Sunday, February 10, 2019

Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib

I had came to know about Valley of flowers, sometime in 1993. Since then I had wished to go there, but never got an opportunity and also my education and then job kept me away from this majestic place for quite long.



I drafted the plans once in 2013, but the flood tragedy in Uttarakhand, postponed it. Then again I got the opportunity this year in 2018, July. It was postponed to Aug, 2018 due to heavy rains and then again to Sep 2018.


Finally, in Sep, 2018, I got this long awaited chance.




Best time to visit this valley is from 15th July to 15th Aug, when flowers are in full bloom. The valley opens around June first/second week for tourists and closes by end of September.


Shashank and Moiz were with me for this trip. Himanshu joined us from Haridwar.


The brief itinerary was as below:


Day 1: Haridwar to Joshimath or Badrinath

Day 2: Badrinath Temple and Mana village, return back to Govind Ghat (Pandukeshwar), in between Joshimnath and Badrinath. Take about 20 Kms trek to Ghangharia village.
Day 3: Ghangharia to Hemkund Sahib and back.
Day 4: Ghangharia to Valley of Flowers and back. By late afternoon, take the trek back to Govind Ghat (Pandukeshwar) and reach Joshimath by night.
Day 5: Joshimath to Haridwar.

The above Itinerary was a bit hectic, one more day was required to properly accommodate the places on Day 2 and Day 4. Another suggestion is that first visit Valley of flowers and next day visit the Hemkund Sahib. Valley of flower one needs to trek full distance, for Hemkund Sahib, the facility of pony is available.


Day 1:

Alighting early morning at Haridwar railway station, we proceeded to nearby Ghat of Ganges. Taking bath in the refreshing waters of Ganga is always a delight. Himanshu joined us from there. Weather was a foggy and rain heavy clouds were dominating the skies. With first look it was gloomy to take such travel, but there was no going back from plans now…..



As we crossed Haridwar the clouds started giving way to Lord Anshumaan and our faces were brighten up.


It was a cool but sunny morning, perfect for long drives and treks. Himanshu was on wheels of his Eon. A few times it was driven by Shashank and Moiz.


Soon we were at Ghat road, going in parallel with Ganga.




We were carrying some home cooked food with us so we stopped at one suitable place to take our later breakfast and to click some pics.


Every place in hilly regions is a spot to shoot with Camera. Whatever times we click the beauty of nature, its always less…


We crossed Devprayag where the Bhagirathi (from Gngotri – Gaumukh) and Alaknanda (Alaknanda from Badrinath and Mandikini from Kedarnath) forms the river Ganga. 


About 12 KMs After Srinagar (Garhwal) town towards Rudraprayag at a place called Kaliasaud, there is an ancient temple of Dhaari Devi. Though I have visited this road many times, but could not get opportunity to visit this holy shrine earlier. This time this wish came true. 


Dhari Devi temple is located on the banks of Alaknanda river. The temple is home to the upper half of the idol of the goddess Dhari, while the lower half of the idol is located in Kalimath. She is ershipped as a manifestation of the Goddess Kali.


She is considered to be the guardian deity of Uttarakhand and is revered as the protector of the of “ChaarDhaam” (the four abodes of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) in Uttarakhand. Her shrine is one of 108 Shakti Sthals in India, as numbered by Srimad Devi Bhagwat.


The temple gives her powerful presence. The aura was extremely blissful and the mother blessed us all.

The original temple of the goddess was demolished on June 16, 2013, to give way to the construction of the 330 MW Alaknanda Hydro Electric Dam built.

The priests had objected the plans as they told not to move away the Goddess from her actual abode (MoolSthan). 




The “development lobby” put a deaf ears.Hours after the idol was moved, the region faced what would become one of the country’s worst natural disasters. It was caused by a multi-day cloudburst and breaching the boundaries by Chorbaarilake, behind Kedarnath templeresulting in devastating floods and landslides, washing away the entire shrine town of Kedarnath and many towns on the way of Ganga and its subsidiaries. Itkilled thousands of people. 


People believe, Uttarakhand had to face the Goddess’ ire as she was shifted from her ‘moolsthan’ (original abode). The hydel project was left in ruins after the flood. A similar attempt in 1882 by a local king had resulted in a landslide that had flattened Kedarnath.


The Kedarnath temple survived as a big rock just behind the temple diverted the furious flood waters.

The new temple is now being constructed at its original location. To facilitate smooth operation of a 330 MW hydropower project being built in the area, the height of the temple was raised so that it stood above the Alaknanda river. 

From road, one has to travel almost 700/800 meters to reach the temple via a bridge. Aged people needs to be more careful as the main road is at higher altitude than the temple.


