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Uttarakhand: Hemkund Sahib and Valley of Flowers Nandan kanan - A Traveller's Guide
Hemkund Sahib and Valley of Flowers :
Welcome to God's own garden at the Himalayas, Nandan Kanan or Valley of Flowers. A place where hundreds of different types of flowers bloom without any human hand, a place that is beautiful and unique by its own nature, a place, created, developed and maintained by nature.
To visit the wonderful place of valley of flowers Nandan Kanan and the Sikh pilgrimage Hemkund Sahib (A beautiful Lake), you will need to first reach Joshimath and then Govind Ghat. From Joshimath, take the route to Badrinath and get down at Govind ghat. Govind ghat is a beautiful place too, by its own merit. The Bhyunder Ganga meets the Alakananda river here. It is at a distance of 19 kilometers from Joshimath at a height of 1849 meters. Here there is a Gurudwara where you can stay, and also keep your excess luggage at the cloak room. From Govind ghat, starts the trek to Hemkund Sahib and to Nandan Kanan, the Valley of Flowers.
12.5 kilometers from Govind ghat, which takes about 5.5 hours, is Ghagaria, at a height of about 3050 meters. For those who do not prefer to walk, can take a pony or a dandi (human carrier).
Here you will find a nature interpretation center, where slides on Nandan Kanan flowers are shown, a helipad, and exquisite scenic beauty. Check out the huge Gurudwara, and cross over the pool over Alakananda in front of it. Take a walk through the banks of Bhuinder or Laxman ganga, in the shades of coniferous trees like Pine and amongst Rhododendron flowers. Halt for the night at Ghangaria. Ghagaria will be your central point for the rest of your journey.
Start early next morning for Hemkund Sahib. Ponies (Rs.650 approx) and dandis (Rs.1300 approx)are available on this route too. The distance is only 5.5 kilometers. But the shortness of the distance is made up with the near impossible steepness of the pathway.
Caution: Do Not take the staircase route in the last 2 kilometers (1300 steps). Take the pathway. Else you may be injuring your knees before you know it. It is bitterly cold, and the air is rarefied too. Take your precautions against altitude sickness.
Grantha Sahib, the religious book of the Sikhs, has in it that Medhs Muni, who later reincarnated as Guru Govind Singh, meditated at Hemkund Sahib, when he heard the heavenly instruction to propagate Sikhism. Hence Hemkund Sahib is one of the high points of Sikh pilgrimage. There is a Gurudwara at the banks of the lake. The lake always has floating ice on it. July to October are the favorable months to travel. Thousands of Sikhs visit the place at Shravani Purnima,the full moon day in the monsoons.
There is option to stay at the Gurudwara, but it is advised that you return to Ghangaria after visiting the place and offering your prayers, the same day. Return journey is stress free, but be sure to maintain a very slow pace.
Check out the Laxman temple while at Hemkund Sahib. The deities are Laxman, Lokpal, Ganesha and Mahadeva, all in black stone. Remember to sample the tea at ubiquitous tea stalls en route. You should also be able to see the white lotus, which has a beautiful fragrance. Nature, as usual, is beautiful.
Rest for the night at Ghagaria and start for Nandan Kanan, the valley of flowers the next morning. Remember to carry your cameras, for the place offers beautiful moments for the shutter happy.
Half a kilometer from Ghagaria is the Laxman pool, crossing which is Bhugal, from where the pathway divides in two. The right goes to Hemkund Sahib, while the left goes to the beautiful valley of flowers, which the locals call 'Phulon ki Ghaty'. Valley of flowers is only 3 kilometers from here, and the pathway is not as steep as Hemkund Sahib. You will need to buy tickets from the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve @ Rs.40 per head. Cameras may be charges extra, if they have video recording capabilities. A stretch of the pathway is adventurous too, as you have to literally walk above a glacier, which has crevices too. Tread carefully. Cross over the glacier and you will hit upon the horse shoe shaped Valley of Flowers.
The beauty cannot be explained in words. Situated at a height of 3525 meters, the area spans about 10 Sq kilometers, spanning across 5 kilometers on one side, and 2 on another. The North Horizon is blocked by the Nilgiri mountain, the South by the Sapta Shringa, while the West has Ratava, all covered in priest line snow. The flowers potray a riot of colors, with Aster, Juniper, Jerolium, Primula, Anthopolan, Blue Poppy, Butter cup and many many more. You will literally feel that this is a garden of Heaven, mistakenly placed on Earth.
The Pushpawati river pierces through the valley. You can also see the snow covered Sumeru peak at the backdrop.
15th July to 15th August, is the time when the flowers are in full bloom, though you can very well adjust your time a month prior or later to the boundary dates. However, the bloom is also dependent on snowfall and rainfall.
Nanda Devi National Park: Valley of Flowers was declared a national park in 1981. It won the World Heritage Site status from UNESCO in 1988. It covers an area of 87 Sq kilometers, and is home to denizens like Kasturi Mriga (a type of deer), Leopards, different types of birds and animals. It is open from May to November. There are no places to stay here.
How to reach: From Rishikesh or Haridwar, preferably from Rishikesh. Start with the first bus very early in the morning (even if you have a car, start very early, at about 4.30 am), to reach Joshimath and then Govind Ghat by the evening. If you are late in starting, then you will have to halt at somewhere like Rudra Prayag and you will loose a day. From Joshimath or preferably Govind Ghat, plan your journey to Hemkund Sahib and to Valley of Flowers.
Where to Stay: There are places to stay in Joshimath and Govind ghat. Elsewhere there are Dharmashalas and Gurudwaras. In Dharmashalas and Gurudwaras, no prior bookings are required, you can just walk in. They are basic and inexpensive. GMVN however, runs hotels at almost all the locations, including Ghagaria. GMVN's Ghagaria accomodation is really good. Check their website, or try our hotel booking links below.