Sunday, 22 April 2012

Hemkund & Valley of Flowers – An Overview

(Summer progressing, tourists, who are planning or already booked their Hemkund & Valley of Flowers Yatra for June to September, will find this blog useful. Only important info has been compiled, so it serves as a quick guide.)

1) Travel Package / Own itinerary
There are plethora of travel websites who provide a travel package as per their pre-determined departure dates and itineraries. Along with Hemkund & Valley of Flowers, they also have a day’s tour to Badrinath thrown in. The Uttarakhand Govt. provides a package tour which can be booked online I had two tours to this region, once availing of gmvnl package and once my own itinerary by hiring car from Rishikesh. The advantage of booking through gmvnl is getting best possible accommodation owned by Uttarakhand Govt. enroute.

One can have his own itinerary covering all the destinations as above by availing of car/jeep at pre-determined rates per day basis. The tour typically starts from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Delhi. As a thumb rule small car like Maruti Alto costs Rs. 2,000/- to Rs. 2,200/- per day and larger vehicle like Tata Sumo around Rs. 2,800/- per day. A typical touring period in this region is seven days. During monsoon in the months of July/August, it is better to keep an additional day, in case there is landslide in this region. 

2) Timing: The Hemkund as well as the valley of Flowers are open to tourists from 1st June to 30th September. When one should visit depends on one’s priority. Hemkund is visited best in first week of June, when the portion of route is through snow. One experiences some extra-ordinary landscapes en route; also the weather being cool, trekking is lot easier. Ironically the Valley of Flowers is best visited between 15th July to 15th August, during monsoon, when maximum number of flower species are in full bloom. Since base for both the destinations is Ghangaria (also called Govind Dham), one rarely wants to make two trips in the same region. Accordingly, one should decide his priority and journey date.   

3) Things to carry: Early June can be really chilly at Ghangaria, hence one needs to carry warm clothing, including thermals, jackets, woolen lined wind cheaters and Cap. A poncho (once use and throw type rain coat) helps in case of rain. 

4) Food: Only vegetarian food is available. Breakfast is Aloo Parathas and pickles or Maggie noodles. The meals are simple vegetarian fare. At Ghangaria, the base for Hemkund as well as valley of flowers trek, there are a few well stocked restaurants (Himalaya Restaurant, opp. Gmvnl guest house)with variety of food and a few dhabas as well. Apart from vegetarian food, egg preparations are also available. Hot Gulab Jamun, will rank as the specialty in this town. 

5) Trekking en route:
a)Day 1 Govind Ghat to Ghangaria( 13 km ): those who have done Kedarnath trek of 14 km will find this trek no big deal. One can cover the distance in 7 hours by taking several breaks. One should not miss River Point with a small island, river branching off in two streams. The place offers a good view of river and resting place with food served from restaurant. There will be a lot of tourists on this route, mostly Sikh community from Punjab and other parts of the country. Those who cannot foot it out, can hire pony, kandy (cane basket for children). A bamboo stick with spiked at one end purchased for Rs. 20/- at Govindghat, does ease the load on legs.

b) Day 2 Ghangaria to Valley of flowers (2km): Valley of flowers, which is much easier trek compared to Hemkund, can be visited first to acclimatize. A 2 km trek on a gentle gradient brings one to Valley. The valley extends another 5 km. But many do not explore too far. It is possible to return by early afternoon. The entry gate to Valley opens at 7.30 am and there are entry charges as well as fee for still and video camera. If there are glaciers en route to valley, the authorities take care to scoop the snow to get a firm foot hold. In this route ponies are forbidden and one has to foot it out.

