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Mast and Malang in Valley of Flowers
26th August 2016

written by -    Varti

‘Are you out of your mind?’ The Veterans exclaimed.

‘Why can’t you have passion like other normal beings?’

‘Passion without risk is just a hobby,’ Malang murmured philosophically, but this only made the situation more volatile.

They looked at Mast, hoping to see some sense at this front, but they knew too well that at least in this madness they were truly made for each other.

The frustrations of veterans was justified as last week only many tourists had lost their lives on the same route in a cloudburst. And their premonitions soon dawned as reality when just after 2 hours of ride from Dehradun, Mast and Malang were stranded for nearly four hours near Shivpuri because of three landslides one after another.

Was the idea of this trip really insane?

The reason behind the timing of this trip were two, firstly the Boss does not sanction leave according to the Accuweather reports. Secondly and most importantly, the only season for Valley of flowers is July-August, only when the valley is in full bloom, earning this place the epithet of Garden of Eden.

Transport: Royal Enfield 500cc

Time: July 2016

Region: Uttarakhand

Route: Dehradun- Rishikesh- Srinagar (Garhwal)- Joshimath- Ghangharia- Valley of Flowers-Joshimath-Auli

Distance: 350km +trek

Days: 5

Best season to visit VoF: July-August

The Route

Day 1

The route from Rishikesh to Joshimath is along the River Ganges and its tributaries

The route from Rishikesh to Ghangharia is entirely along the rivers, first the holy Ganges then its tributary Alaknanda and later Laxmanganga.

Though traveling in monsoon is a bit risky because of landslides and bad roads, but at the same time it offers the view of nature at its best

Though the monsoons had covered every inch of the soil with lush green foliage but still the route was a picture of man’s devastation of nature, mining, landslides, deforestation. In some stretches the mighty river was lying all nude, devoid of any natural cover, except the lifeless stones.

The Landslides after Shivpuri had blocked the route. Pilgrims, on the way to Char Dham and Hemkund Sahib, were stranded for hours

The time and the route coincide with the pilgrimage to Char Dham and Hemkund Sahibs, which also opens in this season only. Thus, there was a queue of at least two kilometers long of the motorbikes and cars when the landslides after Shivpuri blocked the roads. Mast noted this religious crowd around her, young men in saffron garbs, who were eyeing the handful of female riders not so religiously. Some were having a sort of spitting marathon while some were using this time to play a game of cards. Finally, the JCBs cleared the debris and pulled a damaged Election Commission vehicle from under it. Thankfully no one was hurt.

Commuters crossing one of the landslide regions

But even after this, the fear of falling rocks was impending. It was like a game of wipeout. The road, which was so wonderful at the time of their #Tungnath escapade, was now littered with loose stones, gravel and in some stretches completely wiped out. Thankfully, the CEAT tyres of the RE were proving its worth as the riders maneuvered their way through the broken roads carefully and skillfully.

In some stretches the road was completely washed off. Thankfully the good grip of CEAT tyres saved the day

At last they reached their first halt – Joshimath, by dinner time. And their first important task was to dry clothes for the next day’s trek. It was drizzling non-stop when they had started early morning. The riders as well as the saddle bags were carefully tucked in the waterproof covers but despite that the stubborn water had wet almost everything.

Trek from Govindghat to Ghangaria : 14 km, Altitude 3049m

Day 2

The trail to Ghangaria is paved and well-maintained

Leaving the Bike and non-essential items at Joshimath itself, Mast and Malang hitched a ride to Govindghat, about 22 km from Joshimath, from where the trek to Ghangaria starts.

The trail is a gradual ascent for 14km and along the river Laxman Ganga

Ghangaria is the base camp for both Valley of Flowers trek and Hemkund Sahib. The trek is a gradual ascent for fourteen kilometers.

The trail is pretty scenic and beautiful

The trail is clean, with the installation of dustbins, rain-sheds. It is very scenic as it goes along the river Laxmanganga and passes through the lush green trees. There are plenty of food and refreshment shops along the route.

Many pilgrims opt for pony to reach Ghangaria and Hemkund Sahib. For Valley of flowers there is no pony track. Rates vary from 1500-2500INR per head.

The trek is considered easy to moderate but the continuous ascent makes it somewhat challenging. Dripping in the incessant rain Mast and Malang gradually moved up the trail, munching on dry-fruits and energy bar. Among the trekkers, one could see almost all the age groups. There were men, women, Indians, foreigners, children as well as elderly people. Most of them were on foot while some were on ponies. Some of the pilgrims opt for helicopter to reach Ghangaria.

Refreshment shops along the route. However, along the VoF trek no shops are available.

By evening our travelers reached the base camp and spent the night at one of the Camps next to the Helipad.

The camps near the Helipad just before Ghangaria. One can also avail the facility of helicopter to reach the base camp

Trek to Valley of Flowers and back: 5km one side, Altitude 3858m

Day 3

The trek to Valley of Flowers begins after crossing this bridge

The trek began with the payment of entry fee (valid for three days) to the Forest Staff at the entrance, who noted down the names and details of the travelers and duly informed that timing is from 7am to 5 pm.

