Trek amidst a riot of colours and scents
Many tales are spun around the Valley of Flowers – usually about trekkers falling unconscious from the heavy scent of flowers on the valley floor. Whatever the stories, they do have a grain of truth in them, in a good way! It is rare to find a valley so full of flowers. Flowers bloom everywhere in a riot of colours – purple, yellow, white, pink… They blanket the valley in such a way that sometimes, you can’t see the valley floor at all!
Yet, to see the flowers, you need to time your trek correctly. In July and August, during monsoon, is the best time to do the trek. There might be a day or two of rain on the trek but the sight of flowers in full bloom makes up for any discomfort.
Day 1: Getting to base camp, Govind Ghat
The trek to Valley of Flowers (VOF) and Hemkund starts a little beyond Joshimath at a pilgrim hamlet called Govind Ghat. Leave Haridwar or Rishikesh early in the morning and travel along River Alakananda on the Badrinath highway. The roads are dangerously cut on mountains edges and at times, you only see the river flowing in the gorge deep below. The journey from Rishikesh to Joshimath takes about 10 hours. Plan to stay at Joshimath for the night. There are a couple of private lodges and a GMVN to choose from.
Take a shared taxi to Govind Ghat (20 km and 45 minutes away). The treks to VOF and Hemkund have a common trail till Ghangria. Deposit any extra luggage at the Gurudwara in Govind ghat.
Do not carry food with you as there are plenty of eateries on the way. As a trekker, there is no need to hire porters or mules on this trail but if you need one to carry your backpack, Govind Ghat is the place to hire a porter or mule.
Day 2: Govind Ghat to Ghangria
- Altitude: 1,900 m to 3,000 m
- Time taken: 7 hours, 13 km
- Difficulty level: Moderate
Start the day’s trek by walking past the eateries and shops selling trinkets. Cross the bridge over Alakananda. The water below is sparkling blue and crystal clear. The trekking route starts immediately after the bridge.
The trail is well-defined. It is usually full of Sikh pilgrims walking up and down. Notice the cleanliness on the trail despite hundreds treading upon it every day. It’s a heartening and motivating sight. All thanks to volunteers who sweep the trail every day.
The 13 km trek from Govind Ghat to Ghangria goes all the way along the river. Stop by any roadside dabha for a drink or a bite to eat. The trail is alternately sunny and shady. At around the midpoint of the day’s trek, you cross the river and go to the other bank. After this, you no longer trek alongside the river.
The trek takes 6-7 hours and you approach a tabular land. This is when you know you are close to Ghangria. Ghangria has a helipad and some space for camping. Half a kilometer from the helipad is the one-street village of Ghangria, lined with hotels, restaurants and a Gurudwara. The Gurudwara offers free accommodation and food to all.
Day 3: Ghangria to Valley of Flowers and back
- Altitude: 3,000 m to 3,500 and back
- Time taken: 10 km
- Difficulty level: Easy flat walk in the valley
Leave Ghangria early (6 am) to give yourself the whole day to spend at Valley of Flowers. The trail splits in less than a kilometre and there is a gate to buy entry tickets to the valley. Walk inside and notice the small flowering plants springing up on either side.
A kilometre into the gate, there is a scenic bridge across a stream gushing below. Tall rocky mountains rise before you. Notice that the well-laid-out trail has now become a small footway along the side of the valley. The stream flows below you and there are small, hard snow patches by the side. On the trek inside Valley of Flowers, it’s most likely that you and your group will be the only ones around. This may come across as a big and welcome contrast to the previous day’s trek, where there were hundreds. The scenery has also taken a drastic turn for the better and any direction you turn to looks picture-perfect.
Trek along for a couple of kilometers on the flat path and to your right opens up the valley. Cross another rickety bridge and collect water to drink from below. The entire valley is generally a carpet of colours – green, yellow, red, blue. It is surrounded by mountains with trees at lower levels, brown and grey soil in the middle and bright snow at the top. A bright sunny day will ensure deep blue skies completing the picture and taking it beyond your imagination.
The valley is really a botanists’ dreamland! One can find flowers, leaves, buds of various shapes, sizes, colours, all growing together. Notice various types of bees and insects hovering on these strange flowers. Walk further into the valley and you will be engulfed with an amazing scent, which unfortunately cannot be captured but can only be felt. The valley stretches 5-7 km further, until it ends with a glacier visible at a distance. The stream flows all the way through the valley. Take off your shoes and dip your feet into it to experience the icy cold water.
Carry packed lunch from Ghangria on the Valley of Flowers trek day. There is no food available in the valley and overnight camping isn’t allowed either. Plan your return along the same path by early afternoon.
