Valley of flowers.
This is an account of real experience by Mr. Kunal Sarin from Mumbai, who was part of our trekking group to Valley of Flowers in September, 2012.
The journey to Valley of flowers began from Mumbai, when I boarded the train to New Delhi. I reached New Delhi on September 1, 2012 and in afternoon took a train to Haridwar and reached there at 8pm. I reached the dharamshala and was surprised to find it was not nothing like what the name could have meant. It was a well maintained place with nicely furnished rooms. Here I met with our tour operator- Devkant Sangwan who would be taking care of all the tour related activities from hereon. I moved into my room and after getting fresh, met Devkant and we both had dinner at dharamshala which was one of the best meals I had outside, simple meal just like home cooked food. After dinner we chatted for few hours and then slept with instructions to wake up early.
This guy (Devkant Sangwan) has extensive knowledge of the terrain, flowers, and places and never lets you have a dull moment. He is not like the normal tour operators who do a simple business trip and take you around. I’m looking forward again to my next trip but this time it will be in end of June or mid-July so can see heavy snow clad mountains and a different kind of flora and fauna in the Valley of Flowers. The Valley of Flower beckons again.
The next morning I woke up at 5 and quickly got ready and assembled at the gate of the dharamshala at 6am which was supposed to be the departure time. We were supposed to meet another group of people who were supposed to be part of our group but were staying elsewhere. Now began the waiting, and after downing few cups of tea, and spending anxious moments our remaining group came and after exchanging pleasantries we finally boarded the bus. Now this waiting was going to turn later into anxious moments as the delayed moments in Himalayas are not forgiven easily by the nature. The reason is that in this particular month in which we were traveling, there are intermittent rains during the day. Now the rains in the night make the mountains wet and the sunlight in the day dries them and the rocks begin to develop crack and slowly this process results in landslide and falling rocks. Now this is not a desirable situation as it could have effects ranging from a boulder hitting your vehicle and you become a flying object in the valley or blocked roads holding you back for hours till they are cleared by the Border Road Organization people, the only organization responsible for maintaining these roads and do a bloody good job.
An hour into our journey and we met our first landslide and it did not look good, but people in mountains are incredible. In a matter of time bus drivers of trucks and state buses took out big hammers and got down to breaking the rocks and started pushing them down in the valley and within 30 minutes were moving again. This was a record of sorts as landslides can hold you back by hours and even days. But this was not the only landslide in this journey.
We made few stops during the journey which were basically for snacking up or having lunch. Finally the rest of the day passed without any event and in the evening we reached Govindghat and checked into hotel Badreesh. The rooms were nice and a luxury considering where we were in the mountains. The trek was to begin from here only and we were instructed to have dinner and sleep early so that we could be ready by 6 in the morning the next day.
The next day I woke up at 5.30 in morning, opened the room door and stepped out in the open and the chill in the air, laden with snowy winds, drizzling rain met me. I opened my sleepy eyes and saw huge Himalayan ranges, now eyes opened wider and maximum width was achieved. Next scene was clouds blanketing the Himalayan ranges, caressing them with their gentle touches and they rubbing them away. Now my sensations started waking up and heard a pleasant sound, which was nothing but the river behind the hotel, river with gushing water was flowing and sound of it was such that in 2minutes you could lose sense of any other sound around you, except the sound of river. I quickly got my camera and started taking pictures, blue nightlight married with early morning sunlight somewhere in distant horizon was making the sky blue and pictures also came out blue. I realized that it was the lamest attempt one can do to capture the Himalayan beauty but still whatever worth the modern technology is was captured. I continued to soak in the scenery around me and it is only the moment of being there amongst the mighty Himalayas, which makes you realize why they are called the great Himalayas.
Well, it dawned upon me that it was time I started getting ready for the days trek and ran into my room. And now the choices were have a bath and die of instant thermal shock or the easy one-cold sponging. Well the votes were cast in favor of the most humane choice, keep on guessing. In no time I started getting my clothes out and pulled out my turtle neck black woolen shirt, putting up my best act for my date with the Himalayan beauty. Soon I was dressed for the kill and met with the next obvious question, what to do with the extraordinary luggage that I had lugged from Mumbai. Everything seemed important to be left behind and my weak frail human sense was telling me that, if I picked this huge trekking bag on my own, I wouldn’t last outside the hotel door, sprawled like a mule. Now, that’s the birth of an idea! Outside hotel lobby, saw few youthful people (porters) and few mules standing, looking so frail compared to my reasonable built. So it was a critical choice in life -me or them. Voting time and I won, had to, only voter, choices were made and negotiated with the porters, who appeared to be frail but that looks are deceptive, they are like mountain goats, strong, agile, enduring and strength. Off went my burly bag in the small wooden cane basket with an all-weather protective shield of a tarpaulin. Next sight was kids from our group being loaded into those snugly baskets, making for cute sights.
Ponies were called into action, as burly city boys used to posing around with their ‘dolle sholle’ impressing city girls, were feeling cheated by mother nature’s impressive challenge and without making any attempt, climbed onto nearest pony available. Some who were willing for challenge, decided to walk it out. We purchased our walking sticks and shyly looked for knee caps, but then stock had run out and we were left to meet the challenge with what we had. So battle paint smeared, sticks firmly in hand, began walking. Things looked nice and easy, and confidence picked up, and journey began.
Met all sorts of people on the way, women, kids, men, old people, but largely from Sikh religion because of obvious reason- Hemkund Sahib was the destination for most of them and is one of the most sacred places in their religion.
