The excitement was palpable. Whatsapp group messages buzzing with last minute packing tips, running in and out to get the last set of items on the list, door bells ringing with e-commerce delivery folks and more….. Chaotic:) The past couple of nights have been with little sleep too, partly due to the sheer amount of preparations needed (procrastinated in to the last few hours:)) as well as in anticipation of a trip that’s taken years in planning and a few months in preparations.
The thought of a high altitude trek came from Guruji, one of our younger friends, who originally intended it in Kashmir. Some deliberations later, we zeroed in on the Valley of Flowers Uttarakhand, some thing we have always wanted to do. The listing (of this trek) on India Hikes website as easy to moderate made it a quick decision and as soon as the plan was circulated amongst friends, 3 more couple joined in making it a group of 12 (one dropped out later due to ill health – but was healthy enough to run a marathon grrrr).
We all signed up in April and started with our preparations, based on the documentation from Indiahikes – the trek organizer we were traveling with. Some of us chose swimming, most walking and jogging and I bicycling. A combination of weather and pollution related incidents set me back to just walking and that was insufficient as I found out later:(
After a few weeks of warm up in the neighborhood, we started to assemble at Lalbhag for 1 and eventually 2 rounds and breakfast at nearby attractions:) every sunday. We also enjoyed short treks around the city (Thurahalli, Nandi Hills) and some of the waterfalls of Uttara Kannada. (You can read more about them in the previous posts). True to Zen, our enjoyment of the reward (the journey) had well and truly begun already.
After the hectic preparatory period, the “D day” arrived swiftly – a tense Saturday AM (Bundh due to Mahadayee water dispute), we left Bangalore from the KIA to Delhi. The tour itinerary is as below.
Day 1 – Bengaluru – Delhi – Haridwar (Overnight stay at Classique Residency)
Day 2 – Haridwar to Govindghat by Bobby TravelsJ (Overnight stay @ Hotel Ganga by IndiaHikes)
Day 3 – Trek to Ghangria (Overnight stay with IndiaHikes)
Day 4 – Trek to Valley of Flowers and Back (Overnight stay with IndiaHikes)
Day 5 – Trek to Hemkunt Sahib and Back (Overnight stay with IndiaHikes)
Day 6 – Heli Hop to Govindghat, Visit to Badri, Mana (Overnight stay @ Hotel Ganga by IndiaHikes)
Day 7 – Drive back to Rishikesh (Overnight stay @ Aloha by the Ganges)
Day 8 – Rishekesh/ Hardwar exploration (Overnight stay @ Classique residency)
Day 9 – Train to Delhi, back to Bengaluru
The start off was pretty spirited, with all of the co travellers enjoying themselves and each other’s company. Day one was marked with travel and food. The start off at Bengaluru was rather early so as soon as we landed in Delhi, we made the first pit stop for breakfast at an airport restaurant, while we waited for a couple from the group that was on the next flight. We get to the train station by taxi and its already time for LunchJ and so we lunch at the lounge in Delhi Railway station. Pretty good facilities for the price, but very badly timed (one gets 30 min to finish lunch and lounge as well:)). Indeed a great service by Indian Railways.
The train journey to Hardwar was uneventful although the coaches looked like they were an antitheses to Swachh Bharat:( I guess we have dirtied everything so much that it would need another generation to clean it all up.
The arrival at Hardwar station was equally dramatic. With scores of devotees thronging the source of Ganga for the Kawadiya season, there wasn’t even an inch of space anywhere, leave alone swachh. We managed to haggle and get 3 taxi’s to drop us at the hotel – a 3 KM ride from the train station. Spend the rest of the late evening, just cleaning up and finishing up – well you guessed it right, DINNER:)
The next AM too was planned to be an early start as warned by the transport operator – who was appointed by India Hikes, although the payment to them was directly by travellers. The friendly smile of Bobby, welcomed us all by 6.15 and with 11 ppl to get ready and start, we were delayed by 30 min from the planned start and we realized why Bobby and his boss were hysterical about starting early. About a KM out and we get stuck amongst the maddening crowd of Kawadiya’s. While everyone has a right to practice the faith they believe in, the scale of it’s display some times makes me wonder if we are losing the substance of it all to the deafening style:) You will see what I mean in the video.
