I love mountains but have never imagined that I would love trekking them more than anything!! Thanks to my friends for cancelling travel plans and pre-approved leaves (the “job people” would understand its importance). I made some last minute bookings and got registered for my first Himalayan trek in Uttarakhand. These foothills of the Himalayas are perfect for trekking and camping. The one I chose was for Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib and Vasudhara Falls; roughly 58 km trek- 5 days- in altitudes ranging from 6,000- 15,000 ft. Not bad for a first timer right?😉
At the Dehradun airport’s taxi stand for Rishikesh I tagged along with a group of 3 in their late 50s. Looking at their lugg’age‘ I thought they are going to attend some Yoga camp in Rishikesh but they happened to be my co-trekkers!! At base camp, I met my trek group and attended the orientation. I realised I had come half prepared !! So I went to the market to get some essentials. At evening we attended the Ganga Aarti … a divine and mind calming experience.
Next day we left for Joshimath it was a bus 10-12 hrs bus journey covering the Panch Prayags . Joshimath- is one of the ‘pithas’ established by Adi Shankarcharya. We visited the matha and Narsimha temple- one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu. During the winters when main Badrinath temple is closed Lord Badri’s idol is brought to and worshiped in this temple.
We started for Ghangaria next morning, 20 mins bus ride till Govindghat and then 14 km trek . Ghangaria situated at the confluence of the rivers Bhyundar Ganga and Pushpawati and is only open from May till September. The rest of the year, the valley is covered under snow. Govindghat is at 6,000 ft and Ghangaria at around 10,000 ft that means climbing up 4,000 ft in one day! I was quite relieved to know that shared taxis are available up to 4 km and thereby effective trekking 10 km!!
However those 10 km were not easy for me to cover…
Mesmerizing nature… river burbling through the woods, chirping birds, flowers, weather and photography made me forget trek pains. First 6 km were comparatively bearable as I was climbing up and down. While I was enjoying the trail I realised one of my shoe’s sole came off. They were just six months old branded shoes clearly not meant for trekking!! I did some jugaad to fix it temporarily. Last 4 km- all steep climbing, they tested my physical and more than that mental endurance. And I decided not to give up when I met Sikh pilgrims climbing up without proper trek shoes and few of them barefooted;greeting everyone with “wahe guruji da khalsa wahe guruji di fateh”. On the way I met a local who informed me that if I speed up and reach early I can get a cobbler up town. Hearing this I gathered all my strength and walked as fast as I could.
Finally, I reached Ghangaria – the last human habitation in the Bhyundar valley and our base camp for next 2 days. After settling in my dorm and a cup of hot soup me, I rushed to find that cobbler,who perfectly mended my shoes. I was learning about “trekking essentials” through my experience by now, so I bought a bamboo stick as a substitute for ‘hiking pole’, a local made rain cover as a substitute for ‘poncho’. Now I was all set for next day’s trek to Valley of Flowers.
After breakfast we left for Valley of Flowers a trek of 3.5 km. The trail is well paved but steep at many places and the most scenic one!! The valley is vast and so picturesque that one wouldn’t mind walking further 2-3 km to get soaked in its beauty. I experimenting with my photography skills, capturing the beauty of flora. I was so engrossed in the nature that I almost forgot I have to trek back to Ghangaria. That evening after returning to base camp our group started opening up, new friendships were made, pictures were shared. That is when our camp leader told us today’s trek was easy and tomorrow’s trek to Hemkund Sahib will be difficult than this.
Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib Ji- Sikh place of worship with its setting of glacial lake surrounded by 7 mountain peaks. It is devoted to Guru Gobind Singh and is located at Himalayas at 15,200 feet. Like the day before we started for the trek- 6 km (one way) it was raining that day. Mule ride n ‘pithoos’ are available for those who wanna take it. However it was a trekking time for me, so slow n steady with frequent short breaks was climbing up!! The trek gets difficult due to high altitude which causes breathlessness. But after all the odds when I reached at the top the serene site of star shaped gurudwara makes all efforts worth it!!
Few devotees and co-trekkers had trouble in breathing due to low oxygen levels and high altitudes. So they had to visit the medical facility at the gurudwara. I had a hot tea at the Langar as an effort to slightly reduce my shivering and to energize myself.
The Hemkund Sarovar (as the name suggests is formed by glacier water) is next to the Gurudwara. Sikhs take a dip /bath in this holy lake even in -ve temperatures!! The “ardaas” in gurudwara calmed the ripples in my mind.
Next to the lake there is “Lakshaman Lokpal Mandir”. I have always seen Lakshman ji’ s idol together with Lord Ram and Sita’s in a temple. This was the first time I was visiting a temple of Lakshaman ji alone. It is believed that Lakshman ji meditated by the lake and regained his health after being severely wounded by Meghnad son of Ravana. After offering prayers in gurudwara and mandir I sat on the lake’s bank engrossed in the scenic beauty and the Sarowar’s view.
Due to weather conditions you can’t stay there for long so with heavy heart I need to leave,as no tourist is allowed to stay there after 2 pm! Before leaving don’t forget to recharge your body n mind with ‘garma garam khichadi’ served in Langar. Return journey, compared to climbing up, was less tough was happy with the feeling ‘vow I could make it to the top’. Now I could enjoy the nature’s magic on the way…which I had missed while climbing !! I merrily trekked down capturing waterfalls, beautiful valleys, rare flowers like Bramhakamal and Blue Poppy. Contented faces of co-trekkers and pilgrim devotees made it even more memorable.
The next day we trekked down from Ghangaria to Govindghat and took a bus for Badrinath. It was freezing cold and windy there. We bathe in tapta kund – hot sulphur springs just below the Lord Badri’s temple. It was so relaxing that my body forgot the trekking pain. After visiting the temple we took a walk around the town witnessing river Alaknanda flowing untamed. Next morning some of us got up early around 3 am to get a view of Mount Neelkanth – a major peak of the Garhwal Himalayas. And it turned out to be one of the best memory of this trek!! We then left for Mana – last village on Indo-Tibet border. We visited Ganesh Gufa, Vyas Gufa, Bhim Pul (bridge) over Saraswati river and learnt about the history and mythological references from a local guide. After having tea in ‘Bharat ki Chai ki Aankhri Dukaan’ I started for Vasudhara Falls , it is believed Pandavas took this route for their Swargarohna. The 6 km trek route is well defined but steep, low oxygen levels made the walk difficult. Weather changed as I went up, sun burning my skin even through two layers of clothing, the cold wind blowing wild. I took frequent breaks to catch my breathe and also to admire the view…only to realize why it is called path to Swargarohna.
I could see the falls but I was yet to cover more than half distance to reach there! This trek tested my will power. By the time I reached the falls I was exhausted, breathless and my skin burning yet I was extremely happy. The feeling of ‘I did it’ was overwhelming. I could hear my heart beating as loud as the waterfall while my eyes captured the memory of the mighty Vasudhara Falls.
This trek built up my endurance and made me believe I can do it!! I came back home with memories of my first Himalayan trek, some good friendships and with a determination that my I will be prepared for my next one !!
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