Sunday, September 26, 2010

Family Trip to Valley of Flowers - Sep 2010

Trip Report (Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangharia-ValleyOfFlowers)During the 1st week of September 2010, we set off on a trip to see Valley of Flowers, something which has been on our minds for a long time. Since it was a family trip with, I kept my birding instincts as curtailed as possible but even without making any significant birding effort, the limitless mountains and the endless streams running along vast stretches of greens provided me with ample list of lifers and many beautifully coloured Himalayan non lifers.

The route we took was Delhi-Rishikesh-Chamoli-Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangharia. We camped at Ghangharia for 3 days from where trekking for Valley of Flowers begins. Excessive rains for next 2 continuous days forced us to remain in our tents and we had to cancel our trek to Hemkund Sahib trek. Several pictures of uphill and steep zig zag trek to Hemkund didn’t help in raising our spirits either though Brahma Kamal beckoned loudly from all the pictures and videos we saw of the enigmatic flower. I wonder why those pictures of Hemkund trek are hung everywhere – to showcase the beauty of surrounding hills or to scare people by showing the entire treacherous path in one shot. Anyways, to make up for the lost trek, we spent a day in Auli and that was truly worth it.

Rishikesh to Joshimath/Govindghat
We reached Haridwar very early morning by an overnight train from Delhi. Haridwar Railway station is sea of humans with not an inch of space on floor. At 3am, there were people of all shapes and sizes and colours resting on the floor covering the entire station floor like a swarm of bees. Last I had seen such a jampacked station was Tatanagar.
We hired an autorickshaw from station to take us to Rishikesh from where we hired a Sumo for Joshimath. With half the town still asleep, driving to Rishikesh passing through Rajaji range can give you goosebumps. I imagined a herd of elephants coming out of nowhere and showing themselves up but obviously that was not to happen (by the way, that has happened once with us before, so I wasn’t that unjustified in my imagination).

Finding a Sumo for Joshimath was a breeze for almost every vehicle big or small seemed to be heading towards Joshimath only. So, we threw our bags in the rear and settled for our day long drive. At dawn we stopped at a small restaurant for breakfast and saw a bunch of Ashy woodswallows fluffed up and huddled together on a wire swaying with the cold breeze. Himalayan and Red vented bulbuls flew between bushes as did group of house sparrows. Purple sunbirds were also seen. This was probably the only point till where we saw sunbirds in abundance. As we headed upwards, I noticed there weren’t too many sunbirds which I thought was peculiar. On the way, spotted a Verditer Flycatcher(L) out of moving Sumo and was wondering if I could get to see more of these at leisure later.
There were numerous landslides along the way - some big and some small. There was a big one near I am-forgetting-the-village which kept us stranded for approx an hour. We spread ourselves on the edge for snacking and found a common greenshank down below in a small body of collected rain water. 2 Hoopoes flew by.

The BRO (Border Roads Organisation) cleared up the road quickly and we again resumed our journey. Mountains looked resplendent in their green attire and hundreds of small and large milky streams flowing through their veins. Hardly 2 hrs into the journey and we got to know that road to Joshimath was closed and there was high likelihood we would have to put up in Chamoli but luckily for us, the BRO opened it within 2 hrs. BRO had gained our trust for it’s efficiency by now.

We reached Joshimath via Devprayag-Rudraprayag-Srinagar-Chamoli-Karnaprayag-Nandprayag-Joshimath. Our final destination before the trek was to be Govindghat (19 kms) from Joshimath which we were supposed to head to next day but we decided to stretch our travel same day from Joshimath and decided to drive directly till Govindghat 1st day itself.

Govindghat is a small but bustling hamlet nestled along beautiful Alaknanda river in a valley and acts as the starting point for trek to Hemkund sahib and Valley of Flowers. This is the last motorable point and beyond this, only mules and humans are allowed. (Dogs don’t need permit or roads anywhere, so they do accompany you everywhere and so do local cattle)

Govindghat to Ghangharia
I birded in nearby bushes in Govindghat early morning before beginning the long trek. Several Grey-Headed-canary Flycatchers(L), Oriental white-eyes, Blue-whistling Thrush, Himalayan Bulbuls, Large-billed Crows, a possible Asian-brown flycatcher(L), several unknown warblers with yellow supercilium and yellow underbelly which I couldn’t identify. I missed my birder friends a lot.
Suddenly between all of these, there was an unmistakable black and white little bird with white forehead. It just looked so mesmerizing and pretty, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Later identified as Little Forktail(L).
We started the trek for Ghangharia early morning after a good dose of Bread-Omellete, Aloo paratha, chai and daliya (porridge – Yes you get it at most of the shops here).

The early part of trek is quite filthy with all mules around but as we progressed upwards, the pathway became clearer with lovely butterflies all around. Another Verditer Flycatcher flew in the bushes. Grey Bushchats sang along the way.
3 Kms and 3 hrs into the trek, we realized our urban legs were not meant for full 13 Kms long trek. We had mentally compared it with Vaishno devi trek and assumed to find more paved way but this was different. With no paving for most of the trek, you end up stepping between one big boulder and another and praying for some level ground.
No amount of bushchats’ singing helped and we decided to take to most primitive form of transportation known to humans – Mules.
With rain gods deciding to shower us incessantly for the remaining of our trek, it turned out to be a decision taken well in time. This was my first tryst with Mules and at the end of trek, Mules were true heroes of the trek in my eyes. What would we have done without the unassuming, sure-footed and sturdy beasts of burden.
Our spirits soared as we glimpsed the Swiss tents at Ghangharia. This is where we were supposed to camp for next 3 days. Ghangharia is a quaint little village dotted with beautiful Silver Firs, Pine, Deodar and other mountain vegetation which I can’t put a name to.

