About the Book
The Valley of flowers is the northernmost end of a larger valley of gods in the Garhwal region of the high Himalayas.
In it an almost infinite variety of flowers bloom, from June to August, each specy lasting about a fortnight, replaced by another. One can say that the root stock of almost all high altitude alpine flowers lies here.
The book describes the rout to this remote but fabulous valley, bordering Tibet, the season of flowering and the things a visitor should take for the journey.
It identifies the varieties that blossom profusely, and reflect the colours that carpet the valley floor and the slopes that descend from the magestic snow peaks-surrounding it.
While narrating its natural splendour, the book also warns of the danger of shrinkage of the floral colonies, due to the increasing growth of weeds.
It under1ines a code that visitors should follow to prevent further harm to this heritage.
It suggests the need for formulating a balanced action plan, consisting of regulating tourist traffic, a code of discipline for those that go there and proper environmental and scientific studies of this endangered heavenly kingdom.
About the Author
Shri Kedar Singh Fonia was born in the Himalayan Village of Gamsali in India, in 1930. He comes from a 'family which carried border trade between India and Tibet for centuries. He was educated in Joshimath, Dehradun and Allahabad and started working with the Indian Department of Tourism. After six years in Varanasi and Colombo, he returned to Delhi and was made the first Zonal Manager of India Tourism Development Corporation. On a world tourism organisation assignment he went to the University of Prague, from where he obtained a diploma in Tourism. His love of Himalayas brought him back to Uttar Pradesh, where he worked as General Manager Tourism, 'entrusted with the task of developing tourist trade in the hills. During this period, he acquainted himself with every inch of the Utterakhand Himalaya, and identified the tourist potential of the valley of flowers and other places. Among other things, the ski resort of Auli, Joshimath owes its existence largely to Fonia.
After retirement, he was elected to the U.P. legislative assembly in 1991, and became, the Cabinet Minister for Tourism, Sports, Cultural and Youth Affairs. His success as a Minister made him very popular.
Fonia made several visits to the valley of flowers and is considered an authority on it.
Ever since Frank Smythe, a noted mountaineer chanced into a colourful valley, and christined it "The Valley of Flowers" a lot of interest was generated towards it. The botanists, tourists, nature lovers all spoke about it, but the valley persistently remained undefined and unknown in regard to location, floral composition and more often the season for visit. While for many visitors the subsequent visits became rewarding, some had to share the disappointment of seeing nothing spectacular due mainly to untimely visits. The need for a good guide book giving details of route, season and flowers was very much felt and I am happy that the void has been filled by this book.
Mr. Kedar Singh Fonia, who has visited the valley several times and has shown the endurance for collecting maximum possible number of photographs at different times, has translated his observations in the form of this book. His long tenure with Dept. of Tourism, Govt. of India, India Tourism Development Corporation and the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, all in responsible positions, would have lent him the necessary thought for this commendable work. He had earlier written a book titled "Uttarakhand the land of Jungles, Temples and Snows" which has become the watch word for the tourists and pilgrims visiting the holy land of Uttarakhand.
I am glad to see that this book eminently brings to light the large number of flowers native to the Himalayan heights. These flowers grow and perish in a routine determined by nature. To see this happen, it becomes necessary that a visit is planned at the right time and admittedly this book will help in doing so.
I am quite sure that this book will be found very useful by all those who care for nature. The tourists will be helped in seeing and enjoying the riot of colours, the botanists will be assisted in satisfying their passion for the exotic species of Himalayan flora, and the nature lovers will increasingly plead to preserve this fairyland as a heritage to posterity.
The high altitude meadows and valleys of the upper Himalayan belt-Kashmir, Himachal, Garhwal, Kumaon, Nepal and Bhutan are known for their large variety of exotic wild flowers. While some of the species are common to all places, others are found only in specific areas, thus making it necessary for one to traverse great distances to see them. However, in the central Himalayas there is a place where more than two hundred varieties can be seen during different seasons within an area of only ten kilometres. This fascinating place is the Valley of Flowers.
I have visited the Valley several times and was deeply enchanted each time by the sight of its varying colours. My visits were not in pursuit of botanical studies but simply prompted by the urge to experience and understand the aesthetics of this kingdom of colours. It was only after the seventh visit in 1990, that I thought of translating my experiences in the form of a book. Readers may find the botanical dimensions missing in this book. But this was not of paramount importance, since it has been designed to meet the requirement of non-specialist visitors such as tourists, trekkers, and nature lovers.
