Before I started for my Valley of Flowers trek a couple of weeks ago, the only preparation I did was bought a new pair of waterproof hiking shoes. I have been trekking for a few years now and hence, I had basic expectations and a set of equipment well inline. For everything else, I kept myself open to chance and change.
And even though that sounds very idealistic, I’m sure first-time trekkers to the Valley will not appreciate the philosophy! So, if you’re planning to hike up to the beautiful meadows of West Himalayas, this practical guide may help you.
Weather and Altitude
Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib is a Monsoon trek. It is tentatively open from the months of June to September. By its very nature, expect the terrain to be wet and mucky, and the air to be moist. I got a mix of sun and rain during my six days, though the overcast weather was dominant.
Ghangaria is at 3050 metres, Valley of Flowers at 3600 metres and Hemkund Sahib is at a high 4329 metres. Since everyone camps/stays at Ghangaria and hikes to either of the two places, each day to return to Ghangaria, there is no need to worry about Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). However, I do suggest good enough rest and paying attention to your body every day through the trek. The mountain weather is unpredictable and our bodies take their time to get accustomed to the former. If you experience any headache or nausea, seek medical assistance immediately. If you do decide to stay at Hemkund (rarely anyone stays there except pilgrims), give yourself a good day or two to acclimatise at that altitude.
Owing to the massive wash away by the 2013 cloudburst, the trail has been rebuilt in a number of places, including a little beyond the main entrance to the Valley. For those who are going there for the first time, it is natural to have those ‘will the roads be open and safe’ questions. But please be guarded that these are factors beyond anyone’s control. The forest department are continuously working to make the Valley more accessible and easy for its visitors. (There was a dreadful waterfall en route to the Valley and on my way back, the department had already made a way through it, in less than four hours.)
The roads from Joshimath to Govind Ghat are safe. There are landslide prone pockets on the way. Accessibility is heavily dependent on the weather.
Clothing and Equipment
First and foremost, invest in an excellent pair of trekking shoes. I bought mine only three days before the trek, not allowing enough time to break my boots in (yes, stupid things I do!) By the time the trek concluded, they were my second skin. Mine are from Wildcraft, ankle-high, waterproof and lightweight. Even though I did slip a couple of times, they served me through most marshy parts in the six days. Quechua is the most trusted brand and the Forclaz 100 (Women) comes much recommended for this trek.
Monsoon trek means waterproof and light apparels. Rain pants, jacket and (light) raincoat or poncho are a definite must-pack. I don’t like umbrellas because they’re weighty and unnecessary. I bought a plastic throw-over raincoat from Joshimath for 30 INR. Other things include extra pairs of socks, dry-fit t-shirts (to keep away from condensation), thermals (in case the temperature drops at night) and a pair of slippers or floaters (to air the feet after a day of hike).
If you have a hiking pole, do take it along. Else, you can rent or buy a make-shift walking stick. GIO can arrange the former (and many more trekking equipment) on prior request and the latter can be purchased from Govind Ghat at 30 INR.
Don’t forget to carry a headlight or a torch. All your stuff goes into a rucksack, preferably one with a rain cover. Trolly/suitcases are cumbersome and unsuitable.
Fitness is the most crucial, yet the most underrated aspect of the trek. Even though the entire circuit of this trek is about 48 kilomteres, the climb to Hemkund must not be underestimated. This will truly test your endurance. After walking the 93-kilometre terrain of Sandakphu last year, I felt somewhat overconfident to complete half of the same distance in the same amount of days. Also, I did not train my body for this at all. My lifestyle just a few days before the trek was erratic and I felt the repercussions during my hike.
If you are a first time trekker, do beef up your fitness levels as much as you can. Basic exercises like walking, running or any endurance workout is a must. Of course, the trek won’t kill anyone but the day is always better enjoyed with health and happiness on our side, right?
Accommodation and Food
Ghangaria is the base for the treks and it is remarkably crowded, bustling with a number of places to stay and eat. From dharamshalas, government rest houses to private guest houses—you pick any place you like. Camping in the Valley is not permitted.
I was staying at the very clean and comfortable Himalayan Lodges and Camps by GIO, which is about 700 metres ahead of Ghangaria while climbing from Punna village/Govind Ghat. The tents here come with attached loos and provide all basic amenities like hot water in the morning and electricity. My food (hot and packed during the treks) were taken care of by the team again.
There are a number of restaurants in Ghangaria and the aloo chat at Devbhoomi Restaurant was quite tasty. If you want to stock up some dry food, this is your last shopping stop. During the trek to the Valley, do carry food with you, if your guide is not carrying packed lunch. There is no provision for food or tea within the Valley. En route to Hemkund there are a number of tea stalls, where you can stop for quick refreshments.
Drinking water is available everywhere, from fresh streams to glacier melts to bottles in the stalls.
Phone connectivity is very limited in Ghangaria with only BSNL and occasional Airtel bars showing up. Don’t expect any beyond this village. Auli was my last point of 3G contact and in all honesty, I did not miss the constant updates or the mobile at all.
Money and ATM
Joshimath was the last town where I got access to an ATM. Keep some cash handy and don’t expect anyone to accept cards.
Travel responsibly. Please do not litter and allow anyone to do so either.
Did I miss anything? Ask me in the comments below.