Ghangharia to Valley Of Flowers
Next day we started with packed lunches for our trek to Valley of Flowers. Entrance gate to the valley welcomes you with a beautiful quote (See the attached pic for it).

Valley is a world heritage site and you can go there only on foot. No mules or porters or even cattle (can you believe it ?). Thanks to these small mercies, all the pathways in valley are quite clean and devoid of bad odour. A little before the entrance, Alaknanda flows through Ghangharia village and we spotted several White-capped Water redstarts and a pied wagtail here. Lots of house sparrows on the village house ledges. Another Hoopoe flew by and sat at a Moss laden Deodar tree.
Bang at the entrance to the valley, several Oriental white-eyes flitted about as did Yellow-bellied Fantails. A flycatcher which I thought was a Rusty-tailed flycatcher was spotted.

A little further into the trek, I spotted first of my most beautiful lifer of the trip – Chestnut-tailed Minla. Beautiful orange crown and lovely wingtips showed up from various bushes but they never came out fully in the open for a photo shoot. Satisfied and hungry at the same time, we moved ahead to the little iron bridge over Alaknanda. Sat there for a while and spotted a Plumbeous water redstart patiently having it’s breakfast. An juvenile apparently of Blue Whistling Thrush jumped around the trek.

Most of the flowers had finished in last week or so due to excessive rains. So the colours we expected in Valley was not to be but yet, the entire expanse covered in light and dark green and beautiful white flowers is a sight to behold. After crossing several boulder laden tracks and admiring the flowing river below and straight cliffs, we finally reached the Big Rock which is a sort of landmark where most of the travelers rest. We were resting and admiring the beauty in front and had just decided to unpack our lunches when a low but clear metallic sound came from low bushes around. Soon a lovely orange head flew in and came and sat very close to us. Red-headed Bullfinch. Soon, we found not one or two but 5 – 6 of these breathtakingly beautiful birds. They kept foraging under the rock cliff oblivious of our presence. While we sat admiring their beauty, dash of pink flitted about bushes and called for attention. Pink-browed rosefinch pair gave us ample time for clicking them in various poses. A lone Great Tit flew between bushes.
Not too many birds to spot here though lovely vegetation. I specially fell for Sliver Firs. They look spectacular. We spent another few hrs in the valley before heading back with heavy hearts. On the way back, spotted more Yellow-bellied Fantails, Great Tits, Grey Bushchats, Spot-winged Tits, same Plumbeous and White-capped water redstart and a lone Brown Dipper.

Just before heading back into our camp passing through a dense area, there was a mixed party of Spot-winged and Great Tits, Bar-tailed Treecreepers(L) and a lone greater Yellownape. Next 2 days it rained non stop forcing us within our tents and 3rd day morning when we got out from tents, it was delightful to see snow on the peaks. We got to know that it had snowed in the valley last night and Hemkund. We finally decided to cancel trek to Hemkund and started trek back to Govindghat.
This time on foot. Rain Gods never deserted us for a single moment forcing binoculars and cameras inside. On the way back, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Plumbeous and White-capped water redstart and a Black Rredstart, amazingly high number of Bar-tailed treecreepers and Spot-winged and Black-lored Tits, Oriental white-eyes, Black Bulbul(L), Grey Treepie, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie(L), Verditer Flycatchers to my heart’s content, many singing Grey bushchats. an unidentified Thrush with white ear coverts along with several colourfully decorated butterflies made an interesting comeback.
We headed back to Joshimath same day for overnight stay.

Joshimath to Auli and back
Next day we headed to Auli via Cable Car. While we waited for minimum number of passengers for cable car to run, arrive, a Himalayan Griffon hovered above. Lots of Slaty-headed Parakeets(L) clamoured while a Pied Kingfisher flew right next to us. A pair of very cute looking Himalayan Bulbuls sat preening each other while house sparrows filled nearly every gully and every nook and corner in the area. For a moment I forgot about declining number of house sparrows. More Grey-headed Canary flycatchers here.

Cable car to Auli is a delight with a Shikra flying right below us. An Indian fox spotted sitting below on rocks sent wild screams within the group. Once at Auli, we didn’t have much to do in this weather (Skiing during winters is the mainstay here), we headed to trek a little for over an hour within the Nanda Devi Bio reserve area. To my delight, this was well rewarded with 3 Spotted Nutcrackers(L) flying about and perching close enough for us to admire them. Another Shikra flew by and chased away a flock of 5 Mistle Thrushes(L). A Spotted Dove sat on a Deodar dozing off amidst noon mountain breeze. Several brightly coloured mushrooms of different sizes from a little button shaped to large Focachia sized.
Time for heading back in cable car and spotting the Fox sitting at the exact same spot below. Apparantly, it’s a regular with all the local restaurants.

Next morning we had to head back from Joshimath to Rishikesh and I decided to focus last time on the flocks of morning chirps. Grey Bushchats, Slaty-headed Parakeets, House sparrows and 2 Yellow-breasted Greenfinch(L). Finally, we left Joshimath for Rishikesh and soon came to a point where the road was shut from last 24 hrs and this time there was absolutely no hope for it to open. So, we had to take a detour via Pauri-Kotdwara-Najibabad-Haridwar. Driving through Pauri-Kotdwara range during velvety night time was an experience worth every penny. We flushed 2 big owls sitting on the road into the adjacent mountains. Not sure which ones though as couldn’t even get as much as a glimpse.

Finally we managed to catch our train to Delhi from Haridwar in time and thus rounded off a trip etched in our minds forever.


Hakoonamatata said...

"am-forgetting-the-village" was called Langasu!

Hakoonamatata said...

The View of the snow clad mountains from Pauri was also worth noticing, I can't forget that as its etched in my mind.

devkant said...

visit for more details on valley of flowers

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