On our way porters regularly asked us for carrying our bare minimum luggage and pony riders asking us to climb on, but, chivalry was on test, so how could this option be even considered, in spite of how tempting it sounded and we chugged along. I was joined in by one of my fellow group member (Surinder) who was also traveling alone and we trekked along. First incident was just around the corner and no nothing major, but small theft. We both stopped near a shop to click few pictures, and leaned one of our walking sticks on the table of a shop and clicked 2 pictures to be precise and this is not the age of those black box cameras where one could grow old by the time a picture could be clicked. It took 15 seconds flat and we turned around, voila, first Himalayan magic trick! Not for what our sages were known, but what our locals have been practicing. Now appreciation of this smart one was out of question, so we inquired around, but when answers are known, smart people should move on and that’s what we did, is this the best? Ok still no answer. So like other unsolved mysteries of nature it was left to its own answering and we walked on.
Now with bubbling energy, feet moving in rhythm we trekked along. Now let me quell any doubts, this trek is not easy and that too when while typing this (in Ghangaria), my feet are hung in mid-air waiting to be blessed with hot water and courage under fire for last 12 hours, and having climbed from 5500 feet to 10200 feet, last 3 km of trek seemed like ‘stairway to heaven’, only to be disappointed by no sexy angels, take your guess, try at least. OK, let’s move on.
So beginning from previous paragraph where I lost my track, events were going to get interesting. We started moving around, weather was good, little sunny, cloudy, but pleasant.
Again my writing interrupted, door knock, tour operator comes in to clarify few things for tomorrow and the hot water was still boiling and should come soon, I bolted the door on chilly Himalayan winds, jumped into giant quilts for warmth and being typing again, with my fingers numbed with cold! Now from where we left, the weather was better as early morning it was raining since it had rained all night, but the rain had stopped.
Any rain on this day could increase the torture level by at least few notches. Why? Well to start with the stone paved path gets slippery; you are either holding an umbrella for life or clowned with a raincoat. Walking in that manner can bring the mortals to their knees in few moments, lasting as long as the respective human spirit can hold. And worst thing is that the view gets blurred, clouds covering the mountains, no peaks to be seen and disappointment to its best.
Well we walked, bravely, taking few stops to catch up on our breath and our tour operator Devkant filling in with details, about flowers, trees etc and importantly what kind of plants not to touch as they, yes, they cause itching. WAIT knock knock and god is there with a hot bucket and in 5 degrees of weather and going down, this can become cold, even before you can say cold. Took a quick sponge bath. Even standing in this weather and doing cold sponging is chivalrous task, don’t believe me, try next time to have a bath here and send me a postcard. Cold sponging was the natural choice, die with cold or get warmed up quickly and get into layers of quilt to recover your worn senses, spirit, courage, as tomorrow a new day awaits you. Don’t twirl your noses and wipe that smirk off your face.
Now, let’s move on. As I was mentioning few innocent looking plants like Girardinia-Diversifolia (See the picture), can cause irritation with a burning sensation. Now it is not hearsay, I accidentally touched one just on my finger while turning around post answering nature call. And it itched, but good enough for slapping instructions back into my head, don’t touch them!
Now we made few stops at small makeshift wooden huts loaded with city people favorite junk foods, and tea, maggi, aalu parantha, black daal and roti. Now, for god’s sake make a sane choice and try not to have heavy stuff as your blood circulation slows down and it’s a demanding trek. So have few old time favorite ParleG with tea and scoot after filling your water bottle.
Things are reasonable but little expensive as they have to be carried up here and ponies, porters are the only ways. One pony trip, one way costs Rs 650, same for porter. Now don’t say that there is no difference between man and animal! Yes actually no, both carry equal luggage, animal activist should rejoice at this equality.
As the hours passed by, sweat started building up and off came the turtle oh not the animal, the shirt. A towel was called into action but didn’t last long as it fell somewhere after an hour, pony must be wiping his ass in it! But not to be let down, a bigger towel was called in service and was wrapped around the neck, oh no don’t get worried, no suicidal tendencies, death here was more natural and quick so why try something stupid. Well I was looking more like a UP bhaiyan, pictures will say it well. Well so be it, damn the looks, wiping sweat was critical as it can start making you feel dull and irritated.
Well enough of horror stories, time to describe natural beauty. It was in plenty and welcoming. Wherever you turned around, you saw mighty mountains staring at you or lovely flowers smiling at you. Flora and fauna in full display and clouds so white, cottony and BLUE sky. When was the last time you saw a blue sky? Gushing river waters making such heavenly sounds that you could drop everything and start meditating. It was blissful. Small flowers of various colors, craning themselves from nooks and corner, inviting you to click them. Little birds of various shapes around flying fast, just quick enough for you to catch a glimpse.
Butterflies on flowers or flying around and in some flowers, bees taking their fill of nectar. Peaks of mountains! Yes straight 90 degree steep as if sliced by a knife and adorned with long pine trees, and other green trees not to be identified. Nature and its wealth had put on display their best to be soaked in. Now where do you get to see such sights? Try using a camera and you will get some basic pictures, why maybe they are copyrighted and you are not allowed to capture the originals, so duplicate it be, at least gives you later a sense of catching up with a dream that you lived!
Now the trek was growing tougher, steeper, and made frequent stops to catch up on lost breath and sipping away frantically on water. The path for walking is layered with stones, mud in gaps, pony shit (loads of it) and at places nothing, and to top it all you have frequent interruptions of groups of ponies going up and down, carrying people, old and young in equal numbers. I’m lying, more young people, shame! Poor old people walking with strength, filled with religious feelings were walking away bravely and they disappeared out of sight soon. Not that I wasn’t fast, but they were FAST. Not powered by steroids but faith. Steroids leave it to our generation. It actually boils down to what we eat. Our lifestyle and what oldies have had in their primes. Now don’t reach out for that Domino piece or MacD, or potato fries. We are decaying from inside without our knowledge human evolution is being driven by PlayStations and not the Gully Danda or Kabbadi which would be soon be available in PlayStations. Ready kids?
