Trek to Ghangaria & Hemkund
Valley of flowers is a must go to all nature lovers in India and in particular wildflower lovers. But as usual , any place like that is pretty hard to reach, particularly for someone from southern part of India. We have to initially reach Haridwar and then take full day bus journey to Joshimath and from Joshimath take a cab to Govindghat and from Govindghat do a steep trek to Ghangaria. Finally from Ghangaria another steep trek to finally reach the place but at the end of it all , we should say it was all worth the effort.
After clearing all the previous stages , on the day of the trek, we wanted a clear day and thankfully it was clear blue skies. We early birders as usual started around 5 AM , from the hotel we stayed in Joshimath to the taxi stand. People we came across were starring at us thinking what were we doing so early in this place. When we enquired the directions to taxi stand, the locals told us that no cab will leave to Govindghat before 6.30 AM. So we waited in the taxi stand in the cold for more than an hour watching the sparrows and doves. When the cab driver came, he started waiting for more people to get in the cab,but luckily people came quickly. So we started off to Govindghat.
The enroute scenery was mesmerizing with water everywhere. The force of water in the river was so scary. The 45 minutes travel was over quickly as we were immersed in the surroundings. We crossed a bridge and reached the start of the trail. There was paved road and there were continuous jeep trips for the first 4 kms. But we wanted to do the full trek by walk, so we started our trek. There was a vulture sitting on the cliff of the mountain infront of us. It was so far away, still our eyes spotted the vulture and we were filled with joy. When we can see a vulture at that distance, how will we miss the sunbird hopping over the flowers nearby. Vinod started running behind the bird with his heavy baggage,while I stood and watched the surroundings as I did not want to waste my energy at the start of the trek itself. I spotted a Wedge Tailed Green pigeon in a tree and as the pigeons usually stay in groups, I searched for more and I started seeing a lot of Wedge Tailed Green Pigeons in the same tree.
Meanwhile Vinod’s sunbird dived into the bushes, so Vinod returned back with no photo of the sunbird. He was anyway happy to see these Wedge Tailed Pigeons which are found in Himalayas. We spent few minutes seeing the Wedge Tailed Green Pigeon munching on fruits but we knew we had to leave as it was a strenuous trek ahead. We had decided earlier not to stop frequently, but when the birds sit very closely like this, we couldn’t miss the chance.
We continued the hike on a steady pace. It was a continuously climbing path ! We expected the surroundings to be without human settlement, but we were upset at seeing the shops and houses almost till the end of the trek.
Though there were many food stalls selling parathas, noodles and juices, we didn’t sit down to eat anywhere as we had spent time on bird watching. Most of the trekkers had come for Hemkund Sahib and they were in big groups. Almost all the trekkers were walking without carrying their luggage. All the horses were carrying the different types of wildcraft bags. So whenever a horse man crosses us, he will ask us “Ghoda chaahiye? ” in Hindi. Everytime saying “No” to the horseman and continuously giving way to horses slowed our walking pace.
By noon, we have reached halfway through and we rested seeing the river,drinking spicy lemon juice. The altitude of Ghangaria is 10,003 ft while the altitude of Govind ghat is 5997 ft. The walk till midpoint was uphill and flat occasionally, but from midpoint it was completely uphill. The number of shops were reduced and there were beautiful flowers on the side of the trail. The goal was just to reach the hotel in Ghangaria, so we continued walking. When the milestone marked 1 KM came to our view, we rested and had hot noodles from the last shop in the trail. The last 1 KM was more steep, but slowly Ghangaria started coming in view. All our tiredness changed to excitement. We were enthralled by the mountains,waterfalls and wildflowers that came into our view. It looked as if a big magical screen was kept infront of us.
We enjoyed the view and continued our walk to find our hotel. The hotel we pre-booked a month before was right in the center of Ghangaria. There were so many restaurants and the place was flooded with tourists. The view from Ghangaria was breathtaking and we were eager to start our next hike to reach the mountains beyond. The weather in high altitude regions were always unpredictable, so we wanted to do Valley of flowers trek the next day itself before the weather changes.
