As you go up the hills of Uttarakhand, finding a few friends is hardly an easy task. The population is sparse and the small houses few and far between. Villages and hamlets are found at regular distance but they have found a home in sync with nature.
There is abundance of green around. The dominant grey and white, partly due to the mist and clouds, sometimes makes you feel lonely.
That is precisely where my friendship with nature began. Now that the beginning was made, I am sure it will last a lifetime for me. If you are willing to listen, the clouds, the greens, the flowers et al can speak to you.
The Cobra Lily, for example.
Its distinct looks give it the name that has become popular. The looks can scare but it is as harmless as it can be. It is characterised by a long, whip like ‘tongue’ which emerges out in early June. It may not be the prettiest looking, but on the way towards the trek to Ghangharia, in the hills of Uttarakhand, it will be there all along with you.
Trekking to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand is a trekker’s delight. It definitely was for me. At over 3000 metres above sea level, it could take the trekker up to two days to cover the 20 odd kilometres to reach there. The valley is at its inviting best between July and September. As I found out, there were many a friends waiting, on the way towards Ghangharia, the gateway to the valley.
Berberis, which got its name from an Arabic fruit, can be found in abundance here. Its fruits are juicy and very sweet. Its roots are used to make alcoholic beverages. Sometimes, tipsy monkeys have been seen by amused trekkers. The spread of its yellow colour, with the green leaves in the backdrop of the blue and white skies, will leave you mesmerised.
Another beauty is the ‘Selinum Wallichianum’ which has been named in the honour of Nathaniel Wallich, a Danish botanist and surgeon who worked for East India Company and was responsible for the establishment of Botanical Gardens at Calcutta.
In close vicinity to the Ghangharia helipad, watch out for pilosa, which too lends the area its yellow colour. Its unique identification feature is the cup shaped bracts which encircles the male flowers, each with one stamen that surround a single female flower.
You can also watch out for Androsace Studiosarum which is also pretty abundant near the Ghangharia area. It belongs to the herb category with reddish brown stolons (a creeping horizontal plant stem or runner that takes root at points along its length to form new plants) and the flowers have a tinge of pink.
There are three legends associated with Valley of flowers. The first says that Gods showered flowers on Lord Lakshman; then they later flowered and thus came to existence, what is today known as the Valley of Flowers. The second legend suggests that flowers were showered on Guru Govind Singh and then it became a valley full of flowers. A third says that it was the garden of Lord Indra, Nandan Kanan.
Valley of Flowers has been a national park since 1982 and UNESCO World Heritage site since 2004. Spread over 88 square kilometres, its highest point is nearly 22,000 feet high. It helps trekkers enjoy the view of several mountain peaks. Frank Smyth’s book Valley of Flowers found 262 different types of rare flowers when he carried out a three-month study here in 1937.
Once you have reached the gate to enter the Valley of Flowers, this majestic waterfall will take your breath away. Enter the gate and you cannot miss the flurry of noisy rapids, which will always vie for your attention.
Whose voices do you prefer – the noisy rapids or the silent, whispering flowers?
The Valley of Flowers is a 3 kilometre climb from the Ghangharia forest checkpost. Just after 1 km, it crosses the path of the mighty Pushwapati river. Exotic flowers starts right from here. Also, watch for the Bhojpatra trees which were used for writing purposes as paper during the ancient times.
One can’t miss the Himalayan rhubarb or Red-veined pie plant because of its dark reddish-purple flowers, in dense branched clusters, in a long inflorescence. Even the flower ‘Goats beard’ is very eye catching because of the typical appearance.
Before reaching the valley, there is a small stream & the main Valley of Flowers starts from here. Somewhere I read a beautiful description about the valley, posted by a fellow trekker.
“For a botanist, this valley is heaven,
For a nature lover, this valley is a respite from the hustles and bustles of the city life,
For a reader this valley is a calm story,
For a traveler this valley is another memory to add in the travel diary.”
The uphill climb now is only about flowers. A colossal expanse of nearly 90 square kilometres and myriad alpine flowers makes this place a paradise of colour.
No one can miss the flowers of myriad colours here. I certainly did not. Imagine the spread of shades of blue and purple flowers here. Each one has a story, a legend which has a million believers. And even greater number of storytellers.
The more you look, the more you see, and there doesn't seem to be a limit to it.
In the Valley you will truly understand the meaning of ‘small is beautiful’.
Flowers and more Flowers in the Valley
Mountains in the background, gurgling streams and flowers as far as the eye can see.
(Joydeep is a Factory Manager at Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages. Despite his work schedule, he keeps fit by taking out time for a trek to different locations. He was recently in the Garhwal Himalayas for participating in ‘Himalayan Adventure Challenge’ for the fourth consecutive year)