Well half the distance i.e.7km was covered and energy levels were fluctuating based on the terrain, which at places became so steep, you wished whether hopping onto nearest passing pony was an option. Well not now, maybe later, when we meet Stairway to Heaven. We trekked along and by 5pm were close to our destination Ghangaria, 3 kms and close? Yes why not, city dudes you know. Here was a game changer, slope elevation started increasing, and yes it did not stop, it rose, rose, and at times it felt just like Stairway to Heaven and Pearly Gates at the end of it. Stamina was lost few kms back, now human spirit started rising and the ponies passing by appeared to be god sent mount of choice. Pony or no pony? This decision wasn’t easy, what will happen after the ride, will I be the soldier who trudged along and completed the last 3km or chicken who traveled on pony. Well masculinity chose legs and we trudged along, giving glances at passing ponies who promised early arrival at the pearly gates. And we trudged, trudged, stopped, caught up on breath. Then we meet a gentleman who had bravely scooted away past us up, coming back down, mysteriously. We inquired what had happened? He replied, the zip of his bags had got open and his camera fell off so he is going down to find it. We let him pass but wondered, if a Rs 20 walking stick could face Himalayan magic, camera stood no choice, instant nirvana for it on touching ground with so many porters walking up and down.
Well answer was found, when after half hour we saw behind us a gladiator trooping on a pony with a sullen face, here was our man-coming after witnessing the Himalayan trick, on a pony. Now this guy was part of a Bangalore Mountaineering Club, who overtook us walking swiftly with his 2 professional walking sticks. On return, he had lost his courage, camera, so pony was the intelligent choice or lying all night in the foothills of Himalaya was no one’s choice. We saw him happily riding away in sunset and we picked up our courage and trekked along a never ending mountain slope where hopes raised every time we saw a board saying Ghangaria 2km.
Now this slope was increasingly becoming steep and felt like I will come apart soon, but didn’t. This is the most difficult part of the trek and people who have been here will vouch for it. Soon ray of hope shined and saw the helipad which is the landmark for Ghangaria, but another 500 odd meters more to reach the hotel, no sorry 1km, life is a bitch. Anyways, we dipped into our last remaining energy reserve approaching danger mark and trudged along. And finally human spirit won and came the view of our abode for next 3 days-Krishna Hotel, name also justified the abode. Time- 6.00 p.m. golden hour. Phew after 14 km of body breaking trek, keys of room feel as if keys to heaven.
Keys went in, levers turned and voila, bed! Kept the luggage on the floor and laid on the bed, tried to let the muscles fall in places, bones rearranged and blanked out. Then came the knock, sir ‘tea’, quickly gulped it and asked for another shot, bartender, oops waiter, hallucinations I tell you. Another cup of tea and later followed by a bucket of running hot water, remember movie Kahani, yes. And did hot water sponging, now don’t twirl your nose, I was the jury and I voted unanimously, to hell with anyone. Didn’t want to die of thermal shock (when I’m writing this para it was 6th day of bath and I had an amazing bath after reaching Badrinath). Put my sore legs in water, letting them go deep as the bucket would allow, wrapped a towel around the buckets mouth with my legs inside. No I wasn’t steam cooking my legs just trying to ensure heat didn’t escape quickly and I got some good time to rest myself. Spa treatment is a city luxury for relaxing god knows, fake tiredness, stress of bored housewives, this was the place where you needed it, or earned it – Bourneville advertisement.
Now after relaxing my legs in this cooker, I took them out and after drying them came outside my room. I met with a nice heavenly sight of Himalayas, majestic looking, formidable, no wonder kept the stray invaders away for centuries. But in this age of missiles, I wonder how long, anyways I loved what I saw and soaked in the beauty of it. Around 9.00 p.m., we went downstairs to have dinner. Now the hotel is Khalsa Hotel, adjacent to our hotel, it serves food ours didn’t, but rooms of ours were better. So now hunger pangs had kicked in and flames were about to engulf humanity before a frail looking person, in ordinary dress came and asked what will you have, my famished look said it all-AALU KA PARANTHAA with TIKKI OF BUTTER. Soon a giant medium sized pizza shaped parantha came into view and it was over before it could get comfortable on my plate and I asked him to get one more. I ravished the first parantha while the speedy Gonzales came back with another and it met the same fate as its predecessor. I had to, or how do you satisfy flames of hunger generated over a 14 km trek with 1 aalu parantha and tea for breakfast and plate of salad for lunch, along with some candies thrown in with gay abandon. Soon, we dispersed to our rooms with instructions to be ready by 6.00 a.m. next day by Devkant. Anyways I retired to my room, did a quick inspection of my belongings and planned for tomorrow mornings trek to Valley of Flowers.
Night before we had worked out our strategy with Devkant. I and Surinder were told to reach the gate early, get our tickets and walk fast to the end of valley, which was good 7km one side and Devkant will catch up with us soon and show us things which only brave hearts could see and which came true also. So we woke up early in morning and had quick breakfast and had our lunch packed reached the gate of Valley of Flowers. Here we purchased tickets -Rs150 each, valid for 3 days !! When did you hear of this scheme last? I don’t remember. We’ll it was drizzling and we took out raincoats, umbrellas and put up a brave front against the rain and started moving ahead. Now the trek isn’t easy, it’s not straight. It’s up and down, curvy at places treacherous as path become steep you need walking sticks to balance or you are piece of history or foliage wrapped or bruised and battered to be taken back home. So utmost care is advised and rain doesn’t make life easy, so we prayed for it to go away and it did after 30 mins.
