This post details about Mandini, an alternate option to Valley of flowers, India. The valley of Flowers has been hyped and exposed to constant hordes of travellers and trekkers. It is time to give it some respite. Trekking in Uttarakhand is indeed one of the most sought after destinations for most trekkers.
Introduction to the tale unfolding
Prologue: The Mahindra Spacio vehicle shuffled along the path, rugged in its looks and behaviour for it had spent its life in these mountains on broken roads and was on familiar ground. The 14 occupants, including the driver crammed inside.
Monsoons saw the weather and earth tango most energetically, in Uttarakhand. The river Alakhnanda flowed along the broken National Highway at an alarming pace unstoppable with her power rippling in the form of the raging waters. As I clenched on to dear life, wondering on my obsession to witness the flowering of Himalayan Flowers at Mandini, an alternate option to the Valley of Flowers
Every movement and twist of the river showcased enormous destructive power and energy that Alakhnanda held in her fold. Honestly, Ganga had rightly said the earth would not be able to sustain her sway and force if she descended directly from heavens. What is Alakhnanda if not Ganga herself for that is how she is known when she merges with river Bhagirathi at Devprayag, in Uttarakhand.
Meanwhile, the Spacio rumbles to a halt. Fourteen pairs of eyes peer ahead to see the cause through the mist and rain. One hapless vehicle ahead caught in the melee of rocks tumbling down the mountain slope boxing it in. Umaid, my guide and I looked at each other, deciding that its time to leave the Spacio and strike a path through the mountain slope. The trek that was completed had started once again. The curtains still not fallen on one of the most enthralling of all treks that I have attempted till now– Mandini, an alternate to the Valley of Flowers.
Section I of Mandini Trek
The trip to Mandini Valley was conceptualised on a cold winter night around 5200 mts above sea level with the mercury falling rapidly as me and my guide Umeid sat inside the tent sipping hot coffee on the shores of “Nandi Kund Lake”. So here we were sitting and discussing where next to venture in the coming year? He categorically stated about elusive Valley of Mandini, an alternate option to the famous Valley of Flowers. Quickly I asked him the probable month and the approximate time and his reply was it had to be monsoons, and that meant August in India.
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The days leading to the trek saw the weather worsening in Uttarakhand and giving me cause to worry, but I stuck to my itinerary and decided to take things as they come.
Raasi, a small village nestled in the foothills of the Garhwal mountains and the home of my guide Umeid was the start point of the trek. I was welcomed warmly by his family and lot of village folk too dropped in and so began endless cups of tea and discussions. One point was unanimously agreed that Trekking destinations in Uttarakhand were required to be promoted wisely and judiciously.
Section II- Towards Sandera ( on Mandini Trek- an alternate to Valley of Flowers )
The destination today was Sandera, a small bugyal(plateau) on the hilltop. It was around five km of uphill trekking. One just had to climb and climb with no respite. The entire five km was a steep climb remorseless and brutal. After close to 4.5 hrs we reached sandera. It was a small bugyal amid the forest and had a running stream which was the most critical factor.
Section III- Towards Paturi ( on the Mandini Trek )
The next day morning massive rain-laden cloud hung low on the Himalayan mountain peaks. Umeid and I were ready to move while the rest of the team would pack up and follow us later. We immediately set out into the forests as the path lay through them. The mist had descended in full force and presented an eerie feeling.
Post four km of trekking over densely forested lands we reached a waypoint known as Kanera cave. On occasions, trekkers have camped here when unable to proceed ahead. As the daylight was in our favour, we pressed on. Eventually, we reached campsite Paturi located on a narrow ridge with the ground falling away rapidly on both sides.
The day has been long tiring and wet. I quickly organised my backpack contents changing into a fresh set of dry clothes which I recommend in case the existing ones are wet. After that cleaned the entire photographic gear as there was heavy moisture all around. I did wonder how Mandini an alternate to Valley of Flowers has remained so elusive.
