I had initially planned to spend a month in Rishikesh just chilling, doing yoga and taking a break from travels but after 3 weeks of doing just that I was beginning to get restless (and lazy). I needed to do something that would wake my body up, so to speak. Sab, who I met in my dorm in Rishikesh and who had spent the same amount of time in the town, felt he needed a change. So after considering a few last-minute options we decided to do the Valley of Flowers trek.
We set off from our hostel in Rishikesh at 5am, amidst heavy rainfall, to catch the early morning bus to Govindghat. The first half of the journey was spent in a very small but comfortable bus. We stopped only once on this 5hr leg to get breakfast at a street food stall selling Aloo Paratha with Chole curry. We didn’t intend to eat anything but vendors kept shouting out to people to come eat “pretha” and I just couldn’t resist! I managed to convince my fellow travel buddies to eat some as well. For the second half of the journey we changed to a bigger but very old bus with broken seats. The ride in this bus was horribly bumpy. There were so many instances of us flying out of our seats and returning with an uncomfortable and harsh thud. Luckily we hadn’t eaten much on the 11hrs bus ride so we avoided puking episodes (the lady behind me wasn’t so lucky). And there was just 1 toilet break which meant that I had next to no water and was feeling seriously dehydrated by the time we reached our destination. On the plus side, we were in the mountains throughout the journey and the view just never got old! I also had good company in Sab. His friend Kumar had also joined us for the trek. Sab is a very sweet fella, he’s a few years younger than me and is a digital nomad, which is a very interesting and unconventional path for an Indian. We get along really well and are able to tell each other to shut up incase of too much chatter. Once we reached Govindghat, we found a room, had some chai, met up (coincidentally) with another friend whom we had met in Rishikesh, ate our dinner and called it a day.
Day for the 14km trek from Govindghat to Ghangaria. I was a bit worried while going to bed last night coz I had an upset tummy due to the horribly bumpy and long bus drive. But by morning I was feeling slightly better. I knew that Ghangaria was at a height of 3100mtrs but this was just a number to me. What mattered to me was the distance of 14kms which I knew I could do. Let me tell you, I am not one for an uphill climb of any sort. I am not fit enough and hate being out of breadth which was validated on the trek. I was so very slow! The path was sometimes going uphill, then flat for a bit, then downhill before starting the uphill again and this was too much for me. At the start of the day I was mentally prepared to tough it out but towards the last 4kms my body and my mind were resisting the walk which made it extremely tough. I guess I could have at hired a pony at any point but the pain of giving up would be much worse than the physical and mental pain I was feeling at that time. Finally, I did it in 7hrs, the average time being 5.5 to 6hrs. One of the biggest reasons I could finish the trek was Sab. He is generally fit, is a runner, has done a couple of marathons and has also done the Everest Base Camp trek. But he is also a very easy going and patient guy and he was with me through out day. It was entertaining company and seriously motivating. He had to resort to a lot of tricks to keep me going from grabbing my hand and dragging me along to prodding me in the back with his walking stick to whacking me with it (just the once for which he got told off!) to chanting “Bum Bum Bhole” which is a chant we’d heard from the pilgrims in Rishikesh. (I think the chant means “Hail Vishnu”). This chant was more of an private joke for Sab and me as we’d heard some really stupid versions of this (For Eg, “Laxman Jhula, Bum Bum Bhole” which makes no sense as Laxman Jhula is the suspension bridge in Rishikesh). But when my motivation was running low we created our own (silly) versions of the chant like “Bangalore (where Sab lives) Bum Bum Bhole”, “Pune (where I live) Bum Bum Bhole”, “1234 get on the dance floor” and this kept the mood light and kept me going.
Once we reached Ghangaria we had some chai, found a room and bought a bucket of hot water each to freshen up (you have to pay for hot water as electricity in this village is limited). By the time the shower was done I was feeling really ill. It was seriously cold in the village! My finger tips were numb and were beginning to get a bluish tinge and our breadth was smoking. No running hot water meant washing hands in ice cold water which I absolutely hate. My chest, shoulders and throat felt tight and achy. After a quick dinner a popped a Paracetamol, wore 2 pairs of socks, 2 tops, trousers, a jacket, scarf made of yak wool (thanks Sab!) and gloves (which I had to buy in the village) and went to bed. The warmth from the many layers and the pain killer gave me much needed sleep and I woke up feeling loads better.
My initial plan, when I set off from Rishikesh, was to spend 2 days in the Valley of Flowers (VoF) and 1 day at Hemkund Sahib (which is a pilgrimage site for the Sikhs) before doing the 14km back to Govindghat the day after.
But after the trek of the day before, I had changed my mind. I now wanted to spend just one day in the valley and head back to Govindghat on the same day. Ghangaria was too cold and the rooms too dreary to stay any longer. And I was not fit enough to do the 6km uphill climb to Hemkund Sahib.
