The preparation and journey to Uttarakhand
As it was our first trek to the Himalayas, we decided to explore on our own without the help of tour operators. A lot of research and preparation had to be done before we started the trip. The generic plan was to reach Uttarakhand and then trek to the valley of flowers. The best option was to take a flight to Delhi from Chennai, reach Dehradun via Dehradun express (train no.12687), and opt for the best possible means to reach Chamoli (Uttarakhand). Now that the travel plan was sorted we had to prepare for the trek. Being our first trip where trekking was of primary focus, we had to equip ourselves which included
- purchasing sweatshirts
- trekking shoes with ankle support
- thermal wears
- sunglasses with UV protection
- first aid kit
- trekking pole
You are going to be spending days walking, so don’t think twice before you invest in a good pair of trekking shoes with ankle support. We have quite a lot of options for men but women have very few options in Chennai. All of the above mentioned can be purchased in Decathlon. While I purchased my pair from Wildcraft, my wife had to choose the only one from Decathlon as she didn’t have much to choose from. My shoes from Wildcraft were priced at around 3500 INR while the one from Decathlon was priced at around 6500 INR. Well, when you are the only player available your prices are bound to be high. But quality-wise i would say both the brands did a whole lot of justice.
Don’t ever plan a trekking trip without a trekking pole as they are quintessential. It helps reduce pressure on the knees while carrying heavy backpacks and increases the support you give to your legs while moving. Apart from these, they can help set up tents, act as a stand for photos, probing what lies ahead, path clearing, and also as a selfie stick. We had to be content with wooden sticks as it was an able replacement. I would suggest buying lightweight equipment one by one well in advance rather than all at once. We referred a lot of videos online while packing our rucksacks and were set to explore Valley of Flowers.
Chennai to Delhi
We boarded the flight from Chennai early in the morning and reached Delhi by around 9 AM. There is a restaurant to the right just as we step out of the domestic terminal. We had our breakfast and headed to Delhi railway station where we could place our luggage in the cloakroom. They charged around Rs. 90 for the 2 rucksacks. The place is open all round the clock so you don’t have to rush back here unless you have a train to catch. Do ensure you have a small lock handy to lock your luggage. You must lock your luggage before stashing it in the cloakroom. There are a handful of people selling locks just nearby, we managed to purchase 2 locks and set out to kill the time in Delhi.
Filling up our stomach with the chole bhature and finishing the appetite with a Jamun ice-cream we spent quality time in the India gate before boarding our train to Dehradun.
Delhi to Chamoli (Uttarakhand) :
The train timings were spot on and we set out to check our options to reach Chamoli from Dehradun. It was horrendous, there weren’t many folks around to ask for guidance and if you aren’t sure about your Hindi speaking skills, hmm, on a scale of 10 I would say your chances of making the right decisions narrows down to 3.Yeah one way to avoid it is booking under renowned TripAdvisor. We did have one in place (etravel fly) but right before we started from Chennai plans changed as they moved us to another group and their reviews weren’t up to the mark. So we set out to explore in our terms.
There were few taxis available who charged Rs. 6500 to take us up. It’s a 9 hr journey, so it was an option we kept for the reserves. Having secured the reserve option we headed to the government bus stand. The fellow passengers advised us to look out for the private buses as they charged almost equal to that of government vehicles but would have a head start. We stepped out of the government bus stand and to the left a few steps away there were few private vehicles parked. They charged around Rs.450 per head and we happily hopped on, on one condition that we had to be seated “together”. Private buses provide these luxuries as they need to get started as soon as possible because the competition to lure customers is sky-high. The conductor spoke to a few people and made the necessary arrangements.
They started as early as 5:30 AM and took around 10–11 hours to reach Chamoli. The ride took us through vivid landscapes as we have to cross through mountains, one after the other. These are tough terrains and driving through was a real bear. The drivers have fixed locations where they stopover for breakfast (no lunch breaks). Doesn’t matter how long they take to reach the destination it’s better to have light food to avoid nausea. We reached Hotel Bhagat around 5 PM and we were pleased that the hotel management decided to upgrade our room for the same pricing of Rs.2254.The best part was the arrival of our ride from the valley. These are things which are reminiscent of the movies, but to feel them in person was a whole new experience.
The hospitality was really good. Once the helicopter services halted, all we could hear was the flow of the Alakananda River. The bus journey did take a toll and we had a trek ahead of us the next day. As time passed by, the climate started dipping in temperature, and listening to the lullabies of Alakananda we dozed off.
The trek to valley of flowers :
It was my long time dream of visiting the Himalayas and here I was right beneath them, waiting to kick start the journey of my lifetime. The helicopter services charged around Rs.2795/- per person for a one way trip from Govindghat to Gangaria. We didn’t hesitate to grab it and were at the helipad by 6 AM waiting for the ride to take off. The angles that you get from the ride takes away from any nerves. With a 180 degree view, you are always guaranteed excellent sightseeing to distract your mind.
Certain things that caught my eyes once we landed were the engineering skills used to cut through the flow of water from the mainstream and using it for domestic purposes. Ponies and mules are in abundance and quenching off their thirst is an absolute necessity. I was blown away by the innovative technique used to provide water filtered by mother nature.
We started our trek from Gangaria to the Valley of flowers which led us through a wide variety of flora, landscapes, quick changes in weather and rode against the natural direction of river Alakananda as if we were tracing back to its origin. Some patches of the treks were well laid, some blended beautifully with the surroundings, and some beautiful bridges that let us stand right in the middle only to visualize ourselves being taken by the pearl white water flowing underneath your shoes.
However, the toughest of the lot was crossing the snow turf and this is where the trekking shoes play their role to perfection. You cannot resist standing midway and capturing the moment at the same time ensuring your safety. We have to make a tiny jump at the end of the free-flowing river where we will still be landing on a patch covered by snow. It’s tough to make a perfect landing on a slippery surface and I wasn’t ready to make a spectacle of myself. After successfully crossing the icy path we were into the last few steps that lead us right into the valley.
There was something about the breeze that paved its way through the valley. Jaws started cluttering when the arms involuntarily made its way beneath the armpits. The eyes were glued to the patches of flowers while trying to capture the magnificent mountains, which we assumed were guarding us against the cold breeze. The hands, still warm by the comfort of the gloves trying to extend as long as possible, signaling the valley to carry the toddler who crawled to its lap and the brain processing all the vivid colors and surreal environment never seen before. I dozed off to the euphony of the breeze and to the effects of the drugs taken to address acute mountain sickness.
I woke up in about half an hour only to get enthralled by the valley and paid no attention to the crowd. Slowly but steadily I gained consciousness to capture these moments in the best possible way. The breeze was steadily bringing in darker clouds and with it increasing the turbulence between the leaves, that was knee-high. It was highly impossible to miss the demonstration of wind walking through these flowers, the sight of these movements was incredibly relaxing to the senses, at least to mine.
As the cloud covered turned grey, the porters advised us to leave as the trek would become rather difficult if it starts to rain. With a heavy heart, we bid adieu to the wonderful valley and headed to our stay. The month of August would be the ideal time to visit the valley. The adventure awaits, go find it.