We took the road again. Now it was clear that we can’t reach Badrinath today, so had decided to stay at Joshimath instead. When we reached Joshimath, it was late evening and dark already. We took one small room at main road itself.


A good bargaining is required as hotel owners display very high prices sometimes. Don’t select one hotel before looking a few others.


Jyotirmath, also known as Joshimath is a city in Chamoli District. Itsat a height of 1875 meters and is gateway to several Himalayan mountain climbing expeditions, trekking trails and pilgrim centres like Badrinath.


Kindly refer to my blog on Uttarakhand Chaar Dhaam for more information about Joshimath and Badrinath.


Jyotirmath is the uttarāmnāya matha or northern monastery, one of the four cardinal institutions established by AdiShankara, the others being those at Shringeri, Puri and Dwarka. Their heads are titled "Shankaracharya". According to the tradition initiated by AdiShankara, this matha is in charge of the Atharvaveda. Jyotirmath is close to the pilgrimage town of Badrinath. 


This place is also a base station for travellers going to Hemkund Sahib or the Valley of Flowers National Park. 


The Narasimha temple here is believed to have been established by AdiSankara. During winter season, when the Badrinath temple is closed, his worship is done here.


Day 2:

Weather was excellent and early morning, after quick breakfast, we took the road to Badrinath.

Badri refers to a berry that was apparently said to grow abundantly in the area, and nath means "Lord".


Badrinath was re-established as a major pilgrimage site by AdiShankara in the 7th century. In earlier days, pilgrims used to walk hundreds of miles to visit Badrinath temple.


Now the travel has become quite easy. The road is excellent though with treacherous turns. It took almost two hours for us to reach here from Joshimath.


ON the way, a couple of places the road was very bad. At a place called “LaamBagad” the landslide was intense.

By around 9 AM, we were in the blessed town.

We parked the car at parking and then walked towards the temple. We had plans to take bath in “Tapt Kund” (Hot Spring) so didn’t had taken bath at hotel.


Two at a time, we took bath and then went into queue. It was a bit long but was moving fast, so not much issue.

The Badrinath temple is the main attraction in the town. According to legend AadiShankara enshrined the idol in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs.In the sixteenth century, the King of Garhwal moved the idol to the present temple.

One legend has it that when the goddess Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help suffering humanity on the request of suryavansh king bhagiratha, the earth was unable to withstand the force of her descent. Therefore, the mighty Ganga (Ganges) was split into different holy streams, with Alaknanda one of them.


Another Legend explains both name and sitting posture as this place was full of Badri bushes and Lord Vishnu meditating for, beloved Lakshmi stood next to him sheltering him from scorching sunlight turned into a Badri herself called 'BADRI VISHAL' and her lord(Nath) became the BadriNath.


The mountains around Badrinath are mentioned in the Mahabharata. 


After visiting the temple, we took the much required brunch. Prices are a bit high side here. This may be due to fact that everything here needs to be bring from plains and so transportation cost must be high.


Time was to have a quick trip to Mana and then take road back to Pandukeshwar (Govind Ghat)


For more details about Mana and nearby areas, please visit my blog on my previous Uttarakhand Trip. 


Mana Village is about 4 KMs from Badrinath and is last village here. BheemShila is the bridge which is said to be put by PandavBheem to cross the Saraswati river. This river, originates near the Bheempul (bridge) and merges with Alaknanda shortly thereafter.


After crossing BheemPul, the trek goes towards Swarga Aaarohini Mountain, the path taken by pandavas. This trek is also famousforSatopanth Glacier, the origin of Alaknanda river.


There are also a few caves in Mana where sage Vyasa and Lord Ganesh wrote the Mahabharata. Sage Vyasa also divided Vedas into four parts here and also wrote Puraans. 




The area around Badrinath was celebrated in Purans as abounding in spiritual treasures.


Badrinath or Badrinarayan Temple  is open for six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November), because of extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region. It is said that humans worship the lord for six months and gods worship him for next six months.


The temple is located along the banks of Alaknanda River at an elevation of 3,133 m (10,279 ft) above the mean sea level.




The image of the presiding deity is about 1 m tall, the black stone idol.


The head priest, or Rawal, is traditionally a Nambudiri Brahmin chosen from the state of Kerala. This tradition is as set by AadiShankara.




Tapt Kundis a hot spring next to Badrinath Temple with separate enclosures for men and women. We decided to take a bath there and then went into the queue for the temple.


The main gate is having resemblance with Tibetan architecture. This is not surprising as Tibet is very close from here. Before 1962 war with China, the people from Mana village here had extended family in Tibet and lot of travels and business used to happen through Mana pass. This all stopped in 1962. Still there is demand to open the Mana pass for business and for travel even to Kailash Mansarovar.




