Last year, after our Ladakh trip itself we had decided that our next trip would be to Valley of Flowers - a national park, nestled high in the lap of western Himalayas. It's in the north-east corner of Garhwal region of Uttarakhand state, near the holy town of Badrinath. As reaching the valley requires a trek of more than 17 km, and then there is a trek of Hemkund Sahib nearby that you wouldn't want to miss, it was essentially going to be a trekking trip.
Though we wanted to do this trip since last year, ideal time was the constraint. Ideal time to visit the valley is mid-July to August as that's the time when flowers are in full bloom. We decided to do the trip in the last week of August (Aug 23 - Aug 31). There was not much to be planned for this trip as itinerary in these parts of Himalayas is pretty much decided by the moods of the mountains. This region is particularly infamous for landslides. So, we only thought about the going part. Now, since scope of luxuries on this trip was already less, if not zero, we decided to do it completely backpackers style -- no hired cabs, no advance hotel bookings, less luggage etc etc.
We boarded the train for Haridwar at about 11:55 pm on Friday. This was probably to be the most luxurious part of our travel :) However I could hardly sleep in the train, owing to thundering snores of a guy in our compartment. We reached Haridwar at 4:20 am in the morning. Without wasting much time, we rushed to Badrinath bus stand where we were to get a bus to Joshimath. Tip: Buses for Joshimath leave Haridwar only between 5 am and 7 am. Our bus started at 5:20 a.m. It was an ordinary bus - no reclining seats, no AC, not much leg room. But as we had not slept much last night, it didn't take us long to fall into a slumber. One good thing that we did was to not have anything including tea in the morning. It helped in sleeping and better equipped us to handle mountain roads. The road from Rishikesh to Joshimath goes inside a valley and follows Alaknanda river, which originates from glaciers near Badrinath, very closely. We had our breakfast in Deopryag and lunch at a dhaba near Rudrapryag.
We reached Joshimath at 4:20 pm in the afternoon. That was somewhat earlier than we expected, much due to our bus driver's expertise on mountain roads. He showed very little respect for those hot curves of hills. With the help of local people and sign boards, we found GMVN Tourist Rest House (TRH) and checked in. The way to the rest house was little uphill and reminded us of the coming days which were to be full of such uphill walking. By the way, wherever we go, we usually try to get GMVN TRH first; I think it just gives us a feeling of familiarity. After quickly freshening up, remember we hadn't freshened up in the morning, and having tea, we went for a walk.
Joshimath is a nice little town. It's mostly a transit town. People going to Badrinath, Valley of flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Auli, Nanda Devi national park and few other treks do a night stay here. But, I think, it's mostly Badrinath pilgrims who help run economy of this place. Obviously, it's a very religious town too. We could find only one very small, that also sort of hidden, liquor shop. Of course, we didn't want to drink. We were just curious.
From local people we came to know that Shankaracharya temple is a place to see in Joshimath. We went in search of that. Following signs on the road we found that it was very close to the place where we were staying. Now, this place had some amazing vibes. I especially liked the way Panditji chanted some mantras while giving Charnamrit to us in Durga temple. The cave where Shankaracharya himself set up Sphatik Shivling was nice too. We spent some quality time there at the terrace. We came back when it was getting dark. After having dinner in TRH, which was really good - especially chapatis, and having tea at an aunty's dhaba, we called it a day.
.. to be continued.
Pics and other parts of the story coming soon. Stay tuned.