Valley of flowers
“If everything in life is to be measured in terms of money, then life would be a very poor thing. The greater ambitions and desires of mankind are actuated by something deeper and finer than the desire to amass material wealth.” – Frank Smythe
An enchanting valley lying high in the Himalayan ranges was accidentally discovered by a group of mountaineers, which included Frank S. Smythe in 1931. The team was on their way back to the plains after a successful ascent of Mount Kamet. Inclement weather forced the team to seek shelter in the wilderness above Joshimath and they stumbled across a magical valley full of wildflowers. The ethereal beauty of the valley strewn with a magnificent floral display against the backdrop of snow clad peaks enthralled Frank Smythe and he aptly named it “Valley of Flowers”.
The Valley of Flowers was always on my wish list but despite our repeated visits to Uttarakhand in the last few years, I could never manage to visit this enchanting meadow. The urge to visit the valley continued to grow, and as my knowledge expanded, I noted that:
- The valley is covered in snow for much of the year. The transformation happens during the short summer months between May – September. It becomes a botanical wonderland during July and August
- Around 600 species of wildflowers have been recorded to bloom in the valley
- Many of the plants that grow in the valley have medicinal value
- The valley is surrounded by peaks like Dunagiri, Rishi Parvat, Kalanka, Nanda Khat, Nanda Devi East, Nilgiri Parvat, Gauri Parvat and Nanda Devi
- The bed of the valley is composed of crystalline rocks which includes quartz and mica. The soil is acidic and the combination of the two helps the valley retain its moisture
- 73% of this paradise is under permanent snow due to the glaciers; as little as 6% comprise the coniferous forests while the remaining 21% are alpine meadows
However, it was the wildflowers which added an almost mythical stature to the valley in my travel starved city soul. I have always admired wildflowers. I associate the blooms with the untamed elegance of nature which is devoid of patterns that we are expected to follow in our modern day to day city lives. But during my research, I was captivated by one particular flower, whose fleeting beauty made me yearn for the trek to the valley even more. Yes, I am talking about the Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis Grandis), which blooms in the alpine altitudes between May and July before dispersing its seeds and dying. The images of the dazzling blue petals against a bright sunny Himalayan sky added to the allure of the valley.
The day finally came when we started our ascent to the valley from our base village, Ghangaria (around 10,000 feet). We were led ably by the local naturalist, Rajnish Chauhan who promised to open his treasure trove to help us unravel the mysteries of the valley. Despite Rajnish’s prediction that the day would eventually clear up, I could not hide my disappointment as the blue sky was no where to be seen. And to make it worse, a steady drizzle accompanied the dark grey sky.
Our dark mood did not prevail for long. Rajnish captivated us with his knowledge of the area, the plants and flowers. The path grew more and more dramatic and sound of the river, which allowed us a glimpse from time to time as we climbed steadily lifted our spirits. The spectacular Cobra Lily made us forget the sky and we kept our eyes downward. As the bees moved from flower to flower, I could not help but think of a few lines from Keats which I still faintly remember from my days in the University.
What is more gentle than a wind in summer?
What is more soothing than the pretty hummer
That stays one moment in an open flower,
And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower?
Soon we crossed a gushing stream and Rajnish announced that we were about to enter the Valley of Flowers. The sight of the valley was mesmerizing, and I could not but help remember another poem.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
I think it would be fair to speak through my photos, hereon, as I do not have the requisite skills to explain the enchanting beauty of a place which seemed so pure, fresh and uninhibited. It indeed felt like I was in Devbhoomi (land of the Gods) where time stands still, and human greed and ego takes a backseat. I sat on a rock and reminded myself of the lines from the Bhagavad Gita that have guided me since the day I stepped out of college.
“It is better to live your
own destiny imperfectly
than to live an imitation
of somebody else’s life
We wandered in the valley with the clouds over our heads for a couple of hours and then for a brief period of 15 minutes, the mist gave way to brilliant Himalayan sunshine. The vistas offered were unparalleled and I felt gratified that I finally visited the Valley of Flowers.
And finally, a word on my trek mates. We were an eclectic group of nature enthusiasts from varied walks of life. From would be Doctors to Professional Photographer to Software Developers to User Experience Specialist to Architect to Knowledge Manager to a Project Manager turned Trek Leader. Phew!!! That is some list, isn’t it? But what was most impressive was the bonding that we developed in a week and attributes we showcased in terms of camaraderie, respect for one another and team spirit.
As cliched as it sounds, our strength as a democratic country continues to be unity in diversity, and the Indian values (tolerance and respect for all human beings) that we have inherited from our forefathers and our small group exhibited those in abundance.