Valley of Flowers

Valley of Flowers – Friends Holiday 2023

Every flower was a smile and there were thousands of them. The valley smiled the fruitful smile of flowers. Rich, silky green flows easily down to meet a satisfied river. The breeze touched the flowers and became a purple-pink-yellow-blue wave on that shimmering green ocean. Clouds, restless and playful, added their cool humidity, alternating the light and creating mystique of places of light and shadow.

Misty Haze rushed up from the winter snow that still lurked near the riverbed, hiding everything from view, until I became free from the weight of time, hidden from the world, empty of all that was not mist, wind, grass, river, snow. Until it was just the valley and me, awash in happiness. That said, I still fear that I was not able to convey the beauty experience that was the Valley of Flowers.

Reaching the valley

It had been a long journey. An overnight train journey and a further day’s drive on NH58 took me high into the Garhwal Himalayas, at Joshimath, on the road leading to Badrinath. But all this effort was not enough for the god of flowers. Understandable. Something called by so intriguing and romantic a name as the Valley of Flowers cannot – should not – simply be found conveniently off the highway. So the next morning there was another journey, a steep walk from a point on the highway called Govindghat. And what a walk. I crossed a hanging bridge over the Alaknanda and stopped and marveled: the walk into the valley had barely begun and it was already so breathtakingly beautiful, with immense mountains, snow-capped backdrops, a flowing river and about 50 shades of green .

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Valley of Flowers (photo by Pranab Das)

They stayed with me as I crossed the Alaknanda, encountered the branch of the Lakshman Ganga and walked along it for 4-5 hours, as far from the world as to a new one. I covered more than 13 hilly kilometers on that trek and would eagerly travel from Delhi every day to visit a hundred meters on that route. The portal to the new world was a settlement called Ghangharia, the night stop for the valley. And so the next morning there was another journey when I woke up fresh as the smell of pine trees surrounded me. And left, with a guide, at last, for the Valley of the Flowers.

The valley, but not yet

Above these trees, finally above and above all the trees, along the bubbling Pushpawati River with patches of leftover snow on the edges. On the far right was a mass of snow under which the Lakshman Ganga disappeared for a while after falling from the clouds like a spirited waterfall. For the famous Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara, you took the stone-filled path past the waterfall. The path to the Valley of Flowers, a narrower mountain path, passed an official entrance gate on the left. Here the landscape was greener than anything else, a rich vibrant green.

Deeper parts of the valley (photo by Kushaal)
Deeper parts of the valley (photo by Kushaal)

At this height the dark tall pine tree that allowed little undergrowth had given way to a dense canopy of evergreen oaks, firs, maples and the beautiful birch trees with their whitish poppy bark, the famous tadpatra used as paper in ancient times. Below this was a rich and interesting shrub dotted with large pale yellow and pink flowers and the easily distinguishable Morina longifolia with its long flower stalk showing all possible shades from white to pink at once. This valley had flowers and was part of the designated national park, but it was still not the Valley of Flowers. As we walked over this hill and crossed a bridge, the valley narrowed into a fine gorge and the forest clustered between immense walls of rock. We were walking on an almost vertical slope, while on the other side was a mountain even higher, which in fact held us over and gave a stern and austere look to the otherwise lush valley with the resonant sound of the icy water flowing through it.

Beyond the gorge rose higher peaks and to the guide I might have concluded that the valley ended there and may have gone back. In fact, many people come here and return disappointed because they didn’t see fields of flowers. As if to prove the point, we had to run over some loose rubble and then tip over a small glacier until we reached a place called Bamini Dhar, where the tree line ends and where the valley becomes a bugyal – the meadow of high altitude grassland Garhwal . I turned a corner from behind a large gray rock and gasped in disbelief….

The valley

The whole valley was thick with clouds; slowly a blurry picture emerged before us – an entire mountainside covered in ice, framed by two dark hills, and a river flowing silently next to it. As the clouds cleared, the vista opened up in its true colors and its incomparable smiling glory, with a foreground of dense green crowned by pink, yellow, blue, white, purple flowers. Flowers swooped down from dark rocks and spread greedily among green grasses over every inch of space, devouring every morsel of earth and drinking in every trace of sunlight. The pale yellow of fritillaria, the pale green lily, the bluish tint of cyananthus, snow-white anemones, the bright red potentillas and the violet of delphiniums – today the valley of flowers was an absolutely radiant canvas. There were more flowers than I could hope to learn about or even see.

Valley of Flowers (photo by Amit Mogha)
Valley of Flowers (photo by Amit Mogha)

The valley is home to a bewildering variety of different plant species; in a few square kilometers one hundred different species could be seen. Wading through a meadow – full of flowers, clutching my book, rolling the Latin names on my tongue – arenaria bryophylla, viola biflora, sorbus aucuparia and, appropriately, a garhwalium, and to match their colors… white, yellow, pink-purple , yellowish white – early in the afternoon we reached the end of the valley. It is an area strewn with rocks and boulders and gives way to a plain where the Pushpawati spreads into many streams and carries communities of the pink flowers of epilobiums on the drier parts of its bed. Here we devoured our packed lunch while I was busy spying the shadows for red foxes and musk herons that are sometimes sighted in this area. However, this possibility lies in September, when the rains are over. If you come in early May, large parts of the valley are full of blue primroses.

