Govindghat to Ghangaria Trek

Govindghat to Ghangaria Trek

Situated at an altitude of around 5600 feet above mean sea level, Govindghat is the last motorable point in the Garhwal mountains. From Govindghat starts the trek to Ghangaria. This is the staging point to get to Hemkunth sahib & the Valley of Flowers. But I'm getting way ahead of myself here! First, one needs to get to Govindghat, which in itself is a 2 day affair from Delhi! A glance at Google maps will tell you that the distance is a mere 500 odd kilometres.

This is something any self - respecting road-tripper should be able to accomplish in 8 to 10 hours. But to this add the state of UP roads and the time simply compounds. You transverse the Hindi heartland on NH 44 until you get to Kotdwar to start your ascent. Remember I'm talking about 2009, when the roads weren't great. They have improved today, may not be by much, but they have.

From Kotdwar the road climbs from 1200 feet to nearly 5 times that altitude in about 300 Kms. Again, these are winding mountain roads, which aren't in the best of repairs. Effectively, it took a gruelling 15 hours before we got to Govindghat. The upside though was the breath - takingly beautiful scenery to keep one mesmerised.

Govindghat is a typical bustling Himalayan town on the banks of the Alaknanda river. We left Delhi early on the morning of 17 August and reached Devprayag by late afternoon after about 9 hours on the road. the drive was pretty uneventful, heading North East along NH 534, crossing Ghaziabad, Meerut et al, before reaching Devprayag. We shacked up at a local 'Dharamshala', and dinner was Aloo Mutter with Bhatt Ki Daal and chapattis.

Decent weather, palatable food and the prospect of spending the next couple of days in the mountains made it all very exciting. So much so that I didn't mind how unsightly everything was. I for the life of me cannot fathom why nearly all NEW structures in our mountain towns are ugly concrete monstrosities. They're painted in the most garish colours that jar with the canopy nature has created for us. It is as if we're cocking a defiant snoot at her, claiming that even if we can't better her sense of aesthetics, we sure as hell can do a lot worse! So was the case with Devprayag. It was a mix of ramshackle lean - to's passing off as dhabas, and ungainly concrete structures sprouting up with no particular plan or intent.

Alaknanda river enroute to Govindghat to start the trek to Ghangaria
The Alaknanda merrily makes her way down the mountains, playing hide n seek with the highway


We were on our way the next morning after breakfast and continued along NH7 till we got to Joshimath. This was our halt for the day. Once again, the ride was largely uneventful as we drove along the Himalayan roads. Blissfully for us, the Alaknanda played hide and seek with us all the time, rushing down the mountain as we were ascending it. By around 1800HRS we reached the Birla Dharamshala, our halt for the night. And were we in for a surprise here!

The Birla Dharamshala is a heritage stone bungalow serving as a guesthouse. The rooms are clean and simple. We took a dormitory of sorts, that accommodated 8, which worked fine for us. It had fresh smelling linen and blankets! This was a refreshing change from Devprayag the previous night. We spent a delightful evening and night here.

Early next morning the attendant woke us up at 0430Hrs with steaming cups of tea to re - commence our journey to Govindghat. Tongue firmly in cheek he 'advised' us to 'take bath' before we left, since Ghangharia would be bloody cold, and we wouldn't want to take a single thread of cloth off our bodies, let alone 'take bath'. Sound as his advise was, we politely declined his offer. It was bloody cold in Joshimath too at 0430Hrs. We figured a day or week without 'take bath' won't kill us. By 0530Hrs we piled into our vehicle again and pushed on towards Govindghat, which was about 45 minutes away.

Dawn at the Birla Dharamshala Govindghat before starting our trek to Ghangaria
Our group leader Vikram at 0430Hrs as we awake, readying to leave from the Birla Dharamshala


Govindghat to Ghangaria Trek - the actual ascent


In about an hour we started on foot from Govindghat to Ghangharia commencing our trek. We'd parked the Yeti safely in a garage which our guide had arranged. Ghangharia is located in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (so is the Valley of Flowers & Hemkunth Sahib for that matter), and is a 14 Km trek from Govindghat.

