I get awestuck every time I pause to admire the wonders of nature but also a feeling of disgust creeps in looking at the irresponsibility of mankind. Why can’t we enjoy the serenity of nature and maintain its pristine beauty at the same time? We Indians are individually one of the cleanest lot in the world but socially we are probably the dirtiest. We keep our homes spic and span but liter the ambience as if the nature outside is somebody else’s property, without realizing that we are a part and parcel of it. Hubert Reeves rightly said, “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible nature, unaware that that the nature he is destroying is this God he is worshipping.” Fortunately for God’s own flower garden, the Valley of Flowers, the damage has been limited so far, presumably because of the difficult terrain and inaccessibility. But even then, one feels disgusted to find a few plastic pouches, bottles or similar merrily thrown around by supposedly some nature-lovers!
Early in the morning as we started our 15 kilometre trek climb from Gobind Ghat to Ghangaria after a mouth watering aloo-paratha breakfast, a young Sikh volunteer carrying a bunch of sticks approached us and offered one each for support during climbing. How thoughtful! A lot of people, mostly Sikh pilgrims and few foreigners, were already ahead of us. The narrow rough stone pathway up to Ghangaria, also known as Gobind Dham, is common for Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib shrine, the second-most revered Gurudwara for Sikhs. The elevation of Gobind Ghat is about 6000 feet, 1000 feet more than Shillong. Ghangaria is at 10,000 plus feet up there. So today’s climb would be more about 4000 feet, more than Barapani lake’s elevation, that too in just 15 kms. The stiffness was scary, lack of oxygen asphyxiating. Some hire ponies to ride on and some porters to carry belongings. A porter was after me but I refused. I decided to test my endurance as I was carrying a small knapsack for both.
But I was totally drained off after sometime. Even after devouring another aloo-paratha for replenishment in a shanty, I was in no mood to continue to carry even with the light-weight bag. The knapsack was feeling like huge block of stone. Shall we go back? I saw a young Sikh girl crying and refusing to carry on and with the mother consoling her. With the best of sports shoes, we found it difficult to walk through the rough irregular stone pathway, but amazingly many Sikh pilgrims were bare footed. Unstinted religious devotion can do wonders. The porter was smart enough to follow us all the way because he was aware of the psychology of amateur climbers in us. I reluctantly handed him over our belongings and swallowed some glucose powder hoping to derive instant energy. But the real respite and encouragement were the heart touching scenic beauty around with the white-colored water of menacingly fast falling Bhuyandar river. It was a feast to the eyes and treat to the soul. Sikh pilgrims were chanting ‘Wahe Guru di fateh’ (Victory to the Guru) to encourage fellow climbers. A few were cleaning the excreta of the ponies scattered here and there. Hats-off to Sikhs once again! During the last three kilometers of most difficult ascent, to make the situation worse, it rained. Fortunately it could save ourselves a little from the late afternoon bone-piercing chill with cheap throw-away raincoats bought at Gobind Ghat.
And finally we were at our destination. At 10,000 plus feet, Ghangaria was piercingly cold. Two great things happened in the basic hotel room: a bucket of hot water for a refreshing bath followed by arrival of a masseur. What a relief to my strained limping feet after eight hours of ordeal! It’s amazing how hotels, Gurudwara, etc were built here when everything had to be carried only by ponies and human labour! The following morning, the four KM climb to the 12,000-plus feet Valley of Flowers resumed. After a kilometer at a tri-juncture the pilgrims took the right path to Hemkund Sahib; we along with some foreign and domestic tourists climbed the other way to the God’s own flower garden. And lo, after a while we were facing a 87 square kilometer sprawling expanse of a virtual paradise on earth at the conversion point of snow-white eastern and western Himalayas with majestic Zanskar ranges in the backdrop. Even today, as I close my eyes to reminiscence, a massive symphony of colors comes in front of me. What else can be a paradise? ‘If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here’. All the slopes were full of blooming flowers of every possible color one can imagine, as if some divine gardener has systematically planted those. I sat down with a few foreigners on meditation by the side of a roaring spring and was virtually transcended to a different world.
But, this marvel on earth was unknown to the world till three lost British mountaineers led by Frank S Smythe discovered it in 1931, by chance. This World Heritage site has some 500 odd varieties of flower plants. Indian mythology has it that after killing Ravana, a Brahmin, Lakhsman meditated here to cleanse his sin and thereafter all the gods threw flowers from heaven and that said to have become the heavenly garden. The back journey was easier as we were totally rejuvenated with vigor. The same afternoon we were at Joshimath and next day enjoyed the beautiful slopes of Auli, a ski resort, with the Nandadevi peak overlooking majestically, after a four KM ropeway ride, the longest in Asia.
(This article is a sequel from the travelogue published in the last issue. The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence & Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)