It rained heavily in the night so we wake with some trepidation about what the day’s walk to Govindghat will be like but it is dry in the morning, if cloudy and damp. Martyn still isn’t feeling great and it’s not helped particularly by the sight of the ‘butter toast’ he’s asked for for breakfast. Our usual helpful waiter has trimmed the crusts off the bread this morning but it’s barely toasted, cold and spread with something that certainly isn’t butter! In the end he decides to survive on biscuits till lunchtime. None of us are sorry to be seeing the last of Shri Nanda Lokpal Palace hotel, despite the friendly cook and waiter. It starts to rain as we set off but the tents below the village still look more appealing, even in the rain.
It’s much easier going down the valley than it was coming up on Saturday and less busy with Sikh pilgrims too, though we do meet a constant stream of horses, mostly acting as pack animals today.
We cross the Pushpwati river and make it as far as Bhyundar village for a tea break. Even after the rain it’s a lovely walk – moss and ferns line the path in the upper stretch, replaced by cannabis and bamboo further down the valley. Of course there are plenty of flowers too – lots of yellow and white-flowered balsam as well as shrubs and trees.
While we drink our tea, Vinod tells us more about the floods in 2013, which washed away so many houses in the lower part of the valley and in other parts of Utterakhand. Flashflooding at night meant that some 50 000 people lost their lives and many bodies have never been found. As we near Pulna, where the jeep dropped us on the way up, we can see the remains of the old village in what is now the river bed. Some houses are submerged in stones but others are still inhabited – it must feel very vulnerable.
The main excitement of the morning is a long, slender snake slithering across our path – he’s more frightened of us than we are of him though, and disappears quickly into a gap between stones.
We wait a while at Pulna in the hope that more people will turn up to share our jeep but, in the end, decide that paying 350 rupees for the whole vehicle won’t break the bank and we are soon down and Govindghat to meet Mohan. When we ask if there are toilets, we are directed to the large Gudwara on the banks of the Alaknanda, which proves to have lovely clean toilets. The Sikh’s seem to have a very generous attitude to others using their facilities and it would be great fun to stay in a Gudwara but I don’t think it would quite work with our group!
We drive back to Joshimath for lunch – vegetable thali for Vinod and me, soup for the others. Martyn eats some roti, without great enthusiasm, but reckons he’ll be up to rice and dal by tonight. The vegetable curries with my thali are delicious. I now have John’s cold, full-on, so am working my way steadily through all the tissues and toilet paper I can lay my hands on!
From Joshimath the road follows the Alaknanda south and there is lovely, late afternoon light over the rice terraces. We stop near Helong for John to reassure himself that he can identify the Main Central Thrust zone which separates the High and Lower Himalya. While he looks at the rocks, Helen and I watch two pairs of brightly coloured birds flitting amongst the pines – they seem to be a yellow/black and red/black pair, so should be easy to identify. One of the red birds (male?) sits right at the top of a tree to give us a good look but is too far away to photograph.
Rice terraces above Helong
We have a tea and toilet break at Karanprayag, the confluence of the Pindari river with the Alaknanda.
Looking south from Karanprayag
Then it’s on to Rudrayprayag and the Jawla Palace hotel. What a relief – a lovely, clean hotel overlooking the river with real showers, warm water and good food. I’m full of cold by this stage so our attempt to plot a trip to the Valley of Flowers with more built-in altitude acclimatisation doesn’t last long. A visit to Badrinath first is one possible solution, but will need a little more research.