A Trek to "Valley Of Flowers" and "Hemkund Sahib".
21st July, 2005.
When we (Manoj and me) reached Dehradun, Ajit, Devendra and Shantanu were already waiting to receive us at the main entrance or exit of the railway station. Previously, we had boarded the Delhi-bound flight from Bangalore in the early hours of the 15th morning in the month of July 2005, and then later in the evening Dehradun bound Shatabdi Express from New-Delhi railway station. The ticket collector at the railway station thought that we had come for joining IMA (Indian Military Academy), Dehradun. It was nice to see Ajit, Devendra and Shantanu there; waiting to receive us. They had already booked a hotel for us. To be precise, Hotel Medows but later it turned out to be Hotel Medoo. Early morning, next day, we had to start for trek. Tiredness engulfed us and after eating something from the road-side eatery, we went to sleep, without bothering at the room-condition.
When we are again back at the Dehradun station, this time for a change at the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal), for catching our respective buses, I clearly remember each and every moment of the five days we spent together trekking in Himalayan Mountain ranges. The fun we had and the experiences, the landslides, the huge mountains, infinite river streams, Ganges, and climbing over last landslide to cross it. Ajit and Devendra were going back to Bangalore, Manoj to Delhi, Shantanu to Goa and I was going to Chandigarh. We all met at Dehradun, continued our journey together and at Dehradun again split for different directions.
16th July, 2005.
- The day of Travel.
As we reached Dehradun, we were very tired and we immediately eat something from the roadside restaurant, and went to sleep without bothering for the room-condition; which in anyway was not good. We were to leave the place in early morning at 6.00 a.m. We woke-up with the start at 5.30 a.m. and got ready for the journey ahead. We were to reach JoshiMath by the end of day, which is about 300km away. Mr. Madhwal, our tour-guide, had already arrived and was waiting for us. He wanted to leave this place Dehradun as early as possible and reach JoshiMath as early as possible. Since we were to travel only 300 km in a day, I was fairly confident that we would reach by end of day. Finally at 6.15 a.m. the travel to JoshiMath started. On the way we reached BadriNath, saw the huge river Ganges, the Laxman Bridge, the Ram Bridge etc. Through out the complete journey on one side we had high mountains and on the other side a deep valley with a river flowing through it. The complete journey was scenic. I wanted to stop at places to take few snaps, but Mr. Madhwal was adamant that we should not stop and he ensured that we did not stop until the 1.00pm (Or 2.00 pm?) for lunch, without any tea or breakfast break. He was hurrying at the things, and I consistently failed to understand why (until our return journey)? As we climbed higher and higher, the visibility started fading, but still the view was stunning. The driver of the four-wheeler sumo spacio, in which we were traveling, was very confident of his driving skills and he did not wanted to miss any opportunity to show them like driving at the high speeds, taking blind turns almost at the blinding speeds. And to further complicate the matter Mr. Madhwal was eager that we reach JoshiMath as early as possible. We had unsuccessfully asked him to slow down, but little did we know that only a punctured tire can slow him down, which eventually did. We reached JoshiMath at around 4.00-4.30 pm, which is also the abode of shankaracharya. We purchased few things at the local market and went to sleep early (preparations for the trek ahead?).
17th July, 2005.
- First view of the mountains ahead.
When my sleep broke at around 5.30-6am, next day, I was expecting darkness around, but instead it was completely bright outside as if I had woken around 8.00 am. The sun rises early in the mountains. A mountain in the shape of elephant, complete with trunk ears and folded legs, was looking at us through windows. In the evening when we had reached the place it was almost completely covered with clouds blocking the surrounding view. For the first time, I could see the vast height of Himalayan Mountains. We started around 8.00am for “Govindghat” and reached at around 9.00am. On the way we had seen places where landslide had happened recently. The actual trek starts from “Govindghat” which is 22km from JoshiMath. After crossing the suspension bridge on the river Alaknanda, a 13km climb brings one to a small village “Govind Dham” or “Ghangaria”. This route for the most part is along the river “Bhyundar Ganga” and passes through forests, along the waterfall, wild flowers and beautiful landscapes. The deep chasms and high mountains along with river stream flowing below and pockets of clouds covering the most part of the top create a stunning view. The last 3 km stretch is very steep, and will take more than an hour to climb. At the end you reach around 3000 meters above sea-level.
18th July, 2005.
- Valley Of Flowers.
