One of the most sought-after trekking experiences for every trekker- Valley of Flowers trek. A journey by our Nomad Mahendra Rathod
Valley of flowers trek is located near Ghanghariya in Uttrakhand, India. It is one of the most beautiful places in India. In this journey, we start from Haridwar to Auli to Govindghat to Ghaghandhariya to Valley of Flowers + Hemkund Sahib and back.
This trip was done in 2nd half of August 2016. Generally, the trek opens from June till October. Months of July, August can be a little wet due to the monsoon.
The brief Valley of flowers trek itinerary is as follows:
Day 1 – Reached Haridwar/Rishikesh in the morning/afternoon, site seeing
Day 2 – Drive from Haridwar and reached Auli around 6 pm
Day 3 – Short acclimatization trek to Gorsan Bugyal in Auli (around 3,200 Meters)
Day 4 – 30 Kms drive to Govindghat and 11 Km trek to Ghanghariya
Day 5 – Trek to
Hemkund Sahib Day 6 – Trek to Valley of Flowers
Day 7 – Trek back to Govindghat, visit Badrinath and Mana Village, and back to Joshimath
Day 8 – Drive back to Haridwar/Rishikesh/Dehradun and then to home city
Haridwar is a famous tourist destination as well as one of the seven sacred places in the Hindu religion. It exactly means ‘An Entryway to God’. Haridwar is that place where the divine Ganga River leaves the Himalayas to stream down to God’s favourite city. Haridwar is connected to major cities through trains. The nearest airport is near Dehradun which is around 40 km away. If you are in Haridwar, you should visit Har kir Pauri (Into footsteps of Lord Shiva) and try the food at local shops (Chotiwala, Mohan Ji Puri Wale, Hoshiyar Puri and more).
Har ki Pauri – Har means Lod Shiva and Pauri means steps – In steps of Lord Shiva. This is one of the most auspicious ghats in India. It is said that bathing here will clear one of their sins. millions of people visit this place every year. Evening Ganga aarti is a must-see if you have time. There are many temples on small hills near Har ki Pauri which one can visit.
The mighty Ganges at Haridwar – photo was taken at Har Ki Paudi. The Ganges river leaves the foothills of the Himalayas and enters the plains in style at Rishikesh and Haridwar. Rishikesh is around 25 Kms away from Haridwar and shared tuk-tuks, taxis are available between these 2 twin towns.
Aloo Paratha and Curd. One of the tastiest and common dishes available in these parts of the world. A must-try.
The Great River Ganga before Rishikesh. This was during monsoon season. Hence the waters were brownish due to silt and the river was flowing in full force. It was divine. From Haridwar, we had to travel around 250 km to reach Auli (near Joshimath). We have to travel along the river throughout the journey.
Devprayag – the holy confluence of River Alakhnanda and Bhagirathi which forms the mighty Ganga. It got its name from a Sage named Devasharma who lived here. The colours of the two rivers are different here. The colours change in other seasons. There are 5 holy Prayags (confluence) on this path – Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandprayag and Vishnuprayag. All these confluences are on the Alakhnanda river and can be seen while going from Haridwar and Joshimath.
Landslides. The road authorities in Uttarakhand is very efficient. Any such road blockage is cleared within few hours. However, currently, there is a road-widening project going on. Hence the roads are dusty and with a good amount of traffic. It is advisable to leave Rishikesh around 5 am to avoid traffic and reach early.
More Landslides. Landslides are caused due to loosening of rocks on mountains due to erosion of soil around them.
There is nothing like a hot cup of tea on mountains after a 12-hour bone-breaking journey.
View from Auli. Auli is a skiing destination in the Chamoli district in Uttrakhand. It is around 2,500 meters above sea level. Famous peaks which are visible from Auli are Haathi, Ghoda, Palki, Nanda Devi. It’s a surreal place. One can go up in Cable Car as well from Joshimath. There is a beautiful meadow called Ghorsan Pean. It’s around a 3-4 Km trek from the cable car stop. One of the most beautiful places in India. A must-visit especially when you’re doing the Valley of flowers trek.
