The next morning we woke up early to go to Auli, a very well known skiing destination. As we stepped outside our guesthouse we were greeted by the morning sun shining on the snow clad peaks giving them a golden hue. It was almost as if the mountains were wearing golden crowns.
Rajesh was there waiting for us with the cab and on time as always. Auli is a steep 17 km uphill climb from Joshimath that takes one from an elevation of 6500 feet above sea level to an elevation of 10200 feet above sea level. The road was narrow, steep and winding with sharp curves and bends. The drive takes one through the establishment of the Indian Army’s Ibex Brigade who are specialists in high altitude warfare. Men from this brigade did wonders in the Kargil war. After passing through the Army establishment we entered the local unit area of the Indo Tibetian Border Police(ITBP) who are designated with the task of being the Sentinels of the Himalayas. It is incredible that the mighty Himalayas who have faithfully guarded India against invasions from the north since forever also need sentinels. The road to Auli is a good one and is maintained by the Army and the ITBP. The chill in the air increased sharply as we steadily gained in altitude and devoured kilometer after kilometer. The road passes through a temperate coniferous forest comprising mostly Deodar and Golden Oak. With every meter gained in altitude the road offers fascinating views of the greatest physical feature on the face of the Earth. After about 40 minutes of driving we reached Cliff Top Inn the terminal point of the road. The place was just awesome. We have all seen the Alpine meadows of Europe in Bollywood movies. The place that we were at would give Europe more than a run for its money.

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(Left)Himalayas wearing a golden crown in the morning sunlight (Right) Himalayas from Auli

We have a filling but very expensive breakfast at Cliff Top Inn. The Inn itself is a very comfortable one and offers stunning views of the mountains. There is an artificial pool of water near the Inn. The water is crystal clear and reflection has a view of the majestic Nanda Devi peak. There a ropeway to Auli from Joshimath, the longest in Asia, but is closed in the month of April for maintenance purposes.

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(Left)The pool at Cliff Top Inn (Right) The Nanda Devi from Auli

We decided to trek to the snow fields on the slopes on the Gorson top. We were told that it was a steep 4 km uphill climb by the local guides. After some consultation amongst ourselves we decided against hiring a guide and decided to go it alone. The path went through a stretch of meadows, then through a dense jungle and then again through meadows to the snow fields. During winters these meadows form some of the best skiing slopes in all of Asia. So with high spirits, water bottles and a song in our hearts we started our uphill trek in the shadow of the Himalayas. However, after trekking about 200 metres reality struck us. This wasn’t going to be an easy nice walk but a taxing and challenging trek. At that altitude the air is much rarer than what we are used to and we were getting exhausted easily. Also the sunlight was so intense that many of started feeling skin burns. But the call of the mountains proved to be too potent and we started afresh. The going was slow in the beginning but after about half a km of trekking we got used to the conditions and picked up speed. After about walking in the unforgiving sun for about 20 minutes we entered the shady and cool floor of the coniferous forest. There were patches of snow here and there and the air was abuzz with the chirping and twittering of birds. The sun light was lighting the forest floor in definite bands of light as it filtered through the forest cover. Walking became a little more comfortable even though the terrain became more difficult to negotiate. We religiously stuck to the path beaten by ponies that carry tourists. It is not difficult to get lost in these forests as several trails criss cross and one can easily pick the wrong trail. After walking for about about 25 minutes through the forest we came across a small temple dedicated to the Padiyar Devta. The presence of the Almighty was a reassuring one for those of us who were having doubts about our decision to go for the trek without a guide. We rested for about 10 minutes at the steps of the temple. All this while Chulbula, a dog belonging to Cliff Top Inn had been with us, resting with us and walking with us. He had proven to us why dogs were man’s best friend. With renewed energy we go to our feet and started the uphill climb gain. The snow fields came in sight after about 10 minutes of walking and provided us with the much needed motivation to continue. The next 10 minutes of walking led us out of the forest to another stretch of meadows at the end of which lay the snow field. As we came into the direct sunlight again we saw what was clearly the most beautiful view of the imposing Himalayas beyond the rolling meadows. If the Ganga represented female divinity then the Himalayas clearly stood for male dominance.
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(Left) The gang at the steps of the temple on the trekking trail (Right) The first view of the snow field after emerging from the forest
After soaking in the beauty and coming out of the spell cast upon us by Mother Nature we continued on the trekking trail that went up and down the rolling meadows. We were now getting tired easily as we were approaching 12000 feet in altitude. The air was considerably chilly now. Suddenly we came across the skull of an Ibex, the hardy mountain goat of the Himalayas. Suddenly the reality of life dawned upon the us. The struggle for existence continues even here in this heavenly place. The Ibex was probably killed by a snow leopard that was ensuring its own survival. The snow leopard has earned the sorbriquet of the Shadow of the Himalayas for its stealthy ways.
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(Left) A view of the forest and the towering Himalayas from the meadows (Right) The Ibex skull that we found on the trek
Leaving the skull behind we started again our our trek that had now become a trudge. After an arduous walk of another 40 minutes we finally the reached the snow fields. We were happy, awed and proud. The view of the Himalayas was simply astounding.
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(Left) Kamet from the snow field (Right) The snow field
The world seems to be different when standing at more than 12000 feet above sea level. By now clouds had started gathering over the high Himalayas. Weather at these high altitudes changes faster than one can anticipate and after spending about 30 minutes at the snow filed we started on the downhill journey back to Cliff Top.
The call of the mountains had made us do what we had thought was beyond us. Nature has a certain mystical pull that is hard to explain in words but it is the same phenomenon that brings out great poets and authors in some people. In lesser mortals like us, it gave us the motivation to reach for the skies and lifted our spirits whenever they started to sag. I guess this as close as one can get to experiencing beauty in its most chaste expression.


  • hemant  says:

    Hi anshuman,
    Very Nice blog beautifully captured in the photographs. Keep it up.

  • anshuman srivastava  says:

    very nice and vivid description of the place. The description combined with the pics makes you feel that you are actually present there.I have always had a tempatation to visit Auli and the descrition is making it irresitible now.

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