Continued from previous post – “Trip to Auli – Day 3”
At exactly 4:00 AM the alarm went off. We dragged ourselves out of the bed half an hour later, dressed up in our layers and went to the terrace. It was as dark as the night before and the sky, as clear. Ashwin suggested that we resume our competition of last night. I caught 2 satellites in different parts of the sky in the interval of 20 minutes. When I showed him the third one he told me that I have been showing the same satellite each time. I am so not a morning person
I waited and yawned while Ashwin adjusted his tripod and camera again n again. We waited for 2 whole hours before we started to see the effects of light and shadow on the mountain tops.
Sadly we did not catch the sunrise. As I said, we are surrounded on all sides by humongous mountains and the sunrise happened on the other side of the mountain behind our hotel. It was disappointing. Neither did I sleep nor catch the sunrise, and even my satellites turned out to be ‘duplicates’ !!
There was no point going back to sleep. So we got ready to go to Auli. We packed rotis and aalu jeera for lunch and waited at the reception. We had requested the taxi to pick us up at 8:30 AM.
The taxi came on time. The adventure shop owner came too and gave a brief of our trip again – “The driver will drop you near the trek base and come back. The guide will stay with you and take you upto Gorson Pass and back. Call the driver when you guys start back from the trek so that he can start from here at the same time. By the time you finish the trek he will be ready to drive you back to your hotel. You can pay the balance after you return…” All this in Hindi. He got down near his shop and we proceeded to Auli.
This time the mountain was traversed uphill. The road was narrow and the bends dangerous. Suddenly the 1000 spent on the taxi looked worth it. We passed by the military base through zig zag roads. I was getting a little apprehensive now. The whole point of coming to Auli was to touch, feel and experience snow. I had expected the roads in Joshimath to have at least a sprinkling of snow but it wasn’t. How was the scene going to change in just 15 kms? The snow is only seen on the peaks. Will we able to get to them in just 15 kms? Just to give you an idea of how big the mountains are, have a look at this video (That road, by the way, leads to Badarinath temple, a pilgrimage, about 45 kms from Joshimath).
After almost 8 kms I started to see salt like substance sprinkled all over the stones. My excitement shot up. Ashwin suggested those could be algae n fungi that grow on stones, or some chemical that the military might have spread. It wasn’t until we came by this frozen waterfall that he believed it was snow around us. It was the first time I had seen a frozen waterfall. I did a jig right there
As we went higher, the snow spread got more generous. Now it was Ashwin’s turn to get anxious. Would we be able to ski on such thin a spread? We decided to withhold from all apprehension for the time being.
We finally reached the base. There was one small tea shop, the GMVN restaurant and cabins, hotel Royal Village’s (of the Dronagiri people) cabins and a single diesel pump with a roof of its own. There were two people there who came running and started to woo us with their ski expertise- “The snow is nicely spread for ski, sirji. We’ll take you there and teach you ski. We usually charge 500 rupees per person but since you are two we’ll give you a discount. So pay us only 400 each.” Since we had already planned the trek today we said we’ll ski the next day. He introduced himself as Guru and gave his number. That’s when we remembered we did not know our guide’s name. When asked he said he was “Pirem”, read Prem.
The trek started with 50 concrete steps upto the chair lift after which we proceed on hard ground. Twenty steps and I was as breathless as can be. I had never been this exhausted and come on, 20 steps!! I was confused. We live on the third floor (in Bangalore) n I climb it in seconds without getting tired/breathless. I made up my mind to work out once I get back to Bangalore (the situation was like that ;), I never came around to doing that, that’s’ another story). Well, it was the low oxygen in high altitudes working. Making a pitstop every now and then, we came to hard ground – snow had turned to ice and because the layer was thin, the mud showed. There was a stretch of mud on our right and at a little depth which our guide told was the ski stretch for the championships. He immediately added that the place where we were going to ski is further up and there was thick snow there. The 2 litre bottle of water was almost empty and we had only walked a kilometer. There was 3 kms more to go. Another half kilometer and we came to a rickety shack (the owner’s name is Gajendra) where Guru who had gone ahead of us brought us snow shoes from another shack. Snow shoes cost you Rs.50 a pair. These are rubber boots that cover upto your calf. It is designed so as to not let snow creep into your shoes and are heavy too,perhaps a kilo. It was actually easier to walk in them.
The view around us was breathtaking and was getting better at every step. It was a clear day; we saw the mountains Dronagiri, Nanda Devi, Haathi-Ghoda and the bonus, Mt. Everest
A hundred meters away stood Club Mahindra’s Clifftop. It did not look all that majestic as it did in the pictures on their site.
Another thing which surprised us up there was a huge pond of clear and clean water, of course artificially created. It is based on the condition of the water (has it turned to ice and how hard, etc) in the pond that the decision to go ahead with the championships is taken. In this picture you can see the roof of Clifftop on the extreme left, Gajendar’s shack in front of it. The black specks you see are people.
