Valley Of Flowers

Way back in 1931, English mountaineer Frank Smythe, on his way back from an expedition to Mt Kamet, literally stumbled across the paradisal Bhyundar Valley, an 8-km long glacial corridor in Chamoli Garhwal. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and carpeted with flowers- some 500 species, including the elusive brahmakamal, the cobra lily, the Himalayan edelweiss and the ethereal Himalayan blue poppy- the Valley forms one of India's most unusual protected areas. Declared a National Park in 1982, the Valley of Flowers stretches over an expanse of 87.50 sq km- an area which has steadily gained in popularity, not just among nature lovers, but also among eager-beaver trekkers over the past few years.

This part of Uttaranchal, in the upper reaches of Garhwal, is inaccessible through much of the year. But when the snows melt and the monsoon arrives, the earth comes to life- all along the Bhyundar Ganga river. For miles on end, flowers- orchids, poppies, primulas, calendulas, daisies and anemones among them- in every conceivable colour, carpet the ground. Alpine forests of birch and rhododendron cover a part of the area, and are home to tahr, snow leopard, musk deer, red fox, common langur, bharal, serow, and Himalayan black bear. They're elusive, though, and a trek through the Valley may not result in actually seeing much wildlife other than the myriad butterflies which flutter over the blossoms.

The local villagers say that the Valley of Flowers is inhabited by fairies who carry off anyone who ventures too far into their domain; and that there bloom, in the valley, flowers with a fragrance so potent that it can make you faint. Another story would have you believe that this valley- known in Hindu mythology as `Nandankanan'- was created when the gods showered flowers down on earth. The last story's actually very believable. See for yourself.

Entry Requirements

All visitors to the Valley of Flowers need to obtain an entry permit from the Forest Check post at the entrance to the park, beyond Ghangaria. The fee is a nominal one- at least for Indians, who pay significantly less than foreigners. The permit is valid for three days, and additional charges are levied for still cameras; video cameras are allowed only if you're carrying a special permit from the Chief Wildlife Warden in Lucknow. Visitors are allowed into the park only during the daytime.

Access

Getting to the Valley of Flowers isn't exactly a cakewalk: getting here requires a trek of about 17 km. The nearest major town is Joshimath in Garhwal, which has convenient road connections from railheads such as Hardwar and Dehradun, both about 270 km from Joshimath.

From Joshimath, a vehicle can be hired to take you to within 17 km of the park, to the settlement of Gobindghat. The route from Joshimath to the Valley of Flowers goes along the main road to Badrinath; roughly midway along this road, a minor road branches off to Gobindghat, the roadhead for the Valley. From Gobindghat, a trek of 14 km brings hikers to the tiny settlement of Ghangaria, beyond which the toll gate to the National Park is about 3 km.

Best time to visit

The Valley of Flowers is accessible only in the summer, between June and October. The rest of the year, heavy snows make passage impossible, and usually block off the trail leading up to the National Park. Although you can visit the park any time during the summer, it's best to go in August or September, when monsoon showers turn the valley into a mass of blooms.

Accommodation

Visitors are not allowed to stay overnight at the Valley of Flowers; in consequence, there are no facilities for accommodation within the park. Places nearby, however, have a fairly respectable range of accommodation facilities- none of them too luxurious, but usually adequate. There are state-run tourist rest houses at Joshimath and Ghangharia; both in addition, have several tourist lodges and resthouses. Accommodation tariffs along the way can range from anywhere between Rs 50 to 700.

Further information on the Valley of Flowers National Park can be obtained from the many offices of the GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) in Uttaranchal, or from the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Nanda Devi National Park, Joshimath, Chamoli District, Garhwal, Uttaranchal.