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