Initial pathway to both Valley of flowers and Hemkund sahib trail was the same. There was a split after 1 km and there was a guard to inform about the current conditions of the trail. We noticed that no one went to Valley of flowers trail, so we enquired the guard about it. He mentioned that there was a rock slide and Valley of flowers trail was closed for the day. The altitude of Hemkund is 15200 ft while Valley of flowers is around 12000 ft. So the climb would be tougher for Hemkund compared to Valley of flowers. But since we wanted to see Brahma kamal in Hemkund, we decided to do the Hemkund trek. As soon as we started climbing the trail, we were greeted by laughing thrushes, minlas, yuhinas and finches.
Also colorful flowers seemed to be everywhere.We stopped frequently to look around the scenery,flowers and birds. The blue poppies were in full bloom. The larkspur which we missed to see in Dhela trek was in full bloom here. I was marveled by the blue poppies and a poppy just disappeared in a blink of an eye. There was a movement under the bushes and there he was, the Indian Pika with poppy in his hand. He didn’t mind me at all, he just kept on chewing the poppy flower and then the plant. Once his snack was over, he ran back to his hole.
The trail was continuously steep as the altitude was getting higher. Surprisingly we were not tired, as we were overloaded with enthusiasm in seeing the wild beings around us. The problem in this trail were the horse shits, novice horse riders and cleaners. The smelly horse shits were everywhere, so we always had to see where to keep our next step. There were many people who got very tired on the way and took horses to reach Hemkund. The problem was that they were scared of the horses. So they were screaming when the horses were running down or when the horses were going to the cliff side. We were always used to look out for traffic, but here in this paradise while I was walking in trance wondering about the natural beauty, I seriously did not want to look out for traffic. But when a scared lady sitting on a horse almost knocked me off I came out of the trance and back to reality. The cleaners work was really tough as they were continually cleaning the horse shits and its disheartening to see them begging at every turns. Luckily, after midpoint there was an alternate path with narrow steps that no horse could follow.
We were the only one to walk in the trail. We enjoyed the serenity and since we were in high altitude now, we started searching for Brahmakamal. After few minutes we saw a Brahmakamal on the hill slopes, but we couldn’t go near. By this time we started hearing the chants from the temple. We reached the temple and everyone was served food. We didn’t have any food from morning, so the aroma in the place kindled our hunger and our stomachs started growling. We went near the lake, expecting to see Brahmakamal but the flowers were not in bloom.
We went to the serving area with our plates and they were serving a soupy dhal and tea. Getting a hot meal at this altitude is a bliss. I doubt is there any other country that appreciate fresh hot food like India. Now we have filled our tummy, we were ready to start the search for Brahmakamal flower. Once we got out of the temple, the slopes on the other side was fully covered with Brahmakamal flowers and various other colorful flowers.
We would have loved to spend more time on that place, but mist started covering the place. Many people were just coming up when mist started covering entire view. We were lucky to see the scenery clearly in the morning. Downhill walk was easier and we quickly reached midway point. As mist started clearing out, we again stopped to see the silver stream of water and enchanting flowers on its banks.
A group of youngsters on seeing our camera asked vinod to take a photo of them. After vinod clicked a photo of the group, each one came,checked the photo in the camera and said great and just left. Seriously!! How should we send the photo to them !! But we didn’t delete the photo, just to remember the incident. We continued to walk down leisurely, enjoying the evening birding and the drizzle. We didn’t get tired of the scenery at all.
Though we were trekking for past couple of days, our mind was still fresh as everything around us was fresh. There is something about Himalayan mountains that make you feel humble. It gets you thinking on what are you in relation to the world. Immersed in those thoughts we finished the return journey.
After a brief moment of self realization we started discussing enthusiastically about Valley of Flowers trek for the next day and reached our hotel.