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From Ghangaria to Heaven

Madhumay Mallik

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 capture a moment forever. I found my religion on the mountains of the Shivalik, some 14,000 feet above sea level, and after some of the most difficult treks I had ever done.

This time, my solo backpacking trip in Uttarakhand has been nothing short of an adventure. As soon as I boarded the bus from Haridwar, headed towards Badrinath, I had made an acquaintance that re-instills the faith in friendship and companionship. Deepak, a hotelier by profession has been traveling between cities to bring back the girl he loved. He was on a quest of his own. I had been intrigued by the love they felt for each other and just being able to be a part of the love story, in whatever small way, 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 revered (also expensive) hotels in the valley. I couldn’t deny his wish!

The trip from Haridwar to Badrinath was about 13 hours of journey but I never felt impatient or tired. The valleys have just begun growing on me and at every turn of the road, some amazing natural beauty and sights came into view which made me gasp in awe!

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 me soon so that I could reciprocate and host him too.

I had 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 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 the 4 kilometers. I had to cross 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 outpost of what I like to call “India”.

The sky was full of clouds and dull but it still made 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 stay long enough to visit the caves around Mana (though they were highly recommended) and had to head back to get 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 started some raging streams. There had been landslides on the road towards Govind Ghat and all vehicles headed towards it were stalled.

An hour of waiting and then I meet 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 to India! Kishen and Joe greeted me from a distance and the clouds of confusion had 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 was packed 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 gasping for breath wasn’t going to be a problem. We always believed that the road would be cleared soon and we could always hitch a ride. After about an hour of walking, we had instinctively motioned for help to the first passing army truck! Things couldn’t have got better and hearing the amazing stories about the life of the BRO soldiers kept our spirits high.

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 a trek and though tourists were hiring horses, we decided to start the 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 an inexpensive but decent place to stay as this was not the peak of tourist season. A couple of alu paratha and a glass of chai and we slept into 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 more if you wanted to be at the famous Pushpawati River bed and have a view of the glacier. We walked up through waterfalls, jungles and a beautiful carpet of multicolored wild flowers. 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 have made my life worth it!

On the way towards Valley of Flowers

Once I was in the valley and among the carpet of colors, I just closed my eyes for a while and allowed the elements around me to take over. The rustle of the dandelions, the soft touch of mountain breeze and the sweet chirping 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 just lived through the best part 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 14,000 feet. We were on the route to Hemkund, the very sacred pilgrimage site for the Sikhs and a heaven for real. 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 were 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 unexplainably beautiful and if there was indeed a heaven, this was it – Waterfalls feeding into an emerald green lake, bounded by green mountains and carpets of wild flowers. The floating clouds above the lake just made the scene the most serene I could have ever imagined. Adith and I had perched ourselves on a mountain top 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 which you would ever taste – all of it for free! Travelers, regardless of their religions or faiths, were welcome to the common kitchen of Hemkund and this adds to the heavenly spirituality that the place holds. It’s beauty 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 Ghangaria though; I didn’t want to leave in the first place.

For an unedited version of the article please visit:  http://madhumaymallik.com

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