The first feel of valley is divine, pristine, green foliage, flowers smiling from corners around or nooks and crannies, posing for the cameras. It was full display of Mother Nature’s wealth and love waiting to be appreciated and taken back as memories to last maybe a lifetime at least.
An hour into trek calamity strikes, the sole of my right shoe comes off little and I mumble a prayer, asking for it to stop. But nothing, few steps more and half of it came out and I thought ok this is it, I’m prepared for it. We make a stop and pull out my Indian version of Swiss knife and few jute ropes and make an intelligent tie up of the sole. Mission accomplished and we moved on, clicking pictures of flowers, doing macro shots, lying down in the mud, clearing stray grass, going close to flower and taking shots. Now after walking for a while, a look at the left shoe reveals, it’s a bloody suicide pact that this pair of shoes had signed up for and the left one also opened up to same extent as the right one. Ok emergency, out comes the knife, more rope and shoe secured and the 2 man platoon moved on. As we crossed few waterfalls with water flowing underneath our feet, before we could really soak in the feeling of cold mountain water flowing underneath our feet, the suicide pact became obvious and the design was laid bare-the right sole had come completely apart. Houston we have a problem! And now we still had options- pair of bathroom slippers were available at our disposal. But given the choice, it was decided to walk in the broken shoe as long as it was possible and distance to cover one way was still 3km. I bravely walked along and finally was joined by Devkant who had to leave the group behind as they were not so keen to pursue the trek further. He took pity on my plight but that’s the best it was possible in the absence of a cobbler shop or a mall in the valley. So we continued our journey. Devkant started showing us flowers explaining their varieties, names and found flowers from nooks and crannies and flowers whose season had gone but still had survived. What a rock star this guy is. We continue our brisk walk towards the end of valley and I decided to exercise my last and only option of doing away with shoes and wearing slippers. Now what a match a slipper is when challenged by stones of all shapes and designs-spiked stones, rounded stones, name the shape and it was there. But eco sensitive people need not worry, shoes were not thrown away nor given a burial, they were left at an identifiable spot to be picked up on our return journey.
We continued clicking pictures of array of flowers, trying to run after honeybees going from flower to flower trying to get perfect shot without getting stung. We managed to get few good ones, shots not stings, thankfully. After having clicked enough pictures and keeping a track of time, we managed to reach the end of valley – a full 7km walk from entrance. The scenery was out of this world, remember movie Gladiator, where there is a scene where Maximus is shown moving in dreams with his hands sliding touching fields of crops, it was something serenely beautiful. Whatever flowers we saw in trek till now had been arranged in the valley in layers and layers and you could see the visual play of colors along with greenery, waterfalls, Pushpawati River flowing by, glaciers, sunlight on mountains, clouds flying in pockets. It was nature’s theater and we were the esteemed audience of the day and indeed privileged we were. We enjoyed the moments, took pictures which will never capture the beauty and depth of our surroundings. Moments passed by, and we came to our senses. We sat down the river bed and took out our packed lunch boxes and ate in the heavenly place. Finished our lunch and drank natural mineral water and laid down on dry ground for quick power nap. We woke up after few minutes and surveyed all that we had conquered and decided it was time to return. With mixed feelings three of us said our emotional goodbyes to the sight and turned around and moved, stealing glances till the time the sight disappeared.
The Valley of flowers is an amazing place, by September end the flowers disappear, and then snowfall covers the area completely and remains so till May. In June the snow starts melting and the seeds of flowers start germinating and slowly the valley comes to life with flowers. The flowers change every 15 days and the color of valley changes with it. The place is so pristine, pure, the air so fresh, sky so blue, at this moment you experience emotional bliss. One has to be present here to experience it and no words or pictures can explain the effect this place has on individual.
I recommend spending some private moments with self in this place not with the group, just to experience the power of this place and the calmness that it brings on you. We moved quickly as it was around 2pm and return journey was going to take time. Soon met the sight of the only sore spot in this lovely pristine valley- my shoes in 3 pieces. They were tied to my rucksack like war trophies, why would someone even call it that, I did, till I find a better word.
We continued walking briskly, and saw nice flowers which we had missed, but Devkant knew where they were, so cameras went into action and challenging shots became normal, standing on slope of mountain hanging mid-air, framing the flowers, while your backside supported in mid-air by trusted pair of hands and then getting that perfect shot. Few places even fell off, but what the hell, anything for a perfect shot. We continued walking and met a foreigner, weird lanky guy, armed with a camera shop (tripod, lens kits and what not), taking pictures and he still had to move into the valley and we were moving out of the valley and the valley gates close at 5 with a grace time till 6.
