On Top of the World in the Valley of Flowers
Not everyone is lucky enough to see the Valley of Flowers in full bloom. First of all, as a high-altitude inner Himalayan valley, it remains inaccessible and under snow for most of the year. Second, it is not an easy trek—not just because of its altitude (around 3,500 metres above sea level) and the moderately difficult access route that involves negotiating a glacier, but also because it is a trip that needs to be taken in the rainy season, over wet and slippery forested paths, some perilously narrow and close to the mountain’s edge. Third, as a national park, trekkers are required to obtain a permit to access the valley and are not allowed to stop overnight. This means that you must get there, get your heart’s fill, and return before evening falls.
Then again, you don’t quite understand how lucky you are until you get there. Whatever you might have heard, whatever photographs you might have seen, absolutely nothing prepares you for that burst of colour as far as the eyes can see, framed by mist-shrouded, snow-powdered mountain ranges whose tops disappear into the sky. You feel as though you have arrived at the top of the world.
Located in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand in north India, the Valley of Flowers National Park stretches across almost 90 square kilometres between the Zanskar, Western and Eastern Himalayan ranges. It is two kilometres wide and eight kilometres long. While planning your itinerary, budget for a minimum of six days, starting and ending at Haridwar.
On the first day, drive to Govindghat (1,900 metres). Get some rest here and all the creature comforts you want, because you won’t be having these again for the next few days. On day two, travel to Ghangharia, 13 kilometres away. You will gain about 1,000 metres in altitude. The first four kilometres, up to Pulna, are motorable. From here you go off road and start climbing towards the next camp. Much of the route between Pulna and Ghangharia is through forests. As far as treks go, it isn’t a particularly picturesque one, especially if you desire grand mountain vistas. Be patient!
Ghangharia (2,900 metres) is a popular campsite because two trekking routes diverge from here—to the Valley of Flowers and also to Hemkund Sahib, a Sikh pilgrimage spot devoted to Guru Gobind Singh. At this elevation, you are starting to be at risk of acute mountain sickness. An acclimatization walk is highly advisable, as is staying well hydrated.
On day three, make your ascent to the Valley of Flowers—3.7 kilometres each way there and back, plus another 8 kilometres if you want to reach the far end. Start early (dawn is good) because overnight stops are not permitted in the valley, and remember to carry food and adequate water. This last stretch is demanding, but also much prettier, just look out for the bad-tempered cows. Once you are in the Valley of Flowers, expect gentle slopes and easy terrain.
Some people like to rest the next day, but you could also press on towards Hemkund Sahib (4,300 metres). This is a six-kilometre trek each way, but the broad steps cut into the mountain and the returning pilgrims with their offers of glucose as prashad (devotional offerings) as you go uphill are a great help. If you’re brave enough, take a dip at the glacial Hemkund Lake. If not, no worries, the view can be your worship.
The next day you could begin to retrace your steps to return to Ghangharia. If religious outings are your thing, a detour to the Hindu pilgrimage site of Badrinath can be factored in for an additional day.
The best time to see the Valley of Flowers is during the monsoon months of early July to August, when the blue poppy, meadow geranium, Himalayan rose, river anemone, white-leaf hog foot and dog flower bloom, among many others. The region is something of a biodiversity hotspot, home to rare fauna such as the Asiatic black bear, musk dear, blue sheep and a number of birds. If you’re very, very lucky, the elusive snow leopard might grace you with a glimpse.
Article by Payal Dhar.
Top image by _sandip_/Flickr