In 1982, the smallest national park in the Himalayas was created to protect the catchment area of the Pushpavati River. This stream emerges from a glacier then tumbles downward to meet the Ganges. It follows the contours of the steep valley which leads to Hemkunt Sahib, and is the constant companion of the pilgrims who trudge upward on the footpath. The stream's source is in a valley which British mountaineer Frank S. Smythe passed through in 1931 after a successful climbing expedition. He was awed by the variety of wildflowers growing there, and returned in 1937 to collect more than two hundred botanical species. His 1938 book entitled The Valley of Flowers brought this remote Himalayan meadow to the attention of the world.
A short distance above the village of Gobind Dham, the path to the Valley branches off from the main path to Hemkunt Sahib. There, a wildlife guard in the employ of the Forest Department issues entry permits for the national park. From this checkpost it is a three kilometre trek to the entrance to the Valley of Flowers itself. The trail passes through forests and meadows and across rivers and an avalanche slope before the floor of the Valley opens up before it.
The Valley of Flowers is a glacial corridor, eight kilometres in length and two kilometres in width. Its floor slopes from almost 3,500 metres above sea level up to almost 4,000 metres. True to its name, the Valley is carpeted with wildflowers during the monsoon season. Of the many species which coexist in this unique ecosystem, the most popular among visitors are the Himalayan blue poppy native to the region, the uncommon varieties of primula and orchid which bloom during June, and the impatiens, potentillas, and campanulas which paint the valley pink, red, and purple during July and August.
A stone path meanders among the flowers and across streams. The flowers grow so tall that leaving the path is difficult. Few visitors continue beyond the first one or two kilometres inside the Valley. They pause to photograph flowers, drink from a mountain spring, and scan the valley floor for a glimpse of a grave rumoured to be there among the flowers. In 1939, Joan Margaret Legge, a botanist from the Kew Botanical garden in London, was collecting floral specimens in the Valley when she fell to her death. A memorial was erected in her honour. Etched in English and Hindi into the white marble of the gravestone is a line from Psalm 121 which reads "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence commeth my help."
Traditionally the Valley of Flowers was used by local shepherds for grazing their flocks. But in the minds of many it has a greater significance. The myths told about the valley by locals and visitors alike paint a picture as evocative as the flowering that is the Valley's namesake. There are stories about faeries who carry off anyone who wanders into their domain. There are other stories about flowers in the Valley with a fragrance potent enough to make anyone who inhales it faint away. In Hindu mythology the Valley was created when the gods showered flowers down from heaven. Since then, so the local people say, the Valley has been host to great sages who attained enlightenment while meditating there. Today, the people who visit the Valley of Flowers as trekkers and tourists exclaim at the splendour of the views and vegetation. The number of visitors entering the park each day seldom exceeds two dozen. Some come to study the flora and fauna and a few come for meditation. The majority come for recreation and nature appreciation. For more information about how to spend time among the flowers, please follow these links ...