It’s been a while I had been contemplating doing a trip with just dad and me. I get my ‘travel-craze’ and adventure streak from my father and I intended to take it to a different level by having us two go extreme with this passion.
That’s how the planning initially started mid this year, and then the perfect dates were frozen when Mom happened to be travelling to Singapore to meet my sister end June.
I had heard dad talk about his amazing experience few years back to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib (a religious place for the Sikhs) in Uttarakhand and considering it was quite a trek up to reach these destinations, I asked him if he would be keen to do it again with me this time.
Obviously he said YES!!! Yeah…. So it was on. The planning was quick since we knew the terrain and finally decided that we would be doing this whole trip in a week and the best part was it was going to be a ROAD TRIP…. Even talking about it now gets me excited. #DADDAUGHTERGOALS.
The route that I suggest you take in case driving from Delhi would be as below:
By Road: Delhi- Haridwar- Rishikesh- Joshimath- Govind Dham
The total distance from Delhi to Govind Dham is upwards of 500 km and hence in case in not a hurry, would suggest breaking up the journey.
At a comfortable speed of around 70 kmph and with tea and lunch breaks at yum local village joints, it took us 6 hours to reach the outskirts of Rishikesh. However, considering it was a Saturday, the incoming traffic was insane and took us close to 2 additional hours to enter the city and reach our hostel.
Yup, a hostel. Wanted dad to experience my kind of travelling and so had booked a popular, well recommended hostel in the heart of town, near Lakshman Jhulla called Shiv Shakti hostel. Had booked a private room to get the best of both i.e. vibe of a hostel, but the peaceful sleep without any disturbance.
Slept for an hour in the afternoon, before we head out in the evening for a walk around and called it a night early as we had plans to leave early next morning to avoid the traffic moving towards Joshimath.
Joshimath is around 295 kms from Rishikesh, however since most of the distance is uphill, it would take anywhere between 8-12 hrs. to reach depending on the traffic. And more so, would definitely recommend to avoid monsoon season for such a trip, as there are massive landslides which happen in this route, and if once stuck, you have no option but to wait several hours till the landslides are manually cleared out.
We were definitely lucky not to face any such issue throughout our travel. It took us close to 9 hours to reach Joshimath. However with good music, great food halts and great company; I didn’t feel the pinch at all :).
The evening was spent walking around the market to stretch our legs and to get some snacks for the next three days which would be spent up in the hills with limited access to the town amenities at large.
Next day we started at 7 am for Govind Ghat which is hardly at a distance of 6 km by road. Once in Govind Ghat, we parked our car in the marked parking lot (pay a charge of INR 500 for as many days as the car is parked), and then picked the two backpacks which had all necessities for the next three days and left rest of the stuff in the car itself.
There is a Gurudwara (holy prayer place for the Sikhs) in Govind Ghat/Dham where the spirits are high as the devotees are all geared up to start the tough trek up to Hemkund Sahib. All gurudwara’s have their doors open for any and every body to come rest, eat food, drink fresh water at ANY time of the day. I love going to any and every Gurudwara just because it makes me realize that humanity still exists. Not all is corrupt in the name of religion.
We offered our prayers, and then walked up to a taxi point, where one has the option to take a taxi further up 4 km’s and avoid walking that part till the actual climb starts for steep 10 kms.
Per passenger cost for these taxis is INR 40 per person and ONLY the local taxis can go this route. No private cars are allowed in order to control traffic in this narrow road.
Once we reached the base where the local taxis drop the passengers, we were to start the walk up to Ghangaria. It’s a nice long 10 km walk but if paced well is easily manageable.
Since am aware that a lot of people aspire to go up this route and then further up to the Valley of flowers (steep 3 km uphill from Ghangaria) and Hemkund Sahib (steep 5-6 km uphill from Ghangaria, I thought that I would pen down some key learnings that I wish I had known before I did the climb. No one told me this, which is why I thought it important for me to tell all those who plan to do the trek themselves.
So, here we go 🙂
1) Try to get a good night’s sleep before each trek: Sleep with the thought that tomorrow is going to be a long, strenuous day with lots of physical exertion. Hence try getting the maximum of those sleeping hours so that you wake up fresh and energetic for the start of a wonderful trek up.
2) Be prepared- Mentally AND Physically: It is key that you start gearing up for this trek at least 2-3 months in advance. This is not something that you can pull off in the last moment like that school exam you managed to pass with no preparation at all.
