Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Truth About Valley of Flowers - Part II

You are going to the Valley of Flowers? Utna Khaas nahi hai (It is not that great)", said the gentleman who was headed to Hemkund Sahib.

It is beautiful, but not that great” said the person who was already headed back from the hike at 10:00 AM . The same sentiments were expressed by a couple more people on their way back. There was one Indian lady and an American who said that the place was spectacular, but everybody else seemed to be disappointed. Read on to find out and see for yourself.
Continued from Part 1 (Click here tor read Part 1)

The Sarovar Tent camps do not have electricity. The only thing you can do after the light goes down is to star gaze. I know nothing about astronomy, but it is fun to see the night sky in the mountains. The sky was lit up with millions of tiny stars. “It is like somebody threw glitter in the sky” said our guide Bachchan and he was so right. We slept early and woke up early the next day. After a delicious breakfast of aloo parathas and chai, we set off for the hike.
It was another uphill path, and our feet began to complain immediately. Valley of Flowers was only 6 km from our camp, so there was no hurry. We walked slowly and in a few minutes came to the village of Ghangria. It was a small, dirty and noisy place. If you can afford the tents, don’t bother staying in the village. The entire place smelled of fried oil and bad food. You could struggle and hike up to 10,000 ft, but god forbid you have to live without Chole Batura and Jalebi. Once we cleared the village, the scenery opened up to towering mountains on 3 sides. At the fork in the road, we came across a number of pilgrims going to Hemkund sahib, but very few going to VOF. We probably came across 20-30 people on the entire hike!! As we passed through a wooded forest, Bachchan pointed out the Bhoj Vriksha. It is said that Ved Vyas wrote the Mahabharata on bhoj patra. This part of the country is full of stories from the Mahabharatha and I will write about it in part 3. As we walked on, Bachchan plucked sweet and sour jungle raspberries for us. The path of the hike crossed from one side of the Pushpapati river to the other. The roar of the white water rushing downstream was constant during the entire hike. I cannot tell you how soothing it is to walk beside the roaring river.


video

The valley is hidden behind huge, towering peaks, so you have to wait until the last kilometer before getting a peak at the view. The suspense prods you to walk on the uphill terrain just to get a glimpse of this land that caught the imagination of so many naturalists and botanists. Just before the valley opened up, the clouds cleared giving us an amazing view of the snow peaked mountains. I don’t know why I have this fascination for snow-peaked mountains, but I do. I have seen snow many times, in fact I used to curse it when I had to walk on it to school, but there is something alluring about white snow peaked mountains against a green valley. The camera kept clicking by itself and I am glad it did because in 10 minutes, clouds covered up the view.





Soon, the path flattened out and flowers began to show up. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done – glacier fed river on one side, snow-peaked mountains all around and a valley full of flowers. The predominant species that was blooming at that time was this white flower. They were EVERYWHERE. There were patches of yellow and pink flowers in places, but white was quite dominating. We found a small patch without flowers (I am serious…they are everywhere!!) and had our packed lunch. Bacchhan went to the stream and brought us back cold river water to drink. Pure, tasty Himalayan water!! The weariness of the last few days caught up with me, so I decided to take a nap while Gaay and Bacchhan went for a walk. We spent many hours breathing in the fresh air and just taking in the splendid scenery. For me, the hard hike was totally worth it. I loved the place, so I was quite shocked at people’s disappointment.











I think the problem with VOF is its name – Valley of Flowers. People go there expecting not just flowers, but millions and zillions of flowers. The written material boasts of over 300+ varieties of alpine flowers. It does not matter that different flowers bloom in different weeks/months – people want them all to bloom at the same time and preferably in neat rows carpeting the area in pink, yellow and blue colors. Then they can wear a see-through chiffon sari and run around singing Bollywood songs.
Almost everybody I met there was obsessed with seeing the “blue poppy” (even the ones who had no idea such a flower existed). Guides took a lot of effort to find one and when they did, it was a major achievement – “OMG, we saw THE blue poppy!!” Never mind that the flower was a tiny 5-10 cm thing, half torn, hidden on the side of the path under some boulders. Victory is declared and the purpose of the trip is fulfilled. The problem with Valley of Flowers is not the place, but the false marketing. They advertise it as if it is a human controlled botanical park where you are guaranteed to see various flowers. Go there with the expectation that you will see what nature decides to show you and I guarantee that you will come back happy.

video

Now that you have seen my pictures and videos– what you think? Great? Good? Good but not great??

20 comments:

  1. Wow...love the snow covered mountains, lush greenery and beautiful flowers. Can't believe people didn't like this. You had aloo parathas and chai before a hike?! You've come a long way from trail-mix bars and gatorade :) No pics of the starry night sky?

