A grueling four-hour trek from the village of Ghangria in the Garhwal district of Uttaranchal brings visitors to one of India’s most stunning national parks, the Valley of Flowers. These grassy pastures, at an altitude of 13,000 feet in the western Himalayas, are covered in snow most of the year. During July and August, though, many of the valley’s more than 600 varieties of flora are in stunning bloom. The trek, which runs across streams and below shining, snow-covered peaks, eventually brings the traveler to a field of pink and white flowers.
Several Hindu legends are associated with this valley – it is said to be where Hanuman collected herbs to revive Lakshmana, younger brother of Rama, after he was poisoned by a demon’s arrow.
The English mountaineer, explorer and botanist Frank S. Smith camped in the valley for several weeks during the monsoon of 1937 and gave it its name. It was declared part of the Nanda Devi national park in 1982, and it is now a Unesco World Heritage site.
Getting there is a slog, even before you start hiking, and the summer months bring monsoon rains that make the trails a slippery mess. Travelers should budget about six days for the trip in order to acclimate to the altitude.
Several Web sites, including India Mike and TripAdvisor, offer advice from past visitors about the best routes to take. An entrance gate to the valley closes at 6 p.m. during the summer, which makes it necessary to get an early-morning start on the hiking portion of the journey.
Here are some travel tips:
Delhi-Rishikesh (140 miles): Take a bus from Kashmere Gate Inter State Bus Terminus in Delhi. The journey takes about six hours. You can book tickets with the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC).
Alternatively, take one of the many trains to Haridwar, then take a bus to Rishikesh, about 16 miles away. It’s a good idea to spend the night at Rishikesh, which has a better selection of accommodations.
Rishikesh-Joshimath (155 miles): The small town of Joshimath is situated at the confluence of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga valleys, at an altitude of 6,200 feet. Tourist taxis leave Rishikesh early in the morning and reach Joshimath in the evening. A shared taxi will cost about 500 Indian rupees, or about $9, per person, or a car can be hired for about 4,500 rupees.
Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangria (25-mile drive and 9-mile trek): Joshimath is about 14 miles below Govindghat, the first base camp before the trek to the Valley of Flowers begins. Taxis travel between Govindghat and Joshimath throughout the day. Govindghat is where the Alaknanda and Laxman Ganga rivers meet; it is a 9-mile trek from there to Ghangria (altitude 10,000 feet), the last base camp before the valley.
Ghangria is also a base camp for treks to Hemkund, a pilgrimage site for Sikhs; lodging and boarding are available there. From Ghangria , the Valley of Flowers is a rigorous trek of nearly four miles, past enchanting waterfalls and glaciers.
Where to stay
Rishikesh Hotel Vasundhara Palace: located on the Rishikesh-Badrinath Highway, a single room is 3,540 rupees. Hotel Ganga Kinare: Less than a mile away from the Rishikesh railway station, the cheapest deluxe room is 3,999 rupees.
Joshimath GMVN guesthouse: An Uttarakhand State government guesthouse, located in the upper bazaar; basic, clean double rooms cost 630 rupees.
Ghangria The GMVN guesthouse here is the best option: Double rooms are 1,200 rupees for deluxe and 850 for economy. The guesthouse also has a dormitory that charges 180 rupees per bed.
Published in: New York Times
Published on: 04 September, 2012