It is a long weekend in the month of August; which is recommended as the best time to see the flowers in ‘Valley of Flowers.’ We travelled from Delhi to Dehradun in a night bus and reached Dehradun (very late) at about 7 am courtesy of a traffic jam in the forest just before reaching Dehradun. Our friends in Dehradun pick us up directly from ISBT Dehradun and we apologise to them for having made them wait for more than an hour. We were supposed to reach around 530 am but the traffic jam came at the wrong time and the lack of network in the forest meant I couldn’t even call and inform them to start late from their home.
Anyhow, we start the journey and our tentative goal for the day is to reach Govindghat. Our plan is to trek to the Valley of Flowers and possibly also to trek to Hemkund Sahib in the 3-4 days time that we have. As soon as we near the highway to Badrinath, a drizzle ensues and it feels like the forest is bathed in a shade of green. The full force of the monsoon is upon us on the Dehradun to Rishikesh forest road. The ongoing rain makes the proceedings feel like a dream; the sky is full of dark clouds and the shining green forest looks serene and inviting.
Also read : Travel Guide to Chopta, Chandrashila Trek
We are very hungry but since there is a lot of distance to cover and it is not very practical to stop for breakfast in the rain, we keep going. The drizzle slows down to a pitter-patter of raindrops and we push ourselves to get out from the traffic situation and continue ahead on the highway to Badrinath. We are finally able to stop at 10 am for breakfast at a cluster of dhabas and enjoy fresh aloo paranthas and chai. It is a nice place to stop and has become a favourite breakfast place ever since because the paranthas are crisp and the service is quick. We opt for a crowded place (these were the pre-covid times!) because we all know popular eateries are crowded for a reason.
It is a very quick stop and we stretch our legs and resume our journey in the car. Depending on the time of our reaching, we discuss probable places of stay after Joshimath. The only requirement is that it should be a nice and comfortable place since we have already had an overnight journey from Delhi to Dehradun and a rest should be good. Govindghat is preferred since it is the diversion point for Ghangaria (the base for the trek to Valley of Flowers). From Govindghat, a road branches off towards Pulna village, from where the trekking trail to Ghangaria begins.
The road is in ok shape and the traffic is non-existent since we are earlier than the other city folks who are travelling during the long weekend. We cover good distance once the rain finally relents after breakfast. The weather is nice though and we make a lunch stop at a roadside dhaba at 130 pm. Badrish Bhojnalaya has a view of the green valley from its terrace and the sitting space is in a breezy setting. There was a little traffic while crossing the Srinagar-Chamoli stretch. The dhaba guy makes fresh food and since we are the only customers at the moment, we take a moment to chat up with him. He feeds us well and we resume our journey.
We are finally in the outskirts of Joshimath at about 430-5 pm. There is still plenty of daylight left so we decide to continue till Govindghat and try and find a nice place to stay. The distance from Joshimath to Govindghat is hardly 20 kms and the road is in perfect shape so we hardly take 15 minutes. Since it is a long weekend and there are limited options to stay in Govindghat, most of the stays have been booked by online trek operators. Our idea of taking a chance by reaching early works; after looking around we eventually settle for a nice, clean and comfortable place to stay for the night. The owner confirms that except our 2 rooms, all the other rooms are booked by trekking operators like Indiahikes and GIO for trekking groups that will reach sooner or later in the evening.
We have to coax him a little before he says yes to our offer of 600 Rupees per room. It is still daylight and we are wandering around in Govindghat and the sound of bells is a nice welcome! The donkeys and horses sport bells around their necks and it is a mellifluous sound. The car is parked in a wide parking space on the road itself; we intend to keep the car in Govindghat and take the shared sumo to Pulna village next morning. A small conversation with one of the locals ensures that he confirms our seats on the first sumo that leaves from Govindghat at around 630 am. Pulna village is hardly 7-8 kms from Govindghat and is reached after crossing a bridge across the Alaknanda river.
