Badrinath, Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Auli (India) – Day 5 of 9

An account of our 9-day road trip to Badrinath – Day 5

June 2012

(Note: This travelogue was written real-time, as the 9-day road trip to Badrinath progressed)

Ghangaria – Hemkund Sahib – Ghangaria

This was the day we pushed our physical fitness and stamina to the limit.

When we woke up in the morning, we weren’t feeling as tired as we had suspected yesterday. So we decided to take the plunge and embark on the trek to Hemkund Sahib. Since the trek is replete with ponies (and pony poo) throughout, we had the option of hiring a pony at any point where we felt too tired to continue on foot.

We stuffed a couple of water bottles and some chocolates in a backpack, and hired a porter to carry it. We also packed some warm clothes which we would need during the final part of the trek that zig-zags through glaciers. The porter was amused at the small size of the bag which we were hiring him to carry, but we were very clear in our minds that we wanted to trek without any sort of baggage, carrying just the wooden sticks with pointed metal ends that help you walk on the ice as you cross glaciers. After hard bargaining, the porter settled for Rs. 450 for the round trip.

About the trek to Hemkund Sahib: The trek from Ghangaria (also called Govind Dham) to Hemkund Sahib is a total of 6 km. The first 4 km is a steep, rocky climb and the last 2 km is an arduous climb through glaciers. One can do the trek on foot (this takes around 4 hours), ride on the back of a porter (in a basket tied to the porter’s back), or hire a pony for Rs. 300 each side. Ponies are allowed only till the point where the glacier starts. One must climb up and down the same day; staying overnight at the top is not permitted. Even the high priests of the Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara come down to Ghangaria in the evening and climb back up the next morning. There are a handful of tea shops on the way where bottled water and snacks are available for a significantly high price. A one liter bottle of water with a printed price of Rs. 15 sells for Rs. 40 in Ghangaria and for Rs. 100 further up on the way to Hemkund Sahib.

Even though we were climbing up very slowly, the trek was quite exhausting for us. Less than a kilometer from the glacier, we succumbed and hired ponies. It gave us great relief and a sense of guilty pleasure to be able to make the tough ascent so fast without flexing a muscle. The honeymoon was over very soon though, and we were now staring at over 2 kilometers of steep ascent through ice, to be made on foot.

We mustered all our courage and started climbing. As we reached higher, we started hearing the sound of chants from the Gurudwara’s loudspeakers. The sense of nearness to our destination gave us a fresh whiff of strength and we finally reached the Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara. We were expecting a calm, peaceful sight up top, but were instead greeted by a sea of pilgrims all around. We had to elbow our way to the Hemkund Lake, which was largely frozen right now. The sub-zero temperatures, however, did not deter some of the devotees from taking a holy dip in the lake. Many of them were also filling their bottles with the lake’s holy water, to carry it back home. Gurudwaras offer free food for everyone who visits; it is called “langar”. The langar at Hemkund Sahib comprises of tea and khichdi (boiled rice and lentils); we had some of it and absolutely relished it.

We also visited the temple dedicated to Lord Laxman, situated right next to the Gurudwara.

It usually starts raining around 2pm at Hemkund Sahib, and today was no exception. This meant that we needed to hurry and start our descent to Ghangaria lest we get drenched. Rain made the path slippery and we had to tread very carefully. Like most other people trekking down with us, we bought disposable plastic “raincoats” at a tea shop for Rs. 40 a piece which covered us almost fully from head to toe.

We reached Ghangaria safe but completely exhausted by evening. We quickly changed to dry clothes and spread out our wet clothes to dry. This was our last day in Ghangaria; we settled the dues with our hotel but were too tired to pack now. A good thing was that today we shifted from GMVN Ghangaria’s dorm room, where we had spent the last two nights, to their deluxe rooms. We had made these bookings online almost two months back and had to book the tacky dorm for the first two nights of our stay here because the deluxe rooms weren’t available. [GMVN’s online reservation link (works well; requires login ID creation):’trh’] The deluxe room was much tidier and way more cozy than the dorm; we needed it to get over today’s tiredness. Tomorrow’s impending 13 km trek back to Govindghat was giving us the jitters; we thought of taking the helicopter, but our plan crashed since we did not have enough cash on us right now and there is no ATM in either Ghangaria or Govindghat. Credit cards are out of the question.

After a light dinner in our hotel, we hit the bunk, hoping to either wake up with strong legs to be able to trek back, or with a bag full of cash under our pillows for the helicopter ride.


Key expenses:

Two deluxe rooms at GMVN hotel in Ghangaria: Rs. 1800 per room
Porter from Ghangaria to Hemkund Sahib and back: Rs. 450


Read more:
Day 1: Delhi to Devprayag
Day 2: Devprayag to Joshimath
Day 3: Joshimath to Ghangaria (via Govindghat)
Day 4: Ghangaria – Valley of Flowers – Ghangaria
Day 5: Ghangaria – Hemkund Sahib – Ghangaria
Day 6: Ghangaria to Badrinath (via Govindghat)
Day 7: Badrinath to Auli
Day 8: Auli to Rudraprayag
Day 9: Rudraprayag to Delhi