Mt Nanda Devi from Auli. Nanda Devi (7816 Meters) is the second-highest mountain in India, and the highest located entirely within the country. (Kangchenjunga, which is higher, is on the border of India and Nepal.) It is the 23rd-highest peak in the world. It is also one such peak where there was a covert CIA operation around 1965.
Himalayan Flowers. There are many varieties of flowers available in the region. It’s a photographer’s delight. Keep your macro lens ready once you visit this place.
Helianthus – Helios = Sun + Anthos = Flower. One such Helianthus with the mighty Himalayas in the background. A truly spiritual experience.
The mighty Himalayas. At Auli, you can feel that you are face to face with the Himalayas. The large green peaks are at almost the same height as you are while the super large white peaks are standing behind and looking at you. You feel humbled and insignificant.
On our way to Ghorsan Peak. around 3 Km trek from Cable Car station. Gorsan peak trek is an easy trek and anyone with little or no practise can do it. The views are stunning and the climb is gradual. One passes through a small forest to reach the meadow (Bugyal, as they call it in Garhwal).
A small forest en route to Ghorsan Bugyal. It was moist during the monsoon with a lot of growth on the tree trunks. One can see some of the large variety of algae, mushrooms and insects. There is a small temple in the route to the top.
First glimpse of bugyal. The weather is unpredictable. It can become foggy within few minutes.
Panaromic shot of the Bugyal. This entire place is covered in snow in the months of October to March.
A lone trekker at the top.
Govindghat is a town in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, India, located at the confluence of the Alaknanda and Lakshman Ganga rivers. Lakshman Ganga river comes from the Valley of Flowers and Haathi Parvat. There are no ATMs in this place. The last ATM is available in Joshimath, which is around 25 km away. So if you need cash (which you will need in Ghaghariya for 3 days), take it out at Joshimath. Keep around 20K to be on the safer side. From Govindghat helicopter service is also available for those who do not want to hike to Ghanghariya. Govindghat to Ghanghariya is around 15 km. For the first 4 km, you can take a jeep as it is a motor-able road.
The trek from Govindghat to Ghanghariya. Around 11 km to hike after the first 4 km of jeep ride. The road is well laid and properly maintained. The beautiful Lakshman Ganga river flows on the right while going up. The descent is gradual and easy for the first 7 km. There are few beautiful waterfalls nearby mountains. There are plenty of shops on the route to rest, tea, Maggi, parathas etc. Govindghat is at ~1,828 meters above sea level, while Ghanghariya is at 3,049 meters – around 1,200-meter altitude gain in 15 km. Just relax, walk at a steady pace, take rest when required, drink plenty of water, take lots of photographs. With a steady and relaxing pace, this distance of 11 Kms can be covered in around 5-6 hours. The last 4 km after the bridge in Bhyunder, the ascent increases and the trek become tougher.
Govindghat to Ghanghriya – almost halfway through. This route sees thousands of tourists and pilgrims visiting the holy Hemkund Sahib every year. Many pilgrims take mules to travel on these routes. Mules are also available on the Hemkund Sahib trek. With so many mules, there is so much mule potty (and lots of smell)! You have to be careful not to put your expensive trekking shoes in one of these 🙂. Mules also walk in a zig-zag manner and a group of 2-4 follows a leader. Make sure you do not walk towards the valley side of the road when mules are coming towards you. Apart from that these mules are almost harmless.
One of the many shops on Govindghat Ghanghariya hike road.
The tent site at Ghanghariya. The village of Ghanghariya is just 1 street village. It has few hotels, shops, small restaurants and a Gurudwara. The village is open only during the tourist season which is around April to Oct. Before entrance into the village, there is a helipad for tourists who would like to travel by helicopter. The helicopter ride is around Rs 3,000 per person for one way in 2016. Helicopters can be booked by informing your guide or hotel staff. Stay in tents near a helipad is also a good experience till it rains. The tents are fitted with private toilets and have a power supply. From Helipad, (where we think that we have reached after a 10 km trek), one has to climb another 700-800 meters to reach the hotels. This is one of the toughest climb of the day psychologically.