‘And what happens if one doesn’t return?’

‘We send the search party.’ The guard nonchalantly informed.

The unpaved trail to Valley of Flowers. There are no shops along this route

‘The fragrance of the flowers is so intoxicating and overpowering that no one is ever able to cross the complete valley as they lose their consciousness. And in night celestial creatures dance in this garden.’

One of locals had thus described the legend of the Valley in the typical Indian-exaggerated style to Mast, though he himself had never been to the place. Anticipating something this wonderful and breathtaking, the duo made their way up the trail, which was natural and unpaved, making the trek more adventurous.

Little did they know that their share of adventure had just begun.

Mast was about ten feet behind Malang when he stopped suddenly in the track and stared to his right. He jumped back, then turned completely and ran towards Mast who was watching this whole scene with curiosity.

‘Run…Run,’ his gibberish at last formed some comprehensible words

‘Bear…Run for god sake’, this time he actually pushed his foolish partner who was exhibiting her worst reflexes.

It was somewhere here in the bushes to the right, where Malang spotted a bear, at an arms length. And he did the first right thing that came to his mind — Run.

And then they ran to a clearing where the trail was not covered in the thick vegetation. For about fifteen minutes they waited. The Bear, it seemed was not interested in them. The Bear was about 4.5 feet high, Malang told her.

When they narrated the incident to the forest guard on their return, he told them that in this season generally Bears are not spotted at this height. However, there was one bear which was roaming in this area from last one week. Its claws were as big as the palm of a fully grown man.

Later when Malang asked Mast why she didn’t run? She said, ‘I didn’t want to miss out the live action of a man trained by world’s one of the top armies

And for throughout the trek she kept mimicking his expressions and he kept rebuking for her poor reflexes.

The trail is not suitable for ponies thus some of the tourist take the piggy ride on the porters in the basket.
While there were some, like this sixty-year-old woman from South, who were as determined as any other trekker half their age

The Valley of Flowers erstwhile known as Nandan Kanan, Indra’s Garden, earned the present fame when British Mountaineer Frank Smythe made its chance discovery in 1931 and brought it on the international map.

Unlike the other meadows in Himalayas, this valley has a lush carpet of flowers, various colors and sizes, plants high enough to camouflage you as one of their own. More than 290 species of flowers are recorded here and besides that it is home to Asiatic black bear, Snow leopard, Himalayan mouse, Blue sheep, Musk deer and many many species of the birds and butterflies. Flowers bloom for three months, July to September. The composition changes each month and September onwards the Valley recedes to sleep under the thick blanket of snow. There are many exclusive species of flowers with medicinal value here. In 1982 when VoF earned the status of national Park, camping was banned here. The Valley, also known as Pushpavati valley is one of the two valleys at the head of Bhyundar valley, other being Hemkund valley.

One of the river crossings along the trail. The water level increases with rain

The drizzle had continued non-stop for the third day. This had made the trail more challenging as there was the risk of slipping on the stones. Also, there was about 4-5 water crossing along the route and the flow of the water in these streams was increasing with the rains. Many trekkers were turning back halfway because of this.

Travelers looking for some respite under the rocks from the incessant rains

By the end of the trek Mast and Malang were soaking wet as their shoes, though water proof, were also completely wet. There were no rain-sheds, not even any shops, in this trek. But the rains were not going to stop so after a brief halt they resumed the trek.

The first view of the Valley from distance

At the end of the trek the scene emerged of a green carpet of meadow spread alike a bed spread as far as your eyes can take you, barren rocky bluish mountains standing guard on both sides and snow peaks playing hide and seek in the clouds. However, it is only when one crosses the small rickety bridge, where a marking on a stone declares ‘Valley of Flower Starts’, one will notice that the green carpet is not so green but an amalgamation of colors.

The valley of flowers begins after crossing this bridge. Because of rains, the level of water was increasing in this river and thus many trekkers decided to turn back from here

Though the VoF was not as colorful as the pictures shared on social media, but it was undoubtedly amazingly beautiful and yes, breathtaking.

Valley of Flowers

It was like walking in a huge nursery. There were cluster of flowers one after another. One could walk through the valley for hours, admiring this hidden garden.

These Alpine flowers are endemic to this region. Many of them have medicinal properties

After the Valley earned the status of National Park, camping was banned here

However, this exploration was cut short as the water level had increased in the next river crossing, making it impossible to cross

Mast and Malang also decided to head back with the other trekkers as they already had one wild animal encounter, but not before they had clicked pictures of the valley from every angle and perspective.

Monsoons had given life to each and everything, even to this lifeless bog

They spent the night at Ghagharia and next day headed back to Joshimath. From where they planned to visit Auli next day, the details of this will be in the next post.

Stay tuned for the complete itinerary and some more adventures. Also, the details about where to stay and some tips.