In the humdrum of our city lives, we tend to want to get away from the noise, and invariably crowd and flock to see one of the several man-made wonders of the world. India’s Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Jaisalmer Fort, together with international wonders like the Great Wall of China and Colosseum are high on our must-visit list. In doing so, we miss out on all that Mother Nature has carefully laid out for us. Seldom do we think about visiting the mountains and breathing in all that nature has to offer, right in our very own nation.
The Valley of Flowers National Park in Uttarakhand is one such place. Nestled in the laps of West Himalaya, the valley was discovered by Frank S Smythe and R L Holdsworth, who merely chanced upon these “lush meadows”. At the outset, let me tell you that it’s no small feat getting to this valley, which has made me believe that its remote location is what keeps the valley so very well protected.
We had trekked about 6 km that day from the village of Ghangaria to reach Joan Margaret Legge’s tomb – a botanist who died in the valley doing her research. As I sat there in silence and soaked in all the sights and sounds of the valley, I noticed that her tomb was the only stationery item in a valley of trees and flowers all swaying and dancing to the whims and fancies of the wind. As I watched the flowers keep her company and the winds whisper sweet nothings to her, I thought about the adventurous 13 km uphill trek from Govind Ghat to Ghangaria I had endured the day before, during which I vowed never to try uphill climbs again. Those 8-9 hours, climbing up about 4,000 feet, made me wish I hadn’t thought I was capable of such a feat. Sure we took breaks on the way at small huts with vendors selling everything you would need, from Maggi noodles, to nimbu paani, to cold drinks and the very essential water, but the climb did seem never-ending. You find out just how far 13 km is when you have to climb that distance uphill. But all those thoughts were flushed away with one look at the valley surrounded by lush green and misty mountains – it made me believe that the climb was more than worth it. If the Valley of Flowers had been more accessible, it would have been forced to succumb to commercialization, losing the very charm it holds so dear.
Right from the time we started our uphill climb to Ghangaria and then to the Valley of Flowers, there were no signals on our phone, which came as a blessing in disguise. It was almost as if Mother Nature had installed her very own signal jammers – I wouldn’t have liked it any other way. Unfortunately, communication has been drilled so far into our minds that we still need to make that one call to loved ones to say that we’re safe. Locals from Ghangaria have capitalized on this weakness and set up STD booths offering calls at Rs 20 per minute. In their defense, they need to make enough money in the 5 months from May to September to last them the entire year, as the whole village is covered in about 8 feet of snow for the rest of the year.
There are no words to explain my feelings when I entered the gate of the National Park, as I was almost knocked out by its inexplicable beauty. It’s a complete experience, which tempts and treats all your senses. You can marvel at the trees, mountains and flowers; you
can feel the chill in the river and the wind in your hair; you can taste the pure, rich and cold river flowing (fresh from the Tipra glacier); you can hear the Pushpawati river gushing down the mountains and you can smell the fresh and cold air so absent from the city.
The trek to the beginning of the Valley of Flowers (about 3 km from the gate) consists of a well defined path, leading from one mountain to the next, following the trail of the Pushpawati river. We passed a myriad of flora on the trek including the blooming forget-me-nots, the maple tree, cobra lilies, allium and the ever beautiful and pleasant anemone. With the valley in bloom for about 3 months in the year, the floral composition keeps changing every few days. It would only make sense to use your 3-day pass to the maximum (Rs 150 for Indians and Rs 250 for foreigners for 3 days). We too ventured into the Valley of Flowers on Day 2, but only went about half a kilometre in – to the spot which enthralled me the previous day with its mystifying beauty. I could sit there on the rock for hours and do absolutely nothing but watch the mist move past the mountains to reveal its complete grandeur and the river flow by in excitement, jumping over rocks and branches.
The trek from Govind Ghat to Ghangaria and onwards to the Valley of Flowers is a treat for bird lovers too. Several species of birds have made their home in these mountains, and you can spend hours marvelling at their bright colours and distinct bird calls.
There are no postcards, pictures or videos that can ever truly take you back to the Valley of Flowers. To experience its beauty, you have to muster the courage and stamina to walk up those 16 km, and let me assure you, the splendor of the flowers nested so beautifully in the magnificent valley is the reward itself.
Getting to Govind Ghat: You can get to Govind Ghat only by road either from Dehradun (324 km on NH58) or Rishikesh (273 km on NH58). The closest town for a night-stop is at Joshimath, 26 km away.
My first published article here