The year was 1931. A British Mountaineer and Botanist, Mr. Frank. S. Smyth along with his co-climber and expedition team was coming back after a successful ascent to Mount Kamet. They had planned to come back via the Mana route, but nature had something else in store for them. The monsoons in the Himalayas are generally relentless, and the weather was bad. Thus the expedition team was forced to comeback via a known route; Bhyundar Valley. On a particularly rainy day, they were stuck in their camp in the valley. Suddenly the cover of cloud vanished and a beautiful valley with a carpet of thousands of flowers appeared in front of them. The team was completely spellbound with the beauty of the valley. The unforgettable beauty of the valley stayed in Mr. Smyth’s memory, so much so that he visits it again. This time he stayed here for a few weeks and penned his experience in a remarkable book called “The Valley of Flowers“. Yes, I am talking about the UNESCO world heritage Valley of Flowers or Phulo ki Ghati.
Valley of Flowers is a popular trekking destination of Uttarakhand, India. Before the remarkable book by Mr. Smyth, the valley was known to only a handful of people. Post recognition of this ‘nature bonanza’, the valley became popular for many botanists, tourists, and especially for photographers.
This pristine paradise is the home of approx. 500 plus plants (many of them are having high medicinal value) and many Himalayan animals (black and brown bear, snow leopard, musk deer to name a few) and birds. The valley is surrounded by mountain peaks like Gauri Parvat, Rataban Parvat and Nilgiri Parvat, and a beautiful river Pushpawati, which draws its waters from the Tipra glacier which cut across the entire valley. The river later meets with Lakhsman Ganga at Gangaria and forms Bhyundar Ganga; a tributary of river Alakananda. Altogether, the 8 km long valley is truly a nature’s wonder.
Gangaria is the base camp of Valley of Flowers. I was here for last two days. Yesterday, I had visited Hemkund Sahib ji; a tough trek to 4,636m high holy lake and Gurudwara. But the trek to the Valley of Flowers is not as strenuous as the Hemkund Sahib ji trek (read more about my visit to Hemkund Sahib), as the altitude of the Valley ranges from 3200m to 3800m, which is only a slight elevation compared to Gangaria (3000 m). I started my day at 5:30 in the morning. After having breakfast and packing my lunch, I started my journey towards the ‘Paradise’. The gate to the valley opens at 7:30 in the morning, but a kind forest officer allowed me to enter the valley at 6:30. He warned me not to throw any plastic in the valley and to come back by 5 PM. The actual valley starts after a three km walk from the gate, but the beautiful sights are there to behold as soon as one enters. I saw many beautiful flowers of various shapes and hues along the way, stopping by from time to time to take in their smell and omnipresence. While walking through the entire valley, I found many waterfalls; a few were quite massive and some were really small, like a brook that suddenly had more water due to the rains. Some of the ‘bridges’ (in actuality they were Aluminium sheets on a guardrail) that I came across were very scary, making me stop in my tracks.
The actual wonder – a lush, green valley covered by carpets of flowers will start after crossing a small waterfall. I felt privileged to be here; as a kid I had heard many mythological descriptions of paradise, and if they were to be real, they might look just like this beautiful valley. Wherever I looked, I saw only colourful flowers. A question that definitely come to one’s mind when they are there – Why are the flowers so colourful? There is a reason behind it, which has to do with how nature works. From the end of October to the first week of June, the entire valley gets covered with snow. This affords only a 120 days long period for all plants there to grow and germinate. The colour helps the flowers to attract bees and other insect friends to help germinate faster.
In the course of my entire walk to the valley I saw many popular flowers like the Himalayan Blue Poppy, Primulas, Himalayan bell flowers, Marigold etc. I have captured at least 30 different types of flowers on my camera. After a five km walk from the starting point, I came across the river bed. Most tourists turn back from this point, but I considered this to be an excellent place for a short break as I had decided to go further. A local guide informed me that the Tipra glacier is about a 6 km walk from the river bed, and advised me not to go there because of the shortage of time. But I moved on as I wanted to have a closer look of the glacier. After walking for an hour, the glacier stared to show its first signs of existence. I took a few pictures from this point and started on my way back. During the return, I had my lunch of packed aloo paranthas in front of a waterfall. I checked my watch; it was already two then, and in a few more hours I would have to leave this heaven. I felt sad as I did not want to go back. I wished that they allowed me to camp there and to stay for a few days.
After the remarkable discovery by Mr. Smyth, this valley drew attention of many botanists. Lady Joan Margaret Legge, the botanist of Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, was one of them. She came to the Valley of Flowers for research. On one unfortunate day, while collecting flowers from the valley, she slipped and lost her life. Later, her sister came to the valley and built a tomb inside the valley in her remembrance. Today, her tomb continues to inspire many more mountain lovers like her.
On my descent, the sky was clear and there was a resonating glare in the valley of the setting sun. It looked magical. I came back to the gate at 5 PM, and started chatting up a forest officer. He informed me that the entire valley is now under threat due to the idiotic & reckless behaviour of the tourists. Inspite of repeated warnings, the tourists throw plastic pouches, packets, bottles etc. along their walk. Plastic is a non-destructible material, and is a real threat for all habitants of the valley. He also informed me that from this season, the forest department has introduced a Rs. 500 fine on plastic pollution, which has helped them reduce the plastic dumping. I certainly agree with him; in the present world, plastic is the biggest enemy of nature. We may not stop using plastic but we can definitely lessen pollution by not indulging in indiscriminate dumping. We have already started losing many natural assets and if we do not become more careful, a day might come when we will not have such beautiful sights to admire and help refresh ourselves.
I got out of the valley afterwards. On the outside, I found a photographer who was trying to capture a beautiful flower on his digital memory. Just like me, he was lost in the beauty of nature. I smiled and realised the line written over the tomb of Lady Margaret, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help”.
Few tips for your visit to the Valley of Flowers
– If you are a nature lover, please dedicate a complete day to the valley.
– There are no food stalls inside the valley, so please carry some packed food and sufficient water on you.
– You can hire a local guide from the NGO office. They help you identify the various flowers in valley and their stories will make your trip more memorable.
– Start early. Remember, you have to come back by five in the evening.
– And finally, please do not litter plastic in the valley.
What is the best time to visit the Valley of Flowers?
This is the most common question for any tourist planning to visit the valley. As confirmed by the forest officer, the best blooming period is mid-July to mid-August. However, you will find valley in bloom from mid-June to the end of October.
Have you visited the Valley of Flowers or are planning to visit the heavenly valley? Please share your thoughts in the comments.