Helicopter ride from Ghanghariya to Govindghat Generally, they charge around 3K to 4K depending on season and demand. If you are not interested in trekking 11 km and do not want to ride a pony, this is one good option with amazing views. The ride takes around 3-4 mins only!
The Valley of Flowers Entrance The entrance is around 1 km from the village. The ticket is valid for 3 days and charges are 150 rs for Indians and 600 Rs for Foreigners. Don’t tell them that you are shooting a feature film else, they will charge Rs 1 Lakh (unless you are shooting a feature film for a commercial purpose). Try to start your trek as early as possible (around 6-6:30 am) so that you can reach deeper parts of the valley by around 12:30 pm. The actual valley is around 2-3 km from this point. It’s a long and treacherous route. Do not waste a lot of time photographing flowers here. You will get plenty of flowers once you are in the valley. Porters are available to take you inside in their basket. Children, the elderly or someone who doesn’t want to walk can take this facility. The charges are around 1,000 to 1,500 Rs depending on the season and your luck. Keep a packed lunch from the hotel you are staying in. Also keep dry fruits, chocolates, groundnuts etc because you will be very hungry after the gruelling climb.
Bridge across River Pushpawati 2 km before entering VOF. While on our trip, we saw many such bridges washed away by gushing water. The glacial rivers are a little unpredictable, the water levels can rise without warning. Hence it is advisable to cross the bridge carefully. Do not spend a lot of time on the bridge taking photographs and building traffic.
The powerful Pushawati River in full monsoon force. The Pushpawati rises from the East Kamet Glacier, near Rataban, at the base of the Himalayas near the central part of the Garhwal-Tibet border. It flows in a southerly direction to join the Bhyundar Ganga near Ghagharia. The combined stream is thereafter known as the Lakshman Ganga. The latter merges with the Alaknanda River at Govindghat. The Pushawati River passes through the Valley of Flowers. There are many glacial streams inside the valley of flowers that meets Pushawati. We have to pass around 5-8 such small/medium streams.
Erigeron multiradiatus One of the many beautiful flowers in the valley of flowers. These flowers are a delight for a photographer with water droplets on top of the flowers. These are found from the entry gate to the Pushpawati River bed. There are around 100s varieties of flowers whenever you go.
The first glimpse of the valley of flowers. At 3,352 to 3,658 meters above sea level, the gentle landscape of the Valley of Flowers National Park complements the rugged mountain wilderness of Nanda Devi National Park to the east. Together, they encompass a unique transition zone between the mountain ranges of the Zanskar and Great Himalaya. The park stretches over an expanse of 87.50 km2 and it is about 8 km long and 2 km wide. Both parks are encompassed in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (223,674 ha) which is further surrounded by a buffer zone (5,148.57 km2). This Reserve is in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 2004. (Wikipedia)
Valley of Flowers in its full glory in August 2016. It was peak monsoon and everything was wet. It was raining mildly. While the views were stunning, the snow-clad peaks were hidden behind the clouds. A surreal experience.
Valley of Flowers – around 3 km inside. Please note that this valley is not a Bugyal. The green shrubs are around 2 feet in height. There are predefined paved roads that tourists are asked to take. These roads are prepared and maintained by local and Nepali labourers who stay and work in Ghanghariya. One has to get out of Valley at 5 pm. That means you will have to start walking back to the gate around 12:30-1 pm.
Polygonum Polystachyum. The white little flowers forms majority in this photograph.
The majestic Valley of Flowers. The valley is open from June to October. The valley changes its form and colour every month. From Nov to May, it is covered with snow and glaciers. It is at its greenest and most vibrant in monsoon months. However, it is also wettest in these months. Sept, Oct months offer stunning views of snow-clad mountains surrounding the valley as the weather is clearer. However lesser number of flowers are found in these months. River Pushpawati flows in the middle and can be seen/heard when you are in the valley.
