Astounding Auli - 24 hours of nonstop solo travel for snow romance

12th Jan 2019

Himalayan Peaks seen from Auli Top

Photo of Astounding Auli - 24 hours of nonstop solo travel for snow romance by Subhashish Chatterjee

Life is so unpredictable, just like this journey, read on to find out how a failed journey got converted into a mesmerizing travel tale.

It was a bright day, the sun slowly and steadily adding warmth, the thick carpet of snow everywhere, as far as eyes could see, the pine forest adding pigmentation glow to the whole scene, the dream of being in the lap of nature without any intervention from anyone is a reality, a real-time visualization of these four lines, an impossible dream, a travel of ~2000 KM and a wait of 144 hours leads to this vast expanse of snowy land…the ultimate goal.

Photo of Astounding Auli - 24 hours of nonstop solo travel for snow romance 1/2 by Subhashish Chatterjee
Carpet of snow – Gorson Bugyal, Auli – Uttarakhand

Destination Auli - The little back story

My first acquittance with Auli happened in 2008, this was the time I was looking for offbeat yet beautiful destinations for my travel website, those days the place wasn't that popular, the reach was difficult.

Fast forward 10 years, a rather usual day of November 2018, comfortable at my Hyderabad home, more than 20 days of quitting the so-called Mumbai-based IT job. A start-up idea, couple of more IT job offers and the urge to travel – with so much of uncertainties around I made a promise to myself that will embark on a week-long snow trek after a couple of months. I floated this idea of snow trek to one of my close friend’s group – the idea got instant like – we decided on a place & date – booked two-way tickets to base Delhi and were eagerly waiting for the big date. In the interim I signed-up for yet another Mumbai based job – supposed to join this in 1st week of December.

Things were going fine, the new job, with every passing day the excitement of doing 5-day long snow trek was getting higher and higher, it was almost like dreaming with eyes wide open. There was sudden jolt with the group unexpectedly backing out – personal emergencies – one seldom has control over them. Our travel idea was doing the Kedarkantha summit climb. Though the peak is 12500 feet high, the ascent is rather flat, easy trek and due to snow settling from 10000 feet this is one of the favorites – hence things get booked lot early – stay, potters, guide, transport. With very little planning done, doing this solo looked a little risky. I blocked a week’s holiday while accepting the new job offer hence in no way wanted to back out. Tickets now stand canceled, 10 days holiday and no clear sight of any destination.

Snow trek was still bouncing back in thoughts – this helped in restricting destination search to the states of Himachal & Uttarakhand. The weather report on harsh winter and good snowfall drew my attention to the destination of the past Auli - a ski and hiking destination surrounded by pine & oak forest, laden with snow mid-January.

Without a second thought, Auli was locked. The itinerary was set for Joshimath – 10 days, 3802 KM – Mumbai-Delhi-Rishikesh-Joshimath-Haridwar-Delhi-Mumbai.

Joshimath - The ideal base camp

The 24 hours of non-stop journey started boarding an evening flight from Mumbai to Delhi and then boarding a UPSRTC Volvo bus from Kashmiri Gate ISBT to Rishikesh.

The bus reached Rishikesh 30 minutes early, this helped me grab a seat on the state transport bus to Joshimath, this is a 10 hours long journey so only one service at 530 AM. It was rather cold when the bus departed from Rishikesh – Mumbai was 33°C whereas Rishikesh 7°C.

Photo of Astounding Auli - 24 hours of nonstop solo travel for snow romance 2/2 by Subhashish Chatterjee
Rishikesh - Joshimath Uttarakhand State Trasnsport bus near Devprayag

The town of Joshimath, 12 KM before Auli is a better option for both transport and accommodation (the latter part costs a bomb at Auli, a big no for a solo traveler!). The govt. run Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) provides a good option for an affordable stay, they're always located on strategic vantage points offering astonishing views of the surroundings. Luckily there were two of them at Joshimath, the newer called the Joshimath TRH (Jyothir Tourist Complex) is slightly better. I stayed in the dormitory costing INR 200 per night. GMVN has online booking, link to this property here.

Day 3

Early morning view outside the Tourist Rest House, Joshimath

Photo of Jyotir Tourist Complex(GMVN), Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Subhashish Chatterjee
Day 4

The Auli Day

Precisely there are three ways to reach Auli from Joshimath - one by taking the ropeway, second by road till the GMVN Auli Ski Resort followed by a 1.5 KM trek or via the chairlift, and thrid a 5 KM trek. The first option is indeed the hassle-free, quick and a brilliant mode to witness the 360° of astonishing surroundings, filled with snow (if traveling in winters) and bounded by the lofty Himalayan peaks.

The snow-white Auli top seen from the ropeway

Photo of Auli top , Top tower Ropeway, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Subhashish Chatterjee

A few important points about the Ropeway:

The cable-car or the Gondola is second highest in Asia (first being Gulmarg, Kashmir) and covers a distance of 4 KM in 20 minutes.

The ropeway caters to the need of two types of tourists – one visiting Auli top and returning the same day; two for ones having a booking at one of the resorts in Auli top.

Schematic map of Auli Ropeway

Photo of Auli, Uttarakhand, India by Subhashish Chatterjee

For the tourists returning same day return journey usually will be 4 hours after the onward; if you wish to stay longer make sure you request the ropeway attendant at Auli station to adjust you in next available ride.

Two way ticket to Auli top in January 2019

Photo of Astounding Auli - 24 hours of nonstop solo travel for snow romance by Subhashish Chatterjee

Missing the last down journey ride can make things difficult – there are very few stay options at Auli top; most of these priced high and heavily booked in snow season. The road option will only be available after a 1 KM snow trek to GMVN Ski Resort. Cab availability reduces post dusk, drop charges will be anywhere between INR 1500 and 2500.

