Wet, Wild and Wonderful – Trekking the Valley of Flowers in the monsoon.
As a hiker or a trekker, I usually plan my walks to coincide with fine weather. Except for the Valley of Flowers.
There is one place you must trek in the monsoon downpours amidst the swirling clouds of the upper Himalaya. Don’t let the name fool you, the Valley of Flowers National Park in Uttarakhand, bordered by Nepal and Tibet, in the far north of India is a once in a lifetime deal.
Important Note: This is not a “gentle or moderate” trek as many sites and operators would have you believe, access to the high altitude (3600m) glacial valley is a steep, slippery and relentlessly uphill slog frequently with gasping crowds of unfit people, as entrance to the part is restricted between 7 am and 5 pm.
Hint: This means that effectively, the last time you must leave the valley to begin the descent to the turbulent Pushpavati, is 2 pm. If you have walked deeper into the valley, this window of time shrinks, be aware of this. In other words, this is an adventure, not a stroll in the park.
This guide for Valley of Flowers reveals the truth about this valley and access to the high Himalayas, where the valley nestles high among the glacier encrusted, cloud kissed peaks. Being only just off the pilgrim trails is both and advantage, and a disadvantage.
The Valley of Flowers� is the closest you can get to a high Himalayan adventure, without any technical mountaineering.
Check with your doctor before you go.
Why is it called so? Why not the valley of the glaciers and rocks? For most of the year, it is so..but there is magic happening too.
The 300 different varieties of alpine flowers burst into bloom for a brief season, and the different varieties germinate, flower and seed in a 12 week or less period, in a high sky tossed valley surrounded by some on the highest and most spectacular peaks of the Himalayas. The national park though tiny – spreads over 87.5 square kilometers is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Compare this to the nearby Jim Corbett National park, at 520 square kilometers.
Where is it?
The Valley of Flowers is drained by the Pushpavati and it’s icefed tributaries which form a glacial corridor, a bare five kilometers long and two kilometers wide. This may not seem much, but at an altitude of above 3 km vertically up in the sky, it can be a rough walk, make sure you acclimatise before you go.
The Valley of Flowers National Park is in Garhwal near to the Nanda Devi National Park in the Chamoli district. It is about 595 kilometers from Delhi, and has an altitude that varies from 3000m feet to 6000m above sea level. The nearest airport is in Jolly Grant Airport near Dehradun, about 300 kilometers away. The nearest railway stations are Haridwar and Rishikesh, 276 kilometers away. You can also get there by road from various points in Uttarakhand or North India. The road hugs the valley sides up along the Ganges, and then the Alaknanda, a landslide prone but utterly beguiling drive of many many hours. Keep anti motion sickness tablets handy.
Read this before you plan, pay or go there!
The Basic Guide to Trekking the Valley of the Flowers
This guide is the basic information about trekking the Valley of the Flowers, based on my own trek there in late 2019, and the research I and my friends did before we set out.
Read this to learn the truth about the trek, the facilities, and whether you really need to buy an expensive adventure tour package that feeds you on dahl baat, and then requires you to personally haggle viciously with porters and muleteers.
Chapter 1: Getting to the Valley of Flowers
The base for the valley of the flowers is Ghangaria in the valley of the Bhyundar Ganga. The roadhead is at Gobindghat west of the confluence where the Vishnuganga and the Dhauli rivers unite to form the Alaknanda. It is on the route to Badrinath, so there is no particular difficulty in getting there.
It is 10 – 15 hours by road from Dehradun, Haridwar or Rishikesh to Joshimath, and then another hour by road from Joshimath to Gobindghat.
You can then take a share taxi from Gobindghat to Pulna, or you can take a helicopter, operated by Deccan to Ghangaria. The helicopter flight is all of 4 minutes, but you may have to wait, as the queue can be long, be aware that bad weather can cause the flights to stop at any time.
About three kilometers on a steep and winding road, the road finally really ends at Pulna village in a melee of organised dung scented chaos.