There are many options to eat in Govindghat and we choose one of the dhabas for an early dinner. Once the daylight ends; cars, sumos and travellers begin arriving in Govindghat. We know it will be dusty and crowded once everyone reaches and steps out for food, so we ask the dhaba guy to recommend what to eat and relish the food with gusto since it is empty as of now! The dhaba food is expensive and he almost charges restaurant rates; I instantly compare it to Himachal Pradesh where thalis would be charged for 60-70 per person. In Uttarakhand, prices are almost always higher which is a little detrimental to the state’s backpacking culture.
I spot 2 shops located alongside the road selling a variety of horse bells; they look like cheap imitations of copper bells from Switzerland. The prices are reasonable but the quality itself is not very polished and I end up not buying even one bell. We have eaten a lot and walk around for a bit and indulge in an ice cream each after dinner. Sometimes, we must appreciate urbanisation and it remains one of the very few times I do it too! The ice cream is a refreshing memory and we notice that the trekking groups have arrived as well. As we are climbing the stairs of the hotel that we are staying at – someone announces that all the rooms in Govindghat are full and that now people coming in would have to go back to Joshimath.
A nice breeze is blowing in Govindghat. There is a conveniently fixed sofa set in the balcony and we sit and observe the vehicles and quietly thank ourselves for having reached Govindghat early. We also know in our minds that we will follow this pattern for our next days too. After all it is no fun to mill about in the crowds and makes more sense to trek in the midst of nature. I go and reconfirm the shared sumo with the helpful owner/manager of our hotel and he tells us to be ready at 630 am!
We are overjoyed and go to sleep at 9 pm. I later learn that there are also a few homestays that have recently opened in Pulna village. The weather is clear in Govindghat and we hope for clear weather from the next day onwards to enable it to be a successful trek to the Valley of Flowers. We are deep in slumber and wake up at 6 am. The dhaba guy nearby makes excellent tea and we have it just in time before the sumo appears. It is crammed with 10+ people and we pay Rs. 50 each. Our backpacks are loaded on the carrier and off we go!
Govindghat to Pulna
Earlier, the Valley of Flowers trek used to start from Govindghat itself when there was no motorable road across the bridge. It is an overcast day and our only hope is that it shouldn’t rain today because it will spoil the fun of trekking otherwise. There are a new nice homestays and hotels located at vantage points across the river on the way to Pulna village. The road is manageable and we reach the last roadhead in Pulna in no time. The shared sumo stops at the end of the road where there are a lot of ponies gathered. It seems like a chaotic place and has many basic shops selling tea, snacks and other basic necessities like a wooden stick for the trek.
Porters and guides offer their services for the Valley of Flowers trek and some try to coax us to hire ponies or horses for the trek till Ghangaria. This is the same path that also leads to Hemkund Sahib (Gurudwara set by a holy lake and pilgrimage for the Sikhs). The hiking route for Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib bifurcates after the village of Ghangaria. Therefore, Ghangaria makes for an excellent base camp for exploring both the Valley of Flowers and Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib Ji Yatra. Pulna is located at an altitude of approx. 1500m and Ghangaria is perched at 2800m.
Pulna to Ghangaria Trek
The trekking trail from Pulna to Ghangaria is well defined and has a properly laid out path too. It starts drizzling as soon as we start the trek at 730 am. The horse hiring rates vary quite widely : from 300-400 Rupees to 800-1000 Rupees. We thank the pony guys for asking us and continue the hike. They tell us most of the pilgrims to Hemkund Sahib hire the services of a pony to make it easier. After an initial ascent, the trail passes through a lush green oasis surrounded by trees and we love the positive and pristine environment that we are in. The distance from Pulna to Ghangaria is 10 Kms.
I have always maintained that the real beauty of nature is only in places where the road doesn’t reach and it reinforces my belief in the same. The trek is accompanied by a melodious sound of bells tinkling of the ponies and horses who are stationed for prospective customers. Initially, there is a dominant smell of horse shit due to the concentration of horses or ponies on the trek. The trail is properly constructed in stone (mainly as it lies on the Hemkund Sahib Trek Route). After some time of level walking, it becomes an uphill climb.
After an hour or so, the drizzle finally stops and we reach a place called Jungle Chatti. There are a number of dhabas/eateries/shelters here – it looks like a sizeable hamlet. In the far distance, mist rises from the dense forests. It is progressing as a cloudy day and there is no sign of the sun. Now we notice the impact of the long weekend and realise that there is a huge crowd of trekkers and pilgrims coming behind us on horses and ponies. It starts raining again at about 10 am. Thankfully, we have carried rain covers and ponchos. We keep walking and cross a dense canopy of trees, it turns out to be a lovely section of the walk.