Since camping inside the Valley Of Flowers is prohibited, Ghangaria is the logical base camp. After Ghangaria, the trek bifurcates into two routes, one leading to Valley of Flowers and another to Hemkund Sahib. We reached Ghangaria, which is around 3000 meters above sea-level, in the evening previous day. The clouds were so thick here that the visibility was limited to few 100 meters ahead. Next morning when we woke up, the view outside our dorm was stunning. It was hidden in the previous night, but in the morning when sun had come out and clouds were not there and we saw a distant peak covered with the snow. This was the first time I had seen a snow covered peak in real life. After taking sufficient pictures, we started off for VoF. Mr. Chauhan had joined us here as a guide. Huge majestic mountain peaks surround the valley on either side. The Pushpavati River, emerging from the glacier deposits, cuts through the valley and divides it into two sectors. Many streams flow through the valley and they finally merge with the river pushpavati, which later on becomes the river Ganges. While exploring the valley at few places these streams are to be crossed on log bridges and at some places thick glaciers. The VoF is approx. 8kms in length and 2kms in width. The valley is almost carpeted with the flowers, few of them we saw are Himalayan Blue poppy (Japanese people loves it very much we were told), varieties of primula, potentillas, geraniums, thymus, wild roses.
At 11,000 feet’s, it wasn’t that cold as I had expected. Maybe continuous walking over the hills had generated enough heat in the body. While wandering through the valley, we come across the grave of Joan Margaret Legge, a botanist from London, who had come to the valley in 1939 for study and while collecting specimen she fell to her death. A memorial erected in her memory reads “I will lift my eyes unto the hills from whence commeth my help”. Any valley visitor visits the memorial. The Valley of Flowers is absolutely gorgeous. It is very calm, and very few people except botanists visit here leaving the nature clean and undamaged. We spent some time and then it was time to return to the base camp again.
19th July, 2005.
- Hemkund Sahib.
We got up lazily on the next day morning. Probably the previous three days of trekking and warmness of the blankets had taken over the body for some time. At around 8.00am we came to know that Mr Madhwal would not be joining us today to the Hemkund sahib. In one way it was good for us that we could take as much time as we need while climbing up, climbing down and at the top with full freedom. After a heavy breakfast around 9.30am, we all minus our guide started for the trek ahead. Hemkund sahib is 6.5kms from Govind Dham or Ghangaria and the climb is roughly 6000feets.
The weather was cold and damp today with visibility reduced to few feet’s. The climb is quite steep one. Until now the trek was quite easy and sometimes I wondered whether trekking is so easy? One thing that was good that we were able to climb at the comfortable speed consistently, though we had to stop for couple of minutes after few feet’s for regaining our lost breath. Heart beat has raced in the range of 120 to 130. When we had reached at the largest glacier we had ever seen, we stopped for photographs. Manoj had taken out his tripod, and we were mounting Shantanu’s or Devendra’s camera. Looking at us setting up camera on tripod, the people asked us whether we are from Doordarshan or preparing any documentary for Doordarshan. Crossing this glacier was much more difficult than the three we had crossed on previous day in Valley of Flowers, for the slope of this glacier was very steep, and with people constantly crossing it, it had become slippery. After crossing the glacier, the last two kilometers are very tough. Though stones are laid all over the places to resemble like staircase, because of damp weather it had become little slippery and we were little tired also for the first time.
When we reached the top, we could barely see beyond few feet’s. At first I thought I have climbed at the top of a mountain, but to my dismay when the clouds cleared for few minutes I came to know that the peak is still as high as I have climbed and before we could have a good look around the place, clouds were back. At 16,000 feets, Hemkund Sahib is surrounded by snow clad mountains (seven they say, but most of the time all were covered up by clouds) and is fed by glaciers from Hari Parvat and Saptrishi. It is said that Guru Govind Singh, the tenth guru of Sikhs, and Lakshman, brother of Lord Ram, have performed their tapa on the banks of Hemkund. The name Hemkund has come from Him-kund, meaning icy-lake. The water in the lake comes from the melting glaciers. And as a custom, you have to take a dip in the near-freezing (actually just above the freezing point of water) kund before entering the Gurudwara, and Lakshman temple. We decided to deep our feet and hands. As soon as I dipped my feet in the lake, the sudden realization of the coldness hot me, instantly the body heat has been lost, and the sensation lost all in less than a 5 seconds. There are no words to describe it. After I came out, the rush of blood, and even the winds were causing pains as if somebody is piercing through your feet. When the clouds cleared for the brief moment, we got a view of hills surrounding the lake from three sides and the glaciers covering them and feeding melting waters to the lake, took few snaps. Seeing few Sikhs taking a complete dip from head to toe was enough to send a sensation of coldness through the body. We entered Gurudwara and bowed to the Granthsahib. Prayed at the laxman temple and had Prasad in the form of hot Khichadi and Tea served at Gurudwara. That was around 2.00pm and then started our descent.
The climbing down was equally tough challenge. I felt it even more difficult than climbing up, and to add to the difficulties slight drizzle made the whole terrain even more slippery. Crossing the glacier was even more difficult than the first time. We reached Ghangaria around 5.00pm. Ajit and Shantanu had already reached, we spent evening inside the dorm, chatting and laughing at the jokes cracked. I felt little sad at the prospect that trek had come to an end and tomorrow would be the final adventure of returning to Dehradun and leaving back. But little did we know what future has to offer on the final day and making it the most unforgettable day of the life.
20th July, 2005.
- The Longest Day of my Life.