Things to do at Auli

Admiring and romancing the beauty of nature is the best thing to do at Auli. The first sight once you reach the top is that of the magnificent Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi, Trishul, and Mana Parvat. The slopes of Auli are considered amongst the best skiing destination in Asia/world and offers exhilarating opportunity for the novice as well as experienced skiers.

Admire the beauty of nature at Auli

Photo of Auli top , Top tower Ropeway, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Subhashish Chatterjee

Finally the day seemed to be perfect, clear sunny morning, the long weekend rush is all gone. This was all evident during breakfast at the lodge’s almost empty restaurant and the not so busy market street during the walk towards the main market street.

Auli is a meadow or as per local Garhwali language a bugyal, bounded by oak and coniferous forests. The bonus is a magnificent view of the snow-clad Himalayan peaks. Heavy snow accumulation and slopes all around make Auli a perfect ski and hiking destination. The state tourism department in the form of GMVN has done a tremendous job in the overall development of the area, the two most notable things – the cable car from Joshimath to Auli and a sprawling ski resort.

The ropeway car against the backdrop of the giant Himalayan peaks at Auli top

Photo of Auli top , Top tower Ropeway, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Subhashish Chatterjee

Auli hosted the first South Asian Winter Games in 2011. The Uttarakhand Tourism department (GMVN again) conducts 7/14-day skiing courses. Winters ranges from November through March, the place gets heavily covered in snow between December to March. Mid-January sees heavy snow deposit and hence the ideal time for skiing and snow trek.

If visiting during monsoon do embark on the trek to Valley of Flowers, a high-altitude Himalayan valley hugely famous for its alpine flowers such the Brahmakamal, the Blue Poppy and the Cobra Lily. The national park is situated at a distance 34 KM from Joshimath, the 14 KM trek starts from Govindghat (Joshimath - Govindghat 20 KM by road then Govindghat - Ghangaria, 14 KM trek to the base camp).

A map board near the Taxi Stand, Joshimath

Photo of Auli top , Top tower Ropeway, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Subhashish Chatterjee

If visiting in winters then day hike to Gorson Bugyal, trek to Kuari Pass are worthwhile options. Places after Joshimath turns into ghost towns during the winter season, this gives enormous opportunity to soak into the calmness of the larger than life surroundings of the region. I happened to spend almost a day at one such gorgious place called Vishnuprayag (12 KM from Joshimath), this is where mighty rivers Alaknanda & Dhauliganga meets, a sight one falls in love instantly, a glimpse below

And finally they met – Alaknanda and Dhauliganga (left) at Vishnuprayag

Photo of Auli top , Top tower Ropeway, Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India by Subhashish Chatterjee
Day 5

Talking about the activities, the snow trek (rather a hike) finally happened on the 5th day to Gorson Bugyal. The hike is gentle, 1.5 KM away from Auli top. The route passes through dense pine forest, the path is well marked, however, it gets completely hidden due to heavy accumulation of snow. It was a good decision to go with a local guide- first and foremost no getting lost in the convoluted jungle and secondly listening to the stories of the Himalayan life. We finished the hike in almost 2 hours. Uphill it took 45 minutes (thanks to small stops for pictures), descend was rather fast, a modest 25 minutes, cost for the guide service INR 700.

Snow covered trek path to Gorson Bugyal, Auli

Photo of Auli, Uttarakhand, India by Subhashish Chatterjee

Auli - Destination at a glance

Location: Auli is a hiking and a skiing destination located at an elevation of 2,800 metres (9,200 ft) in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.

How to reach: By road NH-7 through Rishikesh-Devprayag-Srinagar-Karanprayag-Rudraprayag-Pipalkoti-Joshimath. Nearest international airport Jolly Grant (IATA: DED) at Dehradun 270 KM. Nearest railway station Haridwar (IRCTC Station Code: HW) and Dehradun (IRCTC Station Code: DDN) at a distance of 250 KM and 290 KM respectively. Private buses/shared taxi to Joshimath available from Haridwar and Rishikesh, costs INR 600 - 900 (Private cab INR 5 - 7k). Uttarakhand State Transport service Rishikesh - Pandukeswar departs at 530 AM every day, cost INR 530 (confirm before planning, UTC website link here).

Joshimath to Auli Top: Best option is to take the ropeway from Joshimath (near Taxi Stand), tourists are given a 4-hour window for before taking the ride back, costs INR 750 (as of January 2019). By road take cab till GMVN ski resort (drop charges INR 500 - 800, two-way INR 1200 - 1500) then either by chairlift (cost INR 300) or by 1.5 KM trek. There's a 5 KM trek route to Auli, which takes one till the ski resort and thereafter as described above.

Auli Ropeway winter timetable

Photo of Astounding Auli - 24 hours of nonstop solo travel for snow romance by Subhashish Chatterjee

Where to stay/eat: Auli has got a handful of premium resorts, best for all-around snow experience, however, gets heavily booked during the peak snow season of late December to early March. Joshimath, 12 KM is a better commercial town with cheaper hotels, restaurants and provides connectivity to rest of Uttarakhand. Govt. run GMVN has two properties at Joshimath and a beautiful ski resort and two other luxury properties at Auli, highly recommended.

I was awake the entire night before catching the early morning bus to Haridwar, places like these often cast a magical spell! Spent a night at Haridwar and then boarded an early morning train to Delhi, thereafter boarding another for the final journey to Mumbai.

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The traveler signs off – keep exploring!!

Moment of satishfaction post the hike to Gorson Bugyal, Auli

Photo of Astounding Auli - 24 hours of nonstop solo travel for snow romance by Subhashish Chatterjee