We continued walking and joked that this bloke is going to get fixed here all night and when he returns, it will be way past the deadline and on our way out while passing the main gate ticket counter we would suggest the guys to penalize him by deleting all his pictures, ouch, did we resemble Satan by any chance, red horns and forked tail with a trident in hand? nah..anyways the thought was given a pass and we moved towards the main gate, clicking pictures, some dangerous stunts and then ultimately realized we had breached the first deadline and now last deadline was next. So we fired up all cylinders, yeah right cylinders, all we had was wasted lungs, aching limbs, slippers, shoes, so all were pressed into action and we moved forward. Soon we came within approaching distance of main gate and were fearing that the guys at the gate will chew up our brains and ask for penalty which is allegedly Rs10,000/-no it’s not the Himalayan safari that made me accidentally add few zeros, so settle your eyeballs in respective sockets. So it was decided that if at all Devkant’s old relationship, or excuses would fail, I would be showcased as the reason with my dilapidated look, bathroom slippers in feet, shoes hanging with strings onto their dear life to my bag (as if any life was left in them) and sole of one of them showed violently in outer pocket of bag and my bearded look. Yes we passed the main gate and no one was there to scorn at us or rebuke, watershed, but WTF who was looking forward to the verbal duel. So we happily rested our tired bodies on benches near the gate and relaxed and joked about the bloke whom we had met on our return. And bloody hell 5 mins later that bloke came into view and we asked him sheepishly, ‘you went till the end of valley? YES!! ‘ Now god only knows the real answer, as there was no witness, but if he actually did, and he returned, he must be a mountain goat disguised as human. No way in hell he could have made it. Anyways we narrowly escaped earning the inglorious record of being the last people coming out of valley. So we picked up our battered bodies moved out of main gate and said goodbye to valley.
On our way to resort we pulled out few leaves of Tulsi, planning to take our hunt to hotel and ask for Tulsi tea, time for a refreshing cuppa. We reached hotel and promptly handed over the leaves and waited for tea, 2cups each which arrived promptly and was finished soon. So now time to call in for Hot Running Water which came late around 8pm to my room. By that time I was feeling weird and knew something was wrong, I was proved right later. After getting fresh changed into fresh clothes and put my legs into hot water and waited. Soon, normal shivering turned into medium shivering and after 15mins cut short the hot water treatment after few frantic trips to bathroom, the shivering turned violent (must have made into news for mild earthquake in Himalayas) and I could not bear it and first sensation of fever set in. I realized I had food poisoning, now that’s hitting a rough patch bang in the middle of nowhere. Now I redressed myself, woolen inner, t-shirt, sweater, jacket, track pants and woolen socks. Still no difference.
Now I also had to call up home and give my whereabouts, not that they were expecting since I had told them that no signal will be available here for 4 days so connectivity will be there and phones had gone belly up 2 days back. But here STD booth operators have gone innovative and installed signal booster for Idea telephone which they operate, and charge Rs 10 a minute. So I decided that before I went worse, at least let me call home. I gathered myself and limped slowly to the nearest STD booth and dialed home, signal quality was bad, so kept it brief and came back. Now the problem was getting worse, left knee ligament was paining bad and right knee was also indicating a parallel movement. Back in room, medical supplies were brought out and line-up of medicines was prepared. Dispirin (2) were dissolved in water and went in first, next was Paracetmol, Entroquinol, Antibiotic and waited. Devkant and Surinder came in asking for dinner. I told them I will join soon, picked myself and locked the door, moved little and then said I will be back in a moment. I opened the door and went to the bathroom and came back, shaken and all stirred, not the least Mr Bond and collapsed in bed. Surinder came back again checking what happened; I said I’m not coming just send a water bottle, biscuits. Promptly items came. I got into bed and was in bed for an hour; by the time shivering had subsided and was feeling better. Surinder and Devkant came after dinner asking for how I was feeling and if I needed any help. I was feeling better and thanked them and said if anything was needed will call them for help. They reluctantly left, unsure. Now strange thoughts came to me, if I was not able to go to Hemkund Sahib tomorrow, it would be a bad omen, coming all this way and lying in a pile, not done. So prayed frantically for recovery. Hours passed and I woke up often, but was satisfied that there was no shivering and fever was down. With such impressive line-up of medicines inside it had to give in for few hours and it did and did not return.
I woke up in morning at 5, Devkant checked with me about my health and whether I was willing to do the next trip to Hemkund Sahib. I agreed but only if I was going on a pony. Devkant said he himself was going on a pony and I can come along with him and he can keep an eye on me also. I agreed and quickly got dressed and by 7 we boarded the Himalayan SUV. Now our SUVs were named Shyamla and Lilly, interesting, huh! Both were used to walking in a pattern, Shyamla the leading lady walked in front and Lilly’ string tied to Shyamla. So what a pair. We mounted them. I could after a few shaky attempts. Now both of them started moving. Now it’s not easy riding them and in the path we were to take, it was going to be a ride of lifetime, and I wasn’t disappointed. The path to Hemkund Sahib is steep and is even worse than Stairway to Heaven which I described earlier. The path is steep, littered with stones, not at all comfortable to walk, wet, littered with pony shit and urine and smells and has a steady stream of pilgrims walking up and down. Now everyone is jostling for the same space say 5 feet max wide. Now the width varies and at times you are precariously placed close to outer side from where any fall guarantees a Humpty Dumpty fall if you are lucky or if not then join the lords in heaven. Pony ride is shaky and it’s not the fault of these poor souls who faithfully carry the load without a protest. The steps that they take on this path is filled with stones of varied shapes and results in shaking in all directions, it’s like riding a Rodeo, how long you sit on it makes you the winner. In a Rodeo you would survive few seconds, here you have to manage full 2hours, so I held on to my dear life and went ahead like cowboy. Damn man, its a helluva ride.
While Devkant was pointing sceneries, glaciers, waterfalls, I tried following him, but could see Yamraj forms around every nook and corner or any bump which made me jump from my saddle. I finally settled down after an hour in my saddle and started appreciating the view around me while holding on to my dear life. Saw nice flowers, brahma kamal which is a unique flower found only on way to Hemkund Sahib or at Hemkund Sahib. Soon we could hear hymns in the air and knew instinctively that we will be reaching soon, and yes we did in a matter of minutes.
Immediately came off the back of mules, round 1 of Rodeo won. After getting down realised what had happened to our lower half and fingers. Lower half was stiff, sore and had lost all signs of normalcy and pain was coming alive in parts not known before. Fingers were sore as they were instrumental in holding on to my dear life and they held well.
