A few things about Joshimath and Auli

Joshimath and Auli are places are in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, India. Joshimath is a small one-road-only town, unharmed by mall culture and modernization. All the shops ranging from cloth stores (sarees, dress materials, etc) to sweater shops to dhabas/sweet stall to groceries are there on either side of this narrow road. Taxi (read MUV) is the most common profession of the locals there, music shop being the next in line.

A view of Joshimath Town

A view of Joshimath Town

Joshimath is the base point for treks such as Auli, Hemkund and Nanda Devi. We covered only Auli and Tapovan. (If you need other details it is better to (re)search the net using Google like we did).

There is one Punjab National Bank, and 2 ATMs (Punjab National Bank and State bank of India) of which SBI ATM is out of order. Some locals told us that it has been in that state for a few months now. Cash is NOT always available in the one that works. You would need to go by 10:00 AM or by 5:30 PM. We, at least, did not get cash out of it during other times of the day. Better option is to withdraw cash from Dehradun or Delhi. How much, would depend on where you want to go from Joshimath and how many times. Read on to know more.

Auli is 15 kms vertically up from Joshimath. All the ski championships that are organized in India are conducted in Auli, sometime during Jan – March. We came to know of this only after we went there. This year though, the championships were canceled due to inadequate snowfall.

It was +2 degrees in Joshimath on the first 2 days. The third day was 0 degrees or less. If you are going during the winter you would need to pile up on your warm clothing – Thermals, sweaters, jackets, gloves, socks – The more the better.

Joshimath is mainly a military area. The Ibex Brigade of Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have set up their base there. It seems there wasn’t a proper road to Auli until recently because the military did not give permission for building roads. Army vehicles and soldiers are a common sight. The army vehicles have metal chains around the tyres making it easy to drive in the snow. The Ibex Brigade has even initiated a ‘Clean n Green Joshimath/Auli’ campaign along with the locals there.

View of Joshimath Town

View of Joshimath Town

There is no flat land in Joshimath and around it. The houses can rarely be called that – they are like little cubes kept on the floor. All the buildings are housed on different levels of the mountain giving an impression of placing colored cubes in a staircase. One can barely stand straight inside the houses. All the houses were one-roomed with only a door to pass. I could not help but wonder what they did for their nature calls because the entire town was clean (except for a dumping ground kind of area where plastic wrappers and such were thrown – obviously by tourists) and smelled fresh. I do not have a proper image of these houses but the one below will give you an idea.

Houses on the mountain

Houses on the mountain

We saw a few children on the way to their school which was on top of the mountain behind our hotel. We did not follow them to their school.

Children going to school


Some of the houses had dogs – all were like Pomeranian – furry n small, even the street dogs. You can also see the rope way to Auli in the background.

A Pomeranian on the roof - This dog hates tourists

A Pomeranian on the roof – This dog hates tourists

I noticed that the male population in Joshimath outnumbered the female population. One can realize when you see that there are only 2 beauty parlors and a dozen or more barber shops, although the barber shops printed it was for ‘Jents and Ladies’ (yes, Jents).

There are a couple of medical shops and only one doctor’s clinic. I was kinda disturbed thinking what the women did when their babies were due, or somebody had a stroke or an accident. This one clinic does not have proper space for one person, let alone have all the facilities. The nearest proper city is Dehradun which is 300 kms away. I wish something is done about this and soon.

There is no proper hotel in Joshimath – all dhabas and sweet stalls which fry and heap hot samosas. Saw the freshest of vegetables stocked in vegetable stalls. Everyone uses red carrots there (what is here called Delhi carrots) and the orange carrots are not found anywhere. The townspeople of Joshimath are all vegetarians and eggitarians. Only one shop served chicken kababs. So if you are a hard core non-veggie, your options are limited.

Roasted peanuts are sold in baskets or gaadis – Rs.10 a share. The main beverage consumed is Tea. Coffee is rare and costlier than tea.

