Lost valley of flowers

Monday 24 June 2013

Floods have washed away two villages that cared for the upkeep of the precincts around the World Heritage Site. Will its residents get a chance to rebuild their lives?

The river that passes through the Valley of flowers has reportedly wiped out the meadows and the flowers endemic to the landscape

News about the floods in Uttarakhand revive memories of my trip to the Valley of flowers last year. I am glad I could make it then, for this year this picturesque place in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand has been ruined by the extreme rains. Sanjay Rawat, sarpanch of the van panchyat (village forest council) who had guided me around the World Heritage Site last year, called to tell me about the devastation in the area. He said the river that passes through the heritage site had washed away the beautiful meadows. The flowers, too, have been wiped out. His information was hearsay as nobody can go near the area. Rawat and other people stranded in the valley were airlifted to safety recently.

But the Valley of flowers was not the reason Rawat called. The rains had washed away Pulna and Bhyundar—two small village settlements that had been in existence for about a century. Pulna is the winter residence of people of Bhyundar valley panchayat, and during summers, they move higher up to Bhyundar. These settlements had survived for at least a 100 years. The elders in the village say that the last time rains of this magnitude had hit the area sometime in the 1940's, the destruction had been minor. This time round, there is no way that the place can be rebuilt. Rawat said that now the community wants to be relocated to Joshimath.

The route to Hemkund Sahib before the floods

But the authorities have never been sympathatic to the needs of the people. During my visit, I had gone to Pulna to meet the former gram pradhan, Jagdish Chauhan. He had a story to tell – the forest officials in the area had cut down two trees of endangered Taxus wallichiana or Himalayan yew. The trees were just an excuse. The community was waging a war against the forest department to gain rights over the land where their hotels were built in Ghangaria, the transit point where tourists stay overnight before proceeding to Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. These hotels were the only livelihood option available to them since grazing animals had been stopped in the areas after it was declared a World Heritage Site (see Rift Valley).

Instead of supporting the van panchayat, the forest department seemed more amenable to ousting them and leasing out the land to outsiders. The community had got a taste of such an experiment on an earlier occasion. In 1960, the department had leased out land to the Hemkund Sahib gurudwara for a rest house. After 50 years, though 53 structures existed in the area, only 10 were given on lease by the authority. Last year, there were talks of taking paved roads right up to Ghangaria so that vehicles could ferry the tourists. This meant that more hotels would be needed. The community wanted some assurance that they would have a stake in the profits. They did not get this despite the fact that the van panchayats in the area are supposed to have control over development. People of Ghangaria have been taking good care of the area. Despite the huge number of tourists, a community organisation has managed to keep the plastic menace in control to an extent).

The valley many rare plants. The Himalayan poppy

But the bigger question at the moment is whether fragile ecosystems like these should be put through haphazard development. Both the Valley of flowers and Hemkund Sahib are accessible only between June and September, and even during this time, landslides are common. My bus ride from Dehradun to Joshimath took me through areas where huge boulders jutted out of the mountainside and loomed over the road. These were accidents just waiting to happen – a slight tremor, a little rain could easily dislodge these and my co-passengers seemed to hold their breath all though the 10 hour journey. The only conversation that happened was when we crossed a place where a landslide had crushed a car and killed everyone in it a few days back. The driver concentrated on the road while the conductor focused on the mountainside, hoping to catch a signal in case boulders showed the slightest sign of movement. As he stared at the mountainside, the conductor told me the destruction to the landscape was because of the dams being built on the Alaknanda river.

As the area also houses Hemkund sahib gurudwara, religious tourism is likely to restart as soon as the paths are made navigable. This would be the time to set up a better system in place to protect the area. Climate change will bring in more such events. In the absence of a plan, letting people go there is akin to homicide. And for people like me who love plants, losing the valley would mean losing precious biodiversity. 

 
 

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  • I feel the flowers in the

    I feel the flowers in the valley of flowers are still intact. Definitely the two villages on the way to Ghangaria namely Pulna and Bhyundar has been swept away. Even a vital bridge between Ghangaria and valley of flowers has been swept away. I talked to a forest offer who went to valley of flowers (off course up to the broken bridge) and told me that the valley of flowers is ok and there is no harm to flowers. May be the river would have been widened.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • What a shame, that something

    What a shame, that something as beautiful as valley of flowers that has been around for ages, gets destroyed once we humans start building around it.

    Let us hope we are able to learn from our mistakes and re-look at our policies on Dams and indiscriminate construction in Eco sensitive areas like Valley of Flowers.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • That is good to hear. But if

    That is good to hear. But if the bridge is damaged, it is likely that there would be some damage to the valley too. For example, this seasons flowers must be gone. A more detailed inspection is needed. We can only hope that the area would regenerate by next year and there is no loss of biodiversity.

    Posted by: Vibha Varshney | 2 years ago | Reply
  • I do not think the flowers in

    I do not think the flowers in the Valley would have suffered great damage from the stream that flows through it. No doubt they will regenerate. The washing away of Ghangaria and Pulna is, of course, an entirely different matter. That local people should have some stake in developments around them, especially when it comes to cash sources, should go without saying. We in Uttarakhand are awaiting a law like in all other Himalayan states, preventing outsiders from capitalizing on the assets of the state. Outsiders tend to eye the profit line and do not care for long term consequences, whereas local people tend to think in the long term. However, even the nominal 'law' banning outsiders from owning more than one tenth of an acre was aimed at diverting potential landholders into the lap of cottage builders and developers. The political parties have combined to extort as much as they can from our state and hang the consequences. Even now they will be seeking to cover up the deaths rather than honestly investigating the lapses that led to hotels being permitted to be built and granted licences for operation along river banks.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • It's nature; a natural

    It's nature; a natural process. Flowers will blossom again (if not this year), but, this year the tourist season has ended just when it started. I am concerned about the hundreds who depend on tourists. They have not only lost their source of income but also their homes and belongings.
    I anticipate more flow of people as infrastructure is in good shape (probably next year). The reason is 24*7 publicity of the region with serene beauty and adventure attracting more who did not know about this area earlier.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Hi All, We have booked for

    Hi All,

    We have booked for valley of flower in second week of August this year.

