Usually when I’m all up to my eyeballs in work, my brain screams out for a vacation. And while it’s in bad form to take off when there’s lava spewing from your mailbox, well, the mountains were calling and they promised me a short but incredibly sweet getaway. And for this detox, I’d decided to let the Kuari Pass be my soul masseuse. All I needed was to wangle a week off work. Quite easily done. And all of a sudden, it was go time!
Getting to Haridwar from the national capital was a breeze. I bunged myself and the backpack into a trusty bus and bounced joyously towards the Devbhoomi. Once at the banks of the holy Ganga, I was teamed up with a bunch of fellow travelers, on a road trip to the heavens. Literally.
The road to Auli sticks close to the rivers Ganga and Alaknanda, giving you a gorgeous view of the fresh, clean mountain waters gurgling down towards Haridwar. And the crisp, cool breeze had me hanging out of the windows in pretty much the first 5 inches up the winding roads. Now, I’d like to take a mo’ here to appreciate our driver. This fellow was the absolute king of multitasking. Not only was he constantly on the lookout for some great selfie spots but had the best playlist of local music. To top all that off, he was a complete wiz on the winding roads. You’d think with all the hairpin bends and wild state buses this one would be stressed as eff but not this dude. He was cool as a…well, a passing mountain breeze
We hit Auli after about 9 hours on the road and tumbled out of our vehicles with visible relief. The first thing to hit you about this beautiful place is the blessed silence and the towering peaks. At an elevation of over 2400 metres, you’re fairly knee deep in the Himalayan range and are treated to a sight for sore eyes. Gone are the hulking towers of concrete and the harsh fluorescent lights of civilization. They are replaced by grand, old mountains and the golden glow of sunshine. I couldn’t have been happier to have camped here for the night. I’d run up a massive appetite (well, that’s not REALLY new) and I was more than happy to just get away by myself for a couple of minutes (hours, days, weeks…). Not that I knew I had a philosopher inside me but put yourself under an inky, starry sky where you’re soaking your toes in the warm glow of a bonfire and gorging yourself on the simple and delish fare and the lines just flow through.
An early night and a great breakfast the next morning was enough to make me impatient to be on the way. A 6 hour trek to the Khulara camp was on the itinerary and boy was it worth every step I took! Now, us city rats rarely get to see nature in her full glory and that’s why we end up being lazy couch potatoes. Yours truly included. So when you make me walk through lush meadows dotted with oak, deodar, and miles and miles of gorgeous trees (I didn’t know all the names ) I may never want to stop! Except at mealtimes :P which happened at the absolutely gorgeous campsite at Tali.I could’ve never imagined the wild beauty of these mystical mountains, had I not seen it with my own eyes. Be it the grand vistas at Gurson or the famous Nanda Devi and her equally popular siblings, Dronagiri, Kamet, Chaukhamba, to name a few. Laying down among these royal giants at the Khulara camp that night made me feel a very slight bit tiny.
The next morning (last morning for ascent) was to our destination, Kuari Pass, and back again to the Khulara camp. The lush landscape and little balls of scattered around it are so gorgeous, they brought a tear to my eye. That evaporated quickly when I realized those balls of grey were in fact some sheep with serious fluff problems! They looked like walking clouds!!! Of course, I chased after them to satisfy the irresistible urge to pat them. Word to the wise. Sheep do NOT like being hugged by excitable strangers.
I nearly got my butt kicked by a ninja sheep that was, I later discovered, protecting it’s honour against me. Thank you for being around my knight in the tattered clothes aka a highly amused shepherd.
Another word to the wise. Sheep dog are also averse to strangers telling them they’re cute as hell. Right, after terrorizing the local fauna and nearly losing an eye in the process, I figured it was about time I got back to the lovely trek.
Sheep in the meadow!
Camping amidst the Himalayan views
And that’s what I did. Egged on by the victorious feelingof not having flopped halfway up the trail, I put step after determined step and was rewarded by the breathtaking sight of the grand Kuari Pass. Words fail me whenever I’ve tried to describe the first few moments I laid eyes here. Just close your eyes and imagine being taken into a corner of the world that you never thought was real. These are things photoshop and Instagram is made of. Right? The bright sunlight bouncing off the peaks, the hazy blue shadows nestling in the nooks, the slightly chilly wind waking a stream of goosebumps along my arms… Yet, that utter feeling of awe.
I want to stop for a second and thank our incredible guides here. I’m sure they knew the pull of this place for first timers and they didn’t, for a second, try to rush us there and back. After what seemed like a lifetime, I heard the call to head back to our camp in Khulara. If the charm of staying another night in tents hadn’t been so strong, I would’ve probably had a much harder time stepping back form the Kuari Pass.
A night at Khulara was followed by a downhill trek and a stopover at a quaint little market in Dhak. We were lucky enough to get some time with the locals and fascinate over the way they lived their lives far away from our ‘urban luxuries’. Lots of hard work, lots of walking, and lots of happy smiling! From here, we bundled ourselves into the waiting vehicles and were in Auli before we knew it. A final night at this campsite before (and too soon) we were heading back to our rendezvous point at Hardiwar. After farewells and promises to be in touch, it was back to base and back to the grind for poor ole me. PS: Here’s a heeooj shout out to the GIO team. You guys are ridiculously amazing and I simply cannot wait for the next time I put myself in your capable hands for a vacation of a lifetime.