I, intentionally, have used these very old but interesting local names, “Bhyundar Valley” & “Nandankanan”, to highlight the traditional, geographical and Hindu mythological connections to the so called Himalayan Trekking heavens of the “Hemkunt Sahib” and “Valley of Flowers” which are located in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, India.
The Bhyundar Valley starts just after Pulna which is located almost 4 Kms away from Govindghat on the way to Ghangaria. Ghangaria is also called as Govind Dham named after the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Govind Singh. The Bhyundar Valley must have received its name from the river Bhyundar Ganga(or Hem Ganga) which Originates from the Glacial lake of ‘Lokpal’ which is also known as the ‘Hemkunt’ (‘Hem’ means ice and ‘Kunt’ means water body or lake) beside which the famous Sikh pilgrimage site “Gurudwara Shri Hemkunt Sahib” is located. Bhyundar Ganga meets with river Pushpawati at Ghangaria and thereafter flows as Lakshman Ganga up to Govindghat where Lakshman Ganga meets with River Alakananda. The locals said to me that the term ‘Bhyum’ means Lord Bheem of Mahabharata, therefore, the name ‘Bhyundar’ has also got a link with the Mahabharata.
Local Hindu people of the Bhyundar Valley has been calling this glacial lake of ‘Hemkunt’ as ‘Lokpal’ since ages. In Sanskrit, the word ‘Lokpal (or Lokapala) means Raja(King) or ‘Caretaker of people’, therefore it can be assumed that the Lake Hemkunt might have received its name ‘Lokpal’ from a ‘Raja’ who was good to its subjects or ‘Prajas’.
Some say that that the King(or Raja) Pandu of Mahabharata practiced Yoga on the banks of the glacial lake, that is probably why, the lake is also called as Lokpal by the local people of the Bhyundar Valley. Other than the ‘Gurudwara Shri Hemkunt Sahib’, there is another Hindu Temple called ‘Shri Lokpal Lakshman Mandir’ located by the side of the Lake which is named after the Lord Lakshman ( brother of Lord Rama ) of the Ramayana. It is said that Lord Lakshman meditated here as ‘Seshnag’ in his previous incarnation. There is a probability also that the name ‘Lokpal’ was given after Lord Lakshman.
It is also said that the river Lakshman Ganga comes out of the ‘Lokpal’ or ‘Hemkunt’ lake and mixes with river Pushpawati near Ghangaria and thereafter flows to Govindghat. This theory differs a little from the earlier statements mentioned above about the name and origin of the local rivers of the Bhyundar Valley.
To reach the Bhyundar valley or Nandankanan you have to first reach Govindghat which is connected to Haridwar via NH 7. From Govindghat you can take a shared Jeep to reach Pulna which is the end point of the motorable roads and starting point of the trek route to Ghangharia (3,049 m) . Pulna to Ghangharia is a 9 Kms trek following a well defined but steep trail. As the Bhyundar valley starts after Pulna, a variety of flowers is also seen along the trail. Various types of accommodations are available at Ghangharia ranging from Rs. 600 to Rs.2500 per night. I must say that among them the GMVN(Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam)’s government guesthouses are the best. From Ghangaria two trails open – one for the Nandankanan or the Valley of Flowers(between 3,352 and 3,658 m) and the another for the Lokpal or the Hemkunt Sahib( 4,633 m). From Baman Dhaur to the Pushpawati River bed, the valley is 10 Kms long having a cross sectional area of 87.5 Sq. Kms. On the other hand, Ghangaria to Lokpal or Hemkunt Sahib is a 6 Kms long trek which is indeed a strenuous walk.
Some of the other main treks which are available from Nandankanan are –
- Bhyundar Khal Trek – It ends at the Niti Village located on the banks of the Dhauliganga River – Takes approximately 9-10 days.
- Gupt Khal Trek – It is an extension of the Bhyunar Khal Trek and ends at Badrinath. 5-6 additional days are required to complete this trek.
- Kunt Khal Trek – Starts from Baman Dhaur and ends at Hanuman Chatti. Takes approximately 3-4 days.
From Bhyundar village(located near Govindghat), another worth mentioning trek – ‘Kagbhusandi Lake’ exists which ends at Vishnuprayag. It’s a 7-8 days long Trek.
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