Bharat Singh Chauhan, a young man from Bhyundar village in the Valley, is a knowledgeable botanist. His good friends, Hira Singh Fonia, a pharmacist, and Pratap Singh Chauhan a guide, are keen photographers. They helped me in locating and identifying some of the rare species of flowers and have also allowed the use of some of their photographs. I am indeed indebted to these young men for their valuable contribution to my endeavour.
A lot of thought had to go into the compilation of this publication. Padma Shree H.C.S. Rawat, a well known Everester, made valuable contribution in shaping of the script.
The Valley of Flowers is a unique place in our ecosystem. It is our duty to preserve this heritage for posterity. May all those who care, work for its preservation with all sincerity and dedication.
Years ago, Joshimath was a small, sleepy hamlet with a post office, hospital and a middle school. Nevertheless, it was an important station for expeditioners, for, apart from being the last collection and despatch point for mail, the final preparations for expeditions were made here. I can recall a sunny, summer morning in 1943, when the entire mountainside was lush with greenery, dotted with patches of flowers the giant cosmos, king size roses, dahlia, daisy and a host of others, in all shades and colours. The trees were laden with seasonal fruits and the air was full of fragrance. For school children it was time for studies. From the window of my classroom, I could see a ,tall graceful English lady conversing with the school Head Master, whose outstretched right arm was pointing towards the rocky mountains hiding the Valley of Flowers. A little later when the classes were adjourned, children were asked to assemble and greet the visiting lady. The lady distributed chocolates, pens, pencils and books. No one among the children, including myself, was sufficiently inquisitive about the lady, for to all of us she was just another memsahib of the British Raj. It was not uncommon to see British administrators, surveyors and expeditioners in that area those days. Years later I discovered that the English lady had been on her way to the Valley of Flowers to construct a grave for her sister, who had died there while studying the local flora.
The Valley which had claimed the life of young lady was originally known, among the locals, as Bhyundar Valley and first came to the notice of the Britishers in 1931 when the noted mountainee; Frank Smythe, had a glimpse ~f it at the instance of his botanist colleague, R.L. Holdsworth a lecturer in the Doon School. Returning from a successful Kamet expedition, Smythe camped in the Valley during the late monsoon of 1931 when it was in full bloom. But the expedition, of which he was a member, was returning to England soon. So, much against his wish he had to cut short his stay in the Valley. However, the brief sojourn in the Valley was Hathi Pavat, as seen from Bhyundar an experience Smythe never forgot, so much so that he could not get out of his mind the haunting question how it looked in the pre-monsoon season.
Six years later, in 1937, Smythe got his second opportunity to visit the Valley. This time the pre-monsoon visit lasted through the monsoon and proved to be amply rewarding. He collected and identified a large variety of flowers including some exotic species native to the high altitude Himalayas. Smythe's total collection in 1937, as catalogued by him, numbered 262 flowering plants, in addition to 29 other species supplemented by Holdsworth. This was no mean achievement and Smythe returned home with a sense of satisfaction. The Bhyundar Valley was christened by him the Valley of Flowers, a name it has carried ever since.
Smythe's discovery had generated lot of interest both in India and England. The botanical gardens of Edinburgh conducted several experiments with the seeds collected here, and later in 1939, deputed Miss Margerette Legge, a botanist, to the Valley "or further studies, which included among other things, the collection of seeds and pods. A local helper, Nanda Singh Chauhan of Bhyundar village, now 79 years did (in 1993), proudly claims to have worked as her guide and informs that Legge arrived in his village on 12th June, 1939 and camped there for two days. Nanda Singh, then 25 years old, was picked as her guide. The next camp was only three kms further and the one after that only two kms, at Ghangria. She took seven days to travel from Bhyundar to the Valley of Flowers, a distance of just five to six kms. The reason for the slow progress was that the entire area from Bhyundar onwards was in full bloom and Legge became fully involved with her assigned job. Nanda Singh says she was profoundly in love with flowers and was perhaps pre-destined to remain forever among them. On the sunny morning of 4th July, 1939, while traversing some rocky slopes to collect fresh samples, she slipped off the rocks and was lost forever in the garden of the Gods Some shepherds nearby helped Nanda Singh retrieve her body. Legge's sister later visited the Valley and erected a memorial on the spot where she was buried. The thoughtful memorial is still there in a dilapidated condition and the lines inscribed on the marble slab read:
'I shall lift my eyes unto the Himalayas from where cometh my strength'.
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