Day 3 Ghangaria to Hemkund (7 km): The gradient is steep at most of the places as one climbs nearly 5000’. One can make it in 5 hours by starting very early in the morning. Some Yatris start even at 5 am. There are ponies available; however ponies are hired in pairs. So, one may have to wait for some minutes to be finally on the way. The last two km of the journey had stone steps sometimes back as an alternative to stone stitched route. It is better to take the sloping track route rather than steps – which could be really tiring. While returning one can avail of the stepped route partially, if it is in good condition. En route there are many dhabas (eateries) who cater to Yatris need of mineral water, soft drinks and food like Aloo parathas. The mineral water cost goes up as one goes to higher altitudes. On arrival one generally take a bath or wash hand, feet and face in the holy lake and then enter Gurudwara covering one’s head.

There is a langar run by Shrine committee who supply Khichdi – piping hot but somewhat on liquid side on stainless steel utensils. There are kar sevaks who continuously wash the used utensils in running stream water near the Gurudwara. One can have some hot tea as well. By 2 pm all the tourists are required to resume return trek to Ghangaria. There is no staying facility for tourists at Hemkund.

Accommodation: At Govindghat one can stay at gmvnl guest house by booking online. There are private hotels also. Those taking tour package are mostly halted for the night at Joshimath, which is one and half hour drive from Govindghat. At Ghangaria there is gmvnl guest house, a lot of tented accommodations, gurudwara hall and some private guest houses.

Full Blog On Valley of Flowers

My Handycam recorded visual of Hemkunt Yatra can be seen from following captioned link:

Sri Hemkunt Sahib Yatre, Garhwal Himalayas, Uttarakhand 


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Char Dham Yatra - An Overview

(Summer approaching, domestic and overseas tourists, who are planning or already booked for their Char Dham Yatra for May/June, will find this blog useful. Only important info has been compiled, so it serves as a quick guide.)

Char Dham* (Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, Yamunotri)Yatra, offers the best possible opportunity to visit the finest and famous Garhwal Himalayan shrines by the devout as well as the laymen. Apart from Shrines, the chance to view Himalayas from close proximity is luring. Having done it two times, once in 1985 / 86 (Do Dham at a time) and then again in the year 2006, I found that the charm has not diminished a bit.

Following info will be immensely helpful for the first timers planning to undertake Char Dham Yatra.

1. Travel Package / Own Itinerary
a) The easiest way is booking an online travel package from a travel website. There are too many of them vying with each other to lure you. Personally speaking I preferred Garhwal Mandal Vikas Mandal Limited, a Uttarakhand Government Undertaking, with their head office located in Rishikesh. They have a website , which gives a detailed itinerary and starting dates. One can select the dates and types of package (ordinary or deluxe) and make payment online. Normally one reaches Rishikesh earlier night (stay at no extra cost) so that next day there is no delay to start the Yatra. There are also packages for tourists who want to board from Delhi. Advantage of taking gmvnl package is that, the best accommodations at Garhwal are owned by them. The duration of the Yatra is 10 to 11 days.

b) Taxi service from Hardwar and Rishikesh is available for a small group of 4 to large group of 10 members. As a thumb rule small vehicle like Maruti Alto charges are Rs.2000 to Rs. 2200/- per day and large vehicles like Sumo/Qualis charge Rs. 2800/- per day. 

2. Timing: The tourist season for Char Dham Yatra is from May to September. The temple opening dates for Badrinath and Kedarnath are available from website . Normally temples open between 1st May to 15th May.  Better to take earliest possible date to get hold of good accommodation on Yatra route. The first batch of gmvnl Yatra leaves from Rishikesh around 15th May.

3. Things to carry: One needs to carry in addition to normal accessories, woolens, jackets, thermals and other warm clothing. Kedarnath can be really chilly any time of the year. A heated room is almost non – existent in the Yatra. A torch light is a must - the electricity can be erratic.

4. Food: Normally vegetarian food is available at all the destinations. For breakfast one has to do with Aloo Parathas or Maggie noodles. In hills nobody understands noodles but asking for Maggie will get you noodles.  At Badrinath one should not miss taking meals at Shri Saradeshwari Restaurant. They serve a variety of food including North Indian and South Indian varieties. At Kedarnath breakfast snacks are good at Kedar Mishtan, a sweetmeat shop. At Gangotri there is a big restaurant serving a variety of cuisine including South Indian stuff. However, I cannot recollect the name. At Yamunotri, there is nothing much to choose from. At Uttarkashi best restaurant is Bhandaris. It is air-cooled, comfortable and food is good. 

