Delhi->Rishikesh -> Govind Ghat -> Ghangaria -> Valley of Flowers -> Hemkund -> Ghangaria -> Auli -> Ukhimath -> Tungnath -> Rudraprayag -> Rishikesh -> Haridwar -> Delhi
Continued from here
Day 7 :
We had to send our luggage with the mules since the chopper even if it happened, would only carry a total of 5kgs in addition to us. And if we were walking down, we couldn’t carry it without further ruining our knees. We came in early but it was too foggy to fly. We waited for over an hour waiting for the weather to clear up but it didn’t seem promising. However, just like that, it did actually make way.
We bundled into the chopper and what a view it was. The top view of all that we’d seen and loved over the last few days. The mountains, the milky cascades at every turn, the meandering river, the clouds embracing the mountains and just every shade of green one could think of. It was possibly one of the most scenic places to have one’s first chopper ride. If any, its only flaw was that it was really short, just 3.5 minutes in all.
We got off and went to the restaurant next door to the helipad where I easily devoured a breakfast of a vegetable stuffed omelette when a gentleman there informed us that Badrinath was closed. Our plan had been to visit Badrinath and Mana village over the next couple of days. We had been hearing noises of it being blocked but were hopeful till that point. Even then, we decided to think of a different plan at the time we leave if it was still blocked.
Tip : Have a backup plan or be flexible in places to visit on a trip to Uttarakhand. Landslides are as common as traffic jams are in Bangalore. They are frequently harmless but can leave you blocked if you insist on going that way. Trust locals and get an idea from them at each leg of the journey. However changed plans are not at all a downer here, since it’s so easy to find other places that are just as inviting. 🙂
We walked over to the Gurudwara in Govind ghat to pick up the prasad that we’d paid for at Hemkund. We picked it up and sat for a few minutes at the gurudwara. Though stuffed, still sat for the langar as lunch so we wouldn’t have to stop again. Anand and I were intrigued by the fun contraption they used to fill up glasses of the seated devotees while standing themselves.
We waited not-too-long for our luggage to arrive on the mules (ours arrived on one named Deepa,I had to ask), picked them up and bid a warm farewell to our impeccable guides. Dinesh also bagged us a driver for the rest of our journey – Diwanji. We have to recommend our guides simply because they went above and beyond. Do check with them if you’re looking for Himalayan treks.You can find them here. We headed towards Badrinath and the jam had built up to just 3 mins away from where we started, so finally gave up and headed towards our other option, Auli.
Auli is a skiing resort, so we were initially hesitant since it was off-season there with no snow. Nevertheless, we headed off in that direction and got there in an hour except for a case of motion sickness.
Tip : Do not look at your phones in transit if you’ve any history of motion sickness. Even the anti-nausea pill didn’t work when I happened to do so. And try getting a seat facing ahead and keep an eye on the drivers driving.
The Auli Ski resort won us over even as we just got there. A quick enquiry of the rooms and we were happy even with the basic ones. And off-season meant we literally had the whole resort to ourselves – a private hideaway.
With a renewed sense of appreciation for flowers post our treks, we noticed there were those we’d not seen before that seemed local to the place itself. To make the best of the clear weather and visibility, we immediately headed off to enjoy the cable car- Asia’s longest at 4km. A short walk up the resort and a climb of a few floors of a tower later we sat first in the chair-lift up the slopes and then into the cable car. Even the operators were sweet natured and friendly.
We had an exceptional view from atop. My favourites were the pines that looked wispy and dreamy. Kids waving to us from below, imposing trees in deep green, apple trees heavily laden with crimson fruit, the Himalayan mini sunflowers and dahlias in all hues effortlessly brightening up the yards in homes, endless layers of mountains in the distance made up some of the sights. It was a perfect ride to get lost in the view and just gape in wonder.
