When I first opened my eyes, I thought it was just 6:00 AM or so. It was dark outside. Reaching for my icy mobile confirmed it was half past 10 :-O We were late again. Took us one and a half hour to freshen up and pile on 4 layers of clothing – thermals, thick top (me)/sweat shirt (him), sweater and jacket, followed by two pairs of socks and one pair of gloves and one woolen cap to cover the ears. Breakfast took another half an hour. We were aware that ropeway (this is the longest ropeway in Asia) needs to be taken to take us to Auli from Joshimath and that it costs Rs.500 per person, two-way from Joshimath to Auli. For our luck the ropeway was under maintenance and since the parts are not available in India, it was to remain that way for some weeks.
We decided that it wasn’t worth spending so much for half a day and so went around doing the preparations for next day. We asked the taxis how much they charge up to Auli. They said Rs. 1000 – they will take us to the place where the trek begins and come back later in the evening to pick us up from the same place. We were quite surprised and decided they were out to fleece us and got away from there. Whoever has heard of Rs.1000 for 60kms (for them it’ll be 4 rounds of 15 km each)? We walked around the place, clicked pictures, rested a bit and continued walking.
Done with one side of the town, we walked over to the other. Some of the children from the house below stopped us on the way and started begging. We named this area ‘Toll Gate’. There were only 2 kids at first and their mother sitting with them started to beg on their behalf because the kids were barely big enough to talk. “Paise de do behenji, aapko accha hoga, aapka bhi baccha hoga” Oh my God!! We ignored them and went ahead. It turned out to be the end of town and there was nothing there except nice views of the humongous mountains. We suddenly realized that there was no one else on the roads and the locals that passed by looked at us weirdly. It was then it dawned on us that we were the only tourists there at that time of the year. No wonder the taxis would want to fleece us! After spending some time clicking photos we started back. But not before we crossed the Toll Gate! Though we ignored them completely this time, one of them followed us for a long time and finally I handed him a Rs.5 coin. Instead of simply going he gave a shout and out came running some 5 – 6 kids!! All of them about the same age, 5 years or less. Looking at my distraught face, the owner of a ‘raddi’ shop on the other side of the road warned us saying “Sab chumbak hai behenji…” (Meaning all are like magnets) Ugh! He was right! They came following us till our hotel. Neither ignoring them nor scolding them worked n finally we gave another 2 rupees. I hate beggars n the last thing I’d do is encourage them by giving them money. It’s disgusting.
Back in our hotel, we had lunch and decided to plan for the next day. Our hotel had a Uttarakhand travel book which we borrowed and went through. Called a few people from the book who arranged treks in Auli but their phones were switched off. Not surprising as it is off season. So we thought we should go back and ask some of the adventure sport shops that we had seen on our earlier trip to the town. All of them were closed except one. So we went to him. He arranged for a taxi and a guide for Rs. 1600 (Rs. 1000 for the taxi and Rs.600 for the guide). The guide, he said, will take us to Gorson Pass and back. The rates looked over the top and so we tried bargaining but to no effect. They gave reasons like road is bad, driving is difficult and taxis don’t change their rates like that and so on. Since we had already enquired the taxi rates previously and since it would make no difference even if we went on our own, we finally agreed to it. We enquired about the food options there. We were aware of Club Mahindra’s Clifftop, Auli being there. The prices for the rooms were OTT and suggested the same for food and were in no mood to spend a lot on food. Packing it out from our hotel seemed like the best option. The adventure shop owner said that there were shops and that we could have our lunch there. We decided to pack anyway. Paid him an advance of Rs. 500 and came back to the hotel. Watched TV for an hour, had dinner and went back to the room.
It was too early to sleep. We have an agreement that he won’t watch TV (or if he does, for not more than one hour) and I won’t have my mood swings when we are on a holiday. If the agreement is broken I’ve every right to fight 😀 and vice versa. So when he reached for the TV he foresaw an argument and promptly put it off.
We decided to go to the terrace and do some star gazing. It was freezing. But looking at the sky made us forget the temperature for a while. It was the clearest sky I had seen in ages. We started a competition of how many satellites we’ll catch orbiting around and I won it 😉 Then Ashwin caught a glimpse of a shooting star. I had never seen a shooting star before and my wish was granted immediately 😀 My first shooting star from Hotel Dronagiri’s terrace :D. Now the competition became harder with us trying to catch shooting stars as well as satellites. Ashwin won 3 – 1 in the shooting star section while I won 8 – 6 in the satellite section 😀 We would have been there longer if our necks did not start complaining. The temperature was falling fast and so we started back to our room.
Once back, we decided to catch the sunrise the next morning and so with the alarm set at 4:00 AM we dozed off.
End of Day 3.