Trekking is probably the best way to connect with the basic elements of nature and with your inner self. For me, it has always been my source of solace and Zen. The Himalayan mountains beckon me ever so often and I almost always give in. This time, my trekking buddies suggested a trek to “The Valley of Flowers Uttarakhand” and I joined them in a heartbeat. This breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of nature is an Indian National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Snuggled in the western Himalayas, this landscape is bestowed with endemic flowers and diverse fauna. It was a mix of adventure and spirituality. Being the oldest trek in Himalayas, it is on every intrepid trekker’s bucket list. While the Valley of Flowers itself is the highlight of the trek, there is so much more to experience. This is a once-in-a-lifetime 8-day trek organized by Youth Hostels Association of India.
My rendezvous with the Himalayas began 15 years ago and I have done several treks here like the Hampta Pass Trek. Every time I head to the Himalayas, reaching the base camp takes a day or so. From Rajkot, I flew into Delhi. From Delhi, there are several ways to reach the base camp in Rishikesh; flight, bus or cab. I took a 6-hour bus ride from Delhi and reached Sindhi Dharamshala in Rishikesh. As usual, we had our meeting & greeting session over a hearty breakfast the next morning followed by a brief of the itinerary for the Valley of Flowers trek. We left our luggage in lockers after packing our bags with the basic necessities needed for the trek.
Here I am in my zone and ready for the new experience
We boarded the bus as the distance from Rishikesh to Joshimath is 255 kilometers. This drive is through the most spectacular landscape. The roads in these regions are curvy with a steep drop on one side and the mountain on the other. The drive itself is like an adventure. The scenic route kept me distracted along the otherwise unnerving route. Landslides are very common in this region and we happened to land right in the middle of one! This delayed our trip. A ride that normally takes 6-7 hours, took us almost 10 hours. Exhausted, we reached Joshimath at 5 pm and checked into our accommodation. An interesting aspect of this trek is that most of the places along this route have pacca (built) accommodation unlike other treks where only tents are available. We had some yum soup and then headed out into the village to explore the place. A quaint village but well connected, Joshimath has the Jyotirmath Temple that is very famous. We paid our respects and returned to our accommodation for a warm hearty vegetarian meal and campfire.
The narrow curvy roads make for a thrilling driving experience
Auli is a paradise for skiers and a delight for nature lovers. Joshimath to Auli distance is about 16 kms. Alternatively, there is a ropeway here which offers the most magnificent view of the Himalayas. This 30-minute ropeway ride is definitely something one should experience while in Auli. We did a trek here for about 3-4 hours as an acclimatization exercise. We also visited the famous Mountaineering and Skiing Institute. Established in 1973 as a Winter Craft Wing of the Force, it was re-christened in 1990 as Mountaineering and Skiing Institute. After an exciting morning in Auli, we returned to Joshimath in time for lunch. We spent the rest of the day at Joshimath roaming around the village and absorbing the culture of this beautiful village.
This panoramic view of the Himalayas from Auli is gobsmackingly stunning
The next day, we moved to our next base camp at Ghangaria at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Tummies fueled and luggage packed, we boarded the bus by 8 am. After a scenic 20-km drive, we arrived at Govind Ghat, home to one of the most beautiful and religiously acclaimed Gurudwaras in India. We visited the Gurudwara to pay our respects and partake in the Langar (meal served at the community kitchen). After a delicious meal, we embarked on a rather tough 13-km trek to Ghangaria which takes 7-8 hours. This route has religious significance for Sikhs as they visit Shri Hemkund Sahib, a world famous Sikh pilgrimage center. We reached the village by 4.30 pm and checked into our accommodation, which was our base for the next 3 days.
A truly magical view of the mountains from above the clouds at Ghangaria
This village operates only during peak season which is April to October. Locals prepare to cater to tourists and pilgrims during this time. Ghangaria is a small but beautiful village and a key location for access to Valley of Flowers and Shri Hemkund Sahib. These areas are not accessible during winter as there is excessive snowfall and the temperatures are freezing. The locals also move to lower parts during this time. With the rising altitude, the weather gets very cold so make sure you have your warm clothing handy. After a warm vegetarian meal, we settled in our dormitory and bonded before retiring to bed.