Now we quickly straightened up and moved to the outer side of Gurudwara and raced from there and took a sharp curve and moved past the Laxman Temple and outside the temple precincts. Someone shouted from behind, ‘you are not allowed there’, we lied and said that we have permission and continued moving, manoeuvring sharp turns and climbed up and down small hills and continued our dash to the end of Hemkund Sahib lake which is at least 1.5km away from the Gurudwara. Our destination was place which was bang opposite the Gurudwara and end of lake. On our way we continued taking pictures of flowers and whatever scenery we could capture. Eyes were moving like hawks and seeking flowers and scenery. Only fear was the approaching clouds which would have threatened the shots. In the distant, the clouds were approaching fast and we made one sudden dash to the end of lake. Devkant started looking for a flower which he himself had never seen. Suddenly he exclaimed loudly and said that he found it and I was there by his side in a blink. We clicked pictures of the Yogesh Kamal which actually is rare flower. After some nice shots, we searched for more and soon hit bonus, another rare flower and cameras went clicking and after capturing it we surveyed for more. Captured pictures of Hem Kamal, a sacred flower and there are so many of them on the mountain, its like blanket of them but you can’t see them from Gurudwara!! Then did few shots of Gurudwara from the end of lake which is how the Hemkund Sahib looks like in all published pictures. So after satisfying ourselves that we had done what we had sprinted for began our return trip. My health was holding up and I could stretch more. So now quickly returned to Gurudwara. On way to Gurudwara is Laxman temple, and as described its the only temple built for Laxman sans Ram and Sita. Did darshan and after taking pictures of deity, I went inside Gurudwara. Now I had to search for a piece of cloth to cover my head and someone helped me with a cloth. Quickly I went into the Gurudwara and I and Devkant did the darshan and prayed. Then stood for few moments and soaked in the pious feeling of the place, filled with hymns, priest in front of the Granth Sahib. After few moments, we came out and had kada prasad, this is given only once the ardaas is done. Then we moved to Langar and had tea and rice khichdi which was really good.
Meanwhile we were searching for Surinder so that we could send him to the end of Hem Kund lake and looked around, but did not find him, he had left. He had got left behind as he was riding a different pony, and could not join our pony train. Now since nothing could be done and our pony train driver was getting restless, we saddled up and were back in the train. Now this time it was more exciting and rocking as we were coming down the mountain. Soon it was realized painfully that it was easy climbing up then going down. Why? because, you are looking like a bullet waiting to come out of a loaded gun and you are raised in mid-air along with pony’s ass. Moreover, mountains look more menacingly when you looking them from top and while coming down the steep gorges, valleys and stones look so scary. Well for the ride quality its double the toughness of coming up as ponies at times land their behind legs at one go on stairs or stones, based on their mood and when that happens, its a bloody surge of pain and adrenalin and prayers reach quickly to god because of altitude benefit. So now fingers firmly holding the handle we ride down 3500 feet, 6km trek. On downward journey you are spending less time appreciating the majestic view but are spending more time interacting with pony, in my case Lily, begging her to go easy on slopes and stairs and requesting to stay inside and not outside i.e the edge of valley so you don’t fly off in the valley. While this love affair with the pony lasted full 2 hours and she appeared to be listening to me, at least the sore back and my sore behind were a testimony to that, it could have been worse. After reaching hotel, rest of the day passed away incident free except my medical nuclear blasts were being carried out at prescribed intervals to ensure, fever, stomach infection were kept at bay and did not emerge. Well the rest of the day for me passed incident free but not for remaining group. Incidents deleted.
Soon it was dinnertime and I came to our buddy club and pondered what to have. All went in different directions driven by their individual pains, stomach conditions and mood. I chose Maggi, something which I usually don’t have but made it a staple diet after my run-in with food poisoning. So after having dinner, we discussed how to go down tomorrow to Govindghat. After carefully evaluating options, I decided soldiers travel by feet, royalty rode, so pony was summoned for early morning ride of 14 km down 5500 feet. War room meeting over, decisions made, we retired to our rooms.
Early morning, woke up, packed my luggage less a pair of shoes which had become split personality as soles had come apart and there was no point carrying them home, so left them in the room. After quick pack, wore warm clothes and came outside room at 6! yes that’s normal time here mortals, for departure because it was a long day ahead of us. Agenda was to reach down 14 km down to 5500 feet, then travel some 40km up to 11500 feet and reach Mana Village and visit Badrinath, some grueling agenda it was. These kinds of altitude swings are not easy on body.
So mules we’re ready, and surprise, we meet Shyamla and Lilly again and we boarded them-‘Shyamla and Lilly di gaddi’ Yikes, something was amiss! and I realized that blanket on the saddle had become wet during last night’s rain and pony guy said no other blanket is available. He bravely took off his jacket and put on the blanket and I sat down again, felt okay, but for how long? After few turns and a km, water found its way to my track pants and I was becoming a part of the wetness of the blanket and expecting that equilibrium will soon be reached and it did reach after another 3-4kms and I gave up and left it to nature to sort itself out. This trip again wasn’t easy as the famous Stairway to Heaven was ridden in downward mode and the beating your body takes in-spite of all the pleading to the mules is incredible. After 6kms we made our pit stop and straightened our sore back and fingers. We went inside the small shacks built along the way by the locals and sipped tea and bread pakoras-luxury in this place. Soon without losing time, mules were saddled and we rode and we rode, not into sunset! that happens in romantic stories, we rode into more pain.
