Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Heavenly Canvass

20th August 2010....7AM. I am ready for my trek in the valley of flowers. Suman, the cook at GMVN guest house has agreed to be my guide/companion for the trek. Everyone warns us about the rain and the landslide on the way. I am determined to go....We reach the valley gate and move in. The drizzle is heavy and constant, but the scenery is beautiful. We cross the first bridge and the second bridge which is a length of tin kept in place by boulders. The Pushpavati river is swollen and the waters seem to be in a great hurry to go down. The flowers are all familiar, I had just been there the day before. Something above catches my eye and I look...It is a wonderful sight! The blue cones of Abies webbiana...the inky blue dotted with the white resinous oozy secretion looks some exotic gourmet ice cream! I click away from every possible angle. There are Barberry bushes laden with ripe red Berries..Suman plucks some and offers..i put one in my mouth very gingerly. Delicious! I pop a handful of them in my mouth. The taste is so unique, so energising!
We meet a group of Valley of Flower enthusiasts; a group of women from all walks of life, pursuing different professions have got together and come all the way, just to experience the valley of flowers!One of them points out an inflorescence of Aconite, royal blue in colour...No one in the group wants to believe that the roots of this plant contain deadly poison which is used as medicine to cure many ailments.
We reach the area of the big landslide. It is actually a melted glacier. The frozen water keeps the incline negotiable, but as soon as the ice melts, everything comes off loose! Now we have to climb up the rocks and come down again to be back on the path to the valley. There are quite a few enthusiastic visitors; a portly gentleman with his tripod and a big SLR camera tries in vain to take a few pictures of the spectacular valley. The rain and the mist make it impossible....
Finally we step into the main land of the valley, and we are greeted by a million Impatiens, Potentilla, Cyananthus, Geranium and Angelica... It is a heavenly canvass of blue, pink, yellow, white and gold and emerald green. I manage to take a few pictures with my Samsung SL 605. I am pleased with results! Thanks to digital technology! The polygonum weeds have taken over everywhere, and the golden ferns are threatening to steal the ground from beneath the delicate Angiospermic herbs. The blue Gaultheria berries are tempting and so are the lovely bell like flowers of Silene. The white Anemone dot the ground and the stately Angelica form pretty white canopies.The pedicularis, Phlomis, Thymus and Fritillarias add to the attraction. I want to keep moving ahead and visit Joan Margaret Legge's Memorial. Suman seems a little reluctant, but I egg him on. We cross the most dangerous bridge; a long piece of tin kept in place by big boulders. The water rushing below the bridge looks menacing. We wade through icy cold water, cross the rickety bridge and wade through some more water to get to the other side. A few hundred meters more to Legge's grave, the signboard says. All our companions have gone back, the rain gets heavier, and Suman is not particularly happy walking towards a grave in such weather! I keep walking, and finally we reach the memorial stone on Legge's grave. The presence is awesome, i can almost visualise the great Botanist, pencil and notepad in hand, walking through the alpine meadows, noting down every single detail. The mist is rising from the meadows up to the hills and the little clouds of mist look like dancing apparitions! The pink Impatiens and Geranium and the white Angelweed make a pretty backdrop for the impromptu performance. I share a bar of Five Star chocolate with Suman, and click a few pictures and decide to return. This time I agree with Suman, we must cross the bridges before they get swept away. A pair of whistling thrushes decide to lead us and keep us company. They flit about amidst the gay profusion of flowers, almost tantalizingly. I want to click their picture but they vanish as soon as i take the camera out of the case. The rain is pelting down heavily and we take shelter under a huge boulder. A Pica( rabbit mouse) peeps from its dwelling place, probably eying for the tit bits that might fall. Suman shares his Aloo Paratha and Sabzi with me. we drink the cold water from the brook gurgling and rushing below and move on. I see some yellow Corydalis, red Potentilla and Epilobium on the way back. There is a bee enjoying the nectar from an Erigeron flower and I manage to capture it on camera. More Lichen festoons greet us on the way back. I click some more pictures of the blue pine cones. We are almost near the gate , the town of Ghangharia looks small and enveloped in the mist. Suman insists that i take a picture with the town as backdrop. I oblige and he clicks...the most nostalgic photograph of the trip!
Next morning 6 AM and I am ready to leave. No mules to take me down to Govind Ghat. The streams on the way are overflowing and no mule wants to cross it. Everyone is waiting for the rain to stop. i move on, my back pack slung on my shoulder I move down to Govind Ghat... Good Bye Ghangharia and the beautiful Valley of Flowers!
Adios! till we meet again,and I am sure I am coming back to see the heavenly canvass once again!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Brahmakamal

