Our bookings at the GMVN guest house at Ghangaria was getting over by 12 noon of the day. As per our initial plan, we were to look for other accommodation in case we stay there for the third day. But after taking opinion of locals, we understood that we can go down to Govindghat even after coming back from the VOF trek. This obviated the need for spending another costly night at Ghangaria. Accommodation and food at Govindghat is much cheaper. The check out time at the GMVN guest house is 12 noon. As we were unlikely to comeback by 12, we had checked out and left the luggage at their office.
We started off after breakfast at around 8:30 am. We had hired pithoos or (porters) for the kids @Rs.250/- per person for the round trip which was expected to take about 4 hours. We were not botany enthusiast to know the names of flowers and so we did not hire any guide. The only worry was that we should not get lost. Having the pithoos with us excluded this possibility. In fact once inside the park, we understood that one can not get lost as the trek was very distinct.
The initial one kilometer of the trek is same for both Hemkund and VOF. Around the 1 km mark from the village, the road bifurcates. One goes to Hemkund sahib and the other to the VOF. ‘Welcome to the Valley of Flowers National Park’ – the first signboard greeted us. Various other signposts at the gate provide useful information like flowers and their blooming season, and also what you are not expected to do inside the park. The entry fee at the gate is quite hefty. It was Rs.50/- per head plus Rs.100/- for still camera. We had to pay entry fee for the pithoos as well. After paying Rs.400/- as entry fee, we were allowed in. Our names got lodged in the entry registrar for ever.
A narrow strip led me into a fairly thick forest with tall trees. It was like walking inside a jungle without any fear of wild animals. Amazing! My mind got drifted into another world. I fall behind the pack by quite a distance. Left on my own on this unforgettable nature walk, I proceeded slowly clicking almost every flower on the way. After some time we got into an open area and crossed a makeshift bridge around a glacier. We had crossed another steel bridge on the way. One more bridge was found to be under construction deep inside the valley.
After about an hour of climbing up and down, we reached the open area of the valley. Most of the people were found to have taken a break by a fairly large glacier on the Pushpawati river. This vantage point also provides a magnificent view of the valley ahead and the hills around. Ecology of this area is preserved in a highly protected environment. It is still pristine. 11000 feet is not a very high altitude, yet you can see 3 glaciers (and touch) in the entire trip all round the year.
The trek continued along the Pushpawati river. The landscape was a sight to behold. The cloud was playing hide and seeks with the hills around the valley. Carpets of wild flowers covering the slopes up the mountains were a very soothing sight. However, after walking for about 2 kilometers we found the landscape a bit monotonous. It was still a sight to behold, but it was not changing anymore. One can continue walking ahead, but we had decided to call it a day. Some of the tourists were seen continuing ahead. Some tourists were seen taking packed lunches with them. These people are most likely to stay back at Ghangaria for the day. But we had to travel down to Govindghat as well.
Inside the park we saw even grown up peoples riding pithoo's back. Even though the allowed weight for pithoos is about 70 kilos, one fat fellow who was riding a pithoo looked much beyond that limit. One human torturing another compensating it by paying money. It looked so shameful. The guy also understood our scornful glances and avoided any further eye contact.
We had returned to Ghangaria by 2 pm. Had a quick lunch and got ready for the descend to Govindghat. The restaurant where we had all our meals had arranged for ponies. We hired 6 ponies this time, including one exclusively for luggage @Rs.250/- per pony. We did not see any organized way of booking ponies at Ghangaria though there is a counter at the entrance to the village. We had no option but to hire ponies as we would not be able to make it to Govindghat on foot before dark. In nay case we would have required at least 3 horses for luggage and kids.
I had mentioned earlier in my posts that descending on horse back is not fun. The horseman always remains ahead of the horses and keeps pulling the horses all the time. Because of this horse tends to slip at times on rocky slopes. We found that one gentleman broke his leg after his pony slipped and literally fall on him. The horses are plied in pairs. I was on the horse on the back which always tends to walk by the side of the trek away from the hill. The fear of the horse slipping and taking you down the hill was real and kept me on tenterhook all the time. On our way down we met people who had started from Govindghat as late as 5 pm. These people were either alone or in small groups of 2 or 3 persons. They had barely traveled 2 / 3 kilometers by 5:30 pm. How they could think of traveling rather trekking at night was beyond my understanding. Even though the trek is fairly well laid out, but there were stretches with landslide where it was difficult to maneuver even in daylight. There are no facilities for staying or sleeping on the entire stretch. May be the makeshifts food stalls provide some shelter. But it will be too cold to sleep in the open. This is sheer foolishness.
Anyway, we had reached back Govindghat by dusk. The descend to Govindghat took us about 3 hours with a break for tea. On arrival we had collected the Prasad at the Gurudwara for our offerings at Hemkund Sahib. This time we had preferred to stay at Hotel Kuber which probably is the most well maintained hotel at Govindghat. As it was almost dark, we got the rooms at good bargain.
My limbs were almost numb. Every step was a big torture. I had decided to have a massage of legs paying Rs.50 that night. Whether it provided any relief was doubtful. But we slept hard that night. Exhausted but satisfied that we had completed another memorable trip two exotic places. It certainly was a trip of lifetime.
Day 4 : We could contact the driver late in the night after our arrival at Govindghat the earlier night. Though the driver had a mobile, connectivity depends on availability of power. We had started off with the first gate at around 8 am. Till about Pipolkoti it was a smooth drive. But then we got stuck in landslides at two places. These blockades consumed about 2 hours time, but fortunately the road was cleared. There is serious possibility of getting blocked for an entire day or two on this stretch. We had expected this on our way up, but that did not occur then. But to complete our experience of the trip it occurred on the return trip.
Even when the debris was cleared and the road was opened to traffic, the long queue made it difficult to pick up speed. The delay had made us consider another change of plan. This was the seventh day since we have left
Anyway, we thanked God that we had reached back safely. My colleague Chandan had asked me as to how I could think of traveling on that dangerous route for a second time. I also do not know. May be because of the serious willingness to see the