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Ice, ice baby! (the travelogue)

The holiday to North India in Feb (10th to 21st) was special for many reasons.It was my first to that part of the country. It was my first experience of a snowfall! And I also got the chance to get introduce myself to a new sport – skiing.

The worst part about holidays is of course, coming back. It took me a while to recover from this trip. The exhaustion only hit me when I got back home. Besides the fact that I badly injured my left knee and that took a toll on my usual energy levels.

The journey to Auli took me to a few other places including Delhi, Dehradun, Rishikesh, Haridwar and Joshimath. Some moments, some people and some incidents that take me back to the 10 days of fun, adventure and good times.

(PS: In my usual style, I have gotten rather carried away with the words, as with the pictures so be warned).

(PPS: If you just want to see the pictures, they’re here in this Auli Album. The pictures also contain some sights in Dehdradun, Rishikesh, Joshimath and Haridwar besides Auli.

(PPS: Enjoy 🙂

[Ice, Ice, Baby! A travelogue on Auli]

A travelogue on Auli, Uttaranchal, via Delhi, Dehradun, Rishikesh, Haridwar and Joshimath

An introduction to speed driving, Dilli ishtyle:
We made the mistake of telling our Delhi cab fella that we had a train to catch. The journey from the airport to Old Delhi Railway station will remain imprinted in my memory forever as the innovative guy found spaces where there weren’t any and bullied everything on the road. He raced like he was on an F1 track and nearly got us into a ditch a few times. After all his daredevil tricks, he got us across to the station in about 45 minutes, which I believe is a good time in peak hour traffic.

How I nearly spilled my guts in the Himalayas:
[Enroute to Auli, the Ganges accompanies the road for most of the journey, making for some very scenic views. All along the first couple of hours, the banks are dotted with adventure camps.]
The bus journey from Dehradun to Joshimath was unforgettable. We got the last seats as we had not booked earlier. As it so happened, half of Dehradun seemed to be headed to Joshimath that day. We bumped up and down all the way, thanks to the awful seats until my innards protested loudly.

It was an 11 hour journey. My head felt like it was being pounded by a hammer, while my back felt like it would never recover. Thankfully, I hadn’t eaten much that morning. Otherwise, I was half expecting my guts to fall out all over the seats and onto aisle. Just like the old man in front of us.

Riding up to Auli in a cable car (supposedly the longest in India):
[This is the only way up to Auli in the winter when it snows and with the gorgeous views it afforded, we couldn't complain!]The cable car ride from Joshimath to Auli was so thrilling, I nearly tripped out of the car. They had the good sense to keep the door shut, of course.

It took us from the town of Joshimath, upto the town of Auli. Because of the snow, the road had all but disappeared and this is the only way to commute. (I wish we had cable cars in Bangalore). As the car went higher, we were treated to some fabulous views of snow covered coniferous trees and peaks all around. What a sight! I drank it all in greedily. The cable car deposited us at a tower, from where we then had to walk to another chair car that transported us to the GMVN resort, where our 7 day skiing program was to be held.

Facts about skiing – Rumble and Tumble (or a taste of how Humpty Dumpty felt when he kept falling off the wall):
[The beginners ski slope where we all fell the first two days. Falling and getting up with those heavy boots and skis was not easy at all!]
The first two days at the beginners’ slopes were the greatest fun as we kept falling and rolling down the hill everytime. And laughing at each other. You can land up in the strangest positions. Legs, hands, skis entwined in such a way that it takes some time to figure out how to “unentwine!”

Walk like an Egyptian:
The ski boots were bulky and made me feel like I was doing a Michael Jackson moonwalk in the forward direction (and of course, the much clumsier version)! The skis were heavy and kept sliding. When I complained loudly, the instructor says, “Skiis are meant for sliding, Anitaji.” I had to shut up, then.

Walking in the snow proved to be a real challenge. Actually, you can’t really walk. It’s more a combination of slipping and sliding and everytime I fell, it would take me a few years to get back on my feet again. In the end, I would just slide down the steps in the sitting position if I need to go down – that turned out to be the fastest way.

Hilly people are friendlier…:
I’ve noticed this in the North East too. When in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, the people seem more laid back and easy going. When you come down to the plains (like Delhi) there is a huge change in attitudes. People are more aggressive, nosy and rude. The people at the Auli skiing place were really friendly and nice. Basic observation: People from hilly towns are generally nicer (please note, observation not based on data but on experience!).

