Is it some kind of a park?” a friend asked casually when she got to know that I was going to the Valley of Flowers National Park in Uttarkhand. “It is, but not your neighbourhood DDA-type park. You need to walk a bit to reach it,” I replied teasingly. “How much?” she asked gingerly. “14 kilometres to reach the Valley gate,” I said. That sealed the case: she rolled her eyes, collapsed on the sofa and said the park next to her residence suited her just fine.
By the time we (hubby and I) reached Govindghat, an hour’s drive from Joshimath and the starting point of the trek to the Valley, I already had knots in my stomach.
“Kitna door hai Valley?” I asked the chaiwallah at Govindghat, a small kasbah on the confluence of the Alaknanda and Laxman Ganga rivers. “Woh pahar ke peechhe…woh dekhiye log ja rahe hain...” his voice trailed off, as he nonchalantly pointed to a mountain on the other side of the river where hundreds of people were snaking their way up a mountain road, turning a bend and then vanishing into the clouds.
The day’s work was cut out for us: A 14-km trek to Ghangaria (10,000 ft), another small kasbah, from where we would leave for the Valley early morning after a night’s stay. The Valley gate is just half a kilometre from Ghangaria.
The first kilometre was tough but the route stunning: verdant mountains, a spotless blue sky and with the robust Laxman Ganga roaring and ripping through the landscape. With a high-energy quotient, I sailed through comfortably. There were plenty of food shops along the route; the prices skyrocketed with altitude.
My mood was upbeat till the time we stopped at the first dhaba. Elated at crossing the first three kilometres minus any major embarrassment, I decided to help myself to some lavish breakfast. I was soon to pay for this: walking up became tougher and tougher. But the worst was yet to come.
Suddenly, as it so often happens in the mountains, it became dark and started pouring. We waited at a chai shop, drank cups of piping hot tea and ventured out when the rain turned to a drizzle. At the end of six kilometres, we were drenched and the walk through boulders and rocks became more difficult. However, we were egged on by encouragement from other trekkers, especially from fellow strugglers like us.
Turn a different corner
As we hit the last bend before Ghangaria, our pit stop for the night, a full 10 hours after we had started, there were only two things on my mind: a clean bed and hot water. Tired, wet and hungry, I reached the reception of the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) hotel and flashed my reservation slip triumphantly.
Thereafter, the conversation went on like this: Manager (looking very surprised): “Accha, aap aye hain Dilli se. Lekin apka room toh jal gaya.” My jaw dropped, I just couldn’t believe my ears. A huge argument between the manager and me followed even as the spouse tried hard to pacify both parties.
Me: (I swear I almost reached for his throat): “Jal gaya? Why wasn’t I told about this?” Manager (shrugged his shoulders): “It burnt down last month on the 14th, thanks to some guests like you. Investigation chal raha hai. It was not my responsibility to tell you.”
It turned out that the fibre glass huts we had booked had burnt to the ground because some guests forgot to put out a candle. And, to top it all, there were no other rooms available in the hotel. The ‘responsibility’ comment led to some very serious verbal duel and after I got over, I found a sizeable crowd surrounding us. All this shouting had one effect: the manager arranged for a room in another hotel for us.
Ah, some hot water at last, I thought! But that was not to be. The manager broke the bad news: all establishments in Ghangaria run on generators that are switched on for only five hours a day. Hot water, telephone connectivity and electricity are luxuries here. Everything is on demand, Rs 40 for a bucket of hot water, Rs 200 for drying a wet jacket and a masseur on call.
The next day was a treat, a fitting prize for all that we had endured. I had heard so much about the Valley but what was on display went beyond my wildest dreams. It is a flat valley, enveloped by the Gauri Parbat, Rataban, Kuntkhal Saptsring and Nilgiri peaks. The flat land is carpeted with wild flowers; while green is the predominant shade in July, white is for August. In September and October, the Valley is resplendent with dazzling hues before a blanket of snow covers it in October. We went completely crazy clicking photographs and soaking in the atmosphere, which left us mesmerised. Three hours of pure bliss, before rains forced us to retreat again.
The trek back to Govindghat the next day was terribly difficult, and my calf muscles nearly gave way. By the time we reached the place, we had missed the last bus to our next destination: Mana, the last village on the Indo-Tibetan border. What followed was another nerve-wracking adventure. But that’s another story for another day.