Valley Of Flowers - Day 2: Joshimath – Govindghat – Ghangaria
Second day of our journey started on Sunday morning at 6:30 AM from Joshimath and ended in Ghangaria by afternoon. This was the hardest day of our journey where we had to trek 11 kilometers of rocky rock through a ever climbing way.
It was Saturday night after 9 and we were out on a walk on the streets of Joshimath. The street we were walking on was towards the higher side of the town and standing there we could see the whole town in front of us – mostly the town lights burning through the darkness.
Our main purpose had been to enquire about vehicles for Govindghat. We considered hiring a whole vehicle for us, but that idea was quickly dismissed after hearing the rate (Rs. 2,500) from our hotel manager. So we walked till the Jeep stand, which was only 5 mins distance from our hotel “The Tattva”. It was late for a town like Joshimath and the roads and taxi stand both were quite empty. Fortunately we found two local guys nearby and they informed us on everything that we needed to know.
So the deal was, jeep stand opened at 6 in the morning, shared jeeps for Govindghat were available for 50 bucks per seat, also another shared service is available from Govindghat to Pulna, which was 4 km further towards Ghangaria. So with all these pleasant information in mind, we headed back to our hotel and retired for the night in our comfortable beds.
Joshimath to Govindghat
On Sunday morning at 6:30 am, we were already at the taxi stand, sitting in a shared jeep, waiting for it to start off. These jeeps usually carry 10-12 people, but there were only 8 people waiting including us. Good news was, others were also trekkers, all heading towards Valley of Flowers. There were people from 3 different groups and each of them has reached Joshimath by bus from Rishikesh in the previous evening. After waiting for about 10 minutess and seeing no other passengers coming, we offered to pay equivalent of 12 seats (75 per head) and convinced the driver to start off with no further delay.
Soon we left the town and went back to Himalayan wilderness. The Jeep was going through road curved from edge of mountain. To our right we could see black rocks drenched in morning dew and rain, covered in green velvety grass. To our left another mountain loomed over, looking down to our miniscule figures. In between the river flowed wildly, relentlessly, twisting with every turn of the mountain. I remember the same river from previous day, near Devprayag, where it was calmly and smoothly gliding through rocks. That felt like a different river. More north we went more wilder it got.
We started with the river on our left, then crossed a bridge and moved to the mountain across. Then we crossed again and again, so many times that I lost count. Sometimes the river was on right, sometimes on left and we were moving from one hill to the other. As I looked through the crack in those two hills, I could see more hills in the background. We were completely surrounded by hills like a baby in its crib. Seeing through the blurry windows of jeep, this view brought a smile on my face and the word “lap of nature” in my mind.
We reached Govindghat in about 40 mins, where everyone unloaded and moved to one of the few small shacks for breakfast. We took tea/coffee there, but decided to have breakfast on the way. That would be a good excuse to stop when we got tired. Many of the trekkers started their trek from Govindghat itself. But knowing our limitation, we headed for the jeep which will take us another 4 km.
Govindghat to Pulna
Post our tea we started to walk towards the next Jeep stand. The road where we were dropped off went on towards Badrinath. We took the smaller path going downward on the left side which led to Govindghat town. After five minutes of walk we reached a stairway, climbing down the stairs we found ourselves at the beginning of a market. We had to walk some more through the narrow lane between jammed up shops, which finally led to an open area with jeeps lined up.
The jeep stand was adjacent to the river Alaknanda and the jeep had to cross the bridge immediately after it started off from the stand. Reaching the other side, the jeep took a halt where all passengers had to get themselves registered before going further. This registration process consisted of sharing your name and getting your photograph taken through a web cam.
Post registration we continued our journey away from Alaknanda and keeping its tributary Laxman Ganga on our right. Soon the road started going uphill in the familiar twisting manner. The roads were quite steep which made us further glad that we opted not to trek here.
At one point the good road abruptly ended and a muddy road began. That’s where the jeep dropped us. It didn’t look much like a town with a couple of tea shops and a guy selling mule ride for the climb. It wasn’t until my return journey that I figured out it was not yet Pulna, that town would be another km ahead making the total trek from there as 11 km.
But as of that moment, I wasn’t aware of the distance and moreover I wasn’t aware of the difficulty that laid ahead. So at that moment with heart full of excitement we started our trek towards Ghangaria. The time was 9:15 am on Sunday morning.