You have to build on your stamina and your leg strength to keep you going. Also mental resilience is key. A lot of times during my climb, my legs had given up and were begging me to stop, but it was my mental strength that kept me going. So keep telling yourself that YOU CAN DO IT (YOUR NAME) …Trust me, it really helps.
3) Carry a walking stick: I know you are strong, I know you have done so many treks and I know you are a runner and hit the gym every single day. Still buddy– Take that walking stick. I am glad I did as I swear it was like my extra leg. There is a point of time during that long, never ending trek that you wish you could reduce the stress and strain on your legs because of the pain building up. That is the time this walking stick comes to the rescue. You won’t regret having it along for sure. And in case after a while you still feel that the stick was unnecessary, then you can always be the good Samaritan and hand it to someone mid-way who seems to be in need of it. 🙂
4) Travel light: I come from a family, where food is the core of our existence. Am not kidding. My first word as a baby was not mom or dad, it was ‘khai’ which translated to English means ‘Eat/Food’. So when we have to travel, we have more than half of the luggage weight because of eatables. In fact dad was so excited about this trip, he snuck in a heavy kettle(just in case we felt like making our own tea, up in Valley of Flowers, some 15000 ft. above sea level 🙂). We literally had 25 kg’s to carry on our backs which dad was insisting that he would carry all by himself(my superman 🙂). Thankfully, I sulked long enough to convince him to send the luggage up on a mule. At least this way we were able to enjoy our trek without shoulders AND legs screaming in pain. I suggest take as less as possible up there. Ghangaria has a proper market on top and hence anything you might need is available for purchase. Why carry the load for a ‘what-in case I need it’ situation?
5) Take small steps and in a Zig-zag way: While climbing in a straight look easier and might save few extra seconds of your time, however can be extremely strenuous for your legs. Smaller steps and in a diagonal way will definitely help ease out the discomfort and strain and you will thank me by the end of the trip for sure. Noticed how mules climb up- same zig-zag way. And they do it often. So learn from the experts if you don’t believe me 🙂
6) Keep your Head down and don’t look ahead: I am sure you would be curious to know how much of that painful climb is still left or when is the next best stop to take that desperate halt you need to catch your breath, but I suggest- Avoid the temptation buddy. You will get there when you have to. The more you look ahead, the more exasperated you will get thinking that the trek id never ending. The best solution is to stop thinking of the future and live in present(Universally applicable law isn’t it ). Keeping the head down ensures you focus on the smaller steps that will lead you to the end of your eventful journey.
7) Follow someone fitter than you: I had my fit, swift, young dad to follow around and to motivate me to keep going. But in case you are on a solo trip or going with a group in which you are the fittest then I suggest scan the other trekkers and spot the one who seems to be fitter than you. Challenging yourself to match their pace is very helpful. Though in no ways should you look for someone way fitter than you, just slightly more. You don’t want to stress your muscles, just challenge them to take that one-step- more.
8) Climb light preferably empty stomach: While those small tea and snack shops with their yummy ‘Aloo-paranthas’ (flat bread with boiled potato filling- a delicacy in India) will tempt you all along the way when you are climbing up, don’t give in to the desire friend. Refrain from the major carb intake because it is going to make you feel heavy and lazy as hell. In fact, for me it was a motivator to keep going, because I would promise myself a hearty meal at the last leg of the climb with loads of butter and sugar loaded tea. By that time, after having done serious calorie burning, I would have totally deserved all these carbs and more. Blisssss……
9) Feel the cheer and high spirits: This trek is the most spirited trek I have EVER been to. The majority of the climbers in all age group and sizes are on their way to Hemkund Sahib, to offer their prayers and love to the leader they follow and hence are high in energy. The sardars (the sikh community) are also my favorite in all of the Indian communities. No matter of which socio-economic background they might belong to, they always believe that ‘They have Enough’, and this are always willing to share. All through the climb you will witness people offering you energy drinks, dry fruits, sweets etc. The kids from a very young age are taught on what the true meaning of a community is. I was so elated and emotional at times seeing old people being helped by the younger ones (even if they were strangers), of inspirational- keep going- don’t stop kind of talks and sweet messages being passed from one to another. This was the place that even if you had come alone, you won’t feel it at all. Absolutely loved the vibe. You got to be there to know what I am talking about.