There is a bridge across the river and we cross it to get to the other side; and another bridge appears. The landscapes are even more beautiful on the other side of the river. There is mist everywhere as the hills open up and the expanse of the landscape widens. Some work is going on in the mountains with regards to construction of a road. The sun comes out for a bit and the weather instantly becomes very humid.
We have ascended quite a bit but the air feels little hot when the breeze doesn’t blow. On the climb, the backpack starts feeling heavier! We cross a few small streams and now the weather changes quickly. It is around noon when the mist and clouds gather and a cool breeze starts blowing! Thank God we had not removed our jackets and now we clutch to them to provide the much needed warmth! There’s a popular saying that ‘Bombay ka fashion aur pahadon ka mausam kabhi bhi badal sakta hai.’ I am reminded of this statement!
It is surprising to come across concrete toilets on the way; and they have taps with running water! I make a slow clap to the administration for this excellent idea and to actually make it work. On crowded treks, men can pee anywhere but it becomes a challenge for women to find secluded spots. There are many signboards in Punjabi language greeting the pilgrims bound for Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib. Another cluster of dhabas duly makes an appearance; we decide to ask for a round of chai and biscuits.
Since we had started quite early, we gather that we have already covered 2/3 of the distance to Ghangaria. Someone tells us that we have trekked about 8 kms and that Ghangaria is only 2 kms from the dhaba point. We are overjoyed with this piece of information. It is decided to push ourselves a bit and try and reach Ghangaria early to enable us the best chance of staying in nicely located rooms. We are certain that as the day progresses it is going to be the same situation as Govindghat. Most of the accommodation would get booked by the evening and the remaining rooms would be the bad ones and even they would jack up the prices!
There’s a furry dog at the dhaba, so we just sit back, rest and catch our breath and relax for a while. It has been a continuous uphill walk and we are understandably tired. As we are about to load our backpacks, it starts pouring down and we are in a fix now! What to do? We wait for 5 minutes and when the rainfall doesn’t stop, we put on the ponchos and decide to just continue on the trail. We are drenched, the rain is in full flow and yet we continue walking and perspire underneath the ponchos and rain jacket!
It is an uphill climb and the feet and lower part of the body get wet because the poncho drains out water on the hiking pants! I start feeling a bit cold and think to myself that maybe the hiking pant wasn’t such a great idea after all. Maybe I would have been better served with my usual hiking shorts. The rain finally stops after 30 odd minutes and we heave a collective sigh of relief. The final ascent to Ghangaria starts – its about 1 km away and the time is 1 pm.
We are in the midst of lush greenery and the climb is excruciating. The misty forest and melody of the river flowing provides welcome company. There are many campsites located in the greens to our left and seem nicely done. A signboard indicates that Ghangaria Helipad is also nearby. It is an idyllic scene; there are horses grazing in the greenery and waterfalls are flowing from the misty mountains. Most people have opened their umbrellas and are hiking. The big campsites have 20 tents each and if the weather wasn’t very chilly, we might have actually tried staying at one of them!
The left side of the trail is fenced and we finally enter Ghangaria at about 115 pm. There are more campsites on the way – Camp Resort, Blue Poppy Camps, Ghangaria Camps. Thankfully the rain has now reduced to a trickle and that should aid us in making a sensible decision with regards to finding a nice homestay/guest house or hotel in Ghangaria. After all we will be staying here for 2-3 nights and it is always better to return to a comfortable place with a good view. Walking does not feel like a strenuous activity anymore now that we are in Ghangaria. We have made pretty good time on the trek from Pulna to Ghangaria and even with breaks have reached in around 5 hours!
I see very shabby looking guest houses on the way to the Forest Rest House in Ghangaria. There is also a Museum near the Forest Rest House which I am keen to visit later. There is a signboard on the Museum wall about an Informative documentary show with much knowledge about the Valley of Flowers. The Forest Rest House in Ghangaria is located at a picturesque location. I am pretty certain that the rest house is booked and don’t even try asking the status or checking the rooms.
