The Valley of Flowers, where 'the flowers that the Gods threw, took root on earth' offers incredible peace and solitude. Several Hindu sages would meditate in its serene surroundings, affording the place its present-day religious significance. Hindu mythology refers to the valley as 'Nandan Kanan', the Garden of Indra in Paradise. It was renamed Valley of Flowers in 1931. Lakshman is believed to have meditated on the banks of the Hemkund and the life-saving 'Sanjeevani Buti' is also said to have been found here. A little-known temple of Lokpal dedicated to Lakshman is present in the valley.
The place is revered by Hindus and Sikhs alike. In the Granth Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh is believed to have made reference to his meditations in a previous life, poised on the banks of a lake surrounded by seven snow peaks, now recognised as Hemkund. In March 1986, it was here that A.B. Wooldridge took what he claimed was the first photograph ever of an animal that could be Homo anomalous.
The Valley of Flowers is located at altitudes ranging from 3,360m. to 3,365m., at the northern end of the Bhyundar valley in the Garhwal Himalayas. It is the catchment area of the Pushpawati River, which runs through the centre of the valley into the Bhyundar Ganga downstream of Ghangaria. The river arises from the Tipra Glacier, that has its source in the Gauri Parbat. The valley is about 10 km. long and two kilometres wide. On its northern edge, steep cliffs of the Arete mountains rise precipitously about 2,000 m. high, while the land flows more gradually to the south. The land is interspersed with flat terraces and the valley sprinkled with streams and waterfalls that merge with the Pushpawati. An old paved mule track runs through the valley, once used by the Marchas, a tribe in the Garhwals, for trade with Tibet.
Birch Betula utilis, rowan Sorbus sp. and rhododendron Rhododendron campanulatum grow on the northern hills up to an altitude of 3,800 m. These trees form a thick canopy while the base is covered with lichens. For a distance of about 500 m. from the entrance to the valley, there is a thick fern border, without a trace of flowers. White windflowers Anemones and bright yellow marsh marigolds Caltha palustris punctuated with red potentillas appear immediately thereafter. Walk another 500 m., and you'll see the rhododendrons in full bloom. Gentians, fritillarias, geraniums, larkspurs, lilies, orchids, poppies and primulas are some of the fascinating flowers that flourish in the soft meadows at the southern side of the steep cliffs. The valley has in fact, earned its name from this enormous variety of alpine flowers. Yellow globe flowers Trollius acaulis, large Himalayan avens Geum elatum, the blue poppy Meconopsis aculeate, purple willow herb Epilobium latifolium, pale blue fairy borage Eritrichium strictum, the cobra lily Arisaema costatum and the tuberous herb monkshood Aconitum heterophyllum splash the valley with colour. Brahma Kamal Saussurea obvallata, deemed to be the celestial flower, is often placed as an offering to the Gods in various religious rites and grows in the higher reaches. Rhubarb and aconite are some medicinal herbs that this valley is famed for.
Mammals like the Himalayan musk deer, yellow-throated marten and the black bear, brown bear, Himalayan tahr, blue sheep and the endangered snow leopard are found in these verdant surroundings. The herb Lindelofia longiflora has bright blue flowers that attract a number of butterflies, a large variety of which are found in the valley.
The Koklass Pheasant and very occasionally the Himalayan Monal Pheasant characterise the Himalayan avifauna found in the valley.
On your trek from Ghangaria to the Valley of Flowers, you will see the grand Rataban peak at the head of the valley. Coniferous forests predominantly cover the entire stretch from Govind Ghat to Ghangria.
The golden fern Onychium auratum is prominent among the several ferns that line this route. The leafy-stemmed zingiber Roscoea purpurea bears pinkish-purple flowers on a terminal spike. Morina longifolia is a spiny herb that grows about one metre tall. Its leaves are arranged in whorls around the stem and its purple-red flowers are strongly aromatic.
From Ghangria to Hemkund, trees like Salix flabelliferus, birch and mountain ash are dominant. Epipogons, wild roses Rosa moschata and primulas occur in profusion. The snow primrose Primula nivalis also grows at 3,000 m. Most of the animals are found hidden in the valley. The Common langur maybe encountered lower down in the Bhyundar Valley.
Access to the National Park is checked at the entrance to the gorge just above Ghangaria, where a small entrance fee is payable.
Don't trample on flowers to take those photographs!
Wear warm clothing and carry packed food and water.
Make sure you're physically fit to undertake the trek. Carry first-aid and any medication that you are normally advised.
The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam has sleeping bags and tents for hire at Rishikesh.
Porters and guides are usually available on the common trekking route.
You may contact the Trekking and Mountaineering division of the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam at Rishikesh for hiring equipment and for booking treks. (Tel.: 01364-32648/30372) or the UP Tourism office at any of the major cities.
Ahmedabad Tel.: 079-6560752
Mumbai Tel.: 022-2185458
Calcutta Tel.: 033-2207855
Chennai Tel.: 044-8283276
Delhi Tel.: 011-3322251
Chandigarh Tel.: 0172-707649
Lucknow Tel.: 0522-223363
The valley is protected from the cold, dry winds blowing from Tibet and also from the monsoon winds. The valley is snowbound and unapproachable from late-December until the end of April. And it is often too cloudy in the monsoons. The snow starts to thaw in May and between June and September, which is probably the best time for a visit, the valley is smothered with colourful wildflowers while the snow-clad peaks stand in stark contrast against the horizon. You are permitted to walk through the valley during the day, though overnight camps are not allowed.
There are no facilities within the valley itself, and overnight camping is no longer permitted. There are two rest houses at Ghangaria when you can halt. There are also several teashops at Govind Ghat, Dhandisal and Ghangaria for food and an overnight rest in the lower Bhyundar Valley.
Delhi is a good base to reach the Garhwal hills. The rest of the journey is best undertaken by road. There are buses and taxis from Delhi to Dehra Dun or Rishikesh.
By road: From Dehra Dun road, you can share a jeep to Joshimath, about eight hours away. The starting point for the trek to the Valley of Flowers is Govind Ghat, on the banks of the Alaknanda river, which is 16 km. away by bus from Joshimath on the Rishikesh-Badrinath highway.
On foot: The Valley of Flowers is a fabulous trek. There's a gradual climb from Govind Ghat (1,770 m.) to Ghangaria (15 km. from Govind Ghat, seven hours), which is the base from where you proceed to the Valley of Flowers.
From Ghangaria, the path bifurcates with the route to the left leading to the Valley of Flowers and a return trip should take about six hours. From Ghangaria, you can also trek to the right, along the Lakshman Ganga to the lake at Hemkund (4,545 km.). This steep climb should take about eight hours to-and-fro. The descent from Ghangaria to Govind Ghat should take about five hours.