environment

Exploring Valley of Flowers: Heaven on earth!

Exploring Valley of Flowers: Heaven on earth!

Although categorised as a 'moderate' trek, the trek to the Valley of Flowers (and Hemkund Sahib, which is on the same route) is reasonably steep and difficult in parts. Having said that, it is worth exploring Valley of Flowers, Mana & Badrinath.

Valley of Flowers

Valley of Flowers. The very phrase conjures up images of undulating meadows, carpeted with flowers of different colours and hues, going up the side of a gentle mountain. Once you get to THE Valley of Flowers, it's not exactly that! Firstly, getting there is a 3.5Km trek from Ghangaria through some stunningly beautiful ruggedly wooded mountains. You cross over from one mountain face to the other. Finally, you exit from a heavily wooded thicket to emerge into the valley. And yes, it is carpeted with flowers, making exploring Valley of Flowers an immensely joyful experience.

View of Hemkund Sahib from the Valley of Flowers
A view of the Hemkund Sahib peak from the valley of Flowers

 

You have to see the valley to believe it. It's not just a meadow. It is hectare upon hectare of heart - achingly beautiful flora. The valley is stretched over mountains, dotted with gurgling streams and even a glacier!

Amazingly, once we got INTO the Valley of Flowers, it wasn't cold. On the contrary, with the protection that the surrounding mountains offered, it was quite pleasant. So much so, that all the time we were exploring the Valley of Flowers, we'd removed our jackets altogether.

A frozen stream we stumbled across while exploring the valley of flowers
The partially frozen stream (Alaknanda?) flowing through the Valley of Flowers

 

We spent a very happy 6 hours exploring the Valley of Flowers. Still, Vikram informed us that we covered barely 10% of all that was there! Thankfully, visitors aren't allowed to spend the night in the valley. This is to protect the delicate biosphere. We had to head back by about 1400Hrs. But the sheer expanse of nature's creation is a memory that'll stay with me forever.

I haven't ever come across such a surfeit of orchids. As far as the eye could see, they stretched away creating an unbelievable carpet of riotous colour. It was like something out of a fantasy, too beautiful to be real! To this day, I don't know which emotion is stronger. Was it the joy that I could see something so magnificent in my life? Or the nagging sadness that nothing one sees from hereon can ever live up to this?!

orchids seen while exploring the valley of flowers
A carpet of Orchids, stretching as far as the eye can see

 

Mana - The last Indian village

 

The next morning we headed back down towards Govindghat. The trek back took hardly any time compared to the hike up. After having left at 0600Hrs, we were back down by 1200Hrs. After a quick and early lunch at the bustling Govindghat, we drove on towards Mana village. A sign that says 'The last Indian Village' greets you as you reach Mana!

By some quirk of fate (or perhaps human intervention), Mana has managed to retain it's old world charm. It features quaint stone and mud houses lining the mountain walls. Clean to a fault, the village had the ubiquitous children playing cricket (what else!) and gnarled old women weaving in their verandahs. I Picked up a woollen sweater from the village shop. Not for the need of it, but simply because of how coarse the wool felt to the touch!

Magnificent ram horn affixed at the entrance of a house in Mana village
Found this magnificent Ram horn adorning the door to one of the homes at Mana. You can gauge the sheer size of the appendage by the fact that it's girth is as wide as the entire doorway!

 

As we meandered through the village, at the far end was a shop grandly announcing itself to be 'Bharat ki Aakhri chai ki dukaan'. Naturally, besides chai and maggi, he served glucose biscuits. The proprietor gladly obliged us with a picture. We had a cup of chai with glucose buscuits, and headed on to explore further.

A short climb higher up into the mountains got us to a cave complex of sorts. This is the Vyas Gufa or the Ganesh Gufa. Legend has it that this is the spot where Rishi Ved Vyas dictated the Mahabharat to Lord Ganesha. Each of them were perched in their respective caves. Whether there is any truth to those legends or not, the caves themselves have an aura to them. Unlike a deserted mountain cave, here there is a presence of sorts. It's like there's a purposeful energy to it, that one feels once in there.

India's last tea shop at the Mana village
India's last tea shop - need one say more?!?!

 

After spending a lazy afternoon exploring Mana, we headed towards the source of the Saraswati river. 'Source' is a misleading word, since this refers to the starting point of the river. In this case, the Saraswati is visible for a distance of about 100 meters before she disappears underground again. Of course, you may believe the legend that Saraswati was too noisy for Rishi Vyasa's liking, so he banished her underground and that's where she stays to date. Or you may not. Fact is, the river disappears after 100 odd meters!

legendary source of Saraswati river at Mana river
The Source of the Saraswati, as she gushes out of her underground womb

 

We spent the night at another Birla guesthouse, around midway between Mana and Badrinath temple. As expected, the place was basic, functional, clean and just what the doctor ordered!

Badrinath Temple

 

Next morning we headed to Badrinath temple. There is enough and more written about Badrinath. Suffice to say, whether you are driven by faith, curiosity or just happen to be visiting it, you won't come away disappointed!

Several years after I visited Badrinath, I happened to read a commentary on the life and works of Adi Shankaracharya. The Metaphysical side of the treatise aside, it has a mention that Shankaracharya found the statue of Badrinarayan (the deity of Badrinath) submerged in the Alaknanda river. He retrieved the idol and installed it at the temple. The temple itself at that time was an abandoned Buddhist shrine, WHICH was the original Badrinath temple. Apparently, the idol was hidden in the river to protect against raiders. Shankaracharya was aware of this fact since there is a mention of the temple in the Skanda Puran and the Vishnu Puran.

In the mid 30's, British historians had dated the Ramayan to be around 2000 years old. Acharya Chandrashekharendra Saraswati, the then seer of the Kanchi mutth had famously congratulated them saying: 'If you keep persevering, I am sure you will find the true age of the Ramayana'. Point is, the Purans predate the Ramayan by several centuries (if you believe Western historians) or millennia (if you believe Hindu mythology). Either ways, the Badrinath shrine is way older than what we've been told!

Entrance to the Badrinath Temple

 

Eventually we headed back towards Delhi, retracing our route through Devprayag. The entire return journey is a haze in my mind, soaked as it was with memories of the last few days. Be it Hemkund Sahib, the Valley of Flowers, Mana Village or Badrinath temple, each had left an indelible mark on our souls. I've read about a lot of people who say the mountains have changed them. We were returning from the lap of the Himalayas, not as changed persons. We returned as individuals who had discovered unknowns facets of their own personalities. Humbled, uplifted, liberated, euphoric, becalmed and at peace. Clearly, there was only one thing that remained to be done. Come back to the mountains!

 

Reading next

Trek to Hemkund Sahib - All you need to know
Road Trips with kids – Learning beyond reading and storybooks!

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