The long weekend for Independence Day was almost here. A couple of friends and I decided to hike up to one of the most beautiful spots in India – The Valley of Flowers Park National Park in Uttrakhand. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site close to the popular Nanda Devi National Park. The park has been enchanting botanists and thrill seekers for generations. The elusive white Brahmakamal flowers, which are known to bloom only one night in the entire year, is a specialty seen in this protected yet highly fragile park.
Our itinerary involved a lot of travel by roads. We left from Delhi in the hope to get to Rishikesh but got distracted by the amazing langar and hospitality at the Gurudwara Rishikesh Sahib in Haridwar. We had only meant to take a short break but ended up sleeping at one of the simple dharamshalas on the premises. Most of next day was spent on the road getting to Govind Ghat. This is where we said goodbye to our driver and the comforts of a four-wheel drive. For every other spot we visited from there on, was a steep uphill climb by foot. There are mules and even a fancy helicopter service all the way up, but what is the fun in that?
We stayed in a very basic lodge at Govind Ghat. All through this trip, we did no prior bookings and just hunted around for lodges and small places with clean bathrooms and sheets. If you decide to make an impromptu trip to the hills, you better be prepared to find everything expensive. There were tiny shops here, at 11,000 feet and they were all stocked up with merchandise from the plains down below. Most of this area is snowed in for more than six months of the year. Families trek down to the plains during these months. When the snow melts and the passes clear up, they stock stuff for the three months of business in these shops. So yes, a bowl of soupy packet 2-minute noodles will cost three times as much.
The next day demanded an arduous 13-kilometer trek steep uphill to Govind Dham. A lot of tourists are nature photographers and pilgrims who were making their way up to the highly revered Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib situated on top, beyond Dham. The Valley of Flowers is about three kilometers from Govind Dham. By the end of the day, we collapsed on the dinner table and gorged on whatever was served at one of those tiny dhabas.
We set out for the Valley of Flowers early next morning. The trails inside the park slowly began to get tedious. There was a constant misty drizzle that froze on our hair and faces. We crossed a couple of creaky bridges while the trail got narrower. There was one major bridge, which signaled the beginning of the valley.
It was August 15th. While India was celebrating her birthday, we reveled among the wild flowers and the mossy boulders. The sun was out for barely a few hours. That was when we got to see the valley at her best, when the fog lifted. On clear and sunny days, you would get to see different hillocks covered with different coloured flowers. We spent a few hours in the valley, taking in the views.
The return journey was oddly treacherous. Probably it was the hunger that had begun to make its presence strongly felt. Or maybe it was the blue toenails threatening to fall off. We suddenly weren’t much in awe of the glacial valley anymore! All we wanted to see was the green checkpost that signaled the entrance/exit of ‘Phoolon Ki Ghati’ (Valley of Flowers).
We were back in Govind Dham by afternoon but decided to not dilly dally around. It rained incessantly and the route down was so slippery. We had planned to trek down to Govind Ghat before nightfall and none of us carried a decent torch on us. (Please plan your trip better than what we did!)
Closely monitor the year’s monsoon schedule if you are planning a trip to the Valley of Flowers. It is a very fragile region of the hills prone to landslides since the devastating floods of 2013. In fact, the park was closed for two years to allow it to heal and replenish.The trek from Dham to the Valley has become steeper and the total distance has increased to 16 kilometers ever since. July and August are the best months to visit the park since there are hardly any blooms to see before that. The park closes in September when the snowfall begins.
Author: Preethi Paul
Preethi Paul Kannath is living and learning the ways of the beautiful American South. She is curious and chatty with friendly strangers and hopes to publish a book someday. Follow her capers on Instagram at @oddgal.