October 15, 2008

valley of flowers: part III

Against all your expectations, part 3 comes much sooner. So, where were we? Yeah, we were sleeping in the TRH in Ghangharia.

Day 3, Mon Aug 25. We got up early again at about 6-6:30. Had tea, ordered for the hot water bucket, took bath and phew, we were ready to trek again. Now, when it comes to having breakfast in Ghangharia, there are not many options. In fact the only options are aloo paratha, if you are lucky and there is bread in town then butter toast, and if you don't mind eating eggs which could be 2-3 months old then bread omelet. On that day we had butter toast. Bread slices were the smallest I had ever seen and to make us feel even worse about it, each butter toast cost 35 bucks.

Anyway, we started our trek at around 8:40 am or so. After climbing on a decently steep trek for about 10-15 min we reached the point where the route for valley of flowers separates from that going to Hemkund. This is also where you have to pay the valley of flowers national park entry fee. Yes, it's a national park, didn't I tell you? Fee sounded a little hefty to me by Indian standards - 50 bucks per person and 100 bucks per camera. So, we paid 200 rupees there. What treated us next was a beautiful trail that goes inside a forest. You know the best part about this place is that no mules are allowed inside and there are no shops here. This make it a really clean place, with only nature all around. So, back to the trail, we started seeing beautiful flowers from here only. Mind you, valley was still about 3 kms. After some walking inside the forest, we came into an opening. There we encountered a rather interesting bridge, on a stream of Pushpavati, river that flows inside Valley of Flowers. It was a small bridge, made of an iron sheet, but very useful nonetheless, as crossing that stream without it would have been pretty difficult if not impossible.

After crossing the bridge, the trail very soon entered the forest again. At one place it rapidly came down, and after crossing another bridge on now much fuller Pushpavati, it started rising again. This time it was quite steep. But, we didn't realize it. The trick we learned on Ghangharia trek, taking small steps while climbing, came in handy. It was nice trekking here as we were in the shadow and we were going through a forest with nature crammed in all around us. After about 40-50 min of trekking in this jungle, the trail came into an opening again. Now we had a mountain on our left side and Pushpavati river was flowing in the valley on the right. Trail had become easier now, not very steep slopes. It was wonderfully pleasant. Mountain slopes, on the left and right side of the trail were laden with flowers and other vegetation. As a reminder of much colder days, the river sported a "not yet completely melted" snow bridge.

It's not been even half an hour on that trail and we were treated by awesomeness. I was busy exclaiming and emphasizing what a beautiful place it was and taking photographs, when Pankaj, who was already 6-7 steps ahead of me, called me - "what you're gonna see next will probably blow you away". And right he was. On our right side, we saw a wide open huge lush green valley crowned by beautiful snowcapped mountain peaks, with vapor rising from their surface in effect of sun. We were ELATED. The valley was valley of flowers, but it was still very far - entrance was about a km from here. To make this place even more memorable, though not in the same way, I was here bitten by some poisonous plant which caused me skin rashes on affected body parts days later.

We entered the valley at around 10:45 am. It was stupendously beautiful. Just imagine, you are in a wide valley, with mountains on both sides, not a human soul to see, flowers of different colors all around, mountain streams flowing here and there, greenness in abundance, not a piece of polythene or any other litter in long long distance, snowcapped mountain peaks in front of you (though distant) and a bright clear blue sky to cap it all. And there we were, walking on a trail amidst all that. We were basking in awesomeness.

As time went past 11:30, Pankaj helped us realize, by asking for something to eat, that we very carelessly and stupidly had forgotten to bring the lunch pack from Ghangharia. Thankfully there was half a packet of Britannia biscuits in our bag to save the day. But we were not really hungry at that time and kept those biscuits for later. Now, this valley is pretty big and you can keep walking for hours and not see all parts of it. So, to make visiting valley of flowers a tangible thing, you need to set a tangible target. Most people return from just after entering the valley. Some people don't even reach valley. Some go till Joan Margaret's grave and some probably go even beyond that. We decided that we'll go till Joan Margaret's grave and return. Joan Margaret was a German botanist who fell in Pushpavati while collecting some samples in year 1939. We reached there by 12 noon. We saw a guy and a girl there (girl was looking kinda cute in a cowboy hat), probably botany students looking for some interesting plant; kinda finishing Joan's job :) We sat there for some time sipping in nature's beauty and then started back.

