Saturday, December 8, 2012

Riding The Snows

It's an irresistible color, white. It tugs at the heartstring and beckons one to Himalayan heights every winter, the freezing cold notwithstanding. There is plenty you can do with the crisp white flakes as they descend lightly from the laden skies: just scoop them up in handfuls and play ball, and hop onto a sledge and let the sledge man run down the hill side with you, or put on a pair of skies and zoom down to slopes at 60 miles an hour.
Yes! If you're a real adventure freak and want to make fun on snows you don't need to spend too much going Switzerland, Austria or Denmark, you can just make it in our neighboring country India.
GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) has winterized suit visiting groups as well as pockets of all sizes. That's right it is just at your door step, it's all about Auli, the best of the very few places in India where skiing is major pastime. Auli is nestled in the lap of the snow-capped peaks of Garhwal Himalayas in the Chamoli District of Western Uttar Pradesh (Uttaranchal), near the world famous religious shrine of Badrinath & Kedarnath. It offers panoramic view of Himalayan peaks sweeping over 180 degrees including Mt. Nanda Devi, Mana Parbat, Dunagiri, Bithartoli, Hathi Parbat, and Gori Parbat. Realizing the potential of Auli as a ski-resort, the Government of U.P. had it surveyed by French and Australian experts, who favorably compared the slopes of Auli to be the best in the world. Although skiing is being enjoyed in Kashmir, Shimla and Manali in India, Auli has been considered the best of its kind even in the Asia. Apart from skiing festivals that are held here since 1986, National Championship under the aegis of Winter Game Federation of India has been held at Auli in March every year. What catalyzed my travel plan was the 5th National Skiing Championship (March 1-3, 2005). I have been so lucky of having the opportunity to take part as a layperson in the festival held this year. The events included Alpine and Nordic skiing with a lot of other funs made by hundreds of experts and amateurs. Toddlers were not deprived of the dazzling charm of skiing; they enjoyed it sitting in the middle of bucket.
Let's have a look into the route map of reaching Auli from Bangladesh. One can take a direct bus trip to Kolkata from Dhaka and then to Delhi by train. Super fast Rajdhana Express is available every day which leaves Hawra at 4.15 p.m and reaches New Delhi next day in the morning at 9.30 a.m. A.C. 3 tier will cost you Rs. 1500 and A.C. 2 tier Rs. 2200 respectively including evening snacks with tea and coffee, delicious veg or nonveg dinner followed by desert and bed tea with breakfast. Getting reservation in Rajdhani Express is not very difficult in foreigner's quota if you show your Passport and Dollar exchange receipt. One can also fly direct to New Delhi by Air. Your next destination is Haridwar a famous holy place in India. Dehradun Express (Up) leaves Old Delhi junction every night at 10.15 p.m. and reaches Haridwar next morning at 6.30 a.m. You can avail return trip to Delhi by the same train Dehradun Express (down) which leaves Haridwar for Delhi at 10.30 p.m regularly. Auli is only 296 k.m. away from Haridwar. But reaching Auli is not very easy; again it is not very difficult too. This 296 k.m. crisscross and up n down hill motor drive is a bit risky. A minute mistake of the driver may risk your life and you cannot be rescued up from 2000-4000 m downhill. It is wise not to be motorized if it is raining. However despite the risky part of the journey this 10 hours long drive will bring you a breath-taking experience of adventure and thrill of motor riding in deep hilly forest. The pristine natural beauty in addition to alpine atmosphere temples with abundance of fresh air and tranquil environs lure many a tourist. Buses and Tata Somus are awaiting for Joshimath leaves the terminal in every half an hour from 5.30a.m. to 9.30 a.m. at Rs.200 -300. Remember that you have to ensure getting on a bus between 5 .30 9.30 a.m. otherwise you cannot reach Joshimath (the nearest stoppage to Auli) before sunset. If you are late, you're under risk since it is a 10 hours long journey bus which leaves after 9.30 a.m. usually end its drive by the dusk anywhere in between Devprayag (a spectacular hill station where the film KISHNA has been picturized) to Joshimath. Problem is to find out a good hotel anywhere other than Joshimath where hotels and resorts are available. A double bed ranges from Rs. 300 600 including hot & cold water supply which is indispensably required because Auli is even very cold in summer. In winter the frizzing temperature will force you wearing have woolen