Yet another shutdown brought the similar confusion this time like every year. What to do with the 9 day holiday in the shivering cold weather. This time it was a lot more uncertain and confusing as options to explore in north are limited now and most friends are either married or busy in hyd/bangalore :P. Also, i had been a lot more busy in office in last few weeks of december. After a lot of thinking my options got reduced to either going on a bike trip somewhere or going backpacking to Auli.
Just two days before the shutdown started my bro in law called me up and told me that he will also join me for the bike trip to Auli. A colleague in office also showed interest in the bike trip. Now i had more options to explore but no time to explore them. Finally on the last friday it was just decided that my bro in law, his bro and my sister (and my little nephew) all were coming in my bro in law's safari. Now just i had to decide whether i wanted to tag along with them or go on my earlier planned back packing trip. I didnt know what to do so at 11PM in the night on friday i just threw all the stuff i wanted to take along on the bed and slept. Finally i got up at 4AM and packed and we were on the road at 6AM on my bro in law's safari.
Auli is a small (toooo small, it doesnt even have enough shops leave alone a mall road) hillstation close to badrinath. The bigger city close to Auli is Joshimath which is also kind of a basecamp (ghangharia is another basecamp) from which lot of treks like valley of flowers/hemkund starts. Auli has just 3-4 hotels and few small dhabas which serve the usual maggi / tea / bun etc which is the best and cheapest food to have in hillstations. Its a long and very scenic drive by road and is mostly hilly after