Several legends and myths have been associated with the Valley of Flowers situated in the lap of the mighty Himalayan mountain ranges. It is believed to be the place where 'Brahmakamalam' flower mentioned in the Puranas blooms. Hanuman had reached here in search of the medicinal herb Mritasanjeevani to treat the wounds of Lakshmana, who was injured in the fight with Ravana's son Meghanatha. This area is also considered the garden of Indra.
However, it was Frank S Smythe, a British adventurer, who introduced the valley to the world after visiting the place.
Later surveys by botanists found over 150 species of rare plants in the valley, many of them endemic to the place. Adding to the beauty of the valley the Pushpavathy river flows through it.
A trip to the valley
Journeys to the Himalayas are always fraught with danger, whether travelling in a group or solo. From April to October, very heavy rain and the resultant landslips and floods can occur any time. Such calamities often lead to heavy loss of lives and property.
However, though there have been very limited mass deaths since 2008, travellers can never take chances with the mountain.
There are several options to reach the Valley of Flowers. One is to seek the help of a travel agency based in Delhi. The tariff covering the transportation charges and stay in star hotels would come to around Rs 30,000 for a five-day trip. Other requirements need to be met by the travellers. In short, the total expenses would be double that amount.
Another way to visit the valley is suggested by some seasoned travellers. Take public transport and one can travel to the valley from Delhi and back spending a mere Rs 2,500!
Starting point: Delhi
Air-conditioned Volvo buses are available round-the-clock to Rishikesh from the Kashmiri Gate Bus Station in Delhi. The distance is 220 km and the bus takes about five hours when the weather is favourable. However, if the road conditions are not good, the bus journey may last nearly seven hours.
The bus passes by Meerut and makes a halt at Muzaffarnagar for a tea break before proceeding to Roorkee and Haridwar, which is the gateway to the popular pilgrimage sites of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri in the Himayalas. The trip to the source of the mighty Ganga and Yamuna rivers also starts from Haridwar.
From Haridwar the road stretches along the river Ganga and the forest. Regular travellers give the advice that a trip to Rishikesh is best avoided during the rainy months of July and August. But the flowers bloom in the area only from June to September.
Rishikesh is a more crowded place than Haridwar. A stay can be arranged at some government accommodation facility in Rishikesh if you have any official friend. The Ganga flows in all its fury here. On the banks of the river are several ashrams.
The Ganga takes its mighty shape from Rishikesh and everywhere in the town one can see hermits wearing saffron robes and sporting longs plaits of matted hair.
Stunning views of the place can be enjoyed from the Lakshman Jhula, a hanging bridge across the river. Rishikesh has retained its grace and charm even though thousands of pilgrims visit the numerous temples and ashrams along its banks every day.
To reach Valley of Flowers National Park, the route leads to Joshimath from Rishikesh. In order to travel cheap, sharing taxis are available. The path to the Himalayas bifurcates at Rishikesh. A road leads to the East and the other North. The Eastern route passes by Devprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandaprayag, Chamoli and Pipalkoti to Joshimath, which is 245 km away.
On the way travellers can witness the spot where the holy rivers Alaknanda and Bhagirathi meet to form the Ganga. Also on the route is Devprayag, which is termed the jewel of Uttarakhand. The temple here is located 2723 ft above sea level. At Karnaprayag, the Pindar river joins the Alaknanda.
Joshimath is a small town in the hills which share borders with China. It is believed that the place got its name from the 'Jyothir Math' established by Sankaracharya. The Narasimha Temple here houses the idol of Badrinath when the shrine closes during the winter.
There are several hotels in Joshimath where rooms are always available. From the window of the hotel room, views of the peaks and valleys of the Himalayas would present themselves before travellers.
Everywhere in the town, cows can be seen wandering. Joshimath is a rather clean place and reasonably good food is available.
The next stop is Govind Ghat, 15 km from Joshimath. Badrinath, meanwhile, is 43 km away. Sharing jeeps are in plenty to Govind Ghat and the fare is Rs 50 per head. The headquarters of the Garhwal Scouts is located along the way.
The rugged road is maintained by BRO (Border Roads Organisation), a paramilitary force. Landslips are frequent in the area. While the steep mountain from where rocks may tumble down is on one side of the road, on the other is the raging Alaknanda river. During the winter, the road would be covered bysnow. Moreover, flash floods caused by melting snow can occur in the river anytime.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Garhwal Scouts keep watch over the area the entire year.
From Joshimath, Govind Ghat can be reached in 30 minutes. The range of mobile phones ends here. To travel up the hills to Gangria, a registration has to be carried out by travellers. It is mainly to keep a record of the number of people going up and returning. The ‘langar’ at a gurudwara near the registration counter serves free food to all travellers.
Helicopter service is available from Govind Ghat and Gangria can be reached in 5 minutes; but the charge is Rs 3,000 per person. But one cannot enjoy the scenes of the forest with an air ride. The 14-km path can be trekked on foot or covered on horseback.
The steep path is flanked by the tall mountain and roaring Lakshmanganga river. Gangria is a small village where extreme cold weather is experienced. Travellers need to wear proper clothes to brave the weather and avoid health issues.
Cheap but good accommodation is available in Gangria. It is preferable not to book online as inflated rates would be charged. Moreover, all the hotels do not have online booking facilities.
Landline phones are available at the hotels and the charge is Rs 70 per second!
Valley of Flowers
Start the trek early in the morning from Gangria to the Valley of Flowers. Take some dry fruits, drinking water and essential medicines. The clear forest streams offer more water to sip. Also carry a wooden staff for support. It will be available at Govind Ghat. Be prepared to tackle the low oxygen level and extreme cold.
The trek to the valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib starts from Gangria. Across the bridge over Lakshmanganga, the path bifurcates. To the right five km away is the Sikh shrine of Hemkund Sahib situated 13,000 feet above sea level. Trek four km to the left and the world of flowers spreads before the traveller as far as the eye can see.
Before entering the Valley of Flowers, the details of the travellers have to be given at the Forest Office there. Instructions are displayed here in English and Hindi regarding the need to protect the flowers.
Trek route is through dense forest and snowcapped peaks are seen in the distance. The Pushpavathy Ganga river flows nearby. The four-km walk is hard and is meant only for adventurous travellers.
Situated 3,600 metres above sea level, the Valley of Flowers is 10 km long and two km across in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. It is a national park where thousands of varieties of flowers bloom. It is during the monsoon when almost all types of flowers can be seen that the place is thrown open to visitors. A part of Nanda Devi biosphere, the Valley of Flowers was declared a National Park in 1982.
Along with the stunning colours, the place is filled with the sweet scent of the blooms. Blue poppy, devadaru, sterasi, violet ranunculecea, bher, creeping aster, primulaceae etc. are among the flowers that easily come into view. There are flowers that shine at night and those which induce sleep if you smell them. However, the divine Brahmakamalam is hard to find.
The place is strategically important, sharing borders with China and Nepal, but visitors feel only peace here. This peace infects the travellers to the valley too, making them reluctant to leave.
However, they cannot stay long in the Valley of Flowers enjoying the beauty of the blooms as the strenuous and risky return trip from the hills to the plains awaits them.