Expectations. Sometimes the lesser, the better. And so despite it being my first trek experience, I decide not to get over excited, lest I be disappointed. The ascent to the Valley of Flowers begins a day after what seemed like a never-ending trek from Govind Ghat to Ghangaria. Ghangaria is the last human habitation settlement on the way to Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. Gentle and intermittent drizzles along the way make sure that the monsoon trek lives up to its name. From about 5,500 ft we trek up around 18 km to about 10,000 ft.
The availability of horses to carry your luggage up to Ghangaria is a big relief. I feel a pang of guilt on seeing the horses shoulder our burden. But halfway through the trek, as we climb higher and higher, I think the horses may have felt more sympathy for us than we for them. Words of consolation from fellow trekkers, “you are almost there,” are of little help. It’s not exhausting, at least for me, but the fact that it seems never-ending, can be testing. As the sky becomes menacingly darker, and the drizzle gets heavier, we are relieved to finally make it to the lodge at Ghangaria. It takes us an entire day.
The weather gods are kinder the next day as we wake up to a clear blue sky that gets the spirit soaring high. A short walk up brings us to a forked path. One will take us to Valley of Flowers, the other to Hemkund Sahib. On day one, our destination is the Valley of Flowers. I decide that I will follow diligently our group leader’s wise words – “don’t think of the distance to cover, enjoy the trek.”
My first ‘wow’ moment comes soon as we near a bridge. Below it, water gushes, in all its monsoon glory, over rocks of myriad shapes and sizes. Everything else, including the overbearing mountains, fade into the background. Time for that groupie pic!
We are told that the Valley of Flowers is about a 4km trek. Another myth busted, 4 km on an uphill trek is not equal to 4 km on plain motorable road! It’s much longer than you can imagine! We make our way up in what seems like a spiralling hill. The dense thicket for most part of the trek provides the perfect canopy from a sun that is keen to shine bright and hard on us. A little into the journey and I start to enjoy being surrounded by shrubs and trees, in an ambience that is as raw and natural as can be. But this is just a trailer of what awaits us. At the mouth of the valley unfolds a vista straight out of a canvas. Majestic mountains carpeted in green, beds of white and pink flowers, a waterfall out of nowhere, and clouds which gingerly drape the peaks. All unfolding in one place. It’s a beautiful view, no doubt. The one thing that irks me in my journey is the use of human porters. Placing the strap over their heads, local porters carry people seated comfortably on baskets. How is it a trek if you allow someone to shoulder your well-endowed bodies on their worn backs?!
As the group makes its way further into the valley, I can’t help but notice disgruntled trekkers. “Are these pink and white flowers the only flowers that are there in the valley,” asks a lady. “yes,” says a fellow trekker, who I doubt spent much time in the valley. “Then what’s the point to go further,” our disappointed lady grunts. She spends the next five minutes convincing her husband to commence their descent. And this is why I said the lesser the expectations, the better. Because if you thought you were going to see 101 varieties of flowers and that the valley would be decked with flowers in all colours imaginable, then you will be clearly disappointed. A lot also depends on the time you visit. The landscape can change quite dramatically. Yes, the white and pink flowers were the dominant flowers in our trek. But if you were patient enough like us to venture further into the valley, which stretches to about 9 km, and if you looked around the valley more than peering into your phone camera, you would have noticed the occasional blue, red, and yellow flowers too!
We eat, we laze, we spot new flowers, and yes, have fun. Just as we begin our journey back to Ghangaria the clouds decide to burst open. The rain drenched stoned path is slippery, and people take a tumble or two. My water-proof trekking shoes rise to the occasion as I tread the slippery slope. Back in our rooms, over cuppas of hot almond milk we re-energize ourselves for the next day’s trip – Hemkund Sahib at 4,329 mts.
On day 2, the weather gods are less lenient. The stubborn rain refuses to relent. We decide to go ahead with the trek. Poncho-clad, we make our way slowly and steadily up another hill. Despite the incessant drizzle I enjoy the climb up. We take copious amounts of breaks enjoying the scenic panorama on the way, especially the waterfalls and yes sighting the mythical Brahma Kamal, the State flower of Uttarakhand. Unlike the Valley of Flowers, there are small eateries at regular intervals that you can find on the way to Hemkund Sahib.
The inclement weather, however, gets the better of us; my hands become cold and start going numb. The strains of the kirtans from the Gurudwara become faintly louder, a sign that we are nearing our destination. We see the relief on each other’s faces upon arriving at the Gurudwara. We are first guided to the langar where we nourish ourselves with some hot khichdi, garam chai (one of the best I had in the journey), and halwa. We gorge on it as if we’ve not eaten for days! With filled stomachs we find ourselves rejuvenated to pay our obeisance at the Gurudwara. But apart from the Gurudwara, my deep desire was to visit the lake behind it. I have seen many pictures of this online and it has always caught my attention. As we reach the jade green lake, a sense of calmness takes over. I stand in front of it a tad bit disappointed as everything around is in mist. And as if to cheer me up, the clouds give way to reveal mighty vegetated mountains and waterfalls descending from it. I hold on to the serene, calm, and mystical moment for as long as I can. Had the weather been clearer, I would have just loved sitting in front of the lake. It is one of those views that you can just sit and stare at for hours. A few brave souls from the group decide to take a dip in the chilly waters of Hemkund lake before we decide to head back. I glance back, to take one last view of the Hemkund lake and its alluring beauty.
Climbing down, of course, is faster than climbing up! And when you have two successful treks to brag about along the way, then the descent is faster! So is it a trek I will recommend? Well, depends really on what you want to experience. Trek enthusiasts will know better; but for people interested in trying out a trekking experience, I will definitely recommend it. Yes, a decent level of fitness works to your advantage. But for those who come in with a lot of expectations, it can be disappointing; however, if you are willing to enjoy and cherish a trek (and I mean the entire journey leading up to your destination – the good, the bad, the ugly) for what it is and not what it ought to be, then it’s worth every stride taken!