The rocky path laid out for climbing Valley of Flowers. Initial 1 km is tough and steep especially if it’s raining. Around 400-500 meters is through a small forest. Climbing up is tough…climbing down is tougher…
The starting point of Shri Hemkund Sahib Hike. It starts next to the valley of the flower gate. As soon as you start, you are greeted by a beautiful waterfall and a steep climb. Hemkund Sahib climb is around 7kms from Ghanghariya and is at an elevation of around 4600 meters. Ghanghariya is at a 3,000-meter altitude, which means in 7 km you will gain around 1,600 km. That is actually steep. The trek is difficult at times. However, there are shops, rest benches every few hundred meters. The tip is simple: Climb slow, drink lots of water, do not drink alcohol the previous night (or in the morning) 🙂 Ponies, porters are also available to carry tourists who are too tired or do not want to walk up. The views are stunning and there are many flowers on the route. So if you have missed photographing any flower in VOF, you can do it here.
Finally, after 4-5 hours of climb, you will reach Hemkund Sahib. There are two types of milestone markers on the road. The old and the new. We cannot figure out which is old and which is new. This creates lots of confusion when you are climbing, tired and sweating profusely. One milestone will say 2kms left and suddenly you will come across another which says 3km left! Nothing can be more demoralising than that during this climb. However, the hike is well maintained and safe. There are ponies in this route as well. So stay away from the ponies and walk towards the hillside when they are around. Use a trekking pole or a stick especially when you are coming down.
Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib. One of the most surreal places you will ever go to. There is spirituality everywhere. There is a small (and only one) temple of Lakshman. According to the placard in front of the temple, the temple is where King Vasuki meditated in his earlier incarnation. King Vasuki is the king of snakes and Lakshman from Ramayana is an incarnation of him. Hemkund Sahib, known as Gurudwara Sri Hemkund Sahib Ji, is a Sikh place of worship and pilgrimage site in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, India. It is devoted to Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666–1708), the tenth Sikh Guru, and finds mention in Dasam Granth, a work dictated by Guruji himself. (Wiki)
The famous Khichdi of Gurudwara Langar. Trust me, after 4-5 hours of climb, this is one of the sweetest and filling things you will ever have.
Climbing Down from Hemkund Sahib. Climbing down is always tougher than climbing up. On one side, there is the excitement that you had climbed 4600 meters above sea level and have achieved something. On other hand, you are sad that you are leaving one of the most beautiful places behind. Mountains are intriguing!
Ghanghariya village from enroute to Hemkund Sahib. VOF is on the left once you leave Ghanghariya and pass a small bridge which is visible at the bottom of the photograph and Hemkund Sahib is on the right.
Valley of flowers trek route from Hemkund Sahib route. This is a new route of VOF. The old route was washed away due to landslides in 2014. the old route was simple and easy. The new route is longer and tougher.
Evidence of 2014 flash floods in the area 🙁 Salute to people of this region for living in this beautiful yet dangerous and unforgiving environment.
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About the author:
Mahendra Rathod has done Post Graduate Diploma in Management(PGDM) from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) and a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from M.S. University Baroda.
Reading, trekking and running are what keeps him going. He is a thinker with a thirst for knowledge of various subjects including public affairs, economics, fitness, human behavior, etc. He is also an active business mentor. To know more about Mahendra, catch him on LinkedIn here.
Some important Valley of Flowers links:
If you want to check the Valley of Flowers Itinerary: Head over to our Valley of Flowers trek page
Best time to do the Valley of Flowers trek: Click here
To check out the complete Valley of Flowers Guide: Click here
For queries regarding the trek: Go to our Valley of Flowers FAQs page and find answers to all your question
To see how the Valley looks during the monsoons: Check out this photoblog of 45 stunning pictures captured during the monsoon trek to Valley of Flowers
How to get fit for the Valley of Flowers trek: Click here to read a detailed blog on preparing for the Valley of flowers trek
Wondering what to carry for the trek: Read this blog with a detailed list of things to carry for the Valley of Flowers trek