Valley of Flowers, the very name conjures up images of a valley full of flowers, pink, yellow, off white, light brown…it was indeed a walk to remember, one that is etched in memory and will not fade in times to come.
I don’t consider myself a travel-freak nor does the term travel-bug fit me. But whenever a travelling opportunity knocks at my door, I gently open the door and slip out to explore. The unexplored, the new and the unusual await me, whenever I leave the cozy confines of my home. Be it a daily grind to my office braving more than a dozen traffic lights and passing through scores of flyovers or heading out to a completely new destination. There is always an element of surprise in store.
In August, when the nation was gearing up to celebrate the 60th year of Independence, travel enthusiasts like me were busy charting out travel plans to nearby places of tourist interest. Those who could not decide scoured the net in search of travel buddies and the online trips going out. I spotted one on Oktatabyebye and jumped on the bandwagon.
It was a first of its kind experience for me where I hardly knew any one. Most of us were a bunch of travel enthusiasts looking for an opportunity to travel with like-minded people. Before the trip started, we all had a thorough conversation online. Numbers were exchanged and the program was finalized. We were to hit the road on the 13th of August (Friday). But just before a few days of the start, we had a few back outs but by that time the trip had already gained momentum, we were excited.
Tickets were booked and hotel reservations done. The plan was to meet at the New Delhi Railway Station from where we had to take the Hardwar – Janstabadi at 15:30. We had members from Hyderabad, Jaipur and Delhi. Jaipur party was to meet us at Hardwar while Delhi & Hyderabad people would gang up at the railway station and proceed to Hardwar.
Meeting people from different walks of life is always not about presumptions. This was the first lesson that I learnt within an hour of meeting the trip members. Everyone turned out to be a different individual than what I had expected. But it was good fun. We boarded the train from New Delhi Railway Station in the late afternoon and after initial round of introduction, members started to know more about each other. I could see the bonding factor has started to work. There were four of us from Delhi (Polo, Anupama, Tanvi & yours truly) and three (Bhavin & Deeptha, and Amol) from Hyderabad. The Jaipur Party had hit road to Hardwar in the morning and were to meet us at the hotel.
Before the start of the trip, Amol from Hyderabad had promised us briyani, and Polo – the organizer had talked about Gajar ka Halwa. But both could not manage; however Polo did bring Gheawar- the sweet of the season, which we finished in no time on the train. And believe me it was delicious.
There was something strange about this train or this particular coach in which we were travelling. The seats here were facing one another. In my earlier train journeys I’ve never came across such type of seating arrangement. But then, what’s the fun of traveling if you don’t discover something new or unusual.
We safely disembarked at Hardwar and since our hotel was not too far from the railway station, we decided to walk down. There was another reason too – Kanwarias. This pious city in the months of July-Aug (Sawan) was marauded by the pilgrims called Kanwarias, the word comes from the word Kanwar – meaning a stick that has two vessels on both ends. Kanwar is used to carry gangajal (the holy water of the Ganga). The interesting part- the kanwar should not be put on the ground; it is carried on the shoulders throughout the journey, which is normally done on foot. There are so many stories about Kanwarias but that is sometime later.
So, we thought instead of taking a riksha or an auto, it was wise to walk. Hardwar donned an orange hue and there was a surge of orange and red everywhere – right from the railway station to our hotel. This surge had forced the Jaipur party to enter Hardwar via Dehradun. The journey that should’ve taken not more than six hours took Atul, Rahul & Parul approx 12 hours.
By the time we reached hotel, the Jaipur Party was already there to welcome us or to narrate the long saga of their journey. Here I would like to thank Polo, who emphasized on taking a train to Hardwar in our first meeting, when we’re finalizing the itinerary. It turned out to be a good decision.
Rahul was keen on taking a dip at the Ganges and so do the other members of Jaipur Party. Tanvi joined them. We decided to freshen up and discussed where to have our dinner. A decision to meet at the hotel restaurant at 9 was taken. The food was good and service prompt. Before we’re to hit the bed – ‘Polo announced 4 o’clock in the morning guys, we’ll start to Joshimath.’ After a long detour, Rahul and others would have looked to a few extra hours of sleep but it was not to be.
We hit the road to the Valley of Flowers early in the morning. It was raining. Wipers were frequently doing their job but the rain was incessant. It took us about an hour to cross Hardwar thanks to diversions and jams caused due to the large number of Kanwarias in the city. We crossed Rishikesh and here onwards the journey was good.
On the way we passed many known and unknown small towns and villages, the first such well-known place of interest was Devprayag – the confluence of the Alknanda and Bhagirathi; here onwards the river is known as the Ganga. The other towns on our way to Joshimath were Srinagar, Rudrapryag, Karnprayag, Gouchar and Piplikoti. We reached Joshimath around 6 in the evening. The sky was overcast and it started drizzling soon we entered the GMVN guesthouse.
We checked-in the family rooms and believe me they were surprisingly big and clean. You can book the rooms online or can go to their office in CP. Though the rooms were good, bathrooms were not in a very good condition. We had tea in the hall and some of us went to check the bazaar at Joshimath. I along with a friend decided to take the road to Auli, we could have walked barely a kilometer, when it started drizzling; we retraced our steps back to the guesthouse. We hit the bed with Valley of Flowers in our minds after a sumptuous dinner – it was superb. ‘Polo announced 5 o’clock guys, we have to take first gate to Govind Ghat.’
Early in the morning with sleep still on some bleary eyes, we stacked ourselves in the Qualis and hit narrow road to Badrinath, which eventually will take us our starting point to the Valley of Flowers. Our destination was Govindghat, some 20 kilometers away from Joshimath. After some photo session on the way, we’re reached Govindghat. The real journey was to start now – an uphill trek to Ghangaria, 13 kilometers away.
It was not easy. Polo’s description of the trek ‘a walk in the park’ turned out to be in hamstring, mules & their shit, aches in the thighs and some slip-ups for many. The rains on the way further added to misery. We’re happy to see plastic raincoats Rs. 20 per piece. The worst was Rahul – the standing philosopher. Others were no better. Despite of my working out continuously for the last 15 days, I could feel the heart coming to my mouth in the last two kilometers.
It was not only the strong will and determination that kept us all on the track but the occasional chant of “Wahe Guru”, encouraging words from the fellow travellers and fistfuls of Glucon D – the energy booster that was handed to us by good Samaritan Sikhs, who’re coming down after visiting Hemkund Sahib, the highest gurudwara (Sikh Temple) in the world. Some how, we all managed to reach Ghangaria in one piece; forget the wear & tear on the way.
We gorged on the pranthas and chai at the GMVN guesthouse at Ghangaria. It was cold and we huddled in the rajais (quilts) in the dormitory that we’d booked. Most of our clothes were wet and the shoes were worst. Fortunately, there was someone who could dry the clothes and shoes. It was Rs.100 for a pair of shoes and about Rs. 50 for a pair of jeans. I was not that rich.
The next morning we were off to the Valley of Flowers. The road forks a km ahead of Ghangaria, left goes to the Valley of Flowers and right/straight goes to the Hemkund Sahib. The trek to the Valley of Flowers was relatively easy as compared to the last day’s trek to Ghangaria. The trek passes through many beautiful places, we also had to cross an iron bridge and a glacier.
We could see the valley in full bloom. It was a sight to behold! A walk to remember in the Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand.