There is something about the Himalayas that has always kept me in awe. It had been four years since I had last been to the North and so yearning for another view of the majestic Himalayas and finding company in the ever willing Gutkha, I set out for a trek that had been on my radar for quite a while, the Valley of Flowers.
Towards August mid we set off from Haridwar. Much like the actual trek, getting to the beginning of the trekking route demands patience, perseverance and above all a willful suspension of (the city bred) control over situations. Although August is the perfect time for seeing the valley as most of the flowers bloom right after the rains, Uttarkhand is notorious for landslides during this time. And so bracing for uncertainties, we set off towards Joshimath, a 250 km drive through circuitous mountain roads. Most of the drive runs parallel to Ganga, and what a majestic view she is. Along the way come Rudra Prayag, Karna Prayag and Dev Prayag (confluence of dhauli Ganga and Alaknanda). 10 hours later we were in Joshimath
To start the trek, you have to reach Govind Ghat, which is an hour's drive from Joshimath. Although I had known that it's 14 km uphill trek from Govind Ghat, here's the thing about it: for people with fitness levels like mine, average at best, its tougher than it looks. Thankfully we packed light (and Gutkha used to play footer back in college).
The trek was a lot like real life situations: the first 3 and the last 3 kms were really, really tough, specially the last 3. But what a beautiful, picturesque route it is, dotted with mountain peaks, waterfalls, little villages and Lakshman Ganga. Most of the trekkers however are there on a Sikh pilgrimage, going to Hemkhund Sahib and so there's plenty of energy in the air. Having somehow managed to complete the 14 km trek, we reached Ghangria, the base camp for the trek to the valley. Hot chai, food and a tube of Moov later, i was merrily asleep, already dreaming about tomorrow.
The next day was the big one, and so a hearty breakfast later we set off for the valley, now just 4 kms away, only to be told at the entrance that heavy rains last night had destroyed two bridges and the valley might open in a few hours. Now, 2500 km and 3 days later, might is not a very good word to hear. But there was not much we could do about it other than waiting and hoping that mother nature would be a little benevolent that day. Luckily, the path was restored and off we went once again.
Those 4 kms were the most beautiful ones ever in my life. It's like partly being in a Tolkien dreamland, partly on a adventure trail of Tintin and totally, stunningly beautiful. But, also the toughest stretch of trekking till then. However, entering the Valley of Flowers is worth all the pain; it's overwhelming, and a little surreal. It is literally so beautiful that for my work-read-sleep monotonic mind it was a little difficult to grasp the beauty of the place. I'll let the pictures do the talking, although to be honest even they don't do the justice.
The return was uneventful, barring a nagging pain in my knee, and a shortcut detour trek to reach Joshimath due to a landslide. Somehow, we finally reached Joshimath. Staying overnight, we left for Haridwar the next morning only to be stopped after a few kms due to another landslide. 5 hours and all my patience later we were back on the road. Compounding to this was a driver going at breakneck speed, 'high' in the mountains and a few close shaves. But as we approached Rishikesh, I saw possibly one of the most beautiful sights of my life: a foggy, misty Ganga entering Rishikesh through the hills and a lit up, nocturnal Rishikesh welcoming Ganga with a silence, signifying the devotion. Ganga at Rishikesh is powerful, fast yet peaceful and mysterious. Looking at the foggy, almost as if shrouded in mystery Ganga in Rishikesh I realised why she has been worshipped for centuries; such a sight can only evoke devotion.
I have never been a true blue traveller; A part of travelling for me is always wishing that I was back home, safe in my comfort zone. But this time, inspite of the landslides and the painful knee and near misses, it felt strangely serene and comfortable. It felt like connecting to nature in its most magical manifestation and to a culture thousand years old which has all but disappeared from my city life.
P.S. Owe special thanks to Gutkha, who btw has become quite fussy about food :D