Afterthought: To present an insight in the terrain from sandera to paturi, it comprises of mountain slopes traversing narrow ridges that connected the mountains and provided a small trail to walk. The significant landmarks on this leg were Devkhark ( where shepherds stay put in their wanderings), Kanera Dhar, Kanera cave and finally paturi.
Interesting note on shepherds: There are shepherds that one encounters on these lonely lands who for the entire season starting from April till Oct wander out here in search of pastures for the sheep. The villagers in the region give their sheep to him to rear and graze in return for monetary gains. He spends the entire monsoon alone with his flock, and as the winter approaches, he is forced downwards further until finally, he reaches the village itself. I just wondered on the harsh life he leads, alone except for the dogs brazing the onslaught of rains, fog, wetness while trying to manage the sheep on guard from the predators. One needs an immense mental will to do this for months at a stretch.
Section IV – Towards Thauli ,Mandini an alternate to Valley of Flowers
From paturi, one can see Chandrashila as well as Tungnath Ji very clearly. It was a magical feeling to look at them far in the distance. The destination for the day was Thauli. It is a very uphill climb into the mountain peaks itself. We took several breathers en route in between to stabilise the heartbeat. The views; Oh !!! the views, they were merely marvellous for now could see the mist-covered mountain ranges one after other and far in the distance shimmering rivers in the valley below. I was tired and sore for was climbing and doing this for the last 4 hours and to add to this the cold rain was not making things any easier. Finally, we had reached Thauli situated at an altitude of 4100 mts.
From Thauli, one can see the great Himalayan peaks of Chaukhmaba, Mandini, Neelkanth, Sujaal, to name a few. I spent the daylight hours indulging in some macro photography and as the darkness came so did the rains which drove me back to my tent
Section V- Towards Dagla
Today I am supposed to climb even higher towards DWARA KHAAL ( PASS) located at 4400 mts above sea level and after that descend the other side into Mandini region. Most of the time saw me walking on the edge of the land with maybe a feet of earth available on any one side before the ground just fell away into the depths. I would like to say that in monsoon doing this trek there can be no lapse of concentration for even a minute of it would either result in a broken ankle because of a misjudged step or worse a drop over the side.
Finally, we reached the goddess of the pass and paid obeisance to the shrine there, rested for a few minutes and then once again moved ahead towards the pass. The pass was finally reached after 1.5 hrs of trek from the Thauli. After around 4 km, I finally reached Daglaat around 2 in the afternoon.
Dagla sits on a small ridge and towards the left of it are the valleys that lead to kalimath and Guptkashi quite a distance away while to the right are the big Himalayan peaks of Mandini and Hembook .
Section VI: Mandini, an alternate to Valley of Flowers
The path was gentle, unlike the previous days. We made good progress walking in knee-length foliage, which made seeing where the step is placed a significant concern. Umeid finally pointed to me Mandini valley up ahead.
The place was right at the end of the green valley for up ahead the giant mountains of MANDINI I, II, III rose harsh and straight with mighty glaciers between their folds. The final sector involved crossing the Mandini river wading across it. The chilled snow waters plummeted my internal body temperature. we waded I think 30 metres across it to reach the elusive Valley of Mandini, an alternate to the Valley of Flowers.
Mandini Valley. Truly a place to see in the monsoons, tucked away from prying eyes it was nature at her softness. Shielded by towering mountains on three sides and a dreary path on the remaining side, it has hardly seen the visitors that have thronged the Valley of Flowers. The words of my guide rang true when he had said a year back that Valley of Flowers pales in comparison to the beauty of Mandini Valley. Some amazing trekking destinations in Uttarakhand, India.
Valley of Mandini will always remain an alternate option to Valley of Flowers. Best for those who can take the rigours to come out here in the heart of the Rudranath Wildlife Sanctuary. It indeed is a testimony to the amazing trekking destinations in Uttarakhand, India.
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