My 10-day Uttarakhand ‘Live Like Local’ trip was about to reach its climax. I reached back to Joshimath, all exhausted and tanned, after a tour which started from Rudraprayag district and went on till Chamoli. I stayed in villages in Hudu near Chopta, Sunil in Joshimath and Devgram in Urgam Valley.
I took a shared sumo from Urgam Valley to return to Joshimath. It costs about 80 INR to cover 29 kilometres.
From Delhi, one can catch an overnight bus till Rishikesh, then a shared taxi or another bus till Joshimath.
The homestay where I was supposed to stay in, was located a few kilometres above the main Joshimath market, somewhere in between Auli and Joshimath and on the way to Manoti village on Parsari road. My homestay owner, Rana ji came to pick me and some groceries too.
I was about to stay at this piece of heaven near Auli in a village called Ravigram or Manauti Auli. Mountain View Abode, a 400-yr old wooden property looked charming being surrounded by all these giant mountains, which were completely covered with fresh snow that fell a week before my arrival.
Mountain View Abode homestay which also comes under NotOnMap homestay revival initiative has 4 rooms. The cottage-looking like stay can host up to about 10 travellers and is made in traditional stone and mud style of construction.
My happiness knew no bounds. I could feel it. Seeing the snowy mountain tops and heavily clouded skies, snowfall could have happened anytime. The weather turned pretty cold and I took all my winter clothes out that I got with me from Delhi.
Mamta Ji, Ranaji’s wife, prepared a few cups of tea on her mud stove for us to relish. The couple is jovial and makes you feel instantly at home. They both love to interact with travellers. And Ranaji is a Kishore Kumar fan. I was given local wine the first night with his favourite songs and a bonfire to seek comfort.
A delicious breakfast was being prepared the next morning. They asked me to eat well because we were to depart for an important work-related hike. I was told that they needed kerosene oil for the coming days and it’s better to stock up since the weather looked unpredictable.
A thin trail took us a little above the homestay to another home, Ranaji’s neighbour. We made a quick stop in between to see the village temple. Our steps synced with Ranaji’s stories of how mercilessly it has snowed this year. I was made aware of how we are just 30 minutes below Auli.
Upon reaching, we quickly filled the 5-litre canister with kerosene oil, had a little tea with a small chat and instantly everyone saw my mood swing. Suddenly I felt like going even higher, up to Auli. I don’t know, what made me change my mind, I suppose it was the weather or maybe I just wanted to take the risk and experience what it felt like getting stuck in a storm. Whatever it was, it just thrilled me from inside-out.
“If only I could live here forever”
A little above the village I was staying at, one of India’s best ski destination is Uttarakhand’s winter wonderland seemed to call a snow-loving person like me.
I then took an untouched trail to Auli. Trying to reach before the sunset in my newly bought yet cheap rubber shoes, I managed to reach the top in 30 minutes, not to forget with the help of a wooden stick that Rana ji handed me at the last moment and the rubber shoes that Nitin ji from my last homestay in Joshimath, advised me to buy.
On a white carpet, looking at the gorgeous snow-clad mountains, under heavy clouds which were about to fall and just not being able to believe the surroundings, I was in awe, with a gaping mouth and wide eyes, heart full, my day was made there and then, even before reaching the skiing slopes of Auli. I was surrounded by the peaks of Mt Nanda Devi Kamet, Mana Parwat, Dunagiri, Beethartoli, Nilkanth, Hathi Parbat, Ghori Parbat and Nar Parbat.
And I never even planned to be in Auli. Yet again my most impromptu plan etched something amazing in my memory.
Auli is located at an altitude of 2800 metres above sea level.
One can enjoy the views of the Himalayas from an even higher location by experiencing the chair-lift which charges about 500 INR per person. There were ski and snowboarding instructors present on the spot. I could see many newcomers falling hard and thinking about how much of the sport they can learn in an hour. The instructors charge 800 INR for 1-hour training.
There is this Hanuman temple here which is known as the resting point of Lord Hanuman when he came to the Himalayas to procure Sanjeevani, and provides a stunning of the mountains and the valley below. My rubber shoes proved to be the most helpful while climbing the frozen stairs of the temple. My newly made friend followed me everywhere, I treated him with biscuits in the end.
Auli hosted the first South Asian winter games in 2011. November to February is the best time to visit Auli. The world’s highest man-made lake is also said to be existing in Auli.
I knew it was the last day of my trip to Uttarakhand and the villagers knew for sure that’s it’s not going to snow.
I was just getting ready as a Garhwali bride with Deepika. Her mom got her wedding jewellery and traditional dresses to give me a taste of how a Garhwali woman dresses up.
I was partially ready with the dress on and was waiting for the rest of the jewellery to arrive since I unexpectedly said yes to this. So, all of them hurriedly arranged this for me.
Meanwhile, Deepika was getting ready too. As i zoomed out to take a full shot of hers, I stepped out of the room accidentally.
What happened next is evident in the images I managed to capture in low light because a small kid assisted me with a flash torch.
I felt the first fall, as soon it started. I was there to catch the first-ever snowflake.
I was shouting happily.
Aunty made a face because there was already much snow around and she didn’t want more to accumulate.
Deepika couldn’t comprehend why I was so happy. We shared first laughs while posing for the pictures that our very enthusiastic Rana ji wanted to capture.
After this, it snowed for 2 days continuously.
“In baadlon ka koi bharosa nhi, kbhi bhi baras pdhenge, or fir jb shuru honge to rukenge nahi. (You cannot trust these clouds; they can fall anytime. Once they start to fall, they won’t stop)” I remembered this line by Ranaji when we were discussing if it will snow or not.
He said this in the morning and I was playing under the snowfall by the same evening.
And why do I love it so much?
Because I rarely get to see it. I am not used to it. Even if I am, I am just going to ignore its cons and enjoy it to the fullest as long as it is there.
As a kid, I never got to experience the magic of snowfall. And now that I am a 25-yr old adult, it kind of takes me back to my childhood which I still wish to be of a certain way.
Unfulfilled wishes which we adults make, things that we couldn’t do as kids, snowfall surely fills that slot for me.
Apart from my craving for it, isn’t it beautiful anyway? It doesn’t make you drenched as rain does. It feels light yet its presence is overwhelmingly strong.
The blinding white feels peaceful to the core while complimenting the eerie silence of the giant mountains.
A snowstorm reflects the innermost feelings of my heart.
How to reach Auli?
By road one can travel from Delhi to Dehradun/Rishikesh/ Haridwar via private or government buses. There onwards, Joshimath is 16 kilometres away and can be reached via shared taxis or local buses. Then private or shared jeeps to Auli can be hired. A 5-kilometre trek can also be undertaken from Joshimath till Auli. The climb is via a staircase that takes you from Joshimath market till the Auli temple.
I hiked for a kilometre from my homestay till Auli, instead.
The trip ended on such a happy jubilant note that till date while narrating this story to you, I can’t contain myself from beaming ear to ear. This 12-day long trip to Uttarakhand has restored my faith in something most of us tend to forget.
Aren’t the happiest moments are found in the simplest of the things?
The simple homestays and even simpler owners served me like their family member, everything felt just complete right there. This is travel.
Travel to experience! Travel to live and re-live moments!