We have an early start today to drive the 20 or so km along the Alaknanda to the start of our trek at Ghovindghat. It turns out we can then take a local jeep across the river and up the first three km towards Ghangharia – this seems a very good idea, as the first part of the route is unremittingly uphill and on the road. It’s raining when we leave the jeep at Pulna so our rain ponchos get their first outing but fortunately it dries up within the hour. As it’s uphill nearly all the way we are quite glad it remains overcast.
To start with the vegetation is quite lush and tropical – there are lots of new plants to see and photograph already.
Salvia nubicola (left), Campanula dimorphantha (top right) and Dipsacis inermis (bottom right)
Soon, pine and spruce trees appear.
Crossing the river Pushpawati at Bhyundar village
As at Sonamarg, there are lots of ponies on the path – some carrying goods and others carrying visitors.
We share the route to Ghangharia with pilgrims to the Sikh sacred site of Sri Hemkund Sahib, where Guru Govind Singh is said to have retreated to meditate in a previous life. We meet one extended family from Leicester whose son has just graduated from Durham! The pilgrims are a friendly bunch and many want to take photos with us – the first time this happens they insist on giving us their walking sticks as they are nearly back at Pulna.
I’ve never used a stick before but find it useful going up and down some of the large steps on the well-made path. The path itself is a patchwork of different types of rock, including quartzite and some strikingly-patterned gneiss, which reflect the different origins of the rocks in the area.
As we walk up the path we find we are being videoed by an imposing-looking elderly Sikh on his phone! According to Vinod he is one of the people who looks after the shrine at Hemkund, so he has a way still to climb. He’s happy to let us photgraph him in return and wants his photo taken with us.
Once over the river the path climbs steadily . We stop just a couple of km short of Ghangharia for lunch – not a great choice (Maggi noodles or Aloo paratha) but the paratha are fresh and very good.
Lunch stop just below Ghangharia
Some pretty alpine flowers are starting to appear by the time we reach Ghangharia, at just over 3000 m, including Inula and some striking geraniums as well as lots of yellow Impatiens.
Geranium wallichianum (left) and Inula grandiflora (right)
Ghangharia is quite a bit higher than last night’s stop at Joshimath (1900 m) and Martyn and Helen are starting to feel the effects a little. Because of rain over the previous few days Yasin has relocated us from the tents where we were supposed to be staying to the Shri Nanda Lokpal Palace hotel. ‘Palace’ turns out to be rather a grand title – the rooms are not very clean and one has a shower head but no drainage hole in the bathroom whilst the other has a drainage hole but no shower head… The views up towards the Valley of Flowers from the stairs are lovely, but helped by the fact there is no glass in the windows – as we find out later, this has consequences for the night-time temperature.
Looking up the Pushpawati valley towards the Valley of Flowers
We have tea and rest for a while then Martyn and I walk through the town to where the paths for Hemkund Sahib and the Valley of Flowers divide.
Looking back towards Ghanghria from the Valley of Flowers path
Dinner is excellent though, as the hotel is nearly empty, we have to order what we want in advance and also order tomorrow’s breakfast and packed lunch!