Punla to Ghangaria
We started our trek in good mood. The weather was cloudy, but pleasant. First one kilometre of the road was muddy, which ran keeping the hill on our left and valley to our right. The river wasn’t visible from here. But we knew it was somewhere down in that valley. After a while more shops appeared followed by residential houses. That time I didn’t understand, but it was the actual Punla village.
Road up to Pulna had been mostly flat with very slight climb. After Pulna a rocky road went downwards through a mildly dense forest. The hill was still on our left, but the view to valley was blocked by trees. After a brief climb down, the road started to slope upward and continued for next two and half km. Not all of it was steep, but there were very few flat patches and with bags on our back every 100 meters felt like miles.
Ghangaria is the base camp for both Valley of Flowers and Hemkund and combined it attracts quite a few tourists. Hence we were not alone in our walk to Ghangaria, there were plenty of people accompanying from various age groups and various parts of India & abroad. Unfortunately we found ourselves to be walking in pace with people at least ten years elder than us. Nevertheless we moved on at the same pace.
After 2.5 km, we reached our first village. Probably it wasn’t really village, it was just a cluster of shops established for the purpose of serving the trekkers. We stopped for breakfast in one of the shops and had aloo paratha. Soon my excitement towards aloo paratha would disappear, but as of that moment I found it quite enjoyable. And anyways, the other options available were Maggie, biscuits and chips.
Post breakfast we continued through the rocky roads. Now we could get a few glimpse of the river where trees cleared. It was sometime very close and sometimes far down. I suppose, the river and the road both were changing altitudes across the journey.
Bhuydar village was about 6 km from Pulna. It was noon by the time we reached there following the same rocky road. There had been a few more villages or equivalent of villages in between and apart from the part before and during those villages, it had been mostly uphill road. The bags were getting heavier on our backs and we were desperate for a long break (we had a few short breaks already).
The village was bigger or rather it was an actual village with people living in. The road ran through it with a few shops on either sides. We passed all the shops and reached the other end of village before finding the perfect place to take break. It was a refreshment shop similar to all the other we have crossed on the way, with a tin roof and open sides. But the location made all the difference. It was placed beside the river on a corner of road from where you could view the mountain range on the other side and the river flowing by. We stopped there for a long coffee break to cherish this view and I wondered if we had reached down till the river or the river had reached up to us.
After half an hour, feeling relatively fresh, we picked up our bags headed away from this village. The road out of the village ended at a valley with mountains on the other side and the river and its tributaries flowing in the middle. Most of the valley was covered in white rocks, which we walked on to reach the river. There was makeshift bridge made to cross the river, which looked quite fragile. We crossed it and reached the other side.
When we reached Bhuydar, we had thought the worst was behind us and from here on there will be no more climb. But reaching the other side of the river, we found the only path ahead was disappearing into a tall green hill and that made us tired right away.
This climb was harder on us. Probably because we were tired already, or probably because we were given more hard work when we had started expecting reward for our work. The next two and half kilometres of rocky road through the green hill forest was quite terrible. We took so many small breaks, we lost count. At one point I started to leer at the returning mules wondering if it would be alright to give up now and take a mule for the remaining journey.
But we didn’t. We somehow made it through that 2.5 km and finally arrived at a place with two shops. We stopped at one and ate paratha again (what else!). There was a board saying 2 more km to Ghangaria. But the shopkeeper told it’s only 1.5. Sitting here now I can’t grasp what difference half a kilometre can make, but it did enormously. Later on while climbing down I would learn to read the milestones better, but at that point we trusted the shopkeeper and reluctantly started to climb up again.
There were more forests ahead and somewhere in between it had also started to rain, giving the whole place a damp feel. After a while we reached an open area with a helipad on our left side adjacent to the valley. I figured if people coming in helicopter are dropping off here, we must be close. In this place road was flat with no climb and we were thankful for that much. We crossed half a kilometre of this straight road to find ourselves at the bottom of another uphill road through forest. We were not aware that we had almost reached and so the uphill road made me feel like crying.
We pressed on up and soon reached an opening where mules were standing under a shed. On the left side the town of Ghangaria stretched. Through the foggy evening light I could see the crammed up houses of the town lined up by the narrow road and at that moment I felt like I couldn’t walk anymore. I sat down on a rock and thought to myself “Welcome to Ghangaria”. The time was 4:30 pm.For Day 3 of the trip (visit to the valley) go to following link: Valley Of Flowers - Day 3