Saturday, August 07, 2010

Valley of Flowers

Photographs from a trek to Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand, India. Read my trip planning post for more details on itinerary and schedule.

Click on the photographs to see them in full size.


The trek was organized by the Karnataka Mountaineering Association (KMA) and was lead by Vasumathy Srinivasan and Srivatsa. We were a team of 27 people, the most amazing thing about the team was that we had three generations of one family on the trek, with the grandfather being 92 years old and the father in his sixties. Although the grandfather took the assistance of pony and the dolly (three to four people carrying a chair fitted with long arms), his enduring spirit of exploration, fitness and alertness were an inspiration to us all.

I joined the team from Bangalore at Delhi and we then travelled by overnight train to Haridwar and then by bus to Govindghat.


The roads to Govindghat follow the Alakananda river and are extremely treacherous to say the least. Landslides are very frequent and we had to wait on multiple instances for new landslides to be cleared up. The roads and well maintained (for the area), probably due to the army presence and their supply requirements.


Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib are both accessed from the town of Gangaria. There are no roads to Gangaria suitable for vehicles, one has to trek up 14 KMs from Govindghat to Gangaria before traveling to Valley of Flowers or Hemkund. Large number of ponies are available for hire for those to do not prefer to walk or for your luggage, one can also hire people to carry you up on a chair on a person’s back or on 3 to 4 people’s shoulders.


The route up from Gangaria. Shortly after this comes the diversion to Valley of Flowers (3 KM to the valley) or to Hemkund Sahib (6 KMs to Hemkund).


The entire landscape is dotted with streams carrying glacial melt water – extremely cool and tasty!


This nice big waterfall can be seen once you walk up from Gangaria towards the diversion for Valley of Flowers or Hemkund.


Walking up from Gangaria towards the Valley of Flowers.


Initial part of the trek to Valley of Flowers is through this verdant forest with the sunlight creeping through the tall trees and sounds of insects and birds.


Rivers and streams are a constant companion throughout the trek.

We were blessed with a  glorious day sans rain on the trek to Valley of Flowers which from what I hear is not a very common occurrence during this time of the year.


I have seen and photographed similar flowers while trekking in Tende, France. I’m no botanist, but I guess these are the same flowers.


Guru pausing to take a photograph while I take one of him from above!


The Valley was made popular by Frank Smythe who accidently chanced upon it while returning from a summit expedition to mount Kamet in 1931.


In his book Kamet conquered, Frank S Smythe nick named the Bhyundar Valley as the Valley of Flowers.


We met quite a few people during the initial stretch, but as we walked further in towards the glacier and river bed, we met fewer and fewer people. The trek to Hemkund on the other hand is choke full of pilgrims and ponies and mules and dhabas (tea stalls).


The Valley is stunningly beautiful with the flowers and the green carpet crisscrossed by streams and overlooked by icy glacial mountain peaks and billowing clouds. The status of a protected natural park (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) ensures that the pristine nature of the Valley is preserved. One cannot stay or camp inside and have to return the same day.



The grave of Joan Margaret Legge in the Valley of Flowers. She was sent by Edinburgh’s Royal Botanical Garden to study the plants in the valley and fell to her death from the mountain slopes while collecting flowers. She was buried the valley as per her sisters wish and the monument erected by her sister has the following words:

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills

From whence cometh my help”


On Friday, we started at 5 AM from Gangaria to Hemkund Sahib while the first light of day was breaking. Unfortunately, it developed into a very misty and rainy morning, so I could not get any photographs of Hemkund Sahib lake. The visibility as we reached the top was only about 20 to 30 feet and we were also not allowed to go around the lake to take a photo of the Gurudwara and Lakshman temple from the far side of the lake.


I was able to capture sunrise on the peaks as we started the trek up. It is a 6 KM trek to Hemkund Sahib from where the route splits for Valley of Flowers and Hemkund. In these 6 kilometers, one goes from around 8000 ft of altitude to around 13,000 ft, so it is quite a steep ascend. For the final 2 KM stretch there are two options – the regular zig zag route that the ponies take or a steep flight of steps. Few of us took the steps and our overall climbing time from Gangaria to Hemkund was around 2 hours and 45 minutes.


Blue Poppy on the way up to Hemkund Sahib. The owner of the hotel we stayed in at Gangaria mentioned that this flower was also present in Valley of Flowers earlier, but now could be found only on the heights of Hemkund Sahib. Another flower present in abundance on the way to Hemkund is the “Brahma Kamal”, however, I could not get a nice shot of any due to the mist and inaccessibility.

Once we reached Hemkund, we had tea and breakfast served for free by volunteers at the Gurudwara.


Took the long route down from Hemkund and walked leisurely with Nethra, Guru and Himajith while discussing movies, music and books.

On Saturday, we visited Mana village which is the last Indian village along the Indo Tibetan border, it even had a “Last Tea Shop of India”. There is a significant army presence from the ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Patrol) as this area is of strategic importance to India’s integrity.


On Sunday, we visited Auli – a ski resort being constructed up amongst the clouds. We took the 4 KM ropeway up from Joshimath (250 KMs from Rishikesh) strung over 10 towers with a stupendous view of the surrounding mountains and valley.


From the ropeway station at Auli, we trekked a few KMs up the mountain into a verdant forest and to a small temple located deep within the quite solitude of the forest.


I love this picture!


It’s ironic that most of my best flower pictures were taken outside of the Valley of Flowers!



Prashant checking out his model car discovered on the beautiful forest trek up from Auli.


A fallen tree gathers moss unlike a rolling stone …


Mushrooms aplenty!


The team sitting near the temple listing to Nethra’s beautiful voice, Nethra and her mom are both trained Karnatic classical vocalists.


The Flowers of the Valley – young and old!


Aerial view of the road to Auli from the ropeway cabin.


Sunset at Birahi, we stayed in a resort next to the river.


Morning mist embracing the treetops.

All photographs taken with Canon EOS 400D and Canon EF-S 17-85mm F/4-5.6 IS USM Lens, shot in RAW mode and processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3.