Once on the other side, post a swig of rhododendron juice (tastes like a toned down cough syrup, in case you’re wondering), we headed off in search of a legendary creature we hadn’t seen in all the past days. An ATM! We were all close to broke and needed one. Mercifully there was a functional one in the town and we left with happier wallets. We strolled around the town and Pramod and I went ahead looking for the Shankaracharya temple. However, by the time we reached it, we just had enough time to return to the cable car before its closing time and so gave it up. We enjoyed the return in the cable car too, and after some rest, had a lovely dinner pre-ordered (since we were the only guests in the place)- stuffed potatoes were delicious but peanut masala simply stole the show! It was amusing how open-mouthed everyone looked at the lone TV in the restaurant, simply because it had been that long we’d seen a TV on our trip. I, for one, was not complaining.
Tip : You can blindly book GMVN rooms across this part of Uttarakhand. We’re huge fans post this trip. We had good service and clean rooms throughout. In case of weather or other issues, they even let you transfer your booking to other GMVN hotels in the state for a fee. The fee was waived for us since it was the monsoons. Also, their support is fantastic and we received clarifications/resolutions with remarkable agility.
Day 8 :
While A and I lazed around in the one day after a while that we didn’t “have” to wake up early, Lout and Pramod had a short walk to the temple within the resort. They had stunning clear views of all the surrounding mountain ranges with the Nanda Devi and even a rainbow to add a touch of colour to the scene.
Just a little later the 2 of us also made our way to it. It is a small Hanuman temples with rows of brass bells inside. By the time, however, the clouds had decided the show had closed and so the hills were barely visible. Nevertheless, it was quite a charming spot to just stare into nothing for a while with the mild breeze and the flapping temple flags.
A breakfast of fries, sandwiches, eggs and a repeat order of peanut masala later we relaxed around the place reading, clicking photos indiscriminately and exploring. We had requested the cook to make local dishes for us for lunch and he obliged with Jhangora ki kheer(a pudding of barnyard millet) and Thechwani (a dal like dish made with potatoes). The staff were very accommodating with our food requests and even suggested next places for us to visit based on the weather. A even got a juicy apple in return on tipping them before we left 🙂
We had to leave to reach the next pit stop before dark (rains are more frequent in the later half of the day too) and Diwanji agreed to take us around for the next few days. Over the next few days, we’d appreciate him immensely. He was an expert driver, calm and collected with no shows of bravado but only quiet confidence that we were grateful for over and over again over roads that were sheer drops on one side, on roads that were just parts of water streams, roads with boulders recovering from landslides and narrow roads with 2 way traffic.
On the way back, who should we meet, but our own 3 guides from the trek who were on their way to Auli. It was such a warm reunion and they gave in their 2 cents on the rest of our trip too. After assessing options, we decided to make a stop at Ukhimath. The route was long but breathtaking in more ways than one. – waterfalls spilling over to the road ever so often, horses grazing in grasslands amidst the woods in a photo-ready-scene, terraced gardens over the hills, tiled houses dotting the majestic mountains, moss covered trees dripping with the remnants of the drizzle, rivers gushing with unbridled energy and empty roads that seemed paved for us- we barely saw 2-3 vehicles on our way in our 5 hours on the road.
We finally landed at our small GMVN hotel that had just 2 rooms and a dormitory [A whole new building was under construction where the rest of this hotel had been]. We took all the rooms to accommodate all of us and the driver for the night.
We then went on a short walk to the nearby Omkareshwar temple. We were intrigued seeing writing in Kannada in a place so far from home. As it turned out, the priest was Kannadiga and had a chat with the group about the place too. The idol of Kedarnath is brought here during half the year, so our group was in agreement that we could consider half a Kedarnath visit done! The temple though not too large has an interesting bunch of stories around it [http://www.kedarnathindia.com/Ukhimath%20Temple.html]. Inside the temple, at a lower level is the platform where the wedding of Usha(daughter of Banasur) and Anirudh (grandson of Krishna) is supposed to have been conducted.
Once back, since we were again the only guests, we had the luxury of being asked what we wanted to eat and had picked something we were all craving- bhindi and chicken curry[Most places had only vegetarian food]. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and then spent the rest of the evening watching agonisingly bad Telugu movie scenes that had been dubbed in Hindi.
Coming up next : The unexpected joy that was Tungnath