The afternoon sun falling on the valley from a different direction, gives a whole new perspective to the same place you saw in the morning.
Day 4: Ghangria to Hemkund Sahib and back
- Altitude: 3,000 m to 4,300 m and back
- Time taken: 7 hours, 6 km
- Difficulty level: Difficult
Start your day early. The weather can be impulsive in the afternoon and sudden cloud cover and rain can get you stranded if you do not get down on time. The thought of getting up before 5 am can be daunting but the Gurudwara makes it easy. Their day starts at 4 am with singing of bhajans. By 5 am, you hear people outside the gate of the Gurudwara chanting in chorus and the horses being readied to go up to Hemkund Sahib. Get up and grab a hot drink of chai. A poncho (light rain coat) and a trekking pole can be handy on the trek to Hemkund. Pass the deviation to Valley of flowers. Continue to trek up the steep path slowly but steadily. Spot a pretty water fall on your right falling through the rock walls on the right.
After about 2 hours of walking, you are higher than the tree line and the views begin to get better. Mark the route to Valley of Flowers on the mountain in front across the river gorge. After another hour of slow walking with numerous breaks, you begin to feel reduced oxygen levels in the air. A melting glacier lies on the way.
Take generous breaks while climbing up the steep path. These breaks are important as going up very fast could only mean inviting altitude sickness. Do not sit down during these breaks. Sitting down causes your muscles to relax and getting back on track can be very difficult. An hour of stiff climbing brings you to Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara. The lake lies just behind it. The Hemkund Sahib lake remains frozen for six months. Warm yourself in the Gurudwara and have generous helpings of hot tea and khichdi.
Walk around to the other side of the Hemkund Lake. The lake exudes an aura of peace and serenity. It’s crystal clear, undisturbed and reflects mountains in it. The lake with crystal clear water , set amidst tall mountains and reflecting them and the Gurudwara is some sight to watch. Around Hemkund, the Himalayan flower, Brahma Kamal grows abundantly. This flower grows only at heights of 10000 ft to 15000 ft. Leave Hemkund by early afternoon. The walk down can be strenuous on the knees and toes. It takes 4- 5 hours to walk down the 6 kms.
Day 5: Ghangria to Govind Ghat
- Altitude: 3,000 m to 1,900 m
- Time taken: 5 hours, 13 km
- Difficulty level: Easy
Start early by 6 am to be down at Govind Ghat by 11 am. Once you reach Govind Ghat, choose to proceed to Badrinath/Joshimath-Auli* or stay back at Govind Ghat and leave the next day.
Day 6: Govind Ghat to Haridwar
Drive down to Haridwar and take a night train back to Delhi
Having come all the way to Govind Ghat, there are two options that you could explore if you add a day to your trip.
Option 1: Govind Ghat to Mana Village and Vasudhara Falls via Badrinath
From Govind Ghat, Badrinath is just 36 km away. It takes around two hours to cover this distance. The scenery en route can take your breath away. Do not fail to read the boards along the road put up by the border roads organization. They are meaningful and humorous.
From Badrinath, take a shared cab to Mana (3 km), which is the last village within Indian territory across the border from Tibet. It’s a very picturesque village, with small streams and a small waterfall. The views from here of Neelkant peak are gorgeous. The village also has a lot of folklore associated with. The Pandavas are said to have rested here during their exile. Befriend a localite here and chat him up to learn more about the village.
From Mana, you could also trek to Vasudhara Falls, which is an easy 6 km trek that takes around 2 hours. Vasudhara is a milky-white waterfall that plunges from a height of 400 ft. The best part about it is that if the water isn’t too forceful, you could go stand underneath it and enjoy a refreshing shower.
Trek back to Mana or Badrinath from here before sunset.
Option 2: Visit Auli from Govind Ghat via Joshimath
If you’re looking for a more relaxing excursion after your trek to Valley of Flowers, you could visit Auli. Auli is a popular ski destination. It is stark white with snow in winter and full of green meadows in summer. It’s also called Auli Bugyal. It’s more of a leisurely holiday to Auli and it’s a tad bit expensive.
After reaching Govind Ghat, drive down to Joshimath, which is an hour’s drive away. Auli is situated above Joshimath and is accessible via a cable car. This ride in the cable car is a wonderful experience.
Auli is situated at a height of 3,049 m. It is surrounded by lovely oaks and coniferous forests. It offers are 270 degree view of Mt. Nandadevi, Kamet, and even Neelkant.
From Auli, you can head back to Badrinath the next day or the same day.