where the trails branch. Deposit any extra luggage not required for the trek at the Gurudwara at Govind ghat.
Do not carry food with you as there are plenty of eateries on the way catering to the multitude on piligrims who tred this trail. As a trekker, there is no need to hire porters or mules on this trail but if you need one to carry your backpack, Govind ghat is also the place to hire a porter or mule.
Day 1 : Govind Ghat (1900m) to Ghangria (3000m) 7 hours, 13 kms gradual ascent
Walk past the numerous eateries and shops selling trinkets and cross the bridge over the Alakananda. The water below is sparkling blue and crystal clear. The trek trail starts immediately after the bridge.
The trail is a well laid out and is usually full of Sikh piligrims going either ways. You would not fail to notice the cleanliness of the trail inspite of being trodden by hundreds everyday. Thanks to the volunteers who sweep the trail everyday.
The 13 km trek from Govind Ghat to Ghangria goes all the way along the river. Stop by any of the roadside dabhas for a drink or a bite to eat. The trail is alternately sunny and shady. At around the mid point of the days trek, you cross the river and go to the other bank. After this you no longer trek alongside the river.
The trek takes 6-7 hours and you approach flat open land when you know you are close to Ghangria. Ghangria has a helipad and some space for camping. Half a kilometer from the helipad is the one street village of Ghangria lined with hotels,resturants and a Gurudwara. Gurudwara offers free accomadation and food to all.
Day 2 : Ghangria to VOF (3500 m) back to Ghangria 10 kms easy ascent followed by flat walk through the valley and return
Leave Ghangria early by 6 am to give yourself the whole day to spend at the Valley of flowers. The trail splits in less than a kilo meter and there is a gate to buy entry tickets to the valley. Walk inside and notice the small flowering plants springing up on either sides.
A kilometer inside, and there is a scenic bridge across a stream gushing below. Tall rocky mountains raise in front of you looking majestic. Notice that the well laid out trail has now become a small footway along the side of the valley. The stream flows below you and there are small hard snow patches by the side. On the trek inside the valley of flowers its most likely that you and your group will be the only ones around but for an occassional trekker passing by. A big and welcome contrast to the previous days trek where there were hundreds. The scenery has also taken a drastic turn for the better and any direction you look in looks straight out of a picture post card.
Trek along for a couple of kilometers on the flat path and to your right opens up the valley. Cross another rickety bridge and collect water to drink from below. The entire valley is generally a carpet of colours green/yellow/red/blue , surrounded by mountains with trees at the lower levels, brown and grey soil in the middle and white snow at the top. A bright sunny day will ensure deep blue sky completing the picture and taking it beyond your imagination.
The valley is really a botanists’ dream as one can find flowers, leaves, buds of various shapes, sizes, colors all growing together. Notice various types of bees and insects hovering on these strange flowers. Walk further into the valley and you will be engulfed with an amazing scent which unfortunately cannot be captured but can only be felt. The valley stretches on from here into 5-7 more kms until it ends at the glacier visible at a distance. The stream flows all the way through the valley. Take off your shoes and dip your feet into it to experience the icy cold water.
Carry packed lunch from Ghangria on the Valley of flowers trek day. There is nothing available in the valley to buy and no overnight camping allowed either. Plan your return along the same path by early afternoon.
The afternoon sun falling on the valley from a different direction, gives a whole new perspective to the same place you saw in the morning.
Day 3: Ghangria to Hemkund (4300m) Sahib and back to Ghangria
6 kms 7 hours hard climb 5 hours descent
Start your day early especially on the day of the climb to Hemkund. Weather can be fickle in the afternoons and sudden cloud cover and rain can get you stranded if you do not get down on time. The thought of getting up before 5 a.m can be daunting but the Gurudwara makes it easy. Their day starts at 4 am with singing of Bhajans. By 5 am you hear people outside the gate of the gurudwara chanting in chorus and the horses being readied to go up to Hemkund Sahib. Get up and grab a hot drink of chai. A poncho (light rain coat ) and a trekking pole can be handy on the trek to Hemkund. Pass the deviation to Valley of flowers. Continue to trek up the steep path slowly but steadily. Spot a pretty water fall on your right falling through the rock walls on the right.
After about 2 hours of walking you are higher than the tree line and the views begin to get better. Spot the route to Valley of flowers on the mountain in front across the river gorge. After another hour of slow walking with numerous breaks, you begin to feel that reduced oxygen levels in the air. A melting glacier lies on the way.
Take generous breaks while climbing up the steep path. Breaks while going up are important as going up very fast could only mean inviting altitude sickness. Breaks are meant to be standing ones and do not sit down. Sitting down causes your muscles to relax and getting back on track can be very difficult. An hour of stiff climbing brings you to Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara. The lake lies just behind it. The Hemkund Sahib lake remains frozen for six months.Warm yourself in the Gurudwara and have generous helpings of hot tea and kichidi .
Walk around to the other side of the Hemkund lake. The lake with crystal clear water , set amidst tall mountains and reflecting them and the Gurudwara is some sight to watch. Around Hemkund, the Himalayan flower, Brahma Kamal grows abundantly. This flower grows only at heights of 10000 ft to 15000 ft. Leave Hemkund by early afternoon. The walk down can be strenuous on the knees and toes. It takes 4- 5 hours to walk down the 6 kms.
Day 4: Ghangria to Govind Ghat 13kms easy descent 5 hours
Start early by 6 a.m to be down at Govind Ghat by 11 a.m. At Govind ghat, wait for a shared taxi to take you to Badrinath or head down to Joshimath and beyond. Having come all the way to Govind ghat Badrinath and Mana are must visits for the first timers in this region. Badrinath is a couple of hours away by road and the road and the scenary can take your breath away. Do not fail to read the Boards along the road put up by the border roads organization. They are meaningful and humorous.