Since the hotels and guest houses in Ghangaria are expecting a crowd of trekkers in the evening, they don’t seem to bother with the cleanliness. We move around and walk for a bit with a singular goal of quickly finding a guest house and agreeing on the price. In hardly 5 minutes, we are able to find a huge room with 2 double beds on the top floor of a guest house. There are 2 double beds and it is a huge room with an open balcony that has a nice view of the misty mountains with the clouds floating by.
We agree a price of INR 1000 for the room that comes with an attached bathroom and confirm that we will stay for either 2 days or 3 days. Clouds gather in the far distance and it starts pouring again. We congratulate each other on reaching Ghangaria in good time and to be able to enjoy the rain from the relative comfort of the balcony with a glass of chai in hand. We are quite exhausted after the efforts of the day but are hungry too and it seems waiting for the rain to stop is the best idea before we head out for lunch.
At about 3 pm, the rain stops and we step out for a walk after resting for a while. All of us are quite hungry but I am more interested in eating a proper lunch of roti, dal, vegetable and rice rather than making do with snacks etc. At the Gurudwara, black dal is being served with roti and 2 of us eat and feel satiated with the great food. We thank the Gurudwara guys and clean the plates as is the norm. There are many sweet shops in Ghangaria and one of them is making fresh samosas.
The weather has turned cold with the recent rain and tempts us with eating a samosa. Some locals remark that in the monsoon months of July and August, it rains almost everyday in Ghangaria. Therefore one has to get really lucky to get clear weather in Ghangaria and the Valley of Flowers in the monsoon! We give in to temptation and get some freshly fried samosas packed. We sit in the balcony of our guest house and ask for chai to be had with the piping hot samosas.
I remember about the Valley of Flowers documentary at the Forest Rest House (FRH) building and go for a walk in the evening. It is a sort of a museum in a separate building near the FRH in Ghangaria and has excellent information about the history, heritage and flowers in the Valley of Flowers. I see a number of trekkers reaching Ghangaria at this time and news spreads that there are no more rooms in Ghangaria. I am curious and someone tells me that now 4-5 people will adjust in a room to make sure everyone has a roof to stay above their heads.
I am relieved with the knowledge that our plan of reaching early has worked well. The documentary is quite informative and I go back to the guest house. We eat an early dinner in the restaurant downstairs and the food turns out to be excellent. We decide to head to the Valley of Flowers the next day. The Valley of Flowers is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and no one is allowed to stay there overnight. Hence one has to go and come back the same day. The staying place is only Ghangaria so the only way to explore Valley of Flowers is by day treks and hikes from Ghangaria itself and returning to the guest house/hotel in Ghangaria before dark.
Ghangaria to Valley of Flowers Trek
In the morning, we wake up at 6 am and after a hearty breakfast of aloo paranthas and tea, we leave for the Valley of Flowers. The restaurant guy recommends us to get food packed for lunch and we get some paranthas packed as well. The previous 2 days are a great cue to begin early and we are at the entrance gate of the Valley of Flowers at 754 am. It has been raining since morning and since time is at a premium we keep walking in our ponchos. The Valley of Flowers entry gate is located at a distance of around 1.5-2 kms from Ghangaria and is a proper uphill climb.
Just before reaching the entry gate, the route bifurcates for Hemkund Sahib. Both the routes are well laid out and well marked and there is no possibility of losing one’s way here. There is already a sizeable queue outside the Valley of Flowers entry gate and we stand in the queue as well. We pay the fee (INR 100 or 200) per person and when the tickets are issued all the individual details are properly filled and it is the trekker’s duty to ensure that they inform the gate officer while exiting. It becomes a huge headache if by any chance someone ends up staying back in Valley of Flowers after dark, as it is prohibited by law.
The Valley of Flowers entry gate opens at 7 am and closes at 12 noon. That means one cannot enter the Valley of Flowers once the clock is past noon. A few minutes after crossing the entry gate with the tickets in hand, we continue on the path in the drizzle. The stone trail disappears for a bit but we keep walking. As we walk ahead, we notice that the crowd at the entry gate keeps swelling. In the rain, the soil has created a lot of slush on the path. After we walk and march ahead of the crowds, the stone trail reappears and we are in the midst of lush greenery.