We quickly started ascending and realised that the climb was quite steep! While driving up from Delhi we had gained 5000 feet over 500 Kms. Now, in the Govindghat to Ghangaria trek of 14KMS, we'd be gaining nearly 5000 feet! This is supposedly a 'moderate' trek. The first 4 Kms made me wonder if this is moderate, what in Gods name is hard?!?! While we were still panting our way up, ruminating on how 'extreme' this moderate was turning out to be, the ascent suddenly started easing up.

Vikram, our guide and leader explained that in the Govindghat to Ghangaria trek the first 4 kms are pretty steep. Post this the terrain eases up. From hereon it's more a question of stamina than strength. Another aspect is the altitude that you gain, hence it is important to pace yourself, and not overdo it.

the Alaknanda (or Mandakini)gushing down as you start the Govindghat to Ghangaria trek
The Alaknanda (I think) as a gushing stream in the higher reaches of the Nandadevi Biosphere


So on we went, round and round the winding walking path as it took us higher up into the mountains. Words can't describe the sheer rugged beauty of the climb and nor can pictures do justice to it. The mountains look truly majestic. Though being in their presence is humbling, they make the spirit soar like nothing else can!

At one point we came across the biggest beehive we've ever seen (also, probably the highest?), bravely clutching to a rocky overhang. The hive itself was nearly 30 feet above us. Yet, we could make out the massive size of the hives, as the bees went about their chores busily, ignoring us humans.

A beehive on the rocks on the Govindghat to Ghangaria trek
These massive beehives were a regular feature at the lower part of the trek up to Ghangaria from Govindghat


The path itself is quite broad and comfortable to walk on. By 1500Hrs we completed the Govindghat to Ghangharia trek. As you come to the end of your trek you are greeted with a lush green meadow on your left and the mountains on your right. From here you ascend a crevice in the path which suddenly reveals the town laid out before you.

Ghangaria, the one - street town


Ghangharia epitomises the concept of a 'one street town', because that is what it literally is - A single narrow lane with 2 storied structures lining either side. This continues for a few 100 meters, before it again abruptly gives way to the wilderness that is the mountains! In true Indian mountain - town tradition, the structures are uniformly ugly and ungainly. To boot, they all lean on each other for support, threatening to fall apart at a moments notice. In the winters they probably do!

We stopped at a dhaba tucked in between two lodges for a cup of much needed hot tea. Earl Grey, Camomile and other exotic blends have their place. But when you've trekked up 14Kms to get to an altitude of 10000+ feet, nothing beats the traditional Indian 'chai'. Ours was served piping hot with a couple of glucose biscuits thrown in for good measure! Resting our feet as we sipped on our tea gazing at the mountains, we suddenly realised that we were freezing.

Having stopped after a gruelling ascent which had made us perspire, the cold at this altitude was now freezing our sweat! Well, maybe not freezing, but it certainly felt so! We quickly went to our rooms, which coincidentally were on top of the dhaba where we were sipping tea and changed into dry clothes.

Lunch was aloo paratha with dollops of butter and curd. Post this we returned to our rooms for a much needed snooze. Just as we were dozing off, there was a tap on the door, and the manager / waiter / cook / or whatever he was stood there, asking if anyone needed a massage. For the princely sum of 200 bucks, I spent the next 45 minutes getting pummelled by a muscled gent, who miraculously leached out all the stiffness from my muscles!

We spent the afternoon lolling around, reading and exploring Ghangaria till it was time for dinner. Maggi was on the menu for supper, which they make quite interestingly here, with some butter thrown in for good measure. We retired pretty early that evening. Tired though we may have been, we were all in good spirits, looking forward to our trek the next morning, which would get us to Hemkund Sahib.

Reading next

Neemrana and Kumbhalgarh - The Rajput Legacy
Trek to Hemkund Sahib - All you need to know

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