Each jerk on this Himalayan terrain blows you apart and by the time we reached down, I’m sure my heart would have dislocated to right, and I would have added few more medical anomalies to the list which only a thorough body scan would reveal, but that would have to wait. Paid off the pony man, and moved towards the hotel which was our meeting point with the rest of the group which were coming via different modes, yes, air, land, water (no). I moved into the hotel lobby with my 15 kg of luggage which my darling Lilly had brought down along with me safely. I did a quick change of my track pants and inner and put them into isolation chamber -a plastic bag, as they were wet, sprayed with flying mud, maybe pony shit also, its not identifiable and who was wanting to smell, so they were sealed in plastic bag. After changing in fresh pair, I came to hotel lobby and sat and ordered Limca and biscuits. Did I say sat? I sat and stood immediately as the sore behind made me realize of its importance and I got up with pain. Did not know what to do? Confused I looked around and saw a soft sofa. I moved myself to it and laid down, sitting was ruled out completely. I became nostalgic and remembered how Saif Ali Khan felt when he said in movie Dil Chahta Hain that he was sitting on a tyre tube after the journey in truck, my situation was worse. I continued to lay there and waited for remaining group. After an hour all had come in, few had come walking, pony and by helicopter (costs Rs 3500/-) one way and takes 3mins to come down but heavily dependent on clear skies which is difficult to get,only possible for few hours during the day.
So we assembled and packed our luggage into the waiting bus and moved ahead towards Badrinath, Mana and a climb again of 6000 feet. Well see its not easy I told you. So at 2pm bus started and continued its upward journey. Devkant continued to explain about various rivers, places coming on the way and by evening say around 4pm we reached Mana Village, its the last Indian village, on this side of border and home to origination of river Saraswati, Bhim Pathhar, Rishi Ved Vyas Cave and Ganesh Cave.
On reaching Mana, we did a quick tour of village. Its a nice simple village, with people going about doing their daily chores, growing vegetables in the kitchen gardens. Saw tailless rat also for second time after seeing it in valley of flowers. Locals hate it as it spoils their crops. We were eagerly trying to capture it in our cameras while locals prayed for it to disappear, strange!
Anyways we moved to the place where Saraswati river originates and saw the river gushing out with huge flow and coming out from a large hole in the mountain, weird. No not actually, its explainable. If you track it backwards on famous Google map, you can see the river entering a long distance ahead, maybe across China boundary and then travels underground and comes out of here. So it doesn’t suddenly originate and takes birth here. In front of this point is a huge rock which acts like a bridge between 2 sides. Now the story is that this was put here by our famous Bhim, while the Pandavs were on their journey to heaven. So now you know where the route to heaven is, the secret is out, so go on sinning, route to heaven is known. Soon we will have daily bus trips and air trips here.
Anyways, close to this place is Rishi Ved Vyaas cave and close to it at a little distance is Ganesh cave. Now the story says that both of them teamed up and wrote Mahabharat (need to check). Near to it is a shop which has famously declared itself as the Last Tea Shop, well not of the world, but this side of the border. It actually is and then above it is a mountain road which after 65km leads into China! yikes and you can smell Manchurian, Fried Rice and Noodles so its true. Bull****. The food part is fictional rest is true, yes the road does lead to our unfriendly (hope word usage doesn’t cause a diplomatic war) neighbor China. We proudly posed in front of Last Tea Shop and sipped our hot cuppa and scooted off.
Now we bolted for the bus and got into it and moved towards Badrinath which is not very far from here. Within 15 mins we reached there. Checked into Hotel Patliputra, no king Ashoka angle here, a Bihar native is running it and its a well maintained hotel with nice inviting rooms. We checked into our rooms and Devkant swapped his room with me as he wanted me to have a better view or rather view of Mount Kailash which at times is possible to see in this weather. The mountain remains hidden with clouds and is not easily visible and was not visible now also. Its covered with snow all around the year and appears white.
Anyways I had a hot water bath, and after pampering myself with liters of hot water and shampooing my hermit texture looking hair, I appeared my real self. So quickly dressed and dashed downstairs where met up with Devkant and Surinder and moved towards the Badrinath temple, the rest of group had already left.
The area around the temple has lots of shops selling religious materials, mementos, prasad, flowers typical of any area around any famous temple. We entered the temple precincts and got into 2 lines which were for darshan. Now one line goes straight into the temple where you can have darshan of deity from close and the other line leads to an elevated platform which is at a slight distance from the deity and one can see the deity from a distance. Outside the temple there is tank of water in which hot sulphur water comes from ground below and people take bath in this water. Inside the temple precincts, there was a group of people playing bhajans and dancing around in a group. It was a nice feeling as the environment around had turned different and felt relaxing and wanted to extend the stay here. After spending some time in the temple, we moved back to our hotel and find that nice home style food is waiting for us. Menu consists of yellow dall, bhindi, chapatti, rice and papad. Now this is heavenly food and you relish these simple meals. We had the meals and moved to a small shop next to the hotel to have tea. We chatted over cups of tea and exchanged conversations and after sometime retired to our rooms with instructions to be ready next morning at 6am so that we can leave on time as it was a long drive to Haridwar.
I woke up early and after getting dressed and having packed up the luggage reached reception on time. Now excitement was waiting to begin, everyone was there on time but the driver of bus had gone missing with the bus and untraceable. We wait and wait, go around places near the hotel trying to find the bus. Devkant is also frantically searching for him, trying to call me on phone but no success. After an hour of searching the driver appears like a divine presence and we quickly load our individual luggage into the bus and get moving. The delay will again cause problem in the evening as we will end up reaching Haridwar late in evening if no landslide delays us. The bus began moving and after few hours few people in group are not able to stand the journey and ended up spilling their breakfast all over the terrain. The idea is to have simple light meals before bus journey but people can’t resist the normal breakfast routines. Anyways the roads are narrow and treacherous, every now and then heart skips a beat and at times goes dead with eyes falling out of sockets seeing tyre of the bus meeting edge of road which maybe after few days will again shorten. This is a fact the tyres of the bus come so close you can actually see them meeting the edge of the road. This distance shortens over period and then Border Road Organizations blasts some mountains and extend the road into the mountain. God bless them, if not for them, journey is not possible in these regions.
