The International Writers Magazine: India: The Himalayas
of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib
Partha De Sarkar
was beginning of August when we reached Delhi. We had taken NH2
to travel all the way from Kolkata to Delhi. Our plan was to spend
four weeks in the Himalayas on wheels. As the best time to visit
the Valley of Flowers is July/ August when entire area dazzles
with flowers. We decided to go to the Valley of Flowers to start
with. We drove down to Hardawar where we were joined with Amar
Singh an ex-vehicle driver of the Indian army with tremendous
experience in mountain driving.
Photos:© Partha De Sarkar
We drove out early
next morning traveled 300kms through Hrishikesh, Devaprayag, Sri Nagar,
Rudraprayag, Nanadprayag, Chamoli, Joshimath and Vishnuprayag to Govindghat.
The entire route had kept us spellbound with Himalayan landscape. By
early afternoon, we had retired in Forest Rest house of Govinghat. The
Alkananda River gurgles down the hills just next to the rest house.
We had walked down to the bazaar and had hot puri-sabji with jilaibi
as dessert before retiring for the night.
While at the bazaar, we arranged porters to accompany us. We saw horses,
dandis and kandis were available to take people to Hemkund Sahib but
we were reminded that animals were not allowed inside the Valley of
Flowers. We spent a little time at the Gurdwara speaking to tourists
returning from the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib.
Our trek started next day when we crossed the Gurdwara and the hanging
bridge over the Alkananda and climbed to the check post of Eco Development
Committee of Bhuyinder. Here we entered our details and paid a toll
tax of Rs. 25. Now we were trekking along the natural beauty and the
gurgling Laxmanganga that had raised from Hemkund. We could see down
below far off the confluence of the Alkananda and the Laxmanganga. Our
constant companies were innumerable beautiful swift fountains. Flora
of the area is very varied and the birdlife was plentiful. At every
bend of the trail we met a new snow-bound peak.
After a trek of 3 kms we were at Pulnagaon where we took rest with hot
cups of tea, mostly milk and plenty of sugar. Our destination was Ghangharia.
On the way we passed Dandishal, Bhuyindargaon and reached Khoolna Bridge
where we crossed the river and further a kilometres trek took
us to Ghagharia. Though there are some hotels and GMVNs tourist
lodge, as we had our reservation at Forest Bungalow. So we left our
luggage at FRH and went out to see slide show of the Valley of Flowers
at Nature Interpretation Centre.
Early morning was pretty cold even in August as the height of Ghangharia
is 10,000ft. But we left our rest house by 6 A.M. and started our hike
towards Hemkund Sahib. Our rucksacks were heavy as we were carrying
raincoats, enough mineral water, and tinned and dry food. We also had
butane stove for emergency. The distance of Hemkund Sahib from is about
5/6 kilometres but the route gains 5,500ft in height. So it was a struggle
all the way. We reached the bifurcation of the trail at Forest check
post. The left trail takes you to the Valley of Flowers while the straight
one goes to Hemkund. The trail, though is made of stone slabs, is very
uneven and as we kept climbing to the upper region, we were tiring faster
because of lack of oxygen in the air. The number of trees was diminishing
faster. But we had lovely company of Sikh pilgrims and joined their
shouting merely by calling out "Jo Boley So Nihal, satsri akal".
As we came within a kilometre Hemkund again the road bifurcated. Stepped
way has gone direct to Hemkund and the left trail has gone by the way
of the glacier. We selected the left trail as we always found stepped
routes were more tiring. We could see large number of Bramhakamals.
There are stringent rules to protect these rare flowers as slowly but
steadily these are becoming extinct.
By early noon, we reached the kund. Water of the kund is crystal clear
and many pilgrims were bathing in ice cold water. The loveliest scenery
is that of the glaciers reaching into the water of Hemkund. We were
permitted to go up to a demarcated area as beyond that is dangerous.
There is a two-storied Gurdwara where one can stay and get food free
of charge. There is also a temple of Laxman and it is believed that
Laxman had meditated here.
But Hemkund Sahib is the premiere holy place of the Sikhs. They believe
that tenth Guru Govind Singh, in his previous birth had meditated here.
Hemkund is located at a height of 4,329 metres. We were told that weather
starts packing up from late afternoon. So we left Hemkund for Ghangharia
by 2 P.M.
We spent the night at FRH of Ghangharia and next morning left for the
Valley of Flowers. The Valley of Flowers is situated in the core area
of the Nanda Devi biosphere. The valley was discovered by accident by
Frank S Smythe and R L Holdswirth while they were returning from expedition
to Kamet in 1931. Smythe had returned to the Valley of Flowers in 1937
and had written a book called " The Valley of Flowers". When
this book was published, world came to know of this natural wonder.
The Valley of Flowers has an area of 88 sq. km. And its height varies
from 3,200 metres to 6,675 metres. While most of the time the valley
sleeps under thick cover of snow but in July-August, 300 species of
flowers can be seen here. Besides flowers the valley is a habitat of
butterflies, musk deer, blue sheep, Himalayan bear and snow leopard.
In 1981, the Valley of Flowers was declared a national park and many
restrictions were clamped on tourists.
approached the valley through forests of oak, spruce and silver
birch. Slowly the valley opens out. 5000-6000 m peaks, tapering
off into grassy alpine slopes lower down flank it. A number of waterfalls
and streams flow from the heights, into the Pushpawati River, which
emerges from glaciers near Rataban and joins the Bhyundar Ganga
and then the Alaknanda. The main valley and the path for walkers
are on the Right Bank of the river.
There are wildflowers
everywhere, a sea of green dotted with pink and yellow and red. In the
middle, almost randomly placed. There are the Himalayan blue poppy and
the cobra lily. Its beautiful. The sun breaks through the mist
and, in a magical moment, the valley becomes a riot of colour. Its
truly an enchanted valley. Locals of Bhyundar Valley knew the place
of fairies and nymphs even before Frank Smythe. They just called it
Phoolon ki Ghati.
We walked through fields of flowers and alpine slopes, to a waterfall
and a panoramic view. From here we can see varieties, in the colonies
of flowers, that werent visible earlier. From the top of the mountain
we spot a flag marking the grave of the English botanist who died in
an accident while exploring the valley in 1939.
We detect polygluma, which prevents other flowers from growing. When
the government declared the Valley of Flowers a National Park in 1981
and when they banned sheep grazing, polygluma weed grew in abundance.
The sheep previously ate these. But now has invaded and swamped the
more delicate alpine varieties of flower.
Pushpawati River flows through the valley. We crossed the river by a
wooden bridge and then passed a small glacier. Now we were among the
millions of flowers. We could identify geraniums, premolars, Himalayan
blue poppies, lilies, but here were thousands of unknown flowers. The
beauty had made us speechless. Descending down, we reached the tomb
of the naturalist Joan Margaret Leghi who was killed here in an accident.
Sooner the weather deteriorated.
Since spending a night at the Valley of Flower has been prohibited,
we began our trek back to Ghangharia, leaving behind a fairyland and
an unforgettable experience of the most beautiful natural splendour.
to go: Reach Hardwar by train from Howrah. Then bus will take you
to Govinghat. Fare is Rs 225. Then the trek starts.
Places to stay: There are Forest Rest Houses
at Govindghat and Ghangharia. For reservation apply to the Deputy Conservator
of Forest, Nanda Devi National Park Forest Division, Joshimath, Dist.
Garhwal Mondal Vikash Nigam has a Rest House at Ghangharia.
Season: Though the season is from June to
October but for seeing the Valley of Flowers in full bloom, one should
be in the Valley in July-August.
© Partha De Sarkar December 2004
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