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  2. The place is beautiful. Need to go there once!!

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  3. I don't have enough adjectives to praise the beauty of these mountains! I just read "Sacred Waters" by Stephen Alter. A Pilgrimage up the Ganges River to the Source of Hindu Culture that starts in Rishikesh and ends in the Valley of Flowers. Growing up in the Alps, this is definitely on top of my bucket list. Fabulous write up and photos as always. And if people want to see Himalayan Blue Poppies in hordes, send them to the Mardin de Métis/Reford Gardens in Montréal. Of course, they would have to be there exact at the right time :-)

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  4. As I keep reading your accounts, I keep wanting to return home for a whole year, with just hiking on my agenda

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  5. Absolutely breathtaking. I am glad your are recording all your travels so we can refer back to it when needed.

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  6. Hi Vamsee,

    I've heard similar stories of people who went there and were disappointed. I think they should go to a flower garden to see flowers because the name IS misleading.

    My mom and dad went on a trek here few years back and they had wonderful stories to tell and pictures to show.

    Have you been to Kaas? Maharashtra's own valley of flowers? It was spectacular there too!

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  7. Wow! thatz amazing Vam. I haven't yet been blessed to visit VOF. But, its surely on my list.

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  8. I have no words to describe the pics of the mountains!! All the possible words have already been said! Ok, let me try - stupendifantabulous!! Waiting for part 3 to read the Mahabharata stories - I remember seeing a 1500 year old Shiva temple in Gopeshwar which was supposed to have been built by Arjuna! Uttarakhand is full of such stories!! Love them!

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  9. The looks breathtaking from what I can see of the pictures. Many a times, the expectations and the marketing of a place set the tone of what is to be seen and after a long hard hike, if folks come expecting to see carpets of flowers of various colors, they are bound to get disappointed. Its sad then, coz you miss out on the gorgeous views which the place offers. I guess a lil bit of research on what is to be expected, would help :)

    --Aditi

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  10. Kala - You can aloo paratha anywhere in India. Actually, you can get idli/dosa anywhere in any town in India (not in the mountains). Had idlis 3 times in Sikkim:)

    Arvind, Yes, the place was very beautiful.

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  11. Hi Vamsee! Fabulous shots!!

    Have a Happy and Successful New Year!! Wish you all the best!!
    Long time no see... Horus and Sobek wait for you at Kom Ombo… ;)
    Enjoy!

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  12. Kala...parathas and chai ARE the trailmix bars and gatorade of India:)) Lucky Vam! This is called tavelling in luxury...breathtaking pics as usual and nice narration!

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  13. Beautiful pics!! Looking forward to my trip to sikkim next month!

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  14. Wow ! These pictures are so awesome. I really love your blog.
    If you are planning for trip to make you vacations memorable to your whole life then you must get first Cheap Flights to Sydney.

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  15. Reading this brings back all the beautiful memories of our trip there in Aug’08. We did a road trip from Delhi driving around gadwal and kumaun (I belong to kumaun). The whole experience was memorable. It rained while we were in the valley and almost all of the 20-30 odd visitors turned back fearing a heavy downpour and landslides.. We walked on.. had our packed lunch sitting on one big rock. The rain stopped after a while. When we reached Joan’s tombstone, we sat nearby thinking of relaxing for a while only to wake up around an hour later. The feeling of waking up to see a lush green valley sprinkled with flowers all around is something one can only know from first-hand experience. No words can explain that. My regret is not having stayed in those tents and taking a mule while returning back to govindghat. Walking back would have been easier on the bones and muscles, me thinks. We did a small “who can keep the feet dipped in the river for longest” contest and it was adventurous, I can still feel the chill... So was taking a dip in the hemkund sahib lake(which btw was done only by my bro and husband. I just applauded them). We walked around the lake to reach the glacier.. I was seeing them for the first time in my whole life so you can imagine my excitement levels. While driving back, we had to wait for a few hours due to a landslide that blocked the road and it needed clearing. Instead of panicking we spread our wet shoes/socks/towels on the car roof & doors(thankfully it was sunny) and got busy playing cards. In few minutes we saw many others getting inspired by our idea & doing the same (drying the laundry mostly :p.. O.M.G. The whole trip is flashing back before my eyes. I am glad I stumbled upon your post today. I have suggested a friend to go there. I hope they do!

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  16. Excellent Web. I really want to appreciate the excellent of this publish. I like the way of your introducing thoughts, opinions and useful information. You have done a great job.I hope you will add more details.

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  17. Very well narrated & commented upon !

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  18. Breathtaking location and very well summarized post...awesome photos !! thanks for the great info. I hope i can make it one day.

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