19th August, 5AM....I start for Hemkund Saheb. The drizzle is non stop. I want to trek beyond the Lokpal lake so I hire a mule to go up the 6 Km steep incline. My fellow traveler is an old Sikh woman, who keeps chastising the mule man for beating it with a stick.It is dark and the mule moves up the steep slope. As things get visible I see the small town of Ghangharia left way below. We stop for a cup of tea at the 2Km mark. There is no sunshine, but the rain seems to have stopped! We move on...the climb gets more and more steep. Both sides of the path are laden with flowers, small yellow Corydalis, white Anemone and the red Bistorta greet me. I spot the beautiful blue Aconite and a rain soaked droopy blue poppy plant; but my eyes are straining to see my first Brahmakamal. The climb is getting steeper now, we take a sharp turn below a glacier, I look up to see the Gurudwara gate: Lo and behold! I see the first Brahmakamal perched precariously on a hanging piece of rock. It's white petals catch the first ray of the sun and the glow is ethereal!7:30 and I have reached the Lokpal lake. I dismount the mule and make a beeline to the ancient Lakshman temple. The Pujari has just begun his daily ritual of offerings and prayer. I sit cross legged on the damp mat and watch patiently. He puts a big sandal and vermilion dot on my forehead and gives me some prasad.The pujari's son appears and I ask him if I could get someone to accompany me to the slopes above the lake. He agrees to come with me after some initial hesitation.We walk up and after a few hundred meters i see the entire slope covered with Brahmakamal. The sight is absolutely camera goes crazy clicking them from every possible angle. there are singles, twins and large groups of Brahmamkamal. some are surrounded by the red colored Bistorta. I spot a beautiful plant of the Himalayan blue poppy. it's petals are translucent blue, and the water droplets make it look so heavenly! amidst the rocks I find a beautiful plant of the white Ranunculus! the flowers are just opening! My heart leaps with joy! The dizzying altitude of 4500 meters is playing up with my imagination....the lake, the Gurudwara behind the lake and the tiny Lakshman temple look picturesque in the mist. it has started raining again...I do not bother to cover my head...I feel i am being blessed by the gods I cherish the pure divine moments......
The descent is particularly dangerous, with rain making the steps slippery. People warn me not to take the steps but I have already come down half way...more Brahmakamal on the slopes. i keep clicking as i come down. My legs are jammed, every step is a torture...I make it to the rest house by 4PM, tired and soaked to my skin. But my heart is singing a song and my camera is laden with memories of the beautiful flower of Brahma, the creator himself!

Journey to the Garden of Gods

The wanderlust in me compels me to visit the valley of flowers once again! So what do i do? Pack my bags, make necessary arrangements at home and my workplace, book my accommodation at Ghangharia and leave. 17 th August 2010...5 AM there is a heavy drizzle. I hop into the first bus to Joshimath. The day moves on as the bus ambles through the long ascent in the mountains. Our first stop is at Devaprayag. I get down to take some pictures. I buy a few bananas, and to my amusement find all the cows in the area surrounding me; they want the banana skin! I eat half of a banana and feed it to one cow, and the next one and next and next go the same way. the driver sounds the horn and i hop back into the bus. The bus moves on, the steep ascent is evident as the river below looks tinier and tinier. We stop for lunch at Mayapur. I share the table with two sadhus from Khajuraho. They find it very strange, a woman traveling all by herself just to look at some flowers! i reach Joshimath at about 4PM. A Sumo taxi takes me up to Auli for the night. Am I dissappointed? Auli is enveloped in thick monsoon mist and cloud and the downpour is steady. Can't see beyond my nose!Next morning is the same rainy misty cold weather, and i am told that the road to Govind Ghat may not be in a motorable condition. We drive down to Joshimath and what joy! The roads have been repaired! Off we drive through the awesome Vishnuprayag valley and reach Govind Ghat. It is 10 AM and I straight away take a mule up to Ghangharia. I reach the GMVN guest house at Ghagharia at about 1PM after a 14Km long uphill ride on a mule(his name was Bobby and whenever he went astray, a gentle call of Booby Darling! would put him back on track!). I complete the necessary formalities, dump my bag at the guest house and rush out, camera in hand to take a look at the valley! The waterfall at the climb to Hemkund Sahib cascades down in full fury, and I feel like putting my hand up and greeting the beautiful scenery in front of my eyes. I am stopped at the gate to the valley. No one goes in as late as this, I am told. I promise to take a quick look and return by 3. I am allowed in very reluctantly. I walk past many curious trekkers and tourists returning from the valley. The 3 Km trek to the valley is laden with flowers and festooned with strands of Lichen hanging down from the blue coned Abies trees. I go trigger happy....clicking away. The Origanum and Thallictrum, Inula and Ligularia form a colourful tapestry on the forest floor. I amble up the path under the little waterfall and cross the first bridge. More curious tourists on their way back want to know why I am going in so late. The mauve Erigeron and the pink Impatiens look bright and cheerful in spite of the incessant drizzle. I cross the third bridge when I am sent back by the forest ranger. Danger ahead, fresh mud slides near the glacier and many more expected. I trek back through the familiar market place of Ghangharia. I am told at the GMVN rest house that if I want to see the celebrated Brahmakamal i must trek up to Hemkund Saheb. So i decide to do that next morning and call it a day!