We saw a group of about 100 military trainees – IBEX group of ITBP – training for ski. Their training ranges from 30 – 45 days.
As we walked higher (we covered 2 kms now), the mud gave way to thick, hard ice covered ground. Here the problems started. I slipped once and landed on my bottom, and again when I was getting up, and again on the next step. Two steps and I fell forward this time. After that I kept falling even when I was simply standing. Hilarious as it sounds, it hurt. If the pain got worse I wouldn’t be in a position to enjoy the rest of the holiday. So when we came to the tea shop (a concrete building where the ropeway ends) I told Ashwin to carry on with Prem. He hesitated at first and even tried to get me to go with them to no avail. Saying they’ll be back in two hours, they left.
I was all alone. I spotted a headless snowman near the window and went ahead to complete it. It’s not easy as it sounds. The loose snow just doesn’t stick and there was no water nearby to help make the shape. Aware that my hands were freezing, I went and sat at the table. A while later this middle aged man came there with his ski gear wanting to rest awhile before the ski sessions resumed. We got talking. A teacher at a school in Ajmer was here with his students for ski training. They were staying at GMVN. The last time he had come was six years before; the ropeway was working then and they did not have to face the inconvenience of walking 2 kms everyday to their ski area. He said he has been, over the years, on treks to many of the nearby areas. He loves the outdoors a lot. He had got stuck in Bangalore Central, due to rains, just 3 weeks back when he was in Bangalore. He asked a few things about me and got ready to leave. It was only after he left that I realized I forgot to ask his name.
After a while I went up to watch skiing. One military trainer came up to me, introduced himself as Mahesh Kumar, asked me about myself and told me I should approach him or any of the other trainers if we met with any trouble.
It was awkward standing all alone in a corner and watching the ski trainees. So I walked up to where the trainers had put up 3 – 4 chairs in the middle of the ground, slightly off the ski course. I managed to walk up there without falling even once. An ITBP trainer and another officer were seated there talking to another man – perhaps a tourist too. Just then a middle aged Punjabi couple came. The wife said she couldn’t walk further and that she was sitting here, the husband could go further. He had been uphill the previous day and wanted to do it again before they left Auli the next morning. It was funny how they argued, even romantic
The one and a half hours passed listening to the officer talking to this lady and the other tourist. They spoke about the weather in Punjab, how disappointed they were to not see as much snow as they expected. The topic moved on to Operation Blue Star; the officer was stationed in Pubjab during that time and his comrade had lost his life. He narrated the gory scenes of how they saw blood n dead bodies everywhere, how the soldiers and locals alike jumped into the lake to avoid gunfire. As I was on the brink of flooding Auli, some trainee slipped n fell and the officer’s attention was diverted. Before the story could be resumed, Ashwin n Prem were back. Ashwin also did not make it to Gorson Pass and returned from the Mandir. He forgot to click any pics; it was dangling from his neck the whole time
We shared our lunch with Prem and ordered a plate of Maggi for ourselves. After lunch we decided to go look around the place. And so leaving Prem at this tea shop we went towards the tree lining a few feet away.
We were the only people in this part of Auli. Trees hid us completely and there was fresh white untouched snow there.
It was a case of two-naughty-kids-left-alone-at-home. One hour of snow fight later it was time for photos. Tried simulating a snow fall n clicking a pic too hehee… When I complained of appearing plump (delete this pic n that one too) in the photos he complained of his stubble (click mine tomorrow when I am clean shaven). Aaargh!! Guys, I say!! The pic below showing the survival kit for snow areas was clicked in this place
It was all fun till I slipped and fell, this time on a rock. I hurt my pelvis bone and that was the end of it. I just wanted to get back to the room now. And the trek down to the base seemed like a nightmare. Miraculously though the pain wasn’t that apparent a few minutes later and we started downhill after making a call to our driver. The trek downhill seemed a little easier though more dangerous. On the way back we collected our shoes at Gajendra’s shack. He had lit a small fire with firewood in an old rusted tin box. The warm fire felt like such a blessing and over a cup of tea he told us that if we were planning on coming the next day he’ll cook lunch for us there. We agreed. So with lunch for the next day arranged, we started to the trek base. The car was waiting for us and that was the end of day one at Auli.
Once downhill we paid the adventure shop owner and arranged for him send a taxi to our hotel the next morning too. We walked the way back to our hotel from his shop, had samosa and tea on the way. Once back all we could think of was the ski training the next day. One of the “Must Do” in my list of “To Do in this Life” We freshened up, had dinner, watched TV for a while and retired to bed. The mind was excited after the snow experience and could not sleep for a long time. Will we get up at 6:00 AM tomorrow? Wait n watch out for the next post
End of Day 4.