A couple of brave souls step out of the vehicle and get the vehicle to turn back and take a different route, which too was choked but due to the same being narrow and potholed. After well over 3 hours lost in a 2 KM stretch, we well and truly set out towards Govindghat, all along by the mighty Ganga. A quick brunch later, the long journey for the day dawns on us. Although Govindghat is about 300 KM from Hardwar, the road is rather narrow, steep in sections and many sections recently damaged due to landslides, being repaired and also it’s a Ghat section. So we resign ourselves to another day of travel and yup, Fooooood. Brunch, Tea and other breaks abound, we reach Govindghat by 8.30 PM, well in time for DINNER:) The scenery all through was stunning, with green, blue, white interspersed with crystal clear water. We also went through several Prayags (places where different streams of Ganga unite), notably Dev Prayag, Rudra Prayag, and Karna Prayag and finally Joshimat, although after chamoli, darkness was fast descending on us. The sights were simply stunning. Although we are from the Western Ghats ourselves, the scale of Dev Bhoomi, is gigantic in proportion. One can easily get lost in the beautiful vistas. Lucky for us we weren’t driving, so could enjoy the sights all through.
The first day of trekking would begin on day 3 from Govindghat to Ghangria a 16 KM, 3000 + Ft climb up a well paved road, which is a very busy Pony road for pilgrims to Hemkunt Sahib, a Sikh holy place. The trek kicked off at about 7/45 AM after a simple yet sumptuous breakfast by IndiaHikes and as usual, all were in great spirits (11 more would join us as a part of the 22 person group that India Hikes would shepherd up and down the mountain). As we started the ascent, through the many water falls, meadows, woodlands and thick forests, the need for a good cardio regimen in the preparations become apparent. We huff and puff our way through some steep climbs, and there were some relief sections where one could race through as they were either valleys between peaks or long stretches of flat or descending roads.
A tea/ lunch break later, the trek gets really testing on us. Every step, in the rain and in our ponchos seem that much more difficult especially up the ascent. The team from India Hikes were really very encouraging and helpful, often concealing the real distance ahead of us by saying, its close, we are there, just a few more bends and turns etc… By early evening, some of the early climbers (no longer trekkers:)) arrive at the entrance of Ghangria, where a helipad welcomed us. The hotel we were put up at was about .5 KM away and we make it there in quick time. Some of us seemed like we were steaming, as the sweat had no way to escape through the rain poncho’s so as soon as removed them (ponchos) it seemed like we were cooking:) we indeed were. Some of us did not change over quickly enough so ended up shivering in the cold, in sweat soaked hiking tee’s:(. Some managed to get foot/ leg massage done, by the local masseur already.
A hot bath and dinner later, we retire early for the next AM trek to the Valley of flowers.
The trek to Valley of Flowers was indeed a unique experience. One walks though the Village market, escaping the many galloping ponys, to arrive at the first set of staired road, leading to a check post. Some folks, tired from the previous day trek, chose to take the pony’s (which by the way can take up about a KM or so after which there’s only a rocky track for humans alone). Past the check post, is one of the most beautiful treks I have done so far. One gets to walk through many valleys, along the water streams, which thunder down in some places to deafening sounds, huge rock faces, deep crevices, green meadows, beautifully bending trees, some of which block the narrow trek path and finally the valley of flowers itself.
We were unlucky to get a 45 min window at the valley as the weather moved in by 12.45 or so that day and we arrived at the valley by 12.00 NN. We thoroughly enjoyed our trek up to the valley as well as the time there marvelling at the many different flowers, some red as ruby, yellow, white, pink, purple, well just about every colour one can name. The sheer number of flowers stump you and their arrangement through the picturesque valley is hard to describe in words – so please see the pictures/video. After some elaborate photo sessions, we grab a quick bite, rather uncomfortably by a rock shelter, from rain, in the cold and make a hasty return, through the beautiful landscape again. The climb down too was very challenging, with most of the path paved with loose rocks, the only way to keep the path from being usurped (if one can permit the use of that term in this context) by the flowering plants. The distance was short so most of us made it back in quick time that day with enough time to spare to enjoy the hot Jamoon’s, Jalebi’s and Aloo chats in the nearby stores, that some of the Pony/ porter ferried friends (who had arrived earlier) had already tasted.
