Auli maybe synonymous with skiing, no snow doesn`t mean no fun, discovers Pooja Bhula, on her visit at the cusp of Monsoon and Autumn this year.
Spring and Summer
As spring turns to summer (March to June), the snow melts, and alpine flowers, medicinal herbs and delicious fruits come to life. It is not only a treat to watch the sunrise and sunset that paint the mountains red, orange and yellow, but the deep blue evening skies with twinkling stars and mountains that turn silver in the light of the moon are a visual delight. You may often hear locals saying, “Nanda Devi is cooking”, when the summer afternoon heat causes the melted ice on the mountain peaks to rapidly evaporate into mist. Summer is the only time when Khapal (an endemic wild berry), grows here. Now a scarce commodity, the much cherished fruit around which several songs and folklore are written, can`t be found in markets, but villagers will generously share it with you on request.
Pic courtesy: Trekking. Image Courtesy:Mithi Mishra & Rohit Chandra
Hiking, Trekking, Camping
R. R. Point - Only a kilometer away, it is the easiest and shortest trek available, generally done by beginners to acclimatise themselves before venturing to higher altitudes.
Gorson Peak Spanning over 4-5 km, the route to the peak takes you through varying landscapes of lush meadows and grazing fields for cows and horses with golden-brown coats. You enter a thick forest, and out of nowhere, red and orange flags flutter marking the presence of a local temple. Now, the trees begin to change with colourful creepers spiralling around their barks. Closer to the peak, meadows reappear, but this time with carpets of wild yellow flowers and a natural watering hole frequented by animals. Climbing to the top, you can see settlements of villagers; some hotels in Auli also arrange camps here, as an activity for families.
Tali Although usually covered as part of Curzon`s Trail, which starts from Loharjung and ends at Tapovan, Tali offers good views of Dronagiri and Kuari Pass. For those who don`t have many days to spare for longer treks and yet want to indulge in some rigourous activity, trekking to Tali can be an exhilarating experience.
Kuari Pass An ancient trade route to Tibet, this 22km trail is a charismatic combination of picturesque beauty and local culture. You need a minimum of 3 days and 2 nights, to travel through the quaint villages and interact with shepherds who`ll probably tell you stories of days-gone-by, when goat-led caravans carried Indian trades. Although Kuari Pass is not very high by Himalayan standards, surrounded by the towering Nanda Devi, Chaukhamba, Hathi-Ghodi, Kamet and Dronagiri, it is an amazing vantage point of the Himalayas.
Trailing with the shepherds and visting their villages Most shepherds belong to to the Bhotiya tribe, who live near Tibet who generally have a summer and winter house. During the summer, they bring their cattle to graze, up at Auli`s bugyals (meadows) and towards the end of the monsoons they descend to the lower regions. Trekking with them on their traditional routes (request locals to help you arrange it or hotels like Devi Darshan Lodge that organise it for their guests), or visiting Lata (39 kms from Auli), their summer village, is an interesting experience. It was a major centre of import and exports between India and China, until relations strained. Besides, traditional houses, you can shop for handicrafts and worship at the ninth century temple of Nanda Devi, the most important deity for people of Garhwal.
Temple on the way to Gorson. Image Courtesy: Pooja Bhula
With the arrival of April and May, birds start exploring the higher regions, previously laden with snow. Above Auli, one can spot the Himalayan Monal and little below towards Sunil village (just a walking distance away) there`s a dense forest line where you can see doves, golden eagles, mountain hawk eagles, spotted nut crackers, sun birds, bablars, tits, magpies, black headed jays, wood peckers and Himalayan vultures.
Image Courtesy: Pooja Bhula
If you're in a mood to sit back and relax, Auli is best between the end of June and beginning of October, when the rain Gods shower their blessings. The snow which begins settling on mountain peaks is a glittering contrast to the flourescent green surroundings you. The picture outside your window will look different not only everyday, but also at different times during the day, as the clouds decide to hide, reveal and tease.
Head to the nearby town of Joshimath to pluck ripe apples from orchards (only possible in August and September), or if you've set your mind action and exploration, then it's the ideal time for a trek to the much coveted Valley of Flowers which is not far. It is the only time to see certain types of flowers typical of the region and enjoy whiffs of petrichor lent by the Himalayan moss. The woody, moist and dark feel created by the moss is a good base for the growth of orchids, creepers and ivy. In this period, the blossoming flowers also attract migratory birds from within and outside the country.
Skiing- Image Courtesy: Kiran Chaturvedi
Autumn and Winter
Although autumn announces itself by end of October or November, and winter in December, thick layers of snow accumulate only by January. Harvested in Autumn, black finger millet, locally called mandua, is used to prepare rotis that are rich in protein and give the body the much needed heat in the cold months. Brown and white are the colours of winter, it's the time to roll in ice, make your snow man, throw snowballs at each other and obviously go skiing! You can carry your own skiing equipment or rent it from your hotel with an accompanying guide. It may not be anything fancy, but you will definitely have fun. Courses are also offered ranging from four to ten days. During winters, the Badrinath idol (of Badrinath Temple, one of the four important pilgrimages of Hindus) is shifted to a temple in Joshimath, just a few kilometers away.
Where to stay?
Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) Ski Resort and its newly opened Eco Lodges
Devi Darshan Lodge
Cliff Top Hotel
Royal Village Cottages
(Will mention costs and a few useful details in a line or two for each)
Where to go for local food?
There are only four ways to do it, request the locals or a nearby dhaba (one of them belongs to Mr. Bhandari), find out whether your hotel can arrange an authentic garhwali meal for you. If not, request Mr. Bisht of GMVN's Skiing Resort or Mr. Sunil of Devi Darshan Lodge, a philosopher by education and hotel owner by profession, and place an order in advance. A very eager host is Kiran Chaturvedi of Birdsong and Beyond, near Karnaprayag, quite a distance from Auli, but could come on your way to or from this place of eternal pleasure.