WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS: VAIBHAV MEHTA
GREAT FROM: New Delhi
GREAT FOR: Adventure junkies, thrill-seekers
Winter may be on its way out, but the white slopes of Auli in the Himalayas of Uttarakhand still have enough snow this month for outdoor enthusiasts to have a field day. Head up to the ‘ski capital of Uttarakhand’ to make the most of the last snow. The town offers more than just skiing, though – go snowboarding, slide down on a circular tube, or trek in three- inch-deep snow in oak forests. You’ll be surrounded by sublime views at all times, thanks to the Upper Himalayan range, which includes India’s second-highest peak, Nanda Devi, as a backdrop.
A 10-hour bone-rattling ride from Dehradun gets you to Joshimath, the base town to Auli. The scenery is pretty: the highway hugs a cliffside for the entire journey, and the emerald Ganges winds its way like a thread in the valley below. It would make sense to stay the night at Joshimath and make the 45-minute trip to Auli the next morning. Auli is connected to Joshimath via a cable ropeway and open chair-car ride. (The open chair-car will also get you up to the highest point for skiing.)
Once you’re in Auli, get down to business. You needn’t have any prior experience to go skiing – but your session will last an hour, which is usually longer than a beginner’s stamina lasts. Still, swooping down slopes affords quite an adrenaline rush, not only in those brief moments of intense concentration when you’re trying to find and keep your balance, but even more when you skid to a halt. The harder part, and the stamina-sucker, is carrying your skis back up the slope, with the weight of your snow boots dragging you down. But that’s exactly what earns you a slope again.
Snowboarding is also on the cards. This too, like skiing, challenges the core muscles when you learn how to strike and maintain your balance on the slippery snow. Low-octane activities like tube-sliding require you to park your bottom inside a big, black inflated tube, and go whooshing down the slope. And, if nothing else, there are always snow fights.
But adventures in Auli don’t end at snow sports. The Gorson trek, which lasts around two to three hours, takes you through golden oak forests that reach upwards to blue skies. After a short walk over crunchy, muddy snow, you’ll enter a dense forest that’s rooted in a deep, soft and fresh patch of white. Pockets of sunlight filter through the mesh of branches, creating a magical play of shadow and light on the white canvas. After a kilometre of walking, the forest opens up into the sprawling Gorson Valley. The highest meadow, Gurso Bugyal, offers uncompromised 360º views of the Upper Himalayan Range. Look out for the long row of peaks, including Nanda Devi, Dronagiri, and Neelkanth.
Regardless of what you choose – skiing, snowboarding or trekking in the snow – they all deserve a little celebration. While there isn’t exactly an après-ski culture in Auli, treat yourself to a hearty cup of chai and a plate of steaming-hot Maggi at the end of a hard day’s fun.
Travel to Auli NOW for the last-minute skiing, or you’ll have to wait TILL next season. Check out LPMI’s March 2018 issue. Get your copy from the nearest newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.