Once upon a time, in the year 1862, a group of wanderer and nature lover British army officers lost their way to a place in the foothills of current days Uttranchal. The valley was blooming with a number of exotic and Indian flowering plants, with the aroma spread everywhere, the valley looked like a dreamland. The inaccessible valley from the outer world could not be explored earlier by anyone so the credit to discover the valley of flowers goes to the group of people.
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Colonel Frank S Smythe, the group leader was so impressed with their exploration that he documented the details and authored a book, titled, “Valley of Flowers”.
The Valley of Flowers is a high altitude valley in the foothills of Himalaya and is recognized internationally for its uniqueness. Declared a national park in the year 1982, the valley is a identified as a World heritage Site. It gained importance as an area containing alphine flora and fauna in a single area. Varieties of perfumed flowers is the speciality of the valley. The area falls in the Zanskar range of the Himalyas with the highest point in the national park being Gauri Parbat, which is 6719 meters above the sea level. The colourful empire of the Valley of Flowers ranges upto 87.5 kilometers.
The Forest Research Institute in 1992 recorded 600 species of angiosperms and 30 pteridophytes in the valley and surroundings, discovering 58 new records for the valley of which 4 were new for Himalayan state. Of these plants, 5 out of 6 species globally threatened are not found in Nanda Devi National Park or elsewhere in Uttarakhand. Aconitum falconeri, A. balfouri, Himalayan maple (Acer caesium), the blue Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis aculeata) and Saussurea atkinsoni. Kala classified 31 species of rare and endangered categories within the national park in 1998. Further studies report that the dominant family in Valley of Flowers is Asteraceae with 62 species 45 medicinal plants are used by local villagers and several species, such as Saussurea obvallata (brahmakamal) are collected as religious offerings to goddesses Nanda Devi and Sunanda Devi. The site is designated a Centre of Plant Diversity.
The flora was surveyed and inventoried in 1987 by the Botanical Survey of India, in 1992 by the Forest Research Institute and in 1997 by the Wildlife Institute of India which found five species new to science. A research nursery and seed/rhizome/tuber bank for propagating rare plants and valuable medicinal herbs has been created at Musadhar near the entrance of the site. Rare and valuable medicinal plants are the subject of special programs.
To reach Valley of Flowers, physical fitness of the person is the prime requirement because it needs a trekking of about 17 kilometers to reach the location from the road. The valley is located at about 300 kilometers north of Rishikesh. Josimath is the last place, accessible by road and the rest journey needs to be covered. In between you can also cover the pilgrimage of Sikhs, hemkund Sahib. The tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Govind Singhji mediated at Hemkund Sahib for years. The word Hemkund literally suggests ‘Lake of snow’ and the immaculate water of this lake is as cold as snow. Hemkund Saheb is located at an elevation of 4,329mts above sea level amidst several snow capped peaks, which are collectively called Hemkund Parvat.
A star shaped gurudwara near the lake is visited by thousands of devotees every month. A temple dedicated to Lakshman, brother of Lord Rama is also located here. One must complete a trek of 6km from Ghangharia to reach Hemkund Sahib. The best time to visit this place is from July to November.
The other transit spot which comes in the way of trekking to the Valley of Flowers is Ghangaria. It is the last human vegetation center on the way. Ghangaria is a scenic hamlet perched at an altitude of 3,050mts above sea level at a distance of 13km from Govind Ghat and four kms before Valley of flowers. The trek becomes easy to moderate from this point if you are travelling towards Hemkund Sahib.
From Govindghat to Ghangaria the trek officially is 14 km but after the flood in 2013 the trek has been rerouted at many places and the total distance has been increased. Although not official but it should be approximately 16 km now. It will take almost 8-10 hours of trekking. Depending upon your stamina and speed you can trek between 3 km to 8 km one side in to the valley. The first entry is allowed at 7.00 am and you need to get out of the valley by 5 pm. The trek has become steeper since 2014 as 1 km of the trek has been rebuilt and now we need to go up and come down again. Once we reach 3.5 km inside the valley the trek is almost flat.
You can easily get ponies from Govindghat for Ghangaria. Other option is to take Helicopter or Palanquin/porter. Helicopter will fly only when weather conditions are normal.
The region is prone to heavy snowfall in winters, therefore the region remains opened from May to October. A Gurudwara, GMVN rest houses and a few more hotels provide accommodation facility at Ghangharia.
The place which is the starting point of trekking is known as Govindghat. It is hardly 20 kilometers before Badrinath and you can drive the vehicles smoothly till the place. “Unspoiled by human invasions, this imposing land lay iced up in the colder months, and burst into its majestic boom on the arrival of hotter months. During these months the valley sheds its somnolent nature with its multitudes of exotic flora. When the monsoon clouds began to drizzle, the valley shows its flowery face and the entire region would glisten like a colourful carpet”, so describes the Uttaranchal Government about the valley of flowers.
Valley of flowers has a cool but pleasant climate all through the year. Summers (June to October) have a cool weather with maximum temperature reaches to nearly 17 °C and is a good season for viewing the panoramic beauty. Winters (November to May) are snow covered and difficult to visit the outdoor attractions. Minimum temperature can go well down with average minimum about 7 °C.
Best Season to visit Valley of Flowers is between July to October. July to October is pleasant and ideal for the visit of the national park and is good for spotting endangered animals. August and September are eye catching months with blooming flowers. December to May is snow bound and road blocks prevent the tourist from visiting the outdoors.
So, if you are thinking of visiting the place, it is suggested that you postpone the visit till July next year. Meanwhile, get your fitness checked and if necessary, acclimatized yourself. It will help your trip in a pleasure.
Like entry fee for most of other tourist places in India the entry fee is separate for Indian nationals and foreigners. Entry fee for Valley of Flowers is Rs. 150 for Indian Nationals and Rs. 600 for foreigners. This entry ticket is valid for 3 days for any extra day Indians need to pay Rs. 50 whereas foreigners need to pay Rs. 250. To take a professional video camera inside the valley Indians need to pay Rs. 500 and for foreigners it is Rs. 1500 for a day.
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