Himalayan High Auli
Oh, you are going to Auli? You will love it. It’s stunning.” I heard this effusive statement so many times prior to my trip that I was already looking forward to visiting this paradise, weeks before I set out. The only hitch was that people were recommending the hill-station for a wintery rendezvous. And here I was, visiting at the end of winters. Given that it’s a much celebrated mountain destination, I knew that it couldn’t be bad, skiing or no skiing.
Auli is located in the Chamoli districtof Uttrakhand, with perhaps the best views of the great Himalayan range. It is kown as one of the best ski resorts for Indians and boasts of International standards for the sport. When I was told that I my skiing experience depended on the snowfall, I kept my fingers crossed in hope that the snow Gods might look down upon us in late March.
When I set my eyes on Auli, I was left speechless. I was taken aback by how close the Himalayan range was. For the couple of nights that I was there, it was a ritual to sip my morning and evening coffee with the sun rising and setting over these snow capped peaks. It was a riveting sight to behold. Even from the window of my room, the mountain views were abound.The suns first rays lit up white-topped peaks in the distance with the clear blue sky as a perfect backdrop – the scene looked nothing short of a painting.I put my skiing desire to rest, thinking that on this trip, I would explore the ‘non-skiing’ side of Auli and would come back in the thick of winters. Leaving my perch in the balcony,I decided to walk around the Himalayan Eco Lodge, where I was staying.
In the company of outdoors
Walk to Parsari Village
A short 1.5 km walk from our lodge to Parsari was replete with awe-inspiring views at every turn. At every bend of the hilly road, a new picture emerged. Children climbing trees or playing on the streets, women toiling in the fields or walking home with stacks of woodbalanced on their heads and small wooden houses overlooking acres of greenery and paddy fields –sights that the city life deprives us of and hence, are always welcome. It was heartwarming to see the simple local life that is preserved with simplicity and genuine care. The smiles on the local faces were testimony enough for a satisfied life.I couldn’t contain whipping out my camera and capturing every moment to savour later.
Given that I am a newly inducted birding enthusiast, I found Auli to be one the best places for birdwatchers to roost.A reception of birdsong right outside my window when I had arrived at the lodge, left no doubt. On an early morning walk close to the lodge, I spotted a Merlin perched on a huge tree. That triggered having my eyes forever peeled for familiar and new avian friends. I was delighted to spot high altitudefeathered creatureslike the Black bulbul, Verditer flycatcher and a chatty clutch of Red-fronted Serin. If only I had more days at hand to go on longer walks, I would have been able to check off some more names from my list.
The sweeping views of the mountains from Auli were certainly the best from all of my trips to Uttrakhand. The good part is that one does not even have to trek to a peak for this.Basking in the beauty of the Himalayan range is easy if you have a vantage location like the Himalayan Eco Lodge. While I had an all day viewing platform in my balcony, the best time to photograph the mountains is early morning around 5.30 am. The sky is a deep purplish blue and the unseen rays of the sun throw in a tinge of orange. Pulling myself from below the cosy blanket required great determination, but it was completely worth it. The staggering Himalayan peaks looked simply spectacular and the trees add stunning silhouettesin the foreground added to the photographs.
Red fronted Serin
A trip to Gurson meadows(3 kms from auli)is a bonafide detour that people take in Auli.
It was part of my itinerary as well, but I had another adventure in store. It is said that the trek from Auli to Gurson is a special treat in the winters. The thickly snowed-in route is an adventure that trekkers love. The views from up there are some of the best in the region.
On the last morning in Auli, there was a knock on the door - a little too early for my liking. Rubbing my eyes, I groggily opened the door to a smiling staff member. There has been snow the previous night in heavy drifts. Everyone had been aware of my disappointment about not getting to ski. There had been snow in the Number 10 region of Auli and the skis and other equipment were already waiting for me in the lounge area. With the sleep miraculously out of the window, I was happy to ditch the warm bed and rush to meet my instructor. Even a few inches of snow would be good enough for me to get an orientation. When we reached the spot, I first took a good look at the virgin snow on the slopes – they left my jaw dropped in awe. I got into my skiis, jackets and glasses and nodded to every word that the instructor said. No matter how much one tells you about the techniques of skiing, you have to experience it first hand to know how difficult it is to not go spread-eagle. It must have been three hours before I made a final slump to the white bed of snow, asking for the class to be over. It had been 180 minutes of falling on my behind, giggling away at my awkward stance and then finally a gleeful cry of victory when I actually managed to stay on my feet for a few meters. With skiing checked off my list, it was a perfect way to end the trip to Auli.