The main temple inside the decorated gate has three structures: the Garbhagriha (sanctum), the Darshan Mandap (worship hall), and Sabha Mandap (convention hall).


The Lord is in Padmasana posture holding a Shankha (conch) and a Chakra (wheel) in two of his arms in a lifted posture and the other two arms resting on his. The sanctum also houses images of the god of wealth—Kubera, sage Narada, Uddhava, Nar and Narayan, Lakshmi (the consort of Vishnu), Garuda(the vahana of Narayan) and Navadurga. 


Around the main sanctum, there are shrines of Lakshmi Narasimh and for saints AdiShankara (ad 788-820), Nar and Narayan,Ghantakarna, Vedanta Desika and Ramanujacharya. All the idols of the temple are made of black stone.

We drove till Mana to take some snaps and then returned back towards Govind Ghat near Pandukeshwar to take trek to Ghangharia.

But before we could start from Badrinath, we encountered one unpleasant situation.


On hills, the petrol stations are scarce and none is at Badrinath. We could have taken fuel at Joshinath before starting for Badrinath but we missed it and now as per calculation, not enough fuel was left.


We stated looking for anyone who can provide us a couple of liters of fuel so that atleast we can reach Joshimath. After some search, finally we were able to secure two liters of petrol from a shop near bus stand, costing 200 rupees per liter (actual price was about 80 Rs per liter then)!


I heard that army unit based near Mana village also helps someone in dire need of fuel, but only diesel.


There is a Gurudwara at left hand side while coming from Badrinathtowards Joshimathat Govind Ghat. Here the cars need to be parked. From here local Jeeps can be hired for next 3/4KMs to the village of Pulna. 


We reached Pulna, it was around 3 PM, except BSNL, no other mobile network was working. We all called our homes, it was not sure if even BSNL will work as we will move further. (but thankfully it worked!)


At Pulna we took late lunch in the form of Maggi and tea. Maggi is favorite food in hills for all backpackers and casual tourists alike.


It was about 3:30 PM, our initial plan was to trek till Ghangharia, about 10 KMs from Pulna, but now the time was against this plan. The trek will take not less than 8-10 hours and so we decided to take pony instead.


There are two more villages in between, before we reach Ghangharia. These are Jungle Chatti and Bhyndar.


The trek towards Kagbhushundi lake gets diverted from trek to Ghanghari at the village of Bhyndar around moid-way. That trek, passing through bear infested dense forests and taking to very high ranges of snow clapped Himalayan peaks, is even more challenging!


We stayed at Bhyundar village for some refreshment and also because horses needed some rest.


Even if one plans to travel by foot, its good to have a pony to carry the luggage.


From Bhyundar to Ghangharia is steep ascend. 


It was becoming dark, when at around 630 PM, we were at Ghangharia.


Ghangaria is a small village, which acts as a base camp for Hemkund Sahib and Valley of flowers. Hemkund Sahib is about 6 KMs from here and Valley of flowers is also about same distance.


Ghangaria is situated at the confluence of the rivers Lakshman Ganga (from Hemkund sahib) and Pushpawati (from Valley of flowers), which later meets the river Alaknanda at Govindghat. It is the last human habitation in the Bhyundar valley. 




About 2 KMs before Ghangharia, there is a helipad providing services to people from Govind ghat. 


Ghangaria has various hotels including one from the GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) and restaurents serving Punjabi, Chinese, Garhwali dishes, shops, camping grounds and a big Gurdwara to accommodate pilgrims. Only BSNL provides the wireless service here.


We took a decent hotel near the beginning of village itself. The entire village has been converted into hotels and restaurant now.


Evening was quite cold and gave indication of chill at night. We took a walk across the village till the point from where actual trek starts, then took dinner and retired for the day.




Being at higher altitude, acclimatization is a must before taking treks. I was feeling headache and was sure it was due to decrease in oxygen. I should have taken one more day rest before trek but time was not with us.

If I would have taken rest perhaps I could have trekked to Hemkund, but this not being the case, I took one pony. Young lads, Shashank and Moiz preferred trek and Himanshu stayed back to enjoy surroundings of Ghangharia.

Again we did mistake here. We had almost two days at Ghangharia with second day we had to returned back. Our earlier plan was to trek to Valley of flower on day1 and to Hemkund Sahib on day 2, but owing to some discussions with locals, we changed the plan and decided to go to Hemkund on Day 1 and to Valley of Flower on day 2. It was a big mistake we realized later. More time was required to explore Valley of flower. We should have gone to Valleyof flower on Day 1 and Hemkund Sahib on Day 2.


