With a long weekend coming up it was time to search for a place in the mountains which was not too far off. Since both of us were Auli virgins, we decided that it was about time we visited this ‘tourist hotspot’. Although the season for Auli was not an ideal one, April is the month when snow starts to disappear on its ski slopes, it was ideal for non-skiers like us as it meant little tourist rush. Neither the pilgrims nor the summer holiday kids would be disturbing us making the ‘tourist hotspot’ a place of zen. Since Auli was not our preferred destination, we thought of spending only a night there enroute Badrinath and our trek from Mana to Vasudhara falls. We had also planned to visit the villages of Niti and Malari but the likelihood of getting permits for places so near the border were bleak. Also, Uttarakhand being a ‘pilgrim tourist state’, tourists like us would hardly be entertained by the authorities, so we thought. So right we were!
The travellers: Aarti & Harsh
The machine: Our very own wild ass - Tata Safari 4x4 - affectionately called Kiyang
(Day 0 & 1): Delhi - Auli (Night stay at Haridwar) - 500km - 13.5 hrs:
We left at 4 pm from Noida, and quickly exited Delhi in the non-peak traffic hour. Chatting and exchanging work stories, we did not even realize when we reached the Haldiram and McDonalds on NH24. We broke there for a late evening snack and then moved on. We made it to Haridwar by 9 pm, and checked into a hotel Aarti had found on the net. Called La Casa, it was reasonably clean and affordable, and good for a short night stay. We had some dinner in our room, and then called it a night.
We had to reach Auli in time so that we could get ourselves checked into the few hotels Auli boasts of. We showered and packed and were on the road again by 5 am. We were pretty proud of ourselves since leaving so early gave us a no-traffic pass though Rishikesh. Breakfast happened at Byasi, 35 kms from Rishikesh, at a dhaba on the side of the road. At Devprayag, we stopped for the first photo-op of the trip - a shot of the lovely blue Bhagirathi meeting the slightly muddy Alaknanda to form the legendary Ganga. Srinagar posed the same problem it always does - too many people on the road! Manoeuvring through the human traffic, we moved on. As we neared Rudraprayag, we looked for the stone on the side of the road which tells us how Jim Corbett had killed the man-eating leopard of Rudrayragag back in 1925, but as usual were unable to locate it. Crossing Rudraprayag brought back memories of our first road-trip together (also our honeymoon) to Kumaon back in 2007. We even zipped our car across the Gauchar runway, the same way we’d done on our honeymoon, the difference of course being that now instead of Dhanno (our good old Esteem), we had Kiyang. Somehow it was more exciting doing the run on the runway in our pyaari Dhanno rather than Kiyang.
So we began the climb to Auli, which was quite charming with pine tress all around. The initial few kilometers have houses and an army cantonment, but thereafter the population disappears and the road winds through a beautiful forest. Being closer to the river bed, Joshimath hardly boasts of any views, however as one starts climbing, one can see the location of the hill on which Auli stands. The view starts to open up with huge peaks all around, a feeling much akin to the climb towards Kalpa from Powari.
As we entered Auli, we first came across the GMVN, but bypassed it to go check out the Clifftop Resort, hoping to get a good price from them. Off-season should’ve meant a 90% discount, or so we desperately hoped. We got a good shock upon reaching the Clifftop Resort. Indeed, it was off-season and indeed they were ready to give us a GOOD discount. Pretty soon we were found checking in at the GMVN below, which although does not have killer views from its rooms but is pretty affordable at 1600 a night. After a refreshing nap, we went off to see the sunset over Nanda Devi (which was now clear of clouds) at a meadow at the end of the tarred road from where the climb to Clifftop begins. The sun had set but the view from that meadow was absolutely wonderful. With rain happening near the Nanda Devi region, the entire panorama had cleared and one could see the huge peak vividly. It was a fantastic evening spent with the goddess of the peaks. It reminded me of our evening spent in the meadows of Munsiyari with the 5 brothers towering above us. Only this time the goddess was way taller.The next day was going to be a bit tougher - we were scheduled to climb all the way till the Gorson top.
(Day 2): Auli - short hike to Gorson top - Auli (3 hr trek):
We got up at 5 to see the sunrise over Nanda Devi at the meadow from where the view was good, but not excellent. We then decided to go to higher ground and took the track going to Clifftop Resort. We stopped halfway up this track on another meadow and watched the sun rise with a couple of horses grazing next to our car. What a feeling!
From there we began our hike to Gorson top. For the first 15 minutes the hike is an absolute ascent as one walks next to the non-functional ropeway. While the ropeway usually works in the winter to ferry skiers to the top, the locals told us that it didn’t last season due to some damage. There is a small shop at the ropeway junction from where we bought some chocolates, chips and water, and then moved on. The shopkeeper urged us to rent snow shoes so that we could walk easily on the snow which he said we would encounter as soon as the forest began. However, they looked uncomfortable and we decided against hiring them. We continued the climb, and soon reached the forest, where, as we’d been told, the snow began. This was basically the snow which hadn’t melted since the trees do not let enough sunlight through. Initially it was possible to walk around the snow since it was only in patches, but gradually as we moved higher it became increasingly difficult to avoid it. An hour or so later we reached a temple. After the temple, the forest ends, and a meadow begins which extends all the way till Gorson top. There was little snow here, and it was much easier to walk, although the incline increased a bit. We spotted a small pond on our left and recalled how a bunch of our friends had spotted a bear at that same spot last year.
We walked to the base of the final ascent to the top, and stopped. We couldn’t go any further because from that point the snow was thick and very difficult to walk on. We were also pretty satisfied with where we had reached, and the view was excellent. Clouds had, again, played spoilt sport and hidden the peaks from us, but the panorama was nevertheless divine. We basked in the sun and the beauty around us for a while.
We stopped at the temple again for some couple shots, and then resumed our return. On the last leg, just before hitting the ropeway junction, Aarti slipped twice in the mud. She didn’t get hurt, but the mud soiled her clothes, which according to her was much worse! Boy, talk about getting your priorities correct! Finally, around 2:45 pm, we reached Kiyang. The whole hike had taken us about 4 hours - two hours up, 1 hour at the top and 1 hour down. We were tired, but not exhausted, and were very happy at having done the short, fun hike.
(Day 3): Auli - Hanuman Chhatti - Joshimath - Malari - EOR (end of road) - EOR (end of road) - Joshimath - Auli (230kms - 13hrs)
(Day 4): Auli - Chopta - Ukhimath - Haridwar - Delhi (540kms - 18 hrs)