So on the morning of Day 3, we set off on the 4km trek to the VoF at around 8am. Right at the start, we reached a fork in the path, left was going to the VoF but the right hand path had no signs posted. I wanted to go left but the crowd was going right so Sab thought there’d be a turnoff after the gorgeous waterfall we could see up ahead so we went that way instead.
After taking loads of pics & selfies we completely forgot about this fork in the path. We kept going (and going) and were very surprised that that the walk was all uphill. Our hotel manager had told us that the path would flatten out soon but we kept walking thinking that perhaps the local’s version of a “flat route” would be different to ours as they would be very much used to the climb. After 3kms we came to a sign which said Hemkund Sahib was 3kms away (it’s a total of 6km from Ghangaria) which made me think that the VoF is only 1km away as it’s only 4kms from the village. When we stopped for a chai break we asked the owner for confirmation and that’s when we realized the booby we’d made!! We were on our way to Hemkund, oops! But instead of getting angry I just started laughing! I remember telling the guys the night before that there was no way I was walking to Hemkund and if I changed my mind I would take a pony. I don’t believe in coincidences so I think we were just meant to go to Hemkund Sahib. Instead of heading back we decided to keep going all the way up.
Very slowly I finished the 6km walk just before 1pm and reached the top at 4300mtrs. Besides the Gurudwara (a place of workship for the Sikhs) there’s also a beautiful glacier lake at the top which remains frozen for 7months of the year. Come summer, the ice begins to melt and the Sikhs arrive to take a dip in the lake they consider to be holy. Although it was cloudy and the mountains not very visible the lake was beautiful.
We dipped our feet in the cold water and then went to the Gurudwara to pay our respects, chatted with some folks about the significance of that place, ate Prasad (which is a food substance considered to be a religious offering) and delicious Langar (free food offered at the Gurudwara to all worshippers regardless of religion) of khichdi and almond milk before starting the descend.
The day before I was very grumpy. I felt no happiness in having done the 14km trek just relief that it was over. But after the climb to Hemkund Sahib I was so happy to have gone all the way up. It’s a beautiful place, the lake is so very tranquil and the simple but hearty Langar so very nourishing.
By the time I reached the village at 5pm I was ready for another hot bucket shower. My legs were feeling like jelly, my stomach still achy, I hadn’t pee-ed since the morning and I was dehydrated but so proud of myself!
The day for the Valley of Flowers, finally! I expected the 4km walk to the valley to be easier than the climb to Hemkund Sahib. In some ways it was but the hike was more of a trek. Most of the path was laid out with stones which meant I had to be very careful where I put my foot as I a have tendency of tripping over my own feet and regularly getting my toes caught in anything that comes in the way. If it wasn’t stones on the path it was a lot of muck. Even before reaching the valley I started seeing some very pretty flowers and then the view just opened up to the gorgeous valley. Another 500m or so (and after just over 2hrs) I was at the start of the VoF.
Just a quick background on me, I love colours! This is reflected in how I dress and even the carefully selected ingredients in my food to give it the max burst of colours. So to be in the valley of flowers, which has over 500 species of flowering plants, was an absolute dream! The flowers don’t blanket the valley but there are colours everywhere.
Wherever you look you see different flowers against a stunning backdrop of numerous waterfalls and the mighty Himalayan range. If I ever had to pick a venue for my wedding (and if the long trek wasn’t an issue) then VoF would top the list! After taking lots of pictures and selfies, Sab and I sat down to really take in the view.
Being surrounded by nature and by a glorious burst of colours, being able to listen to the stream flowing next to you and looking at the Himalayas made the whole trek absolutely worth it!
Before we knew it, it was time to head back. We were also getting extremely hungry and stupidly, we had forgotten to take any food or snacks with us! After reaching the village at 2:30pm, we ate some lunch and took the pony back to Govinghat. Taking the pony gave my legs much needed rest but the pain (and bruises) we felt on our butts at the end was a whole new story. That night we had a whole new set of aches and pains to contend with!
The plan was to catch the 7am cab back to Rishikesh but we were temporarily blocked in due to landslides. We were first given a new time of 9am, then 11am and then around 11:30 we were told it will take a few more hours. So instead of waiting in Govindghat we decided to do a short trip to Badrinath in the opposite direction. Badrinath is one of the prominent villages on the Chota Char Dham hindu pilgrimage.
The town itself is very pretty but the drive there was horrible. Narrow winding and extremely bumpy roads (due to landslides) meant my stomach (and the contents in it) were going up and down and left and right at the same time and it made my stomach pain so much worse! By the time we got back to Govindghat we were told that the roads have finally opened up but it was too late to get to Rishikesh on the same night. We decided to head to Joshimath which was only 25kms away but it would at least get us out of the landslide area (which was a smart move as that stretch was blocked the next day as well!)
No more drama on this journey except the bumpy drive and resulting stomach ache but at least we were taking regular breaks which meant I could drink more water than I had been in the last 5 days. We were finally in Rishikesh by 6pm. Honest to God, it was like coming back home. If I was a weeper I would have cried.