The makeshift and seasonal village of Ghangaria
Today was the highlight of this exceptional trek, our visit to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand. The best time to visit this spectacular place is between July and mid October and we were there in August. With a full day of trekking planned, we were super excited. Before leaving for the trek, our guide briefed us on some important points to keep in mind. NEVER touch or smell any of the flowers in the Valley of Flowers. Many of the flowers are known to be poisonous and fatal. There have been several incidents of poisoning and unconsciousness because of this. The Valley of Flowers National Park hours are from 8 am to 5 pm. But the best time to visit is in the morning and until 1 pm. The weather becomes very unpredictable after that and it is not advisable to be in this area after noon.
The Valley of Flowers trek sets the state with flowers blooming along the way
Equipped with caution and a water bottle, we set out at 7.30 am to the flower paradise. The 5-km Valley of Flowers trek is absolutely gorgeous giving us a prelude of what to expect. The route was laden with greenery, flower beds, waterfalls and some paths even had traces of snow! The trek was an easy one and was thoroughly enjoyable because of the surroundings. We stopped along the way to capture photographs and take in the beauty of the hills.
Here are some of the exotic flowers seen in the Valley of Flowers Uttarakhand from left to right: Potentilla atrosanguinea, Saxifraga parnassifolia, Geranium sylvaticum, Geranium himalayense Klotzsch
These are a few of the endemic alpine flowers of Uttarakhand found in the Valley of Flowers in India, sequenced from left to right: Aletris pauciflora, Ligularia amplexiacaulis, Berberis jaeschkeana, Selinum wallichianum
On reaching the entrance of the Valley of Flowers National Park, a nominal fee is collected to gain access to this piece of heaven. In front of me was an endless stretch of flowers in a million hues creating an alluring canvas! It was like a gigantic carpet with weaves of every shade one can imagine. It is truly indescribable! I wandered around this 10-km long beauteous place mesmerized. In between this myriad floral maze was a bubbling river meandering through the valley that enhanced the ambience manifold.
No one leaves the Valley of Flowers Uttarakhand without their pictures there and I am no exception!
Each one of the trekkers spent time on their own, some going the full length of 10 kilometers while others went half way. We spent about 2 hours experiencing nature's extravagance. After countless photographs, we headed back to Ghangaria. It was probably one of the most fulfilling days and all of us spent the rest of the evening sharing our experiences and photographs of this epic day.
A bunch of trekkers enthralled in the beauty of flower valley
After a restful night, we were ready for yet another unique experience, the trek to Shri Hemkund Sahib, a place immersed in rich culture and history. This is a pilgrimage place that every Sikh would like to visit once in his/her lifetime. We had to scale up to an altitude of 15,000 feet from 10,000 feet in a 6-km climb, challenging. We set out at 5.30 am as it is recommended that visitors reach Shri Hemkund Sahib in the morning and return back by 2 pm due to unpredictable weather. Don't forget your rain gear as well. We arrived there at 10.30 am and were captivated by the ambience.
A mirror image of the extraordinary surroundings is seen in the crystal clear Hemkund Lake
The small but enigmatic Gurudwara surrounded by hills and waterfalls had a beautiful spiritual aura that was calming. There is a holy talab (pond), also known as Hemkund Lake in which pilgrims take a quick dip because the water is freezing. It is believed that all your sins are washed away when one takes a dip in this holy talab. We then entered the gurudwara and spent some reverent time in the place. Outside, there were sevaks (volunteers) who prepared and served piping hot Kichadi (a one pot dish made of lentils and rice) and tea. It is amazing that groceries are carried to an altitude of 15,000 feet to prepare and serve a meal to pilgrims.