In June the purple-red of geraniums dominates, but in September it gives way to herds of lanky, fragrant polygonums. But for me it was peak monsoon season. The season, as I could see, for the maximum number of flowers to bloom and for this sparkling greenery. The clouds gathered around us and then turned to drizzle as happens on most monsoon afternoons. It was wet but not cold and I enjoyed the gentle trickle of water in my hair, but the flowers seemed to be suffering from the rain. Some sank, others withered, others closed their wings, as if denied an audience with the sun. They seemed more inward-looking, withdrawing into themselves, and not radiant.

More than the valley

Despite such an embarrassment of riches, people come here and are disappointed. This underlines for me how loose people are in the wilderness, its versatility, its rhythms and its beauty. We are only used to the domesticated flowers, large colorful specimens taken out of their contexts and arranged in neat geometric patterns. This phenomenon is further enhanced by promotional photography where again some flowers are framed, their settings edited, their colors enhanced and their sizes inflated so that people expect a ‘Mughal Gardens’ experience when they visit the valley.

So they are often disillusioned in this verdant green sprinkled with the charming little blue forget-me-nots. It is in the wild that the true splendor of flowers should actually be seen. You see the thorough colonization of an entire slope by flowers… that populate the ground, that rise from between rocks and rocks, that occupy the rocks and the gullies. The flowers are the hill. It is a whole collective, a whole community that lives together and speaks to you as one, where each individual is different, but it is the whole that you see as the flower. Then you can zoom in on a flower and take note of its complexity and forget the rest, lost in the position of the leaves, stem, petals, stamens, colors…

About the Valley of Flowers

The Valley of Flowers was earlier known as Bhyundar Valley. The people, for whom the valley was home, and its meadows the summer pastures for their animals, had peopled the valley’s hills, rivers, flowers and forests with myths and stories of deities and fairies, of the Pandavas and Shiva and RAM. In 1931, mountaineer Frank S Smythe and his colleagues came upon this valley, on their way back from a mountain expedition, and were mesmerized.

“It was impossible to take a step without crushing a flower…. TheBhyundar Valley was the most beautiful valley any of us had seen. We camped there for two days and later remembered it as the Valley of Flowers. “And thus this patch of the Garhwal Himalaya got its exotic name. In 1937 Smythe had the opportunity to return here, this time as a botanist collecting flowers and seeds.

His memories were published as the book The Valley of Flowers, the name stuck and the valley changed forever. It became part of the larger world, whose scientists studied it in great detail and whose administrators colonized it. In 1982 it was declared a national park, beyond the limits of local people and animals, a protected nature reserve and tourist reserve. So the people in the valley had to change and now run shops, guesthouses and eateries, which want more and more visitors. An area of ​​87.5 km2 was declared as a national park. The elevation is over 10,500 ft and the region is covered in snow between November and April. Within its boundaries, the valley contains a range of elevations and types of land and vegetation. Only 19 square kilometers is the kind of bugyal or pasture I described above.

Valley of Flowers (photo by Amit Mogha)
Valley of Flowers (photo by Amit Mogha)

While in the Valley of Flowers

From Ghangharia you can make another trek (6 km / 4 hours, one way) to visit the beautiful high-altitude Lac Lokk or Hemkund (14,203 feet), the famous gurudwara there and the equally divine Brahma camels. The climb to Hemkund is more difficult, the path is stony and steep but well marked. The slopes are often speckled with flowers, blooming wherever they find a hint of topsoil; otherwise the slopes are long, dark and impressive, sometimes giving way to a gurgling stream or covered with yet-to-melt snow. Hemkund Sahib has become an important pilgrimage for the Sikhs in recent decades and they believe this is the place that Guru Gobind Singh has described where he meditated in a previous birth.

Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara (Photo by Le Retroviseur)
Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara (Photo by Le Retroviseur)

If you can somehow escape the constant loudspeakers (as they play endlessly devotional music), you will also find it a suitable environment for meditation. Here you can hear the fall of the water in the lake, the sweet trickle of drops disappearing into the tranquil depths of the pool. The lake is surrounded by hills on all sides except one. One of them was blessed with the flower known as Brahma Kamal, a rare delight. Brahma Kamals are usually seen alone or in twos or threes. They look whitish, are actually a very light green, and appear as if someone has very carefully clasped their hands to hold something in them, hands simultaneously raised to heaven in praise or supplication. What you can see are the bracts of the flower: modified leaves. The actual flower, biologically speaking, is red or purple and is hidden inside. It rarely blooms.

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