After a foot massage, bath and some tea later, we huddle up for endless chatter until dinner time, in awe of some fellow trekkers accompanying the injured ones all through, after which we all retire, in two minds about the next day’s trek.
The trek to Hemkunt Sahib is probably the toughest section of this trek. A climb of well over 6 KM and almost 4000 Ft, this trek would test ones abilities, all of it – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. We start the day rather early so we could make it up to the Gurdwara in time for Kheer – which is served up to 12.00 NN we are told. The trek was through some of the foggiest conditions we had trekked so far.
Although it’s a busy pilgrim route, well paved, the ascent itself is pretty steep at certain sections and breathtakingly beautiful, with some of the rarest flowers in the Himalayan region, such as bramhakamala, blue poppy etc, found only here. We trek through this section really slow, deliberately taking each step, waiting to catch our breath and then take the next step, walk through diagonally across the path so we use all muscles equally. We had packed really light as well, carrying just one bottle of water, filling it up enroute in the many water falls we pass by. The water itself is glacial melt down and was some of the most refreshing water we had ever tasted. After almost 4.5 hours of gruelling climb (the 7.5 KM trek to Nandihills during the preparations, was a walk in the park by comparison:)) , the last 30 min or so was almost as if we were in a trance, mind over matter, we arrive at Hemkunt Sahib, to witness a mist covered pond, at 14,150 feet:).
WE DID IT.
The mist cleared out just about enough for us to catch a glimpse. Some of the believers and adventurous amongst us, took a dip in the pond and raced to change, while all others visited the Gurdwara, enjoyed the Kichdi and tea (more than once) at the Langar (we missed the kheer:() and by about 2.00 PM started back as advised and some of us found the descent rather troubling. Many of us made it back by 5.30 PM or so and visited the Jamoon stalls again. It was indeed a personal victory for those that completed the trek. Amongst the 11 of us, only 6 made it all the way up and down. Rest of them all took the pony.
The few evening hours were all used up planning for the next day’s return. Eager to visit Badari, only about 30 KM from Govindghat during the early AM, we decided to take a heli hop back to Govindghat from Ghangria. For most of us it was our first heli ride and we all slept praying for good weather the following AM, although many of us couldn’t sleep well through the rains overnight that almost lasted the entire night.
It was a different scene in the AM. Although up until about 7.30AM it was misty, the weather soon cleared and it was pretty bright sunny that AM. We eagerly queue up for tickets for the heli ride and that process took its time, while some of us laboured through it through anxious queries at the counter, the others whiled way the wait with a prolonger photo session. Finally the first sortie of the heli landed at the helipad to a loud cheer. We are seated in 3 different sorties based on weight and we board the heli, take off in less than a minute. The ride through the valleys was mesmerising, although short. Just about when we were enjoying the ride, we saw the last valley and the helipad already. Ganghria is about 3 mountains across from Govindghat and the view was stunning. We all get in to Bobby Travels in quick time, manage breakfast enroute, on the vehicle and start off to Badari. A lot of warning was thrown our way about the road trip to Badari as apparently just the previous day the folks that visited were stranded due to landslides. We see the proof of it all on our way but the bright sun shone all through the way and back eventually. The town of Badri was rather sparsely populated as this wasn’t the season and we could get there in time before the temple closes post Aarthi by 12.00 NN. After a quick stop over for shopping Kuber and brunch, we start towards Mana the last village of India on this road. Its mighty mythological too, with the entire Mahabharata written and the final parts (Pandavas ascending heavens) taking place in these parts. We amble through the village, pausing to get a glimpse of the Vyasa/ Ganapathi Gufa, the horse mural on the hill above, Saraswathi river, the water stream from Manasa Sarovar, the Nara/ Narayana Parvathas, Kubera Parvatha, the many acrot (walnut) trees etc. Some of the eager fellow travellers who did not walk through the village called to remind us of the return as it started to shower a little and we turn back and start off back to Govindghat. That evening was spent strolling around the hotel, near the banks of the mighty Alkananda, as close to it as we could get, enjoyed the local butta (corn, served barbecue style) and returned in time for the certificate awarding ceremony.
