Ghangharia to Hemkund trek in August, Himalaya Photo Journal
The day's trek came to an end with our night's halt in the Gurudwara's dormitory hall at Ghangharia, also known as Govind Dham.
When is the trekking season for Hemkund?
Hemkund trek Map GM:64
The trekking season on the Govindghat-Ghangharia-Hemkund-Valley of Flowers route begins in the first week of June and ends on 4th October. Earlier I had been here in June when things were quite snow-bound. Coming here in August is a different experience. Clouds and greenery add to the beauty of the Himalayas.
Where we stayed at Ghangharia / Govind Dham
We got to stay in hall on the third/top floor of the Gurudwara as rooms were sort of reserved for families. All boys groups would get hall/dormitory accommodation seemed to be the tacit rule. There are no charges for food or accommodation. We can donate whatever amount we want. They note our name and address, or sometimes simply ask which city we come from.
We picked up four blankets each for ourselves and claimed some floor space to arrange them into a cosy sleeping haven. Choice for dinner at Govind Dham is limited to the local dhabhas serving Aloo-paratha, curd and pickle ensemble and Maggi, or the sacred prasad, a balanced meal at the Gurudwara itself. We chose the Guru ka langar prasad and were satiated by dal roti and chawal, the staple North Indian fare.
Piping hot food being prepared at the Gurudwara's kitchen
The Gurudwara has buildings on both side of the road, reminding of the Niranjani Akhara Road in Haridwar, which is lined with ashrams on both side of the road. A little walk up the road brings the magnificent views back in sight - deodars and waterfalls in full swing due to the rainy season.
In a chat with a local lime juice vendor, it was good to know that he made Rs. 1.5 – 2 lakh per season. From June to October, many people move to the Govind Ghat-Hemkund-Valley of Flowers trek route to cater to trekkers' need for food, Glucon-D, massage, etc.
The abundance of trees and streams was a soothing sight. Pine, deodar and birch trees are in abundance. Bark from birch trees has traditionally been used for writing purposes. No wonder Ved Vyas settled at Vyas Gufa (upstream from River Alaknanada at Badrinath) and wrote the longest epic Mahabharat on this bark, better known as Bhojpatra.
Back to trekking
From Ghangharia to Hemkund, it is a three and a half hour climb and on the way back it takes an hour less. But it could take just a missed step in a second to drop down dead, literally. Knees take the most jerk. While climbing we try to place our steps in a smooth way, starting from toes to heel or vice versa.
In the rainy season, clouds keep drifting in and out of the trekking path.
Brahmkamal – The forbidden flower
I saw a Brahm kamal around the bend. There was a board, warning against picking, touching or smelling it. By the next bend there were 30-40 of them. They were within touching distance. I could take a step off the track – just one step on the grass and touch the Brahm kamal, but didn't.
At Hemkund Sarovar
When we reached Hemkund lake, clouds had it all wrapped up. It was difficult to see even from a distance of 6 ft. Paths which are not in use anymore are visible from across the river from other mountains.
A holy dip in the sacred waters of Hemkund Sahib Sarovar lake
A cold dip in the lake was invigorating. The water of the lake was less colder than expected. Tea and a bowl of hot khichri (a rice and lentil one pot meal, topped with clarified butter) was welcome after the cold dip. We idled around the dish-washing area as warm water and steam warmed us a bit. We were barefoot. Tough!
Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara
The gurudwara had a few people sitting against the walls. Blankets were available to keep everyone warm. An overnight stay at the Gurudwara is restricted to a select few, as the high altitude requires a ration of oxygen cylinders at night. After paying respects at the gurudwara and recharged with a generous helping of kada prasad (sacred food made of wheat flour, sugar and clarified butter), we were asked to get started for the trek back to Ghangharia.
A total of 50 people stay the night at the Hemkund gurudwara, including the Gyani (priest), Ragi (singers) and sewadars (those who work to cook, clean and run the place), with their own supply of oxygen and food.
If you want prasad for people back home, you can donate a sum of Rs. 200, 500, whatever and show the receipt at Govind Ghat to take the prasad.
Since my last trip in June last year, nothing has changed here. The facilities are exactly the same. Aman, who has been coming here since the year 2001, says that nothing has changed since his first trip either.
Volunteers or sevadars gather each year as the snow melts in June to clear the trek route. The path is ancient. Crossing over snow and ice is a matter of life and death.
The Laxman mandir remains all empty with people coming and asking what it is about. But a great place if you want solitude.
A trek back to reach Ghangharia before dusk, and next morning we'll take the 3 km trek from there to the UNESCO World Heitage site – The Valley of Flowers,
More about this trek route:
Photo credits: Nitin Sharma, Harpreet Singh Sethi and Aman Deep Singh