10) Shoes to be Right, Light and no ways Tight: No one wants to see you show off those new shoes you just bought, especially here. So please don’t be foolish and instead wear the oldest, comfiest pair of sneakers you own. This is going to be the best decision you made, especially considering I met at least 8-10 people enroute who had to take off their shoes and walk barefoot because of the foot bites and blisters. Ouch…
11) Keep your head covered: It’s going to get more and more chillier as you go higher up in your climb. And a splitting headache because you forgot to keep it covered, is the last thing you want. So no matter how sweaty that lovely head of yours is getting, keep the cap ON.
12) Take regular breaks, Enjoy the beauty and STRETCH: There is no rush, no winners of who finishes first and definitely no difference in what you will see if you reach ahead of others. So go at your own pace my friend. Don’t rush it. It is not a punishment. It is a journey that you have willingly taken up and so why not enjoy it.
13) Start easy and gradually pick up pace: Your beginning 3-4 kms need to be all about getting your body used to the exercise. Small yet continuous steps will also help further build your stamina up and help you complete the trek smoothly.
14) Share and Care- Spirit of Wahe guru: It is all about ‘US’ and not ‘U’ in this spiritual journey up. Me and my father had the best time sitting and sharing tidbits of goodies which our fellow climbers were more than willing to share. In fact, we enjoyed losing our baggage weight by sharing the snacks we were carrying with us with other trekkers. What a wonderful feeling indeed.
15) It is Jo bole sone haal SAT SHRI AAKAL not SASRIYAKAAL: I am embarrassed to talk about this incident, but it is important I tell you about it so that you don’t do the same mistake. So while we were all climbing up, there were many occasions when someone or the other would say aloud the leaders chant in loving memory, and the others would echo or complete the phrase. One such line for the Sikhs is ‘Jo bole so nihaal. Sat sri akal‘ which means God is true, timeless and formless. But all this while, as a kid right till adulthood, whenever anyone would say Jo Bole Sone Haal, I would say- Saskriyakaal, which means ‘good morning/hello’. So imagine my embarrassment, when after I had just replied with an energetic Sakriyakaal, a 5-year-old sardar kid pulls me down to his height level and says- “Didi(sister), It is Sat Sri Akal and NOT Sasriyakal”. Earth please swallow me NOWWWW….
16) Don’t even think about taking those tempting stairs or the tricky short cuts: While the stairs look tempting as the feeling is that only 30 steps and I will avoid that long walk, however the stress on the knees while climbing these steps is very damaging in the long run. The same is applicable when you are trying to struggle your way through that bushy, narrow lane to reach faster. The cons are way more than the pros and hence AVOID.
17) Be prepared for rain: The hills are unpredictable and it can rain anytime no matter what month or season it might be. Thus always carry the two essentials- A raincoat and an extra pair or two of socks. No one wants to climb wet right!
18) Don’t litter, Plastics are banned: Another wonderful thing I noticed on this trek in Uttarakhand was how wonderfully and pleasantly clean the whole trekking route was. After every 3 kms, there was one cleaning staff doing his bit in keeping the place clean. The authorities have a strict policy of NO PLASTIC and my sincere request is that as trekkers we ensure we follow these rules.
19) Don’t stress those knees when coming down: Congratulations on having managed to complete the wonderful trek up right till Hemkund Sahib. But the journey is not yet over. Coming down might be comparatively easier than coming up, however is definitely more tiring for the legs especially the knees. Hence the idea is to let your body and legs loose and not to control your leg movements. Keep coming down in a slant (as you did when coming up), and let the legs move in their own pace. Let loose. That’s the best to avoid any knee pains at the end or to even avoid the uncontrollable leg shivering.
20) Last but not the least, encourage those heading up while u head down: You might be at the end of your journey, and have already had the privilege of witnessing the beauty up there of Valley of Flowers and/or Hemkund Sahib. But note that while on your way down, you will be crossing those who have just started their journey and/or have a long way to go before the completion stage. Hence, use your energy to motivate and pump up these climbers. Remember those who did it for you when you were climbing?
It’s your time to be them now 🙂
Hope you enjoyed and learnt(even a little bit is enough 🙂 ) from my mistakes and experiences on this amazing, life changing trek I did. I got time to spend with my dad (a full week, in which we actually managed to argue only 1 day…lol) and to see some of nature’s best in India.
Below are some of the amazing scenes I tried my best to capture in the lens I had of Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara and surroundings.
Valley of Flowers: