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