Starting from the mountain hamlet of Govind Ghat (1800m), 28km south of Badrinath, an important pilgrim trail winds 14km up a steep stone path to the overgrown village of Gangharia (3048m), also known as Ghovind Dham. This one-street town is a stopover point for hundreds of Sikh pilgrims en route to Hemkund, as well as for a small trickle of visitors to the Valley of Flowers. Overnight stays are prohibited at both sites.
From Ghangaria, it is a further 6km trek along a steep path to reach the snow-melt lake of Hemkund (4329m). In the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, Govind Singh recalled meditating at a lake surrounded by seven high mountains; only in the twentieth century was Hemkund discovered to be that lake. A large gurudwara and a small shrine to Lakshmana, the brother of Rama, now stand alongside.
An alternative trail forks left from just above Ghangaria, climbing 5km to the mountain bugyals of the Bhyundar Valley – the Valley of Flowers. Starting at an altitude of 3352m, the valley was discovered in 1931 by the visionary mountaineer Frank Smythe, who named it for its multitude of rare and beautiful flora. The meadows are at their best during the monsoon, from mid-July until mid-August. Due to the no-camping rule, it is unfortunately impossible to explore the 10km valley in its entirety in the space of a day’s hike from Ghangaria.