The trip is downwards going all the way from 11200 feet to 1200feet yikes. Now I’m sitting in the back of bus, typing my travel notes and trying not to see outside as optimism turns to pessimism seeing the road condition. View of valley is phenomenal, majestic mountains staring down at you and not sure whether with anger or just pride or maybe saying goodbye come again, depends on how spooked you are seeing outside or how desperately you want to run to plains, making an effort to normalize yourself. Some people, mostly young chickens complain of breathlessness while old guns are all fine.
Traveling with group is amazing, so many different people, their experiences, their viewpoints on topics, some acceptable, some laughable to you based on your own viewpoint and how big an opinion killer you are. Faux passes made by people are the treasure troves and most difficult. Difficult because they are made in moments where you have to just hold your laughter so you can appear to be polite and still keep the conversation going on. Some people can go to great extents to make themselves look stupid and bore you to such extent that only the fear of your death sentence not being confirmed or rejected by President of India keeps your hands in pocket and prevents you from reaching for the nearest knife or to hell with knife, bare hands are good enough. I have deleted those incidences from this travelogue, kept it for my personal records.
The journey continues and at places you see that you bus has managed to cross a bus, both of them caressing each other and close enough to feel each other, oh that’s not a lovemaking scene I’m describing, roads are so narrow up here and valley so inviting, that this love act is common here and its no Dirty Picture and censor board far away so its anytime watch. Now for the bus that lovingly passed us, there is something interesting. Its a cavalcade of 101 Malyalees from where? Kerala. These guys are moving along in a group with badges around their neck, and proudly possess a PANDIT also who has been riding along with them. This group we met yesterday, simple people and we met them at Ved Vyaas Ki Gufa and Ganesh Cave. At first sight we thought there is tremendous rush today, but all 101 were squatted on the ground with their priest mumbling jumbling which I couldn’t decipher. Rishi Ved Vyas would have also wondered why I have been surrounded by so many people and that too when the normal recorded footfalls don’t justify todays swarm of people. Well this group left soon, Rishi Ved Vyas must have heaved a sigh of relief, just normal never ending demands of mortals which would have been disposed of even before people would have taken first 5 steps.
Now weather looks good, mild chilly with sun showing up through the clouds, lighting up the mountain peaks and clouds playing hide and seek with mountains. Now this sun part is little tricky, as its appearance can cause landslide. Why, it rains during the night or the water continues to seep through the million pores of rocks and when during the sun starts heating up their surface, they start cracking up. Now this is an ongoing process. Soon it results in formation of cracks and loosening of rocks, which come tumbling down, with no warning. And if one of the tumbling down rocks catches you, then, Jack and Jill, came tumbling down, yes you are in a state of flight for few moments and then develop wings and depending on your respective religion are packed off to your respective abodes. Well this if you are UNLUCKY or else stranded on roads for anywhere between an hour to few days till the Border Road Organization guys show up with their specialized vehicles to clean up the Himalayan rocky diarrhea.
Now I’m getting bored, time to increase my internal water reserves which itself is a fine balancing act between quenching thirst and bladder pressure. Task completed, hope the balance stays till the next stop which we haven’t had since start at 630am and now was 920. Now its getting boring, let me fill up my previous days of unfinished experiences, I will be back.
And we made our first pit stop at 10am at Indralok Restaurant, well don’t get swayed by the name, no apsarayein and heavenly desires falsely fed to us since childhood. Had idlis and one miranda and others ordered for themselves. We begin our journey again and bingo we meet a landslide mess thankfully being cleaned up by BRO guys. Good it wasn’t a surprise. So now wait for this mess to be cleaned up. Tick, tick…boom, road clear 15 mins flat, rock n roll.
Now at 1140 am, Nandprayag, we meet another landslide caused traffic jam and rumours say some army truck has fallen in valley, now let’s see what it is, and this landslide is major, not the ones which we met till now. Let’s see how long it takes.30 mins and we started moving and it was indeed a army truck which had fallen, but luckily a short fall cut short by trees avoiding a direct fall in the valley. Well see that’s what life is all about driving in these places, unpredictable, even the experienced drivers of army can’t manage it at times, so the adventure seekers don’t drive to these places in your own cars for the simple reason that the roads are unpredictable and if something happens to your tour vehicle you can at least get into another vehicle and move one which is not possible with your own car. While we moved, we got to see at least a km long line and then comes up a scene, the malyalis, they have gotten down from the bus, got their gas cylinders out and were cooking and eating food, well Himalayan party gang making the best of a traffic jam.
Now the rest of the day passes incident free and after lunch stop we reach Haridwar at 8pm and thanks to absence of landslides we could make it in one piece. We check into our earlier Dharamshala and after getting fresh have the same nice meal which we had earlier. After dinner, I say goodbye to Devkant and Surinder as I will be leaving to New Delhi early morning and they will in early afternoon. So after exchanging goodbyes, we retire to our rooms and sleep. Early morning I catch my train to New Delhi and after a quick changeover to another train, I’m off to Mumbai. This trip has been phenomenal and has left me with lovely memories to be cherished over lifetime and thanks to Devkant it’s become really memorable.