Nov 8, 2006

Auli — A Date With Snow God

(An updated version of what was submitted to

I'll follow you across the snow;
Ye travel heavily and slow;
In spite of all my weary pain
I'll look upon your tents again

- William Wordsworth in The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman

From an altitude of nearly 3,000 metre from the sea level, crossing a vertical drop of 529 metre, the snowy slopes of Auli can bring the best —— or alternately, the worst —— in you. Sliding down the beaten snow on skis at a speed of 20-40 km per hour can be a thrilling or harrowing experience, depending on how you take adventure or AXN channel. Perched on two precarious sticks and moving on that speed isn't a video game, nor a Bollywood song sequence. If you don't believe me, try it yourself.

But a word or two for the indigenous techies, first. This may be hard to digest for the buffs of Hindi movies, but the local kids here have actually simplified and mastered the art of skiiing by using wood saw-blades & wooden clubs for their equipment and they can put to shame most of their "well-equipped" counterparts while running down the slopes. If you thought all one needs to do for skiing is slip into the boots, tilt one's body a little forward, and keep pushing with a pair of clubs a la Rajesh Khanna, try it once to know better. Snow is not as chaste as Christianity believes; reality can bite worse than frost!

For the enthusiasts, however, Auli is an active destination. The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) offers a fortnight-long skiing course for the amateurs here during the season. There is also a weeklong course for the tourists. Equipment is also available at an affordable dent but all the time and money is worth spending for one single downhill journey that is made on the skis.

Slopes are not all here. Nestled in the Garhwal Himalayas, Auli & Joshimath have many more highs. Look around, and there is a 180-degree view of snow-clad peaks and this splurge of white is half-surrounded on one side by oak forests. The upper slopes of Auli host the longest ropeway in Asia. This ropeway has ten towers of self-supporting steel structures, complete with saddles and shoes. Besides, Auli also offers the luxury of an 800-metre chair car linking the lower slopes with the upper region.

For us, things began taking shape at Kaudiyala, some 200 km before the destination on the Badrinath route and some 35 km from Hrishikesh. When I parked my car to a GMVN rest houses for a quick bite, the rear windshield earned a “I have been to Auli” sticker — ALREADY. En route, we enjoyed resting at mostly all the confluences (called prayags) of various tributaries into the Ganga, viz Deoprayaga, Rudraprayaga, Karnapryaga, Nandprayaga and the last one Vishnuprayag. The scenic views of the Alaknanda valley, throughout the uphill road were only aperitifs. The culmination point waited for us at Auli. The 180 degree of snowy peaks were justifiably justopposed by a semi-circle of oak & pine forests. Driving fatigue sped away like a formula one car. I sat down with my rum and invited the lodge owner to plan an early-morning outing...

PS: Must I mention here that during another trip to Auli — this time on a bike with a female pillion called Bubbles — I had to bear the grunt of a tiger, for nearly crossing paths with his 'kill'. Till date, I carry that angry grunt — heard by others in the group from half a km — as a proud souvenir. PROUD, I feel only now! What happened to my heartbeats when I actually heard the muffled roar is a story I would rather be caught dead than sharing.

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