In continuation of my previous blog on Valley of Flowers – 5 Important things to consider before undertaking Valley of Flowers Trek sometime back (read it here) I thought of answering another set of questions for wannabe visitors and trekkers to Valley of Flowers as well as Hemkund Sahib. In comparison, this post addresses a different set of questions. This is not a travelogue on Valley of Flowers. Rather it’s a guide based on trek experience of Valley of Flowers Trek. Here I go.
1. Best Time to visit Valley of Flowers Trek :
No one can say for sure, which is the best month as the blooming of flowers depends on the weather conditions even though Valley of flowers opens in June every year for visitors. Also, there is a certain time frame when each species of flower blooms. You may find certain flower species in July, which might not be present in the valley during August. Ideally Julyand August is the best time to visit Valley of Flower, going by how monsoon normally behaves & number of people visiting VOF.
2. Going solo or using Trek operator for Valley of Flowers Trek
People get perplexed whether to plan and visit on their own or to use services of a trek operator. It’s not an easy answer, however let me try to offer you some breather. Whether you should use trek operator or not depends on your mindset, largely. If you are comfortable in planning and organizing things on your own, it’s not tough since this trek can be termed as “tea-house” trek. Tea house treks are popular in Nepal where lodges and food is easily available through out the trail; its a well marked trail. With tons of information available on internet, you can hunt for every information related to the trek. On the other hand, if you don’t want to get into hassles or don’t have time and resources to search around, trekking agencies make it all easy. They take care of everything. If you’re wondering whether it’ll be cheaper to plan and organize on your own? Using similar level of services will not save you any significant amount of money, if you are traveling alone. At the most, it’ll be marginal. However, with a group, you can save quite a bit in sum total. It’s a call between ease vs fun to do on your own! Take your pick. Till few years ago, Valley of Flowers was a very trek popular among solo travelers. Now there are many agencies offering Valley of Flowers Trek at low cost. However, many of these operators don’t have long and reliable track record.
Also read Part 1 of this post: 5 Important things to consider before undertaking Valley of Flowers Trek
3. How to reach Valley of Flowers – Trek/ Pony/ Helicopter?
As compared to many other treks, Valley Of Flowers do offer you options between trekking, hiring pony or using helicopter for covering the 13 Km trail which runs between Govindghat to Ghangharia. However, from Ghangharia to Valley of Flowers you need to trek only -no other option! For hard core trek and fitness buffs, trekking is the biggest draw. For someone who has never ridden a pony before, uphill ride will be slight discomfort. Downhill ride offers even more discomfort! Helicopter ride on the other hand is comfortable, short and sweet. On flip side, It’s pricey and it’s operation is dependent on weather. If the weather is bad, the helicopter service is not operational. My piece of advice would be to plan and prepare physically for the 13 km trek. It’s always easier when you plan for the eventuality!
4. Accommodation- Hotels & Lodges in Ghangaria
Accommodation in Ghangaria is tricky. Hotels & lodges in Ghangaria for Valley of Flowers offer claustrophobic rooms. There are Swiss tent camps too, but you need to book ahead unless you want to test your luck!! These camps are located near helipad a kilometer prior to the main settlement of Ghangaria. In many ways, these camps are better than staying in Ghangaria as the views around are great; the food quality is consistent too. They will be expensive though and you should book them with all meals included as food is not available around these camps. Ghangharia market is located around a kilometer ahead through tricky and slippery ascend- not a good idea for making round trip for munching!! A good option is to stay at GMVN, Ghangharia by Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam ; getting a confirmed booking is an issue though. It is located in the market itself and the rooms are spacious. You can sit in the open area and enjoy great weather!
Quality and choice of hotels in Govindghat is better than hotels in Ghangharia. Some people prefer to stay at Auli/ Joshimath instead of Govindghat as it affords better facilities or choices. The downside is that you either need to get up early and cover half an hour drive to Govindghat on a trek day or start your trek late. Which is better? I will prefer to stay at Govindghat and cut on drive time in morning; saves lot of hassle!
5. Best time to leave for Valley of Flowers from Ghangaria
VOF is located 4-5 km kilometers from Ghangharia. Ideally one should be able to reach the valley in an hour. However, in reality people tend to walk slowly exploring & photographing around. It’s best to leave for VOF asap in morning preferably around 6-6.30. You need to obtain entry ticket for VOF near entry gate of the park; its valid for multi day entry- 3 days to be precise. Some people claim that all entries to the park are tracked on return to ensure safety of the visitors. I cannot vouch for it’s authenticity, though.
6. Food inside the Valley of Flowers
There are no canteens/dhabas or any kind of food facility inside Valley of Flowers. You need to carry edible items with you. Get your lunch packed & carry with you or rely on pre-packed/packaged/ ready to eat stuff. Plan ahead and place order previous evening to save time next morning. Please don’t litter the pristine surroundings of valley by leaving or trashing left overs, wrappers, bottles and plastic. Bhyunder valley NGO – EDC is working hard in these trails to keep it clean. Let’s make their job easier without littering and carrying all trash back to Ghangharia or Govindghat for responsible disposal.
