I have always been fascinated by nature and treks and walks into the hills have been my natural likeness growing up as a child. So the very thought of going to the Himalayas created a few excitement butterflies in my stomach.
After a month of googling and planning the time had come to pack the head northwards. The destination was Valley Of Flowers(VOF), Uttarkhand. Given the passion for photography, I wanted to visit this place for while the flowers were at their pristine bloom (July to August).
Of course, an excuse to move away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
So I stowed my gear into my backpack and along with Vinod, another photographer and nature lover, set out into a world unknown to us thus far.
We took a quickest mode of transport available to us from Bangalore to Delhi. The monsoon was tearing down Delhi as we touched down on a wet August morning. We had to wade through flooded roads and buses to reach Nizamuddin railway station. The adventure has started I thought to myself. After a four hour wait at the ever crowding waiting room we finally left Delhi and reached Haridwar ontime.
Haridwar was receiving a hoard of pilgrims in all vehicles from two wheelers to trucks. There was a mela going on and people were carrying water from their homes to the temple. After an overnight stay at Haridwar we left for our destination the next morning. We waded through the dense crowd took a "share auto" to Rishikesh, as we were told no buses were plying in and out of Haridwar. Rishikesh is at the foothills of the himalayas, is known not only for its connections with epics like Ramayan but also a place where you can enjoy adventure sports like rafting down the Ganges, parasailing etc.
We were lucky to get a mini bus that was taking us to Joshimath. Our sojourn began with the himalayas and what the locals call as the "Devbhumi" (Land of the Gods). Within an hour's drive the bus began to move into the hills and alongside the river Alakananda. The journey was breath taking, amidst winding roads and deep gorges very unlike the roads I was used to. The bus twisted and turned through the narrow roads and crossed over umpteen number of streams that flowed over the road before stopping for lunch near Devprayag. After eating a tasty meal of rotis and beans curry we were on our way.
A good meal induced a good sleep for a couple of hours before we were wakened to be informed the bus had stopped as there was a landslide ahead of us and we cannot go further. We realised that landslides were a 'norm' in this part of the world. The road ahead was broken and one can only walk across it on foot. We walked for a kilometer to Maithana from where one of the many shared jeeps that took us to Joshimath. The Gharwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) guest house was good and we stayed after an eventful and strenous day.
Next morning involved us witnessing a couple more landslides before we reached Govindghat which is about 20kms from Joshimath. This was the last motorable town/hamlet on our journey. One has to walk on foot or hire ponnies for 12kms from Govindghat to reach Ghangaria, the basecamp for the Valley Of Flowers (VOF).
Our heavy luggages made the choice , we took ponnies. The entire trek is along side the river Alakananda flowing with all her might. One can witness numerous water falls along the mountain slopes enroute.
After the about 4 hours we reached Gangharia a small hamlet with a few hotels and a Gurudwara(A sikh temple). We stayed at a hotel that I had booked online. We ensured we slept well to venture into the Valley of Flowers the next day.
One can can visit the Valley of flowers or Hemkund (a pilgrimage shrine) from Gangharia after reaching a fork in the trek. The VOF is open from 7am to about 5pm. No camping or overnight stay is allowed inside the valley. There is no food available in the valley so one has to pack for lunch.
So we started our trek to the valley of flowers early morning. One reaches the valley after about a 4 km trek. Beyond that one can walk upto 5kms more to experience some spectacular view of valley, flowers, waterfalls flowing down peaks and the occasional drizzle. We did about 3 kms into the valley. There were a few trekkers that we met and exchanged pleasantries. The weather was too foggy to take landscape photos so photographing flowers was the next best option. There are more than 600 species of flowers in the valley.
The flowers are very supple, fresh and vibrant. The rain adds a charm of droplets of water on them. We had packed some parathas from Gangharia with pickles that we nourished ourselves with and quenched our thirst in one of the many streams that runs by you. I could only think of RL Stevenson's 'Vagabond' (the bread I dip in the river ..).
The weather held itself with only a constant drizzle towards the second half of the day. Walking in high altitude can sap your energy and dehydrate you quickly. So covering distance by foot is an extremely slow affair. Add to that the ritual of taking the photos and rest assured we could only trudge back late in the evening literally dragging our feet and the gear. Tired but feeling was tremendous.
On the fifth day we headed towards Hemkund. The climb is steeper with wonderful views of snow capped peaks. The trek towards Hemkund has a few small eateries that serve rotis, paratha's. Also one can have Langar food at the Gurudwara at HemKund. After a quick visit to the Gurudwara and I was off to photograph landscapes and the flowers. There were more flowers and the famed 'Brahmakamal' had bloomed all over the place. We had a field day photographing these flowers and a huge glacier enroute. There was a light drizzle at times whenever a cloud decided it had flown for too long. We trekked back and reached about sunset time. Only difference being there was no sunset in sight with clouds and fog all over us.
A meal with rotis and rice with vegetable gravy saw us sleeping well and get up in time on the next morning to start our way back to Govindghat and to Chopta. Chopta is around 60kms from Govindghat and is known for Tunganath temple, the highest Shiva temple in the world.
After an hours delay due to a landslides we could reach Gopeshwar by evening. Gopeshwar is a average sized town nestled in the Himalayas. An overnight stay here at the GMVN ensured we were well prepared to leave to Chopta by the only bus at midday. The bus took a couple of hours before reaching Chopta. Chopta a very small hamlet with a few hotels and eateries for pilgrims who visit the Tunganath temple. Accomodation here is very sparse and most hotels use solar panels for lighting. So do not expect a lot of urban comforts.
We commenced the 4km walk to Tunganath and reached in a couple of hours. The temple itself is got an ancient history and is said to have been built by the Pandavas. After offering our prayers here we decided to stayed near the temple overnight. There are around 3 places that offer bedding and food for an overnight stay near the Tunganath temple.
The next morning a 2km trek uphill took us to Chandrashila peak where we waited for a whole 3hours for the clouds to clear to take some landscape pictures of the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas. One can get some breath-taking views of the snow-capped peaks and of Nanda Devi the highest peak in Uttarakhand. Once satisfied we descended to Chopta only to be told there were no buses plying due to a landslide before the town. Hence we hired a jeep that took us till Ukhimath. An early morning bus from Ukhimath brought us to Haridwar.
We witnessed the ‘Har Ki Pauri’ ritual along the Ganges in the evening and got our blessings from the sacred temples at Rishikesh the following day. Then it was time to leave for the placed called home. So we took the overnight bus to Delhi and back to Bangalore the following day.
The experience left me with immense emptiness for a few days until I could get back to normal ways. The entire journey was hard, strenuous, risky, and adventurous, yet we were relaxed, elated and felt blissful. We were nomads and just lived a life that was simple, more natural, less materialistic and more importantly in those parts humanity was valued a touch more, something we urbanites seem to lose it in the middle of our everyday melee.
So it was indeed a visit to “Devbhumi” (Land of the Gods) !!