From Pulna village its an 11 kilometer trek to the base camp at Ghangaria. Given the rigorous ascent, despite a few down slopes, it will take from 4 – 6 hours from Pulna. Be prepared for rain, slippery surfaces and watch for the ethereal waterfalls, and burgeoning flowers on the way. Also watch out for begging sweepers and mule droppings.
Plan to stop at Ghangaria and proceed to the valley of flowers the next morning.
Seriously, there is no other option, unless you are on the very first helicopter flight in, reach before 8 am, and start walking immediately. In which case, do let me know!
The beginning of the valley, is a steep and winding 3-4 kilometers (1.8 miles) beyond and high above Ghangaria. Since the floods of 2013 the path has become significantly steeper, once at the top of the climb and inside the valley, you’ll need to walk for a further 3-5 kilometers at the minimum to see a more of the flowers.
Chapter 2: Can I do the trek?
If you can walk at least a kilometer or two, you can do the trek as there are good support services. Here is the reality –
From Govind Ghat to Ghangaria, is a moderate to difficult trek.
The following are the stages:
1. Gobindghat to Pulna – Steep. Take the share taxi if you have difficulty here.
2. Pulna to the Bridge at Byundar – Moderate, well graded, but with a few steep twists and turns. At Pulna
– You can hire a porter for your luggage, or for yourself. Yes! you can sit in a basket and be carried up!
– You can hire a pony for your luggage, or for yourself, and ride up on a well trained mule accompanied all the way by the pony wallah.
3. Byundar Bridge to Ghangaria Camp – A steep uphill along a winding conifer lined route. If the bridge is down, you may have to change ponies/porters here.
4. Ghangaria Camp to Ghangaria – A short, but steep climb up to the village. You will need to overnight here.
5. Ghangaria to Valley of Flowers check point – Gentle slope of about half a kilometer. You can hire a porter here to carry you up to the Valley. No ponies.
6. Checkpoint to Pushpavati river crossing – Gentle downslopes to a boisterous river.
7. Pushpavati crossing to Valley of Flowers – Very steep and winding 3 kms. Believe the sign post!
Valley of Flowers Map
Chapter 3: Things You Need to Know
A bare minimum of 5 days is needed for what is essentially a 3 km Valley of Flowers trek – yes! Incredible but true, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
Day – Minus One – Haridwar or Dehradun to Joshimath
Day One – Govind Ghat to Ghangaria
Day Two – Valley of Flowers
Day Three – Return to Ghangaria
Day Plus Three – Return to Haridwar/Dehra Dun.
If you want to spend a bit more time, add a day more for Valley of Flowers, and a day for Hemkund Sahib.
You do not need to go with a tour company, but do book accomodation in advance.
There is no mobile or cell coverage after Gobindghat, though I did notice that Jio was laying cables all the way up to HemKund. There is a landline available from a shop in Ghangaria, as Rs 10 per minute. A prepaid BSNL mobile may work.
When is the best time to see the flowers?
The Bhyundar valley or Valley of Flowers is snowbound from October to May, so it is only open from the beginning of June until the beginning of October. Check exact dates, as it depends on the ice melt. The best time to visit is from mid July to mid August, when the flowers are in full bloom. This is also the wettest part of the year, so build in time for road closures.
Temperatures are between 9 to 10 degrees Centigrade by night, and 15 to 20 degrees centigrade in the day, so it is cool, but not icy cold.
You can buy or hire cheap jackets, ponchos, raincoats, caps and even shoes and slippers from Govindghat or Ghangaria. Best to bring your own though, and just hire or buy what you’ve forgotten.
Chapter 4: What does it Cost?
There are a number of costs from National park entry fees to pony and porter fees.
The entry fee to the actual valet is 150 rupees for Indians and 650 rupees for foreigners for a 3-day pass. Each additional day is 250 rupees for foreigners and 50 rupees for Indians. The Forest Department checkpoint less than a kilometer from Ghangaria is where you pay the fee, enter your name and obtain your permit. (Make sure you carry appropriate ID).
