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This story started in 2003 with ‘I wonder what is up that Valley?’
In 2003, on my first trip to the Himalayas, the travelling group I was with walked many tracks and trails. We visited sacred sites and ancient temples situated in green fertile river valleys such as Kalimath on the Saraswati River (Uttarakhand) and on high rocky peaks like Kartikeya temple (3050mt/10,006ft) with its 360-degree views of the Himalayas in Rudraprayag Mandakini valley also in Uttarakhand. We walked in the footsteps of saints, sages and yogis. I immersed myself in the beauty of this incredible landscape and I will never forget that journey – it was amazing, varied, interesting and challenging. We explored new places I had never even heard or dreamed of and it was at this time that I fell in love with the Himalayas.
Some snippets from that journey to inspire you
I’m not going to share all of the previous stories, but on the road from Joshimath to Badrinath, high in the Garhwal mountains, there was one side valley that our guide Dev pointed to and said, ‘That walk is not for the faint hearted’. The trek to the Valley of Flowers was not on our itinerary; however after this trip I was left wondering… “what is it like up there?” I have always been curious and whilst travelling or tramping in New Zealand, would often speculate about what was up a side valley.
The tour in 2003 ended but my love of the Himalayas remained. I continued to wonder what was this Valley of Flowers like, this track from the roadside town of Govind Ghat. And so, in 2006, having just completed some university study whilst working, I decided to reward myself with a journey to visit my children living around the world. I included my first return to India, I decided this was the time to find out – what is up that valley!
Planning the 2006 trip
Working with my travel friend Suresh Check out Suresh’s website here and book your trip! we made our plan for this journey over email and phone calls. Plans included trekking to the Valley of Flowers.
I arrived in Delhi from the UK and soon we were making our way to Rishikesh the holy city near Haridwar in the Shivalik foothills of the Himalayas. We stayed here for a few days enjoying ashram life, the Ganges, the ‘Beatles Ashram’ and meeting friends before embarking on the long drive to Joshimath (2,046mt/6,713ft), known as the Gateway to the Himalayas. This would be the last big stop before embarking on the trek the following day.
The trek begins
Early the next morning we drove to Govind Ghat where we left our car and driver. The plan was to walk the 13km up to Ghangaria (3049mt/10,003ft), the ‘base camp’ or last village on this trek before the walk the following day, into the Valley of Flowers. I still remember the excitement and trepidation. Excitement at the trip and the prospect of knowing what was up that valley and trepidation at the long walk, up-hill, at altitude. It was hot, long and tough. Our local guide was great at encouraging me to keep going even when I was so out of breath I could not respond. But the scenery of high cliffs, waterfalls, deep valleys and the rushing river Lakshman Ganga was amazing! The Lakshman Ganga runs into the Alaknanda river at Govind Ghat and on into the Ganges further down-stream.
Meeting pilgrims along the trail
Looking back, it was truly a pilgrimage, where I walked with the Sikh pilgrims who were heading up the same track, trail and stone steps. Stopping at tea shops and a lunch break in a small trackside cafe, we eventually reached our destination after 7–8 hours of slow hard walking.
I was almost overwhelmed with the walk but was certainly overwhelmed with the beauty of the area and its scenery including the high mountains and glaciers which delighted all of my senses. I had no idea there was a waterfall in the vicinity of the Valley of Flowers base-camp of Ghangaria. This was late June so it was in its fullness, flowing freely and beautifully down the mountainside. I have never forgotten the sight and sound of it. I also did not know about the track up to the Hemkund Lake and temple – pilgrimage place to the Sikh community (4633mt/15,197ft).
The dream comes true
The following day we walked the 3km into the much dreamed of Valley of Flowers (3658mt/10,200ft). The day was beautiful; sunny and warm but with some clouds threatening rain. Along the way we saw rare blue Himalayan Poppies nestling in the old bark of fallen trees and among the greenery of the low flowers and grass.
It was a time of year when many flowers are in bloom and I took some nice photos.
After about 2 hours, our guide and I arrived at the ‘big rock’ deep in the valley. We took the main path and headed some way up this track. After sitting on a smaller rock, having a snack and drink, we realised Suresh was not following us up the track. We called and looked for him for quite some time and then the rain started. Reluctantly I left with our guide to return to the village and await Suresh’s return. The alternative was to call for a rescue mission. I imagined telling Kumud, Suresh’s wife, that we had lost him. I pictured in my mind the last photo I took of him approaching the small bridge and handing this photo to her, and I felt anxious and sad. This was a very real situation we were facing; people have gone missing in the Valley of Flowers, never to be found.
It had gotten quite cold and I changed into dry warm clothes. Sitting in a restaurant in Ghangaria, an open room with tables and benches, being offered warm soup and tea I anxiously waited whilst our guide went back into the Valley in the rain to look for Suresh. He had tried to reassure me he would find him, but I was seriously worried. About 2 hours later, when the rain stopped, I walked up to the stone bridge over the river that came down from the base of the waterfall and, with eyes glued to the turnoff to where they would come out of the Valley track, I waited.
I sat there for some time – I cannot remember how long, feeling tortured and sad that I had lost my friend and leader when around the corner they came, waving their arms at me, with big smiles on their faces, wet from the rain, but unharmed. I cried and jumped with joy and ran up as best I could in the altitude to meet them. Suresh had followed us across the bridge, and in deep contemplation had taken the turn up a side track thinking we had walked up there ahead of him. When he could not find us up near the top of the track and the rain started, he headed back to the bridge where our guide met him on the track.
Memories kept alive
That night we went to a small shop in Ghangaria where they sell DVDs, photographs and other souvenirs of the Valley of Flowers and the surrounding area. I purchased items to bring home. To this day I look at those photos and think lovingly of my time in this beautiful place in the high Himalayas. I would dream of returning and making the trek into the Valley again and of climbing the track beside the waterfall to Hemkund to see the temple, the lake and the view I never knew was there until I came to this remote and stunning valley.
I have since done just that, with three friends in September 2017 – (Link to this story will be inserted here following publication)
The following day we walked back down the mountain and headed for Badrinath, also known as ‘The Abode of the Gods’ – which was a surprise side trip for me that Suresh had arranged. I was like an excited child jumping up and down in these Himalayan mountains where I love to roam. Suresh’s smile covered his whole face at my delight and childlike reaction.
When I returned to New Zealand, I met my husband Manfred and he lovingly recalls that I never stopped talking about the Valley of Flowers and returning there someday – and now I have.
I have not given away too much of the story and beauty of this place I experienced in 2006 – I am saving those intricate details for the upcoming story of the journey in 2017 to be published very soon. Watch this space!