We all make our little speeches, thank the organisers – India Hikes and the staff – Salman, Heera and YashPal, admire each others’s commitment, tenacity etc and finally dance:) and retire post dinner.
The next AM was again the long road trip back to Rishikesh, via Joshimat, Prayags, Srinagar etc. We do stop over for breakfast, lunch and limbu soda and finally arrive in to Aloha by the Ganges at Rishekesh. Some of the younger ones decide to stroll Rishikesh while old bones like me decide to stay, enjoy tea by the river banks and listen to very melodious flute recital by local artistes.
The dinner at the hotel was a little bit of an adventure, after which the Rishikesh roaming folks arrive too and we all retire for the night.
Next AM post breakfast and longish baths (yup, baths up until now were rather rushed ones with very little hot water) we leave for a Rishikesh visit. After the customary visit to the Lakshman Jhoola area, we decide to have lunch at one of the Ashrams in Rishikesh, return to the hotel via Ramjhoola and board Bobby Travels for our drop back to Haridwar. After freshening up, we chance upon the news paper write up about how we narrowly missed a land slide at the Valley of Flowers that took place the next day of our visit and how the SDRF had to rescue about 80 trekkers.
The Ganga Aarthi was a mixed bag with our seating decided by some priest who wanted us to be his source of income for the day:( and eventually, got locked in that position as the rest of the seating was all taken before our(?) Aarthi was completed. We could however witness a lot of little lamps floating in the gushing water, devoured by the turbulence one by one.
We decided to head back to hotel as soon as the Aarthi was done, which took us through some of the busiest and dirtiest parts of Hardwar. The ride though was interesting from bicycle rickshaws to battery powered electric ones. Enroute stopped for some tasty dinner at Hardwar Haat and retired for the day.
Next morning was the dash to the railway station on another TT Bobby had organised and he had promised to meet us at the train station and he did. We bid good bye to ‘Bobby Bhai’ and made our way in to the train station. Some of us escaped the wait at the train station to fetch breakfast while others endured the platform looking after the mountain of luggage of the entire group. The train journey this time was better, in a clean 2 Tier AC compartment although the journey was about 3/4th of an hour longer. We managed to get some lunch @ Haldirams in Connaught place, make our way to the airport for a timely flight back to Bengaluru.
It was indeed a great outing and one that got an item on our to do list checked out. We also experienced a strange sense of peace and now know why its called the Dev Boomi. Indeed.
This trek should ideally be on the to do list of every traveller, much more so for trekkers.
We will surely be back, soon. There’s more – a lot more to experience in “Dev Bhoomi”.
List of Learnings:)
1. Never underestimate the need for CASH – carry a few thousands more (per person) than you feel adequate.
2. Either learn to bathe in cold water or don’t cringe to pay for hot water:), if available.
3. Pack light. Not all things listed(in the ideal packing list) are needed.
4. Keep the camera kit light – don’t forget to pack in a Macro Lens (I carried my Olympus PEN kit, but missed the Macro – fixing that gap in the kit now)
5. Make sure the glove is waterproof (we ended up buying a pair since ours was not water proof and got wet in the incessant rain and wet and cold is a very band combination:()
6. Don’t miss the Heli Hop – the flight through Dev Bhoomi is unmissable, and is priced right.
7. Most important – get a workable cardio regimen (preferably a lifelong habit) to be fit enough to enjoy the trek, not huff and puff through it:(
8. Take chances per your gut – we would have missed Badari and Mana, if we had heard the opinion of many who feared landslides that can hold you up, sometimes overnight.