Precious people:
Skiing apparently is a popular sport. I met some lovely folks:

Emma: A dancer from Wales, UK. A lovely girl who sings like a dream and has been traveling in India for more than 5 months. I’ve asked her to keep a journal once she gets back from the 24 day Nepal trek she’s doing next as I’m sure it’ll make for interesting reading![The very sweet lassie from Wales, Emma]

Romain: Her companion, a Frenchman who lives in the UK. Both dancers and two of the most flexible people I have seen in a while. They brought a new meaning to the word ‘elasticity’ of the body! Some of the moves they demonstrated will definitely land me in hospital.

Grishma: The sweet girl from Mumbai who would chat nineteen to a dozen and avoided the slopes like plague after falling too often on the first two days! After that, she was a permanent fixture in front of the bukhari. She refused to go anywhere else!

Rani: The Israeli guy who we so teased mercilessly regarding his name that he contemplated changing it while in India. He’s been traveling all over India and has seen more of it than probably most of us have. When quizzed about his future plans, he comes up with his favourite response: I don’t know!

Tim: The Englishman from Birmingham who kept us optimistic everyday with his predictions of “glorious weather”. And we did actually get some great weather! [Tim, the Englishman who made sure everyday was glorious!]

The Bangalore Boys: Sharath and Uttam who are now planning to get their own URL where they will host mainly censored stuff. And Tim promises to be a daily visitor.

George and Mel: Who stuck to each other like glue during most of the trip. The fact that they’re still recently married might have something to do with it. Mel also received an award for the most number of tries at going up the slopes on the ski-lift. The poor girl didn’t have much success.

And all the others – Suruchi, Meeraj, Mayur, Ailush, Rakesh & Pooja, Gayatri etc.

Hills = Increased appetite + more hot, steamy food!
[My appetite increased two-fold at those sides. Not a good thing at all, I tell you!]The food at GMVN, Auli was nice and homely. After a morning’s skiing, we would head straight for the mess and not be disappointed as the food is usually hot and well prepared. I ate like a hog during our 7-day stay. I was also pretty hungry most of the time and I’ll blame it on the heights.

Refining the art of time pass – Poker!
[Playing poker turned out to be the best way to spend the cold nights]
Rani taught everyone how to play poker so we presume it’s an Israeli version. After that, there was no looking back. We would order some lemon tea and soup and spend hours in the very cold restaurant. But thankfully, they never threw us out. The last day was the best when Romain and I made a killing at the table at the expense of another Englishman called David. We’re so happy he joined in the game.

Our third most favourite place:
After the slopes and the canteen was the bukhari – a fireplace that we would have probably frozen to death without. In the evenings and nights, when it hit about -100 degree centigrade (or thereabouts!), many of us would spend hours in front of it before hitting the cold beds!

Our very cool ski gurus:
The instructors, Ajay, Vijayant, Mahesh, Seema etc. at the course were really good. As we struggled to get our snow plough right and not keel over in a most unflattering manner, they would come skiing down the slopes from the topmost part with panache; swerve, curve around and come to a screeching halt just 2 inches before us. Oooh! We gaped in the meanwhile…

Women on top!
The ladies dorm actually was a envied place as we had running water, hot water brought in for us (when there was no electricity), someone to light our bukhari, someone to serve us bed tea. The guys unfortunately suffered in their dorms, where even running water had been cut off because of the snow blockages in the pipes 🙂 So we were a really pampered and lucky lot in comparison.

Everyone can sing:
The singing sessions in front of the fire were good fun. Rani turned out to be an accomplished guitarist. A few great singers were discovered in the process. The Bangalore Boys actually carried around lyrics for songs so they looked like choir boys as they sang out from their sheets. Emma treated us to her lovely voice (if she wasn’t a dancer, she could probably look at singing as her other option!) and Rani who strummed along and kept us entertained.

The slippery contraption that transports you up the slopes:
”[TheThis cause a lot of grief and amusement. Coming down the slopes was one thing. You ski some and slide down some. But going back up turned out to be another challenge. At the bottom of the ski slopes is a contraption called the ski-lift. It’s a really strange device that has been invented and I am not sure whose brilliant mind was responsible for this, but I must add that that whoever was, obviously did not know much about usability.

So this long handle with a rubber disc comes hurling towards you. You need to get hold of that firmly, hang on to it with your dear life, make sure the skis are straight and let the contraption pull you up. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite a pain for several of our members. The first attempts were especially hilarious as people were falling all over the place! In fact, poor Mel even got an award later in the week for the most number of unsuccessful tries at the ski-lift!

The second highest peak in India – Nanda Devi:
[Nanda Devi is the second highest peak in India]The second highest in the Indian sub-continent (7817 mtrs), towering above the ski slopes. On the 4th day, we had really good weather when it was clearly visible. Later, it went into hiding amongst the clouds and we were lucky if we could catch a glimpse.