Day 3:

As planned, early morning, Moiz, Shashank and myself started for Hemkund Sahib, I took pony and the younger chaps decided to scale the height on foot.

The distance is about 6 KMs and elevation of Hemkund sahib is about 4350 meters. This was the highest place where I have reached so far! Mounted Everest is 8848 meters high!




The trek is very steep and tough, even experienced trekkers feel difficulty here.


Being on pony, it took about 2 hours to reach on top!


Shri Hemkunt Sahib is an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus and Sikhs. Hemkund is the breathtaking Lokpal lake. 


It is nestled amidst seven snow capped peaks and marvelous snowy glaciers. The nature is reflected here with all its mighty appearance in the crystal clear alluring water. Hemkund lake is fed by the glaciers from majestic peaks known as HathiParvat and Saptrishi peaks. 




It is recorded in the holy Granth Sahib that the tenth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Govind Singh mediated on the serene banks of Hemkund in one of his earlier births. 


Hemkunt has also got mentions in the Ramayana. It is believed that the younger brother of Lord Rama, Lakshmana regained his health by meditating on the banks of Hemkunt after the severe injuries he received from Meghnath during Rama-Ravana war. The Lakshmana temple is built at the place where Lakshmana meditated to regain the health.


Hemkund is inaccessible from October through May because of snowbound paths and glaciers. 


I also heard that a recent study examining altitude sickness at Hemkund Sahib found that almost one-third of pilgrims who traveled to Hemkund suffered from Acute Mountain Sickness (a form of altitude sickness). The authors stated the difficult nature of the trek, limited water consumption, and lack of awareness regarding altitude sickness as the main contributory factors.




The view from here is breath taking. Once I was here, I didn’t felt any altitude sickness. Perhaps last night rest had acclimatized the body. Its good to spend good 24 hours for body to acclimatize properly.


Design and construction of the present gurudwara was started in the mid-1960s, after Major General Harkirat Singh, Engineer-in-Chief, Indian Army visited the place. Major General Harkirat Singh selected Architect Siali to head the design and construction effort. Thereafter, Architect Sialiluddu made annual trips to Hemkund Sahib and organized and supervised complex construction.




2013 floods, took a heavy toll on the route to Hemkund Sahib. Part of the gurdwara, at Govindghat collapsed, including the langar hall, which collapsed into the river, the parking lot was swept away, the bridge above the Alaknanda River was broken and the building next to it, and the entire footpath at 14,200ft, leading to Hemkund Sahib, from Govindghat was swept away.


The faith rebuild the things again.


It was very nice to be there. I saw below and surprised at how much altitude, I was able to come. 


I shot the things in my camera, visited the Gurudwara and the Lakshman Temple. Walked the length and breadth of area multiple times.


I saw thick clouds taking shape at peaks just front of us. It was time to descend.


On the way down, about 30 minutes later, I met Shashank and Moiz, who were ascend slowly and steadily towards the peak.


As I was about to reach Ghangharia, it started drizzling, I had the umbrella with me so it helped and I reached hotel before it started raining moderately.


I was worried about Moiz and Shashank. To peace of my mind, they returned hale and hearty late afternoon.


We were happy, as we saw the photos shot and the videos made. It was a proud moment to accessed one of the tough but a must place to be!


A group of pilgrims were enjoying bon-fire, with some of them were not even dreesedenogh for the cold weaher, but they were still comfortable and happy. One old sardarji, offered us dinner. He was from Mumbai and he told me that since last several years, he comes every year to Hemkund sahib.


A good dinner and a nice sleep followed.


Day 4

Morning with a quick breakfast, we started the trek to Valley of Flowers.



For initial about 1 KM or so it was common with trek of hemkund. Then it takes a left turn towards the entry gate of Valley of Flowers National Park.


The Valley is nestled in the west Himalayas covering an area of about 87 square KMs. From entry gate a further trek of about 5 KMs or so takes the fortunate ones (who plans and strive to come here) to this heavenly place. It remains open from Mid June till sep end, but the best time is mid July to Mid Aug, when the valley is entirely covered with blooming flowers. 




Problem is that this time the Monsoon is in fill intensity in Himalayan region and the trek becomes slippery and dangerous. The area is infested with the great Himalayan bears and so caution is required.




Camping or staying after 5 PM is not allowed. Best is to take entry at 7 AM and plan return by 3 PM.


No plastics please and don’t do anything to bring harm to this abode of Gods.


It is said that this place is garden of Lord Indra. Flowers and plants here are quite unique. Its said that Shiva long with Parvati roams in the valley!




