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India 2004

Wildflowers in the Valley of Gods

A trekking trip to Hari-ki-Dun in the Indian Himalaya - May 2004

Photos by Lorne Payne and Kelly Sekhon

2 Jun 2004   

Chandigarh, India

Just returned from the trek to Hari-ki-Dun (the Valley of Gods). The trip barely came together and almost fell apart again. More than ten persons were interested but in the end seven signed up to go. At the last minute two more cancelled. Siege lost her passport in Singapore and almost missed the trek. She was lucky because her passport was handed in as she was about to get a new one. This saved her from spending more time to get Indian Visa. She arrived in Delhi a day late but without her luggage. Well that is another long story. B.K. Gupta from Peak Adventures lent her a sleeping bag and a down jacket. Others in the group gave her other clothes and she bought a pair of long hiking shorts in Mussoorie for two dollars.

We drove 270 km NE from Delhi to Mussoorie (2000m, 6600 ft.), an old British hill station. Next day we drove another 170 km along a narrow mountain road. We followed the river Yamuna upstream, crossed Yamuna and followed Tons river to arrive at Sankri village to start our trek. Same day we walked for two and a half hours to arrive at our first camp site (2100m, 6900 ft.) by a creek in a mixed forest of oaks, maples and spruce.Wild roses added color to the surroundings.

Next day we walked for eight hours through a lovely forest and past mountain villages to arrive at Osla (2760m, 9000 ft.) where we stayed in the tourist rest house of Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam. Another eight hours’ walk through terraces of wheat and grazing grounds brought us to Har ki Dun (3400m, 11200 ft.), where we camped by the river for four nights.

We had clear nights for stargazing and mornings for mountain views and hiking up to higher meadows. Everyday in the afternoon around 3 p.m. we had thunderstorms, hail, rain and snow at higher levels which only lasted for couple of hours. Most nights the temperature went down to freezing level.

Brown Dippers, Blue Whistling Thrushes and White-capped Water Redstarts were our constant companions.  In the juniper shrubs I saw three male and one female Rock Buntings. A lonely Grey Wagtail sang every morning from a willow shrub. There were no other wagtails around. A Himalayan Griffon came and perched on his favorite boulder overlooking the valley towards the Swargrohini Mountain (6000m). A total of six were seen soaring at one point.

One morning before sunrise, as I was standing on a ridge taking in the mountain views, a gray colored cuckoo flew across too fast for me to notice any other field marks. Later I heard the two note call of the Eurasian Cuckoo.

At higher meadows (12,200 ft.) there was a flock of about 50-60 Red-billed Choughs with at least three Yellow-billed Choughs. A flock of about 30 Snow Pigeons was seen a couple of times.

There were a number of birds calling and singing, but they either remained unseen or provided only brief views, not good enough for identification. On the way back we saw Black Redstarts nesting in the eaves of the tourist rest house of Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam at Osla. A couple of Russet Sparrows were also seen. I had a brief look at a very small, black and white bird with white over the eye. Possibly a Little Pied Flycatcher. A little lower, about half way between Taluka and Sankri a Kalij Pheasant crossed the road in front of our jeep.

There were no keen birders in the group, so most of the time was spent hiking and looking for and photographing wildflowers. In the meadows there were carpets of blue and white anemones. Tiny blue gentians were everywhere. Marsh marigolds and several species of primroses grew along stream banks. There were number of other plants that were ready to flower in a week or two.

Our cook and porters made our trekking experince very comfortable. On our last night they sang and danced around the camp fire. David and Elsie showed them some highland dancing steps but at this altitude they were soon out of breath.

After saying good bye to our crew in Sankri, we traced our path back to Mussoorie. Just short of Mussoorie is Kempty Falls. On a Sunday it was packed with tourists. Every one seemed to have arrived in a car and the narrow mountain road was a parking lot for about two km as well as the only road access to and from Mussoorie. It took us 45 minutes to get through. We had chance to stroll the Mall in Mussoorie in the evening and mingle with hundreds of tourists who were here to escape the hot weather in the plains.

Next day we drove back to Delhi. Lorne left us in Dehra Dun to go to Rishikesh for a few days. David and Elsie had the flight out the same evening. Siegi and her friend Heidi took a morning train to Agra and I took one to Chandigarh. It is not as hot here as it was in Delhi but still around 39-40 C.

It all seemed to have gone by too quickly. It was like a very pleasant dream and soon I will have to wake up and go to work!