5. Trekking en-route:  The Char Dham Yatra which includes Gaumukh throws in has some 72 km of trek route where vehicles will not ply.

a) Kedarnath 14 km trek starts from Gaurikund. The entire trek route is stone paved. The gradient is steep but doable in around 7 – 8 hours with plenty of short breaks. There are many dhabas (eateries), to seat and rest or have some snacks and meals. At Gaurikund, one can buy poncho (cheap raincoat) for Rs.10/- and a bamboo walking stick for Rs. 10/-. Both will come handy. For those who do not want to foot it out, there are ponies, palkis (palanquins borne by four persons) and kandis (baskets for carrying children and old people) and pittoos (porters) carrying luggage. The rates change every season. The Uttarakhand Govt. rates indicating sign boards are at the starting point but haggling for price is common. If one starts on foot and enroute wants to engage a pony, the prices are higher.

b) Yamunotri Trek is 5 km and it starts from Janki-chatti. The gradient is steep, but being of short stretch is doable in 3 hours with a few short breaks. Here again a bamboo walking stick is useful. For those who do not want to foot it out, there are ponies, palkis and kandis.

c) Gaumukh trek is 18 km and it starts from Gangotri. After completing the trek, one retraces the path to Bhojwasa which is 14 km from Gangotri. After spending one night there, the next day’s trek is back to Gangotri. The trek is more or less on even elevation and is doable. There are ponies available from Gangotri up to 2 km before Gaumukh. The last 2 km has to be footed. No palkis or kandis were observed in this route. In early summer mid May, there was only one dhaba serving mineral water, beverages and biscuits. It is better to carry water and snacks during trekking. Hiring a pittoo (porter) and handing  over the back pack makes one comfortable.

Gaumukh is a restricted area because of environment preservation. An entry permit is a must. In a package tour, the entry permit is arranged by tour operator. Those who are having a private trip to Gaumukh need to obtain the permission from following authorities.
1)  Presently the number of visitors to Gaumukh is limited. Permits can be obtained from following offices:
a) Chief Wildlife Warden, Dehradun ( tel: 0135-2644691)
b) Director, Gangotri National Park, Uttarkashi (tel: 01374-223693 )
c) At Gangotri, if the quota of 150 persons per day has not been exhausted).

The fee for Indians is Rs. 150 for first two days and Rs. 50/- for per day per person thereafter. Permit is issued only for the first two days. Additional amount is charged on your way back at the gate of the Gangotri National Park. The fee for foreign national is Rs.600/- for first two days and Rs. 250/- per day, per person thereafter. In case of package tours offered by travel companies; they will arrange the permit for you.

6. Important places one passes through in this Yatra: Deoprayag, Rudraprayag, Joshimath, Vishnuprayag, Tehri Dam. Tehri Dam on river Bhagirathi at Uttarkashi is a spectacle, as seen from bus. View from car will not be as good because one is seated in a lower elevation. On a clear day, the sunrise view on Mt. Neelkanth at Badrinath at 5 am in the morning is a spectacle. 

7. Darshan, Puja Aarti Timings: One can get the info on timings after reaching the Dhams. At Badrinath, there are special pujas or religious activities for which one has to book tickets in advance, since a limited number of people are allowed. There are general darshan timings, when one has to stand in queue. The entire queue formation is in a shaded area, to get the protection in case of rain. 

At Kedarnath only general darshan is there for the devotees who queue up in early morning and other allotted times. At Gangotri, evening Aarti around 6 pm is attended by a lare number of people. At Yamunotri, one can have a darshan as soon as one reaches there, spend some time and resume their return trek to Jank-chatti.

Char Dham Yatra visuals can be accessed from following link:

Char Dham Yatra - Uttarakhand