Valley of Flowers
Way back in 1931, English mountaineer Frank Smythe, on his way back from
an expedition to Mt Kamet, literally stumbled across the paradisal Bhyundar
Valley, an 8-km long glacial corridor in Chamoli Garhwal. Surrounded by
snow-capped mountains and carpeted with flowers- some 500 species, including
the elusive brahmakamal, the cobra lily, the Himalayan edelweiss and the
ethereal Himalayan blue poppy- the Valley forms one of India's most unusual
protected areas. Declared a National Park in 1982, the Valley of Flowers
stretches over an expanse of 87.50 sq km- an area which has steadily gained
in popularity, not just among nature lovers, but also among eager-beaver
trekkers over the past few years.
This part of Uttaranchal, in the upper reaches of Garhwal, is inaccessible
through much of the year. But when the snows melt and the monsoon arrives,
the earth comes to life- all along the Bhyundar Ganga river. For miles
on end, flowers- orchids, poppies, primulas, calendulas, daisies and anemones
among them- in every conceivable colour, carpet the ground. Alpine forests
of birch and rhododendron cover a part of the area, and are home to tahr,
snow leopard, musk deer, red fox, common langur, bharal, serow, and Himalayan
black bear. They're elusive, though, and a trek through the Valley may
not result in actually seeing much wildlife other than the myriad butterflies
which flutter over the blossoms.
The local villagers say that the Valley of Flowers is inhabited by fairies
who carry off anyone who ventures too far into their domain; and that
there bloom, in the valley, flowers with a fragrance so potent that it
can make you faint. Another story would have you believe that this valley-
known in Hindu mythology as `Nandankanan'- was created when the gods showered
flowers down on earth.
The last story's actually very believable. See for yourself.
Getting to the Valley of Flowers isn't exactly a cakewalk: getting here
requires a trek of about 17 km. The nearest major town is Joshimath in Garhwal,
which has convenient road connections from railheads such as Hardwar and
Dehradun, both about 270 km from Joshimath.
From Joshimath, a vehicle can be hired to take you to within 17 km of
the park, to the settlement of Gobindghat. The route from Joshimath to
the Valley of Flowers goes along the main road to Badrinath; roughly midway
along this road, a minor road branches off to Gobindghat, the roadhead
for the Valley. From Gobindghat, a trek of 14 km brings hikers to the
tiny settlement of Ghangaria, beyond which the toll gate to the National
Park is about 3 km.
Best time to visit
The Valley of Flowers is accessible only in the summer, between June and
October. The rest of the year, heavy snows make passage impossible, and
usually block off the trail leading up to the National Park. Although you
can visit the park any time during the summer, it's best to go in August
or September, when monsoon showers turn the valley into a mass of blooms.