jackets. Hotels are not very luxurious but livable. Some good hotels and resorts are underway. You can also check in the Official Resort of Auli, Cliff Top Club which has been operated by GMVN. But you must require a prior reservation from any tour operating agencies even in off pick season. The Cliff Top resort has a central heating system imported from Czechoslovakia. Chase the opportunity any how because this is the only place from where you can enjoy a birds eye view of the snow, the scenic beauty of Gharwal Himalayas as well as other impressive events around you. If you're unfortunate you have to stay overnight in Joshimath. In that case don't forget to get a wakeup call by 5.30 a.m. The dawn will open up a whole new world to you at Auli. It is only 13 k.m. by road from Joshimat can be traveled by a hired jeep. But the stretch between Joshimath and Auli has been blocked due to heavy snowfall most of the time in winter. Nevertheless the best and the most popular way to drop in Auli is by 3.9 k.m. rope way (cable car). Which operates from 7.30 a.m to 6.30 p.m and a round trip will be charged Rs. 200. The trekking distance from Joshimath to Auli is only 4.15 k.m.
Now you're at Asia's longest ropeway in zig-back system imported from Austria in 1990s. The ropeway connecting Joshimath with the upper slopes of Auli is upheld by 10 towers of self-supporting steel structures. Remote controlled hydraulic and pneumatic banking systems make it the safest possible ropeway. Besides, the most sophisticated electronic circuitry with telemetry and storm warning devices are used to minimize human error. As the cable car moved deeper into the domain of huge white peaks, the ground below you change from green to green-and-white to absolute white. It takes only 15 minutes to reach the 8th tower and surprisingly you will find yourself on a white carpet and you're free to wander all around the snow. The gentlest slopes, with runs up to 200m are ideal for beginners while comparatively steep runs of 500m are for intermediate level skiers. The pros, on the other hand, would like to check out the precipitous 2000m stretches, many of which lie in the quiet outside a busy T-bar. The equipment can be hired at a state-run ski shop in Joshimath or Auli and locals, who have taken advanced training in the sport should be willing to teach you for Rs 150- 200 per day. A complete set of equipment skis, sticks, gloves, jackets, boots and goggles, come for Rs 250 per day. You can also get enrolled in 7-days non-certificate course having 25 seats or a 14-days module which is a certificate course having 15 seats conducted from Jan March. Your next surprising Dhamaka is Heli-skiing. A helicopter is used to take advanced skiers up to Apherwat peak from where they could choose their descent route. Otherwise a four hour uphill trek, it takes only 20 minutes to descend from Apherwat. But this limited facility is available (Rs. 1000 per trip) at the time of National Skiing Championship. The slopes of Auli also have the luxury of an 800-m long Chair Lift, linking the lower slopes with upper slopes.
Visualize this: the Nanda Devi towering above you while you are skiing down a 20km snow-clad slope from a height of 2500m to 3050m.s does the picture excite your imagination? Learning ski is actually not very difficult as I discovered the fact few years back when I had my 1st skiing course at Kufri in India, though mastering the art requires dedication. The GMVN maintains the slopes aided by two snow-beater machines imported from Germany, which ensure that the slopes are always well dressed. Both sides of the slopes are covered with oak and coniferous trees that break the speed of the wind and this makes it ideal for skiing. The cross country runs of 10-20 km with added advantage of fresh snow from crisscrossing streams, tearing down the snowlines of the European Alps. You have whole the day left for skiing but in winter snowfall stars by evening. Still some snow lovers continued riding and you can take chance too; as I did, believe me it was an entirely new experience one should not miss.
So! Don't get delayed, pack your haversack and rock n roll to the Himalayan Alps, The Auli. The best time to visit Auli is from December to March but snows lasts till late June. Auli sure has something to offer to all, whether to seek a respite from hustle and bustle of the city life or conquering the challenging heights of the glorious peaks.
The slanted rays of the sun change their hues in sync. They acquire a rosy tinge before fading away in the dusk. The nazara will leave an indelible impression on your minds, calling you back to Auli when the snows return.


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