The sun was shining bright as we traveled along the serpentine roads of the familiar Garhwal Himalayas. I was recounting the number of times I’ve traveled through these roads via the familiar places of Rishikesh, Byasi, Devprayag, Srinagar and Rudraprayag. I almost knew what to expect after every bend of the road. After Rudraprayag, our vehicle continued with the National Highway 58, which is the well-known road that leads to the distant shrine of Badrinath. The fact that the sun was shining bright was a pleasant surprise given the time of the year. It was the month of August, the peak of monsoons in this part of the world and our destination for the day was the distant town of Joshimath. We were on our way to visit the Valley of flowers, one of the most unusual valleys nestled in the deep corners of the Himalayas.
Way back in 1931, the British mountaineers Frank S. Smythe, Eric Shipton and R. L. Holdsworth were returning from their successful expedition of Mt Kamet. They were looking for a short route to the town of Badrinath. They lost their way in their quest and landed up on a beautiful valley full of Alpine flowers and were mesmerized by its beauty. That’s the valley we know today as the “Valley of flowers”.
A long cherished dream was about to materialize. We’ve planned for it many times, but it never happened. The last unsuccessful attempt was in the year 2013 when it was literally washed away by the devastating floods of Garhwal. Even this time, things were quite uncertain as we were following the monsoon patterns over last few days. Some of my friends of the mountains advised not to go ahead due to incessant rains that lashed the slopes of the hills causing landslides almost everywhere. We went ahead ignoring their advise with our fingers crossed being well aware that such incidents can result in delays of several days. Throughout our route, we crossed areas with broken roads dotted by boulders and stones which had come down the slopes but fortunately, it wasn’t raining. It took sometime to find out the GMVN rest house amidst the main market of Joshimath. After the formalities, we were allotted a family suite and a double room. Six of us (our and my sister in law’s family) stayed at the family suite while my father in law went to the other. Clouds started gathering in the evening and by night it was pouring down heavily. That added to my worries as we were to start our actual trek the next morning. But that’s expected in this time of the year. However, the skies fell on me when I chanced upon the dates of our return tickets. We were to return by the Nanda Devi express from Haridwar. It departs from there at 12.55 AM, which means it falls on the next day going by the English calendar. However, I booked the tickets on a woefully wrong assumption of it falling in the night of the same day. How could I make such a blunder and it’s not just me, but an entire group of seven people who were to suffer. For all practical purposes, a full day had been wiped out of our itinerary. We contemplated other options but nothing worked out.
The next morning when we started off for Govindghat, it was still pouring down heavily. The road out of Joshimath moved beyond the cantonment areas and we were moving down the slopes till we reached near the river bed of Alakananda. As we crossed it at Vishnuprayag, it bore a ferocious look with gallons of water thundering down the gorge threatening to engulf anything that comes in its way. The vehicle left us at Govindghat and a local jeep carried us another 2-3 km to the start of the trek route. Fortunately, by that time, the rain reduced to a drizzle and sun was about to peep out from the clouds.
After handing over most of our luggage to a porter, we started off on foot for the village of Ghangria which was 12 km ahead. The trail went through lush green valleys with forests jumping into life after receiving nourishment from the monsoons. Streams danced their way through the boulder strewn beds. Waterfalls came down the slopes in milk-white streams amidst lush green forests. It was joy everywhere in the nature and we enjoyed walking amidst the cool air brushing our faces. Our kids too enjoyed walking the trail in company of each other. As we moved along, the trail gained in steepness gradually and the bends increased. Soon our group dispersed, separated from one another by their respective pace and as in many other trails, I soon found myself alone with the Himalayas. It happens so often that you’re with yourself, accessing your own limitations, planning and taking decisions on your own and no one else other than yourself being responsible for your actions and their outcome. That’s what mountains teach you on its hidden trails.
Halfway through our trail, at about 2 PM, we stopped by the village of Bhuindar to have our lunch. As we had our food, the drizzle made a come back and so did our worries. Not everyone in our group had the same pace and if rains came on now, it would prove difficult for them to reach the destination within the safe bounds of daylight, which was fading fast now. After lunch, we reached the confluence of Bhuindar Ganga and Laxman Ganga, the latter coming down the slopes from the holy shrine of Hemkund Sahib.
After crossing a bridge at the confluence, the trail moved up the slopes in steep gains in altitudes while the number and sharpness of the bends increased. We heard that the entire route to Ghangria from this point was going to be an uphill climb. By this time, I and Ranjan da (my brother-in-law) were walking together with our respective kids, who now started showing signs of impatience and tiredness. After every bend they would ask how far was the destination and the frequency of such questions increased as the uphill trail started taking a toll on their bodies and minds. Our wives were trailing behind and we couldn’t even see them in the vicinity. Horses and mules were plying up and down the routes and they asked if we were interested in taking a lift. So far we’ve resisted the temptation, but as evening bore on, day light started fading and the intensity of rains increased, my daughter started crying relentlessly with no signs of the mothers. We still had to find a place to stay after reaching Ghangria and we didn’t know how far ahead it was. It was at this point, I relented to the call of a horse owner and hired one to carry along my daughter for the rest of the route.
But every toil has an end and so did ours when we finally reached Ghangria. I was relieved to find my daughter sitting on a chair. The horse owner apprised me that she was crying incessantly and only stopped once she saw me entering the village. Contrary to the popular belief, it was challenging to find a hotel as it turned out the village was bustling with tourists even in this raging monsoons. Even after we found a room and placed our luggage inside, there were still no signs of the mothers. I went back a few km down the trail to get a glimpse of them. After a very long wait, they finally arrived on backs of ponies and I was relieved to see good reason prevailing on their part in their decision to hire ponies to reach on time. We were too tired and were quick to resign to beds after dinner that night. The valley of flowers awaits us tomorrow!