Other Fees fluctuate from day to day, you could pay 1000 rupees upwards per person for a porter or a mule, for the trek to Ghangaria.
A guide can cost from 1000 to 2,000 rupees from Ghangaria to the Valley.
Hire a porter at the very minimum to carry your backpack up – you are supporting the economy of the hill people.
Travel by helicopter one way from Govind Ghat to Ghangaria (or the opposite direction) costs about 3,500 rupees per person for a person weighing upto 80 kgs. More than that and you pay extra per kilogram. You can carry hand baggage of only 4 kgs.
Where to Stay
The government-run Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) guesthouses provide reliable budget accomodation, and advance bookings are possible and recommended.
After the first day’s drive, spend the night at Joshimath, Auli or Govind Ghat before starting the trek to Ghangaria. The gurudwaras at Govind Ghat and Ghangaria are geared up for pilgrims and provide safe and clean accommodations, and free vegetarian food. There are private rooms in both gurudwaras, or you can sleep for free in the hall.
Accomodation and food is available to all regardless of religion, caste or gender in the Gurudwaras
At Ghangaria a range of accommodations from cheap guesthouses to luxury tents for glamping are priced anywhere between 200 rupees to 3,000 rupees per night. Western style toilets and bathrooms are available, and of tolerable cleanliness. Electricity and water supply are erratic, and often hot water is provided at extra charge by the bucketful. Steps to upper levels can be slippery and dangerous, do take care, or ask for a lower floor.
Bedding is provided, you can take your sleeping bag liner if you are a bit sensitive to this.
Chapter 5: What shall I pack?
The Packing List
Make sure you bring enough clothes, as wet clothers will not dry easily – or at all.
and 4-5 bottoms are needed.
A raincoat or poncho
beanie aka warm cap
A small, flashlight or headlamp,
a water bottle – drink, even if you dont feel thirsty
first aid kit inclucing medication such as Diamox, Roko etc for stomach upsets,
a small towel,
and plastic bags to protect your electronic items, I had a number of ziplock bags.
Trail mix to munch on the way, protein bars and chocolate – but don’t overdo it, the altitude will dampen your appetite and thirst.
Wear well laced up hiking shoes or boots with tough soles, and ensure rainproof cover for your backpack and day pack. Though you will feel a bit silly when you see Sikh pilgrims walking up barefoot, or in slippers.
Chapter 6: What to Eat and Drink
There are “dhabas” or roadside food stalls serving tea, bottled water, Maggi noodles, and basic Indian vegetarian food on the route up to Ghangaria, and onto to Hem Kund, and there’s free food at the gurudwaras once a day, at guru ka langar.
There are plenty of restaurants serving vegetarian Indian/Punjabi or even South Indian food in Ghangaria. And you can even get toast and boiled eggs for breakfast, but eggs are the limit of non vegetarian food. However, there is very little local food, as the whole of Ghangaria is a hiking hub, there is no village life here.
For the Valley of Flowers you must carry your own food and water from Ghangaria.
Carry your own water bottles and drink water along the way, however cold and rainy it is, as dehydration at hight altitudes is a real problem. Unfortunately all the water is bottled water, though you can take a sip from the high mountain streams – I did, with no ill effects.
As for drinks, drink the chai, and you can get pakodies and jelabis with that, best thing on your return from a hard days hiking in the wet. There is no alcohol available.
There are pay toilets along the trekking route to Ghangaria and HemKund, but there are none in the Valley. You will have to find a bush. Stay away from water ways, as you don’t want to pollute the pristine waters.
Chapter 7: What else can I do?
Really? Be careful – don’t underestimate your tiredness after the walk!
You can build in other trips along with your Valley of Flowers trek, for example, you can take a day extra to travel up to Joshimath, and visit various river confluences and temples on the way up. You will pass the iconic temples and confluences at Dev Prayag and Rudraprayag,
You can also continue to Badrinath and Mana, depending on road conditions.