Motion sickness is the most formidable nemesis for a mountain lover. The irony of wanting to gaze at the peaks, while your car wends through the sinuous roads, while being struck out cold with an antihistamine pill is literally, ‘hard to digest’. But such is life.
It was a nine-day summer getaway for a loop around the lower Himalayas with Great Indian Outdoors, and I had landed in Haridwar, an ideal jumping point for the region. My eyelids drooping with the effect of the pill, I asked the cab driver to wake me when we got closer to Jayalgarh (115km), my first stop in the journey. Fortunately, he proactively woke me up long before we had reached, so I got to take in the stunning views right from Devprayag – a holy town where the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Rivers meet to form the Ganga. From here, we had to follow the Alaknanda upstream, while it splashed at the base of the narrow gorge of mountains.
Despite the river splashing and slipping on the rocks, there was a sense of calm about it. Our car looped along the mountainside, clutching to the narrow road and leaving a wake of dust behind. I peeped below to see the beautiful contrast of the white water against the dull brown of the jagged mountainside, that grew greener as you raised your eyes to the top. Each bend offered a ravishing scene, more dramatic than the last. The effect of the pill had already vanished with the gorgeous setting. I was wide awake, all senses present to the next nine days that lay ahead.
If a riverside luxury campsite floats the boat for weekend vacationers, Jayalgarh’s Camp High 5 should be on top of the list. I, for once was certainly impressed. The campsite consists of luxury tented pods complete with homely furnishings and an attached bathroom. A common pavilion for lunch, bonfire area, local flavours for meals and ample activities makes this an ideal summer destination for a short holiday – especially for families and groups. My days were filled with long walks in the Jayalgarh village, a rafting session down the Alaknanda with expert instructors, bridge slithering and dipping my feet in the water at the personal strip of sand. I could have done more activities like rappelling, bird watching, and hiking, but I was just warming up. The 3 days passed swiftly with a true back-to-nature experience, without the hardships of being Robinson Crusoe. The holiday was kickstarted on a comfy note and I couldn’t wait for the next destinations.
A short hop, 70km east of Jayalgarh, lies the all-green base for hiking, the village of Chopta. With my new-found interest in birding, I was keen on visiting the destination as it is well-known for sighting the Himalayan Monal, also the state bird of Uttarakhand. Camped in cosily at Chalkot in Chopta, I legged the 4km trek of Tunganath Temple (highest Shiva temple in the world) on one day and covered Deoriatal, an easy hike for beginners. The big plus for taking this detour was sighting the elusive Monal. A long-drawn dream of making the Monal my subject was fulfilled and I came back many photographs happier.
A quick stop back at Jayalgarh, and I was ready for the last leg of the journey – to be in the company of snow-capped mountains of Auli.
Free from the crowds and commercialization that is seen in India’s top ski destination, Gulmarg, Auli is the best alternative for peace-seekers. The town is a magnet for family vacations and weekend trippers to beat the heat of the plains. Even though it gets busy in the summers (and winters for skiing), you’re never too far away from an isolated spot to unwind. Mine was the Himalayan Eco Lodge. It would be hard to imagine a more idyllic place than my own window, from where I could spot the snow-capped Himalayas and vast swathes of green hillsides. The pleasure of having first row seats to this gorgeous view was amped up by a short ski lesson as well. Even though I skidded and fell on my backside a number of times, I eventually managed to go down a short hill without gravity winning over. What Auli needs is a week’s time to learn the skill well and one is sure to get addicted after that.
Driving back from Auli to return to Haridwar for my train, I re-lived my best moments in the lower Himalayas. Gazing out of the window, I realised that I had not felt any motion sickness yet. It must have been a complete rehaul in my head. The nemesis was finally defeated.
Note: Since I added few more spots and treks to my trip, nine days were ideal for me. However, these three destinations in the lower Himalayas can surely be visited in one week.