Valley of Flowers Trekking Expedition: Day 1
Updated: Mar 30
The trekking route that takes one through the Valley of Flowers and up to Hemkunt Sahib is one that every Indian traveler knows. Located in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand in India, this is one of the most visually appealing treks in the country. The scenery is picturesque, to the point that it will leave you breathless. Often, in travel discussions, this trek would come up.
Having completed my college education in May, I decided to take a break to be in surroundings that soothe me. I knew that taking a trek in the hills would be a perfect choice. And boy, was I right!
My trekking expedition as such started from Poolna. Before I start talking about the trek, let me tell you about how I planned it. Planning a trek like the one I undertook can be difficult. Currently a resident of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, I had heard quite a lot about a start-up by the name of Invincible NGO. Started by a group of then students-cum-NCC Cadets, this is a non-profit that aims to provide affordable travel and adventure camps to students. To be honest, I was skeptical. I mean, how cheap could a trekking expedition beyond the state be? When I saw the charges, I was shocked. The packages available for the Valley of Flowers is for 12 day/11 night with train travel both ways included. These charges include the cost of accommodation, travel, and food (no food in the trains). You can click here to make bookings and see the charges and itinerary.
In the post, I will only discuss our 4 days of trekking and our explorations of Mana village.
To start from Govindghat, we proceeded to the registration kiosk; all trekkers to Hemkunt are required to register themselves. You have to present a government-issued identification proof, they will take a quick picture and hand you a pass. It's best to keep this pass handy while trekking in the area.
We took shared taxis for the 4km distance to Poolna, and here our trekking began. Several mules and horse vendors offered to give us rides or to carry the luggage we had with us. At a nominal cost, both facilities are available. The true joy, however, comes from walking yourself. If you're carrying luggage (which you probably will), its best to let them carry. If you plan to carry your luggage on your own, prepare yourself beforehand. I for one intended to do the carrying on my own. So a month before the trek, I began to walk every day while carrying some weight on my back. Over the month, I gradually increased the distance from 5km to 10km. The weight I carried was also gradually increased from 5kgs to 8kgs.
The first day, from Poolna to Ghangharia, was an approximate 11km trek. For almost the trek, we walked with a stream next to us. There are washrooms at approximately every kilometer, some clean, some not so much. There were small shops, structures supported by thin walls, wood logs, and tarpaulins. The wealthier establishments had tin roofs. The shops provide snacks & confectioneries and various drinks, ranging from carbonated & energy drinks to fruit juices. The most refreshing and useful on these treks, however, are the vendors selling tea/coffee and lime water. Make these lime water vendors your best friends, it's the best for keeping your energy and hydration levels up. A lot of them also provide food like parathas and Maggi. A word of caution, all products are sold at higher than the marked Maximum Retail Price (MRP). Justification for this is the cost of lugging them uphill through the mules and manual labor since vehicles don't ply here. Don't try to bargain, it doesn't work here.
We encountered plenty of rain on our way, several reached the end with drenched bags. My raincoat was pretty effective, but offering just torso coverage, I was drenched below the waist. The sights were pretty amazing. Halfway through the trek, we stopped for lunch at a shop next to a bridge going over the stream that accompanied us. The bridge was built out of three segments put together on pillars made from stones. Incidentally, on the day of our return when we reached this point, we saw that a third of the bridge had fallen. We were told this happened because of the increased water levels in the stream and the rains. It rained for all 3 days we were in Ghangharia. On account of this we took another slightly scary rickety bridge and an improvisatory route that extended the trek by almost half a kilometer.
The second half of the trek was the challenging part. This segment was steeper than the first half, and we ran out of breath pretty quick. I longed for a break every 100 meters, but I knew that would just make me slow and not help at all. So I took up a different strategy, one that helped. Every 300 meters, I would stop for 2 minutes by the watch and sip water. This became my plan of action, even though I could feel my legs aching for a break. But the thing about treks like this is that the longer and more frequent your breaks, the harder it'll be for you. Rather, keep pushing, till you make it. Trust me, it's worth it.
There's a small helipad about 700 meters short of Ghangharia where you start to see some flowers and there was even a small snow-slide. When an avalanche occurs, slow slides downhill. Sometimes a part of the snow gets accumulated on a lower part of the slope. The temperature is not usually warm enough for all of it to melt all of it. The water melting here or uphill flows from under it, leaving the upper segments stuck there. Over-time these often get covered in a layer of dust. These are called snow-slides, sometimes lasting a season or two, sometimes lasting for years.
When you reach the Ghangharia village, you'll find plenty of hotels for your night stay. At 4 p.m. every day at periodic intervals, the Environment Development Council (EDC), Bhyundar makes available a documentary on the Valley of Flowers. The 25-minute documentary can be seen in Hindi or English at Rs. 40 per head. It talks about how the Valley was discovered, the species it houses and the measures undertaken by the EDC to preserve the environment and biodiversity here.
In the next two posts, I'll take you through the Valley of Flowers and to the Sikh pilgrimage site, Hemkunt Sahib.