It gets dark by 5:00 PM and so if at all you make any full day plans make sure you start early n wrap it up by then. Just after sundown small fire is lit here and there in the town with 4 – 5 men standing around them to warm themselves. A cow also was seen standing next to a fire 🙂

Fire lit in the town to warm themselves

Fire lit in the town to warm themselves

Updated on 30 May, 2011:
For the daring and the adventurous ones amongst you who want to opt for a bike trip from Rishikesh to Joshimath/Auli, have a look the details below by one of my blog readers, Pankaj Vaidya, who went to Auli earlier this year. He was kind enough to share his experience and details of bike renting. In his own words –

“Below are the general details of the motorcycle hiring in Rishikesh.

There are some folks who will only rent to foreigners and not to Indians.
There are some folks who will rent but they will take between anything between Rs. 10K to 20K as deposit. Then there are some folks who advertise about motorcycle rental but do not have any bikes to rent; they will act as middlemen and try to arrange someone’s bike for you. We will not discuss further about any of these people further.

There are a very few folks who actually 1) are willing to rent to Indians, 2) do not take too much deposits and also 3) have motorcycles ready with them. I found 2 such dealers:

1) Mr. Tarun Panchal :
Cell: 094117 17846
2) 2 Brothers Mr. Ashok and Mr. Manish
Cell: 90278 14187 / 93599 50810

Here is the process. You would just have to give one Photo Identity card. They kept my original PAN card and gave me the bike. I even noticed folks giving their college identity card / workplace identity card / passport as deposit against the bike.

The bike rental price per day was from Rs. 250 to Rs.600 depending on the bike:
Honda Activa / Honda Aviator for Rs.250 / 300
Royal Enfield Bullet for Rs. 500 / 600
Others like Bajaj Discover / Bajaj XCD / Hero Honda Splendour in the range of Rs. 300 to Rs. 450.
The rental money was to be paid in advance.
The bike would have just enough fuel to take you to the nearby petrol pump. You used the bike and returned it back and collected your identity card.

The condition of the bikes was not good.
The engine, clutch, gears and brakes worked. That’s it.
Things like odometer, speedometer, headlights, signal lights, tail lights, horn, fuel guage were mostly not working. Rearview mirrors were absent. But these bikes were great to travel within Rishikesh and to nearby places like Neelkanth and Haridwar.

When I wanted to do a Rishikesh – Joshimat trip, I selected a Bajaj XCD 135 CC because that was the only one that felt ok from the lot they had and it had operational fuel guage and headlights and stuff. Only mirrors were missing and the next day they were provided. For Rishikesh – Joshimath trip, I had to pay a rent to Rs 350 per day for 4 days in advance and a deposit of Rs 2500. I was provided with engine oil and a spark plug and bike papers.

I rode the bike for about 540 kms (Rishikesh – Joshimath about 255 and Joshimath Auli about 15). It gave me problems twice during this duration. In the morning at Joshimath the bike refused to start and an auto mechanic charged Rs. 600 for changing clutch plate and replacing the engine oil claiming the original engine oil was adultered with water.

On the way back, 20 kms from Rishikesh, the bike stopped abruptly.
I had to carry it for 20 kms in a minitruck to Rishikesh for a cost of Rs. 200.
After unloading from the mini truck at Rishikesh, I tried to start the bike again and it started without any problems.

Back in Rishikesh, I returned the damaged clutch plate which I has taken from the mechanic at Joshimath to the renter. He agreed to reimbursement 3/4th of the cost of the clutch plate but refused to reimburse me for engine oil.

Travelling Rishikesh to Joshimath was the most challenging motercycle ride I have done. Being in Mumbai I have done the Konkan part of Maharashtra on bike but it was nowhere as challenging as Rishikesh – Joshimath route. It was actually scary at places. But I enjoyed the freedom of stopping wherever I wanted and looking at the scenery.”

Thank you Pankaj for all the info. 🙂

Continue to Day 3