As the day was passing, those mountain peaks, which had elated us earlier, almost disappeared behind the clouds. I think we were very lucky to have seen them at all. We came back pretty leisurely, taking enough breaks to sink in the beauty all around. We reached Ghangharia by 3:30 pm, had some food, and took an afternoon nap after that. In the evening, we were little unsure of doing Hemkund the next day. Basically a thought came to our mind or rather Pankaj's mind, that why not do Kedarnath also on this trip. It was a matter of motivation too. Which one is more worthwhile and worth the effort - Kedarnath or Hemkund. By the way, going to Kedarnath also requires a trek of 14 km. Anyway, Hemkund won in the end. We decided to do it for the sake of challenge if not anything else. And of course, it was right there and Kedarnath was quite far.

After that we had our dinner. I was able to call my home this day. I told my parents not to expect any call from me for some days.

Photographs of valley of flowers: http://picasaweb.google.com/manugarg/VoFTripInTheValley#slideshow

Savor the photographs for now. There is more to come yet - Hemkund, Badrinath and Return.

Yours truly,
Manu Garg / http://www.manugarg.com

October 12, 2008

valley of flowers: part II

Day 2, Sun Aug 24: After spending a good night in Joshimath, time was now to further our journey. Our day started early. We got up at 6 and had checked out of the TRH by 7:30 am. Plan was to take some mode of transportation till Govindghat. From there we were to start our first trek, to Ghangharia. We got a jeep for Govindghat from Badrinath taxi stand in Joshimath. After a drive of less than an hour, the jeep dropped us just at the border of Govindghat. From the road itself, we could see Laxman Ganga, river that flows from glaciers beyond Hemkund, falling into Alaknanda. After walking for about 10-15 min, we reached our trek start point. By the way, our cellphones had stopped working as soon as we left Joshimath, so luckily we were unreachable now and we remained so till the end of our trip.

We hired a porter for our luggage here (for Rs. 405). Though there are lockers available in Govindghat for luggage, we didn't want to leave anything behind as we were going to be in Ghangharia for at least 3 days. It was 9:45 am now. Much to our surprise, it was quite nice and sunny; from whatever we had researched earlier, we were pretty sure that it was gonna be cloudy and rainy. Well, it was good for us because being as heedless as we sometimes are, we didn't carry any rain gear. Trek beginning was pretty easy as we were excited. But, long and quick steps that we were taking (at least I was) made us little breathless. After about 4 kms of trek, waterfall near Pulna village started to appear. We took a short break here. Next 5 km were comparatively easy. Trek leveled out at lot of places. We kept meeting Laxman Ganga on and off on the way.

The next village we encountered on the trek was Bhyundar village. Ghangharia was still 3kms from here. These were the most difficult 3 kms of this trek. It gets pretty steep from here, and unpaved trek, with uneven rocks on the path, makes it even more difficult. By this time we were in a sort of trance. We were just walking. We had learned the trick to walk on the mountains. Small steps, no hurry, and no long stops to make up for the slow pace. Believe me, it works.

Anyway, we reached Ghangharia by 3pm. We were mighty hungry by this time. But, we wanted to find a place to stay first. We chose to stay in GMVN TRH again, but not without checking other options. It was pretty expensive (Rs 950 per day and Rs 35 for a bucket of hot water) compared to other options, but somehow it felt more spacious. I think the nice courtyard in TRH made the difference. After putting our luggage inside and having lunch in the restaurant in front of our TRH, we fell asleep.

Now, Ghanghria is a makeshift village. After October 5, when Hemkund Sahib is closed and snow is all around, everybody starts moving to lower areas. They come back only in the beginning of June, when snow starts melting and Hemkund is reopened. That's the reason you can find only basic minimum things here and since there is no road connecting it to the rest of the world (only way to reach here is either by mules or by foot or helicopter) everything is quite expensive here. So be prepared for the prices like Rs 30 for a water bottle and Rs 35 for a butter toast (with miniature breads). Electricity is available here only between 7 pm and 10 pm. That's when telephone exchange works and even when it works, chances of your call getting through are pretty slim. You have to try for at least for 15 min to make a call. No wonder the telephone guy charges you 15 bucks per minute :) So as you can see, we were pretty discouraged to make any calls, which is good. After having a rather not so good dinner in TRH restaurant we called it a day and hit the sack.

Pics of the story so far.

I know, I know it took very long to publish second part. The delay was mainly due to short trip to Leh and other things that I have to do for living :) Hope to post other parts sooner.

Manu Garg / http://www.manugarg.com