We had to cover 13kms on foot and then another around 300km on sumo to reach Dehradun by the evening. It was the time to wind-up the trek and we started as early as 6.00am towards the “Govind Ghat”. This 13km stretch is relatively easy. We reached Govind Ghat as per our estimated time. Thus our ~50 km trek came to an end. From Govind Ghat, we were to take Sumo till Dehradun but unfortunately not many were willing to go. Finally Mr. Madhwal decided that we go to Hrishikesh, and from there take another taxi till Dehradun. Everything was going smoothly until we reached Srinagar. At SriNagar, we heard that a land slide has happened on the way ahead but it could be cleared as we reach the spot. After a late lunch we continued ahead. As said rightly, we came across debris of rocks and fallen scree. It was cleared, but after continuing for another 10kms or so our Sumo halted abruptly. When I looked out I could see an end-less queue of waiting taxis and buses. After preliminary enquiry we came to know that a landslide has happened ahead which had caused traffic to stop. I got down, and continued moving ahead to have a closer look and take few snaps. After crossing few hundred meters, I came across a notice board announcing you are entering danger zone, look around and keep moving don’t stop. I have heard that landslides are frequent in these area, that’s because the Himalayas, especially the Garhwal Himalayas, is one of the most deforested mountain ranges in the world. There is hardly any major tree cover to hold the soil firmly. Still the queue continued, after crossing another few hundred meters, a huge gathering stopped me in the tracks. On the way to this spot, I had passed groups of people who had spread their sheets on the road and were calmly playing cards, some were chatting, some were sleeping in the calmness. As if there is no other thing to do in life. And nobody seemed to be in any hurry to move forward, after enquiring I came to know that they were stuck since past 6 hours. I crossed them and continued ahead and saw a lone earth mover trying to clear what it looked like a piece of mountain itself, as the road didn’t exist before and it was trying to create it. Took few photos, then suddenly earth mover abandoned its work and came out and parked besides me. In few minutes I saw small amount of loose mud coming down. Then it stopped. Still nobody dared to go ahead. People were saying that it might start again. And sure enough after few minutes of wait, the soil started coming down again. This time it persisted for little longer time. On the other side of the road, straight down at approximately steep 80 degrees slope, 2000 feets below was the river Alaknanda flowing in its fiercest form. Some of its way was blocked by the landslide. It started again after few minutes, I wanted to shoot the landslide, but somehow I was engrossed in observing it completely. This time it started with a small flow of loose soil and then suddenly a big boulder came down and within three jumps on the slope and barely 5 seconds it was came to rest in the river below. I was too stunned, and for the first time I realized the height of the mountains and utter helplessness and being stuck there made matters worse. I just wanted to get passed all these and rest on the terra firma. The slide continued and as it progressed, huge chunks of mud, rocks and few trees started coming down. Looking at the slide, there was no way it could be cleared in next 24 hours. I saw people loosing patience and few started climbing on the mountains and crossing over the landslide. I laughed at the idea, and I made a fool of them. It was very steep, and you are over 2000 feet above valley, there is hardly any tree cover and if you slip there is nothing to stop you except the river flowing below. It was a sure way of death, no stopping. I returned back to the place where our taxi was. Met others and it cheered up a bit. After waiting for an hour or so, and seeing many people crossing over the landslide by climbing the mountains, we all decided to follow the same route. Though I was reluctant to the idea, but there was no other way than wait for another couple of days for sure. We started climb, the initial few meters were perfectly okay. It was along the terrace farming which people employ in the hills. There was a small walkway also. But after another few meters the walkway disappeared, and only the sights of mountain came to view. The land was steep, the soil was loose, and just a little bending over the right hand side showed the river flowing almost vertically down. For the first time I repented the decision of coming this way, and I think everybody was thinking the same. There was hardly any way to turn around either. I just thought of how I can keep my next feet safely. There was nothing for grip, there was hardly anything for support only thing that was available in good amount was wild grass. I nearly slipped at one place, but Shantanu or somebody else who was behind me extended his hand for support. After crossing halfway, we heard the land sliding few meters below us. I could feel the land slide. I didn’t care if I contribute to another landslide I just wanted to get out. Hidden reserves of strength had given remarkably enough calmness and I kept moving ahead without even bothering to see neither what I was climbing over nor what I am up against. When we reached the other side, I still feel how relaxed I was. The joy of getting safely on the other side in one piece was indescribable. Throughout the ~3km climb over the landslide and 1.5hours which seemed like an eternity, I could think of only one thing “How could I keep my next foot safely”, there were no thoughts other than survival. When I looked back it had become dark to realize how much land than came down. But there were distant sounds of land still sliding down and rocks falling in the river.
Thus we ended our trek. Now if I look back, it wasn’t that difficult, if only we didn’t had those big backpacks on our backs. The rest of the journey passed without any hitch. We reached Dehradun. Ajit, Shantanu, Devendra and Manoj started for Delhi and I for Chandigarh.