From this point, it is around 3 more kilometres to the Valley of Flowers. The weather is cloudy and foggy and at about 9 am – flowers start appearing. The greenery is unbelievable and dense fog rises from the low mountains. We finally enter the Valley of Flowers at about 10 am and flowers and ferns of different colours start appearing. It is raining continuously though and the landscape is simply stunning – exactly how they show Valley of Flowers in the photographs. I instantly think if the weather was clear, I would be able to click much better pictures from the dslr.
Pink and red flowers spread out across the landscape. There were many guides at the entrance of Valley of Flowers ticket gate. I didn’t bother to ask their fees but once inside the Valley of Flowers, there are many routes and since I haven’t done any prior research we are a bit lost. I wonder if the services of a professional guide might have been better as he is likely to be fully aware of the flora and fauna of the Valley of Flowers. The first 2 weeks of August are said to be the best time for exploring the Valley of Flowers since a majority of flowers bloom during this time. I think that it would be amazing to know the names of all the flowers on view if we had hired a professional guide.
We choose to take the trail to Leggy grave. At the outset we cross a cute bridge over a small water crossing, the water level with the non-stop rain has come really close to the bridge. Very few people are headed this way and most crowd near the Valley of Flowers entrance and since almost all of them have come through trekking operators – they wait for everyone in the group making the group a slow moving lot. It is a crowd of ponchos everywhere amidst the majestic scenery of the mist-filled greenery.
It is only about 1030 am and we remember the packed lunch of aloo paranthas that we have and remember to find a nice spot for a memorable lunch. The scenery becomes even more prettier as we keep walking ahead of the crowds. The earth is carpeted by pink flowers. In the lush greenery, every inch of bare ground has become a paradise of green. When the rainfall stops momentarily, it becomes even more prettier to look at once the visibility improves.
I have no motivation to click photographs from the dslr due to the rain and low light conditions and I only use my phone camera. I spot a colourful umbrella with one of the trekkers and it makes for a great prop for the photographs! There are multiple waterfalls flowing from the nearby hillocks; it is a surreal sight. Purple, red and pink flowers are just among the few dazzling variety of colours and the eyes are in for a feast. There are many makeshift bridges over gushing and swollen mountain streams. Even though the sight is stunningly beautiful, we are all tired of the rain and constantly trekking in the downpour.
Leggy grave is written as 700m away and another diversion for Tipra Kharak is at a distance of 3 kms. Our original plan is to spend as much time as possible inside the Valley of Flowers since we are only required to return by 4-5 pm. The tiredness is already upon us and we are very hungry; it is a relief to gobble down the dry fruits that one of us has carried. At about 11 am we reach Joan Margaret Leggy’s grave and there is a stone here from 1939. She was an explorer.
It continues raining and we find a nice sitting space and peaceful area to just relax for a while; but the rain has other plans and gets heavier so we end up scrambling to find some shade. After wandering around for 10 odd minutes, we decide to walk in another direction towards Tipra Kharak. In reality we are just too tired and amble for 2 mins, admire the scenery and decide to turn back. On the way back, we come across a huge cave-like rock. A number of people have gathered beneath it as it is a nice place to sit and enjoy the packed lunch.
It is past noon and we eat a relaxed lunch. We resume walking at a leisurely pace at 1-130 pm and our feet lead us on the return path and the only thing on our minds is to get back to the comfortable staying place. I click a few photographs with the colourful umbrella whenever I encounter those trekkers in front of us. Originally, we had kept in mind the possibility of going to Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib the next day – but now we give up the idea. We were excited to sight Bhramkamal on the Hemkund Sahib route but it will happen another time. The time is 230 pm and we reach the park gate at 3 pm.
It is mandatory to get the exit formalities done at the gate. Thankfully, it is devoid of people. I can only imagine the crowd that gathers here in the evening when the timing of 5 pm closure nears. We cross the diversion for Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib on the way to Ghangaria and a fleeting thought crosses our minds. Maybe we do really want to trek to Hemkund Sahib the next day. We take a poll and it is a common outcome that all of us are exhausted with trekking continuously in the rain, in the wet clothes that show no sign of drying.
