As I promised, this blog was going to be also about other stories..and the butterflies (along with the caterpillars) finally make their appearance.
Our group consisted of the husband and I, three of his college-mates from BKPS, Pune (Kiran-Anju, and Prasad) and Anagha, Prasad’s wife. Barring Anagha, we are all over 40 and strong believers in ‘life begins at 40’. You’ll agree once you get there. For the record, none of us felt a day over 25.The first day’s drive out of Delhi was the usual grime and noise of small UP towns and we reached Rishikesh in the evening. Next morning we drove leisurely through the Shivalik lower Himalayas to arrive in Joshimuth for the night halt. The following morning we parked the car at Govindghat and started our trek to Ghangria.
lazy villages on the way
Govindghat to Ghangria
What a crazy bunch we were (Kiran and Prasad more than the rest)! The only time we felt we were 40+ was when climbing the last bit of the 15km from Govindghat to Ghangria. There are no overnight halts on the way and the distance has to be covered at a stretch. It took us all of 8 hours! The locals do it in 3! But then we did stop often to eat and drink (and catch our breath!).
Maggie break on way to Ghangria
The last 3km stretch is the killer! It is steeper and with the day and your energy ebbing, you finally hit the wall. Anagha felt some high-altitude sickness and Anju tried to feign a heart-attack, but Prasad made them walk anyway! I would like to state here that I was walking ahead of the pack, with only Vijay and Kiran (on ponies) beating me to the ‘summit’.
The Valley of Flowers
The trek had begun…We were to visit the Valley of Flowers the next day, 6km up and 6km down! Anagha and Anju played safe and hired piththoos (porters with baskets to carry luggage or people!) this time. Ponies are not allowed inside the National Park area, and we were glad for that. Definitely more pleasant without the stink. I was the only one that made it to the memorial grave stone for Joan Margaret, a botanist who slipped and died in 1939, while collecting and researching the flora.
Piththoo carries Anju!
The narrow stone trail along the Pushpavati River which emerges from the glaciers here, was exhilarating. The sun was bright and we were lucky to see the snow-kissed peaks of Rataban. The flowers were at the end of their blooming season, and we saw the beauty in the seed-heads and the grasses turning golden as they go dormant for the approaching winter.
Two young girls (Kiran and Priya) were our informed guides. It gladdened me to see young rural girls working away from home. They were employees (four months every year) of the Eco Development Committee, Ghangria. The committee has done some very impressive work in cleaning up years of garbage from this area. The documentary at the interpretive centre in Ghangria presented a model of mobilising local participation. The entire trek route is clean. Garbage is collected regularly and transported down to Goving Ghat and out from there. The Valley of Flowers National Park has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO this year.
For a map of our travel area click here.
Next day we decided that we did not want this trip to be a test of endurance and stayed put at Ghangria, where there is, unfortunately, nothing to do. No one was up for the 5km hard trek to Hem Kund, ponies or no ponies. We missed out on a unique landscape.
Sikh pilgrims on way to Hem Kund Sahib
Our spirits were high for the 15km return to Govindghat next morning. We were amazed at the variety of flowers and butterflies we observed on our way down! All the ones we saw in the Valley and then some. Whatever were we preoccupied with on the way up?!!
This time we stopped to watch the butterflies and ended up taking a good 6 hours to climb down! By now our knees were giving way. We were glad to be in the car and on our way to Badrinath.
Mana Village (near Badrinath)
It was late afternoon when we reached Badrinath and decided to visit Mana first, before the sun set. Mana is the last village to the border with China on this side. A quaint village that is fast changing into concrete ugliness. We spotted many kitchen gardens with cabbages, beans, mustard and potatoes. Flowers were blooming in the yards. One of the streets actually had a community mortar where you could get some housework done while chatting up your friend or just some people-watching to enliven daily chores!
Bring your own pestle – mortar carved into a village path!
Vijay and I walked up to the natural bridge, the Bhim Pul, on a small gorge carved out by water and glaciers. The roar of the water hinted at the force of the gushing water. There are few trees at this elevation, primarily grasses, thorny rose shrubs, and tiny alpine herbs.
In Mana we found a small place that had a pay phone and doubled as the local grocery and chai adda. In its courtyard all of us made calls home (our cell phones had been out of range all this while) and downed cups of ginger tea. As the sun slipped behind the mountains, we walked back to the car.
After a quick shower at the hotel we went to get some dinner. By now we knew we weren’t going to get local food anywhere so happily settled for the Gujju thali at the restaurant with a view to the Badrinath shrine.
Badrinath at night
Gujju Thali at Badri: blackeyed bean usal, dal, kadhi, cabbage subzi, with ghee smeared rotis, rice,pickle and papad.
And we settled for the night knowing we didn’t need to be up too early to take positions at the mile-long queue up for a darshan of Badrinath. It was off season.
End of Part I.