    Its a 4 day stay at Ghangria and curious to know if this is feasible?

    Our organizer says that it is intake and roads and facilities will be restored by August.

    Requesting someone to kindly confirm as we are coming from Pune (this is our first visit)

    Thank you.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • June is not the peak season

    June is not the peak season for flowers. There is hardly any damage to flowers. There is a land slide area at 2 kilometers from entry gate of Valley of Flowers, the trek is damaged over there. The area where flowers bloom in Valley of Flowers is at a much higher level than Pusphawati River.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Our reporters who have just

    Our reporters who have just returned from the area say that the roads are quite damaged. The authorities would begin the repair work but it would be difficult to say when they would be ready. Repairs also depend on weather conditions - if there is rain and more landslides, it might be difficult. Initial repairs would focus roads to main towns. Ghangaria is connected to Gobindghat by a 14 kilometer track and repairing the track might not be a priority.

    Posted by: Vibha Varshney | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Thank you for writing this

    Thank you for writing this thoughtful article. I too know Jagdish Chauhan, former pradhan of the panchayat representing the people of Bhyndar Vally. I used to go there frequently in 96, 97, 99, and 04. I know many of the villagers who lost everything. I got an email just today from Jagdish and I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for how best to help the villagers. Are any organizations working on helping people rebuild their lives in Chamoli district? Here is what Jagdish wrote to me:

    "After long time I am sending you this mail and I need a great assistance from you. Here Bhundar and Pulna washed out with a great flood on 16th evening time so our villagers lose our all things in flood including both houses Bhyundar and Pulna. We spend our three nights up hill side of Pulna village. There was three shops on the way to Ghangriya we had some food with them for three days. The village of Govindghat also washed out with the flood. The hotels and GurudwaraÔÇÖs two buildings, car parking and many vechicles washed away with the flood. The bridge of BharatÔÇÖs Restaurant and the bridge of Ghangriya, the bridge of valley of flowers and the route from Pulna to valley of flowers have been broken in several places. Eight hundred mules are across the Govindghat are not rescued till now. The yatries and the villagers are rescued by helicopter after three days. Now we all villagers are at Joshimath in one shelter which is given by Uttarakhand Govt. The Kedarnath Valley is completely washed out with the flood and more then ten thousand people are died with the flood. Only the temple is safe there."

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Actually I was planning to go

    Actually I was planning to go there which is one of the most beautiful place on earth in the month of August this year.But I think That This year I can't. However I am searching for another trekking site in Himachal or Laddakh but Valley of Flower will be always my first choice and I will definitely go there by next year.Whatever happened in Uttrakhand due to flood is our mistake only because we people just forgot to respect nature and its beauty.
    We must learn a lesson from this calamity and we shall have to respect the nature on every move.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Finally a good news. The

    Finally a good news. The valley of flowers is totally intact and only a part of trek is damaged. I have been personally to valley of flowers after the floods in Uttrakhand. I have made a full post with a video and some 30 pictures of the valley after the floods. You can check the post at http://www.valleyofflowers.info/valleyofflowers/valley-of-flowers-after-floods-in-uttrakhand/

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • I visited it in 2010... I

    I visited it in 2010... I just hope it gets back to normalcy next year. I intend to explore rest of the Nanda Devi Area.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • I had been to valley of

    I had been to valley of flowers and hemkund saheb in 2011 thank God i could get the chance to visit it. But it heart breaking to see the state of the place now...hope it revives fast.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • Hi Guys I am planning to

    Hi Guys

    I am planning to visit Valley Of Flowers on 26th July 2014. Can somebody please let me know if the route from Delhi to Valley Of Flowers is ok to go or is the road broken ?

    Thanks

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Sir, I have booked for a

    Dear Sir,

    I have booked for a family vacation to VOF from 23rd August to 31st August.

    There are confusing reports in the access availability.

    Can you please advise on the factual status.

    Thanks

    Murthy ASR

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Murthy ASR, I recently

    Dear Murthy ASR,

    I recently was on a similar trip to either VOF or Roopkund with Joshimath being the diverging point for us. We started from Rishikesh on 19th of July towards Joshimath and along the way we found stones falling from the mountain/hill sides. We reached Srinagar in the night and we were advised not to proceed further. After a short stop in the night at Srinagar we bravely went ahead and we were couple of kilometres away from Rudraprayag when we saw a huge 50m portion of the road missing, collapsed and fallen into the stream beside. Disappointed we started backwards towards Srinagar and Rishikesh and this time we saw real danger. All along the return journey there was incessant drizzling rain and we continuously saw rocks stones and some big ones falling along. We made one miraculous escape as well when one of the stones fell in front of our car and not on it. We had seen enough risk and danger in two days and had to cut short our trip and go to safer Himachal Pradesh. So after having gone through some real hell scenarios, I strongly suggest, without backing real and live information from government authorities/govt. bus authorities(they have correct information of cut-off regions etc.) do not even try to take risk and play with your lives.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 3 years ago | Reply
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