We reach Ghangaria at 4 pm and since we haven’t really carried extra clothes with us; the wet clothes make the proceedings feel even colder. We get samosas and pakoras packed to eat with chai in the balcony as a celebratory snack. After a nice dinner, it is decided to get going early next morning and explore the possibility of going to Auli and staying there. We sleep like babies and pack hurriedly in the morning; keeping the wet clothes aside.
After a quick round of chai and biscuits, we settle the bill and start our return trek at 630 am from Ghangaria. It is a downhill hike and even though our legs, calf muscles and knees are paining we don’t take a break on the return hike. It only takes 2 hours and 30 minutes for us to reach Pulna and we are lucky to get a shared sumo as soon as we reach! We reach Govindghat and have a quick breakfast, thank the owner-manager at the guest house/hotel where we stayed and start the drive to Joshimath.
We take the bifurcation to Auli; check out some staying places and give up the idea of Auli. It is just too expensive; the basic places all cost upwards of 2000 INR per room. I have an idea; the Forest Rest House (FRH) in Joshimath is located in a nice area and it can be booked through District Forest Office (DFO) Joshimath. Since we have a car, it is possible to do this and we head straight to the DFO’s office in Joshimath. We are asked to wait for a while and submit an application for the stay for 2 rooms in FRH Joshimath.
The permission is granted for INR 1000 per room and we are overjoyed! The Forest Rest House in Joshimath is located away from the main town and has delightful rooms, a cosy sit out surrounded by flowers with a view of the mountains. The caretaker has clearly indicated that he can give us tea and that we will have to figure our plans for lunch/snacks/dinner elsewhere. We chill for some time and rest. Once the hunger pangs set in, we head out to one Dream Himalaya Resort Guest House property that we have seen on the way to the FRH.
It is about 5 pm and we have decided to have snacks and finish the evening with an early dinner. There is a gorgeous sitting space in the outdoors and chairs have been laid out with a table. The guest house seems like a nice property and the rooms are old but look comfortable. The manager says the cheapest rooms are priced from 1600 INR onwards. Earlier the Forest Rest House rooms were available for INR 500 per room but now the officer showed us a circular where the prices have increased to INR 1000 per room.
The Forest Rest House and this Resort are located at a walking distance from each other and the views are truly magnificent. We are ecstatic on sitting outside and enjoying the cool breeze and sunny feels. It is a welcome delight to be away from the rain for some time. There are roses blooming and other flowers too in different colours; purple, red, yellow etc. We eat pakoras and ask for chai in the evening and love the setting so much that we decide to just stay back at the Dream Mountain place for dinner.
The staff recommends simple veggies and dall, chapatis and rice for a meal at 7 pm. It seems like we are compensating for the crazy quick Valley of Flowers trek. Even though we are a little disappointed that we have not been able to go to Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib, we celebrate with gusto! At dinner time, we are seated inside in the grand old hall that is made in the heritage style. The dining setting is impeccable and we eat nicely. Thank the owner and staff profusely for a wonderful evening!
We head back to the Forest Rest House, our bellies content and for a change it isn’t raining! We sit in the open and gaze at the sight of the moon and the glistening peaks. The caretaker is summoned and we ask for an early chai next morning. The plan is to leave early and reach Dehradun. The date is 15th August and it is highly probable that traffic on the road will increase as the day progresses.
We enjoy our morning tea and hit the road at 730 am. The weather is stunning and there are clouds floating around in the greenery. School kids celebrate the 15th August Independence Day ceremony and traffic is non-existent till lunch time! We cover the distance quickly since the weather is just perfect for a road trip. We stop for a late breakfast and reach our friends’ home in Dehradun in the evening.
There’s no place like home. The weather is excellent in Dehradun and we witness a gorgeous sunset from the balcony. We order dinner from Kalsang and relax and have wine! The next day or two turn out to be an eating festival and we end up gaining 2 kilos each.
Ever heard of anyone going to trek to the Valley of Flowers and gaining 2 kilos? Maybe I will return someday and have a different story to tell! For better or for worse!
Thanks for reading.