There are places that you want to go back to and then there are places that you don’t want to come back from. It was a stupefying experience – the one that makes you hold your breath and try to live a moment forever. I found my religion on the mountains of Shivalik, some 14,000 feet above, and after undertaking the most difficult treks I had ever been on.
This time, my trip to Uttarakhand has been nothing short of an adventure. As soon as I boarded the bus from Haridwar, headed towards Badrinath, I made an acquaintance that re-instills the faith in friendship and companionship. Deepak, a hotelier by profession had been traveling between cities to bring back the girl he loved. They have been separated for 2 months now but they had come to realize that there couldn’t be a replacement and that they were incomplete without each other. I was intrigued by the love they felt for each other and being able to be a part of the love story, in howsoever a small way I could, made the start of my trip blessed.
Deepak insisted that I stayed at Sarovar Portico, the place he worked at and one of the most exotic (also expensive) looking hotels in the valley. I couldn’t deny!
A solo trip is never meant to be traveled alone. You make friendships, the ones that you cherish for a lifetime.
The trip from Haridwar to Badrinath was about 13 hours of a journey but I never felt impatient and tired. The valleys begun to grow on me and at every turn of the road, something amazing out of nature came into view and made me gasp!
The night at Sarovar Portico was celebrated with some local brew and a scrumptious dinner. I would never be able to thank Deepak enough but did make him promise to visit my place soon and give me a chance to be his host.
I started really early the next morning, even before my friends at the Sarovar were up, and packed just enough for a visit to Mana, the last Indian village along the Gharwal. It was raining heavily but I was well prepared. There were a few vehicles that would take me to Mana and the ones that were parked would charge heavily for the trip. Well, I decided to walk as it was just about 4 kilometers. I crossed raging streams (yet to be fed to their full force by the rain), army camps and several turns of the mountain road to reach the last of what I like to call “India”.
The sky was full of clouds and somewhat dull but it was still the most amazing sight. In fact it was more than the visual connection I felt. It was something deeper. The ‘Last Indian Village’ sounds exciting enough to make your day and being there is certainly a different kind of feeling. I couldn’t wait for too long to visit the caves around Mana (though they were highly recommended) and had to head back for my bus to Govind Ghat.
When I reached the International Bus Terminus at Badrinath, I realized that the rain from the other night had done more than to just start some streams. There had been landslides on the road towards Govind Ghat and all vehicles headed towards it were stalled.
After an hour of wait, I met another couple of friends I had made on my way to Badrinath from Haridwar. A boy from Kerala had met and fallen in love with a girl from China and they were on a trip across India! Kishen and Joe greeted me from a distance and the clouds of confusion were gone in an instant. We decided to move on, carrying only as much we needed for our 3-day trek in Govind Ghat and all of it fitted into a small bag. Govind Ghat was 25 kilometers from Badrinath but we started walking anyhow! We had to go down the valley and so breathing wasn’t going to be a problem. We always believed that the road would be cleared soon and we would get a ride. After about an hour of walk, we indeed were able to hitch a ride in an army truck! Things couldn’t have got better and we got to hear so many amazing stories about the life of the BRO soldiers who kept our borders safe.
After a small lunch, we hired a Tata Sumo to reach Phulna, the last motorable stop towards Ghangaria – the gateway to heaven! From Phulna, it was another 10 kilometers of trek and though tourists were hiring mules and horses, we decided to start out on legwork. It was not easy as the climb was steep all throughout. Well, the company I had, made things less tiring. We had started at 2 PM from Phulna and it was 7 PM when we finally stepped into Ghangaria. It wasn’t hard finding a cheap but decent place to stay as this was not the peak of tourist season. After a dinner of alu paratha and chai, we slept away the night to get ready for the next day.
I had always been allured by the Valley of Flowers and it was hard to believe that I was finally walking towards it. I was super excited! Nevertheless, it was a trek of another 6 kilometers to the start of Valley of Flowers and 4 km more if you wanted to be at the famous river bed and have a view of the glacier. We walked upwards through waterfalls, jungles and some of the most beautiful meadow of wildflowers. It was a fairly cloudy day but I was not worried about how the pictures would come out. Being in the lap of nature, in its most amazing of offerings, was enough to make my life worth it.
Once I was in the valley and among the carpet of colors, I just closed my eyes for a while and allowed the elements to take over. The rustle of the dandelions, the soft touch of mountain breeze and the sweet chirp of birds put me into a trance-like never before.
We had to check out of the forest gate by 5 PM but I had already lived the best of my day. The rest of the day and to this day, there’s a different kind of sparkle in my eyes, the one that I would like to hold on to.
Day 2 in Ghangaria and we were ready for another trek. This time we were to go up the mountains for 6 kilometers to reach an elevation of 14000 feet. We were on the route to Hemkund, the most important pilgrimage site for the Sikhs and a heaven for reel. A few kilometers into the trek and I met Adith, another solo traveler like me and a die-hard fan of Bob Marley! We shared the same love for traveling and it was easy talking and sharing. Another day of clouds, we only had a fair view of the road ahead and was careful enough to put our boots on firm rocks.
It took us 5 hours to reach the top of Hemkund but once the valley revealed itself, all the tiredness vanished in an instant. It was inexplicably beautiful and if there was indeed a heaven, this was it. Waterfalls feeding an emerald green lake, bounded by green mountains and carpet of wildflowers. The floating clouds above the lake just made the scene the most serene I could have ever imagined. I and Adith had perched ourselves on a mountaintop ahead and it was a bliss of an experience.
The Gurudwara at Hemkund Sahib hosts thousands of tourists every day and serves the most delicious glass of tea and bowl of Khichdi you could ever taste – all of it for free. Travelers regardless of their religion or faith were welcome to the common kitchen of Hemkund and this adds to the heavenly spirituality that the place holds. Its beauty was complimented by a true service to mankind.
We wanted to spend the maximum amount of time in Hemkund and this would also be the end of my trip. I would be heading back to Badrinath to collect my bag and take the bus back to Haridwar and eventually back to Bhubaneswar. I, however, promise to be back at this place though; I didn’t want to leave in the first place.
Read more about my travels at Dandelion Diaries!