The next morning at Ghangaria dawned crisp and clear. We woke up to birds whistling on our window sill and our legs aching like crazy. The cold air was clean and trees glistened brilliant green against the misty mountains. Not being a morning person, I lay on my bed with a groggy smile when chants of Sikh pilgrims and tinkling bells of ponies broke my reverie. The unpleasant travel shock of last evening came back to me and I felt like a fool even to be there, on the rickety bed in a shabby hotel in the middle of nowhere in the Himalayas. My dream destination of the Valley of Flowers was closed for that year and I had travelled from another part of the country for two days, trudging up an arduous trek in vain. I cursed the Uttarakhand government tourism website which for some reason did not publish this very important information and I felt worse for my friend who had flown in from another continent to visit the Valley of Flowers National Park. It was a typical case of so close, yet so far and a lot of much ado about nothing.

Mists rising from the meadows near Ghangaria

The pitstop of Ghangaria of the Valley of Flowers National Park

But there we were, in the beautiful Himalayas with birds singing and flowers blooming everywhere around us. So, I forced myself out of bed, took a quick shower, and went down for breakfast. The little dining area smelled delicious. Heavy buttery smoke rose from our parathas (fried stuffed Indian bread) and tea emitted wispy tendrils of aroma. The wholesome food cheered us up and we decided to go out to explore the village. Ghangaria was not a pretty place at all. It was actually quite messy and because of the rain the previous night, slush-covered every inch. Thick gooey muck streamed down the street and horse dung littered it nastily. It seemed to be a very unsuitable gateway to the lovely Valley of Flowers and being disgusted, we quickly walked past the Ghangaria gurudwara, into the rhododendron forests, and sat by the fast-flowing glacial stream.

A broken bridge over a roaring river

A broken bridge stopped us from reaching the Valley of Flowers

A waterfall misted close by and snowy peaks loomed behind stony cliff faces. It was a bird’s paradise and magpies, finches, and sparrows flitted about anemone clumps. It was a far cry from the messy village and despite the slush, we walked around happily, all the way to the Pushpawati river, and relaxed on rolling meadows filled with anemones. The Valley of Flowers National Park was indeed closed and even though we entered the official gates of the park, and crossed over a mini glacier, our trail ended abruptly by a broken bridge.

Crisp, clean mountain air

Flowers outside the beautiful Valley of Flowers

The trail inside the Valley of Flowers park, however, was teeming with flowers and they bloomed riotously in different shapes and hues. Rare rhododendron, clematis, forget me nots, wild roses, anemones, vajradantis, phlomis, and wild strawberries grew in frenzy profusion and thyme painted the rocks violet. Cobra lilies stood unreal and proud and the first sight of blue poppies took our breaths away. Cup-shaped and iridescent blue, they seemed to be pools of light against the mossy backgrounds. We explored the area for a long time, trying to find out a way to cross the river but came back in vain. That day apart from hiking around in the woods and walking deep into the meadows and forests along the Pushpawati river, we did nothing but eat, sleep, talk and repeat.

Somewhere near Ghangaria

Hope for a successful Hemkund Sahib trek

It rained heavily that evening as well and we went back to huddling in our room for warmth. The Hemkund Sahib trek was planned for the next morning and it was reportedly harder than the walk up to Ghangaria. Clearly, in a very confused mood, we refused foot massages, retired for the night early, and prayed for clear dawn. The disappointment of the closure of the Valley of Flowers was bad enough and we desperately wanted the Hemkund Sahib experience to cheer us up.

The morning rose

Delicate, beautiful

And dewy bright.

Despite the disappointing news,

We went out

For a walk around Ghangaria village.

The Valley of Flowers

Was closed for maintenance

And we wandered around.

The surrounding area

Was a birder’s paradise

And wild berries grew in profusion.

Flowers filled the meadows

And every inch of the Ghangaria village.

It was a floral paradise.

Beautiful rhododendrons,

Wild roses,

Tube-like campanula,

Sweet anemone,

Blue poppy,

Rhyum, and

Many other flowers

Grew in abundance.

Rain splashed

And colourful,

The flowers brightened

Up a disappointing day,

Which was beginning to grow heavy.

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