From doing entry at gate as we proceeded further, slowly more and more beauty of region started unfolding. The air was very light, filled with gentle fragrance. There was no sound except that of occasional chirping of birds or of leaves due to gentle breeze or of a distant waterfall.


No wonder its one of best places for meditation. No need to attempt, one will itself, enter into that state.




Being there is meditation.


It was declared as the national park in the year 1982 and it is now a World Heritage Site. It is part of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. The virgin beauty of this valley lures the botanists, nature lovers and adventure lovers as well. It is the home of over 500 species of wildflowers.


Not surprising, the trek to the valley is for trekkers, with some good trekking experience. It requires physical and mental fitness and cool, calm mind.




During rainfall, which is the best time to be here, almost every single rock on the path is wobbly and requires significant level of concentration to avoid an unnecessary injury. 




This richly diverse area is also home to rare and endangered animals. Besides the great Himalayan bear, there are musk dear, brown bear, red fox,and blue sheep. Birds found in the park include Himalayan monal and other high altitude birds.


I was fortunate to witness a giant squirrel multiple times, but this shy creature always gave me a slip, when I tried to shoot it in my camera. I just tried shooting randomly so many times and also tried Video to get a glimpse of it, but failed to capture it.


Shashank and Moiz went further ahead and encountered a Viper. It was a surprising thing for me, because I felt that this temperature, snakes can’t survive. I proved wrong. 


The Valley of Flowers is a high-altitude Himalayan valley that has long been acknowledged by renowned mountaineers, botanists, and in literature. It has been recognized internationally for over a century and is referenced in the Hindu religion. 




The best time to visit Valley of Flowers depends upon your liking as the valley is for all time beautiful. Though in my view, Mid July to mid August is a best time.


Bramhakamal flower blooms here and in area of Hemkund during August.


The place was little known to the outside world due to its inaccessibility. In 1931, Frank S. Smythe, Eric Shipton and R.L. Holdsworth, all British mountaineers, lost their way while returning from a successful expedition to Mt.Kamet and happened upon the valley, which was full of flowers. They were attracted to the beauty of the area and named it the "Valley of Flowers." Frank Smythe later authored a book of the same name.




In 1939, Joan Margaret Legge,(21 February 1885 – 4 July 1939) a botanist deputed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, arrived at the valley to study flowers and while traversing some rocky slopes to collect flowers, she slipped off and lost her life. Her sister later visited the valley and erected a memorial near the spot.


This grave can still be spotted here. It says, “if you want to see me, look around”




The density of wild animals in the valley is not high, but all the animals found are rare or endangered. 


We all were mesmerized by this fairyland located in the high altitudes of Himalayas, protected by snowy mountains. Our all tiredness had slipped away. Enthusiasm and happiness was there. Just one guilt, that we should have devoted more time here.


Bounded by the magnificent mountain ranges and glittering glaciers, this place unfolds the charisma and charm of nature at its best.


Unspoiled by human invasions this imposing land lay iced up in the colder months, and burst into its majestic boom on the arrival of hotter months of May and June. During these months the valley sheds its somnolent nature with its multitudes of exotic flora. When the monsoon clouds began to drizzle, the valley shows its flowery face and the entire region would glisten like a colorful carpet.




A scenic place where the nature blooms with its entire vista can be accessible by a tedious but lovely stroll. Eye catching spectacles like the cascading waterfalls, small streams and above all the flowery meadows awaits the visitors all through the way. 


By around 3 PM we were back to the gates. With heavy heart I saw again the distant valley and prayed to the Gods roaming there to allow me more such visits.


Sep 30 was the last day to visit. The valley will remain close now will about Mid June.




At around 4 PM, we left Ghangharia. Horses were taken as otherwise no way we could have reached Pulna before dark. 


A taxi from Pulna dropped us at Govindghat. It was about 8 PM now, as we took our car and drove to Joshimath, reaching about 45 minutes later.


Day 5

Next day morning, Himanshu drove us back to Rishikesh and Haridwar. He took a detour at Rishikesh and took the less frequented road behind, where most of Yoga Ashramas are located. The view of Ganga and Rishikesh is quite breathtaking from here. It was quiet and serene environment in midst of nature.

Train didn’t disappoint us much and next day morning, we were at Home Sweet Home!


Thanks to Himanshu, Moiz and Shashank. You guys made this journey, beautiful and an always cheerful remembrance!


11 comments:

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  4. Spellbounded.. Very well written Bhaia..

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  5. It sounds a little bit dangerous but I like these places more adorable in fog.
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  6. Yes they are beautiful in fog also....a truly beautiful thing always remain beautiful

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