Shri Hemkung Sahib Gurudwara - an important pilgrimage place for Sikhs
The next day we started from Ghangaria to Badrinath via Govind Ghat. Reaching around 2.30 pm, we visited the Gurudwara in Govind Ghat and had Langar before boarding the bus to Badrinath. Known as a pilgrimage place, Badrinath Temple is one of the four "Char Dham" (holy destinations) pilgrimage sites in India. It is believed that a tour of these four places opens the gates of heaven by washing away the sins of the pilgrims. The drive to Badrinath is adventurous because of the curvy steep roads. To add to this, there was a cloudburst that caused floods and landslides. After an action-packed 3-hour drive, we eventually reached Badrinath.
Our group of enthusiastic trekkers just happy to be in the lap of nature
After checking in and freshening up, we headed to the Badrinath Temple, a place I was longing to visit. The spiritual aura is intense and very palpable in this auspicious place. The ancient temple with its colorful design and architecture leave you in awe as does the legend and history of the temple. I took a dip in the holy pond here and felt a beautiful feeling of calm and serenity with the day's tiredness washed away. Another beautiful day came to an end while another wish was fulfilled.
Badrinath temple is nestled in the Land of the Gods and this view captures the spectacular surroundings
The next day was an extension of spirituality with some adventure as well. I had heard about the Mana Village from many people but here I was, finally to experience this unique village. The last village of India from the border is situated at an altitude of 10,500 feet and only 24 kms. from the Indo-China border. This village in Chamoli is a world of its own. The people, the land and the culture are all unique and beautiful. This village holds a huge religious significance with Jain influence as well. This is evident from the Manibhadra Temple and Ghantakarna Mahavir Temple located in this quaint village that we visited. The people of the Bhotia Community are one of the holiest people. We spent time interacting with the locals and participating in their cultural events.
MANA - the last village of India
An interesting place close to Mana Village is a small cave called Vyas Gufa. It is believed that Maharshi Vyas composed Mahabharatha in this cave. A shrine dedicated to this holy man is seen here that is more than 5,000 years old. There is also an iconic tea shop in Mana Village that is the last tea shop in Uttarakhand India, and before the Indo-Chinese border. Every visitor ensures that they have a cup of Chai (tea) here as a tradition. We did the same and trust me, this tea infused with Himalayan herbs was one of the best cups of tea I have ever had.
This is the last tea shop in India, a unique location for a well-known shop
From the village, a 6-kilometer trek took us to the spectacular Vasudhara Falls. This majestic waterfall drops from a height of 400 feet and makes for the most astounding sight. It is a remote destination not known to many but definitely a MUST visit when in Mana Village. The water is nectar sweet and refreshing. It is one of the most enchanting places to visit. Surrounded by nature's bounty, we had a lunch picnic at this unique spot before returning back to Badrinath. This was the last destination in our Valley of Flowers Trek.
The ravishing Vasundhara Falls is set at a height of 12,000 feet above sea level
It was time to head back home. We had a 12-hour journey back to Rishikesh during which we reminisced about the glorious time we had. Nature has the power to unite, heal and calm and we have witnessed this first hand. There were moments of excited chatter about our adventures and moments of silence reflecting on the sheer magnificence of nature. On reaching Rishikesh, we shared one last meal together and departed the next morning heading towards our homes. A treasure trove of memories of the magnificent Himalayas and the mesmerizing expanse of a million flowers was etched in my mind forever. I bid adieu to the mountains, until the next beckoning, soon.
Where is the Valley of Flowers located in Uttarakhand?
It is located in Bhyundar Valley in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand at 3,558 meters above sea level.
What is the best time to visit the Valley of Flowers?
The best time to visit this spectacular place is between July and mid October but with my personal experience, the ideal time is August.
How long is the Valley of Flowers Trek?
It is a 5-kilometer long trek and takes about 3-4 hours to complete.
Can we go to the Valley of Flowers without trekking?
There is a helicopter service from Govind Ghat to Ghangaria. But you then need to trek from Ghangaria to the Valley of Flowers, there is no other option.