The dogs of Auli:
[The cutest snow dog ever!!]I fell in love with Kallu, who was the cutest dog ever! Rambo (who earned his name because of his “don’t come into my territory, or I’ll kill you” attitude, towards other dogs) and a dozen others gave us company on the slopes. They rolled in the snow like it was soft carpet and not freezing cold. Kallu often came into the mess to beg for food once to often into the canteen. And when he made those beautiful eyes at me, I couldn’t help but slip him a chapatti or two.

Those Mutton momos:
The little town of Auli boasts of 3 restaurants (besides the canteen) and Tim mentioned eating momos at one of them so we decided to give it a try too. We had to give the guy a day’s advance notice so he could procure the meat. George was very suspicious about what meat it was, but we decided to overlook the fact that it might not be mutton! The guy, who also lived in the shack, he called a restaurant cooked them in rather large quantities as about 15 of us cuddled into his tiny shack. About 20 plates disappeared in no time. Yummy!

Religion and adventure in the sleepy, peaceful town of Rishikesh:
[Peaceful town of Rishikesh!]On the way back from Auli, we stoped at Rishikesh. We made a quick trip to the famous Laxman Jhula and Muni-ki-Reti where the sadhus are supposed to converge in large numbers. Unfortunately, there were only a couple. We did however catch sight of a large number of rafters. Religion and adventure rests side by side on the river Ganges. We walked across the famous Laxman Jhula and it’s rather scary when it moves from side to side. Just before the Jhula is a German Bakery filled with foreigners (but I don’t think either the confectionary or the foreigners were German!).

Where’s the religion in Haridwar?
[Noisy town of Haridwar!]Noiser, uglier and definitely a more aggressive town than Rishikesh. Everyone wanted to sell you something! From porters at the Railway Station to people on the road (rooms, tourist guide, religious stuff). The atmosphere in the town left me unimpressed as did the people. We attended the evening aarti at the Ganges and were accosted with about a dozen men asking for donations (all for Ganga maintenance!). Perhaps they should just treat the river better and not pollute it so much.

The aarti turned out to be quite a long drawn affair. The money collecting human machines went around again (this time for the aarti fund!). Finally, at about 6.30 pm lots of flowers/coconuts/and other holy stuff was immersed in the river. This might be a part of the maintenance plan, but I’m not sure it’s doing the Ganges any good.

Peaceful Dehdradun:
[Where thousands of streams converge!]I’d definitely rate Ooty and Coorg higher than this town, especially in terms of atmosphere and cleanliness (a lot of plastic littered everywhere). And it was very crowded. The weather however was really pleasant. And we passed some very pretty scenic sights on the road. We made a trip to a place called Sahasra Dhara, where thousands of stream converge making it some kind of a holy place, but that’s all we had time for.

The Plastic Menace:
The amount of plastic strewn around these small North Indian towns is alarming and frightening. The place looks like it is clogged with plastic (side roads, drains, bins). I am not sure whether the people and the government realize what they are doing to their natural resources but it’s a sorry sight indeed.

A case of the Delhi Belly:
[A little kid in front of the Jama Masjid in Delhi!]In Delhi, I had intentions of going to Paranthawala Galli at Chandni Chowk after recommendations from a Delhiite I met in Auli. Unfortunately, I felt rather lost when I reached the place. And very alien. Do I imagine it or is it for real that people in Delhi stare a lot? In Jama Masjid, I felt like a hundred eyes were on me as I strolled down the road infested with beggars and people selling the weirdest stuff. Delhi always makes me uncomfortable, and this time was no exception.

After a quick round of the Jama Masjid, we went across to CP instead and had a huge Chinese meal at a place called Chinese Room. Later in the evening, a pal from Delhi, Abhishek joined in and accompanied us for an intensive shopping round (Delhi Haat/Sarojini Nagar) and some intensive eating – fudge, lemon tarts, apple pie, gol gappas (ooh, spicy!). Abhi seemed to have an immense appetite for food and I guess we very good company for him!

Bangalore Blues:
Back in Bangalore, suddenly, after Delhi wide and tree-lined roads, it’s suddenly difficult to drive in Bangalore’s potholed, speedbreaker infested narrow lanes. The day after I landed up, it took me 2 and a half hours to get to office – a distance of 12 kilometres. I nearly tore out my remaining hair in frustration. My knee hurt like hell and I must have cursed every truck driver (who had, by the way, decided to drive on the wrong side of the road!). I wished that we could transport all of Delhi’s nice roads here. Ah, I think we’d have the perfect city then!

The Auli Album


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