7. Should you hire guide for Valley Of Flowers?
It’ll be great if you can hire an expert guide from Ghangaria to show you around the valley -flora and life. It’ll enrich your experience. Without guide, you can only appreciate what you see. With guide you can interact and enrich your experience. If you find the fee charged by guide stiff, you can try and pool in more people to spread the cost. Ask around in your (and nearby) hotels. Every visitor in Ghangharia is for a reason, visiting either Valley Of Flowers or Hemkund Sahib.
8. Backpack/ Rucksack for Valley of Flowers?
If you have never carried a 50-60 liter backpack weighting 7-8 kg ever, walking 13 Km uphill might be tough for you. We did a mistake of using a regular laptop bag and stuffing it to the brim on our first trek. In spite of being fit & trained for the trek, it was tiring. Realizing the mistake, I bought a hiking rucksack. These backpack/rucksack are designed in a way that it doesn’t put pressure on your shoulders entirely rather it distributes the load evenly on your body. It made all the difference during my next trek. I will suggest first time trekker to carry a 10-20 liter day pack ,instead. Simply carry the essentials with you in this day pack. The whole point of trekking is enjoying your trek & beautiful environs, let’s keep the focus on it. Hire a mule or porter to carry your luggage or rucksack if you’re trekking first time.
9. Backpack or regular duffle bags for VOF?
If you don’t intend to carry ruck sack and are not sure if you’ll need it in future, you need not fret! Use duffle bag instead & hire a porter or mule to carry the same from Gobindghat to Ghangharia. Do ensure that a rain cover protects your baggage. It’s best to avoid carrying suitcases for this trip. Duffle bags are best suited for ferrying via porter or mule. Another safeguard would be to pack your belongings into plastic cover before parking it inside the duffle bag. Double protection!
10. Hemkund Sahib… Is it good to visit along with the Valley of Flowers?
A large number of trekkers also visit Hemkund Sahib along with Valley of Flowers on the following day. This seems to have become standard itinerary with both travelers and trek operators. Lot of people are in fix whether it is worth going to Hemkund Sahib. It’s a difficult question to answer. Let’s be clear, Hemkund Sahib is actually a pilgrim site for Sikhs. For a trekker it’s a bonus. The trek from Ghangharia to Hemkund Sahib is 4 Km long and it’s a steep one! On a clear day you can enjoy great views of surrounding peaks and mountains. The views are amazing. During monsoon season however, you are likely to encounter overcast sky and possibly rain! You also get chance to witness rare Brahamkamal flower, which blooms at height of around 4000 meters. You won’t be able to see this rare flower in Valley of Flower!! would you like to miss this?
If all this doesn’t sound attractive, you can consider visiting Valley of Flower again or choose to descend to Govindghat. The idea is to enjoy your journey and not merely tick off the places on a list.
11. Is it best time to visit Badrinath Temple?
Like Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath is usually bundled with Valley Of Flower trip by many operators. If you’re traveling with operator, this question is irrelevant for you. If it’s not the case with you, you need to weight your interest level and time available. The 13 Km descend from Ghangharia to Govindghat can be completed in around 4-5 hours by a fit person. If you start early you can visit Badrinath shrine for darshan and head back to Joshimath for the night stay. The route from Govindghat to Badrinath has few landslide zones and it’s better to cover as much distance as you can in a day during the rainy season. I found Badrinath temple quite charming. It’s colorful and during monsoon season it takes no time to have darshan since char dham yatra has few takers. Peak season for the Badrinath temple is during May-June during the yatra season.
12. Is Trekking pole required on the Valley of Flower Trek?
Like all other treks, trekking pole makes descend easier. You’re more likely to see the pilgrims carrying wooden sticks on this trail. These are available easily in Govindghat market. These are locally made with no standardization. In comparison, Hiking pole affords you better conveniences – height can be adjusted, loop to secure the pole, easier to store as it’s length can be collapsed. While local wooden sticks cost Rs 30 or so hiking poles costs upwards Rs 500 and you need to source them prior as these are not available locally. If you don’t intend to trek in future, it’s best to use local wooden sticks. In case you are trekking with a operator you can rent hiking poles through them.Most trek operators offer rental facility of hiking equipment. Currently, Rs 50/day is all you have to pay to hire hiking pole.
Before you embark for Valley of Flower trek, here is a piece of information that might come in handy. Ghangharia has electricity but no mobile network. There were some fellow travelers who managed to get signal of Idea soon after the valley of flowers entry gate. There are satellite phone booths in Ghangharia from where you can make a call. Mobile network is available all through the route from Haridwar till Govindghat with good network from BSNL/ Airtel and Idea.
Valley of Flower has become immensely popular in recent years, thanks to the internet and social media. It’s one of the most sought after treks in India, even though it’s not a technical trek. Do visit Valley of Flowers once in your lifetime.
If you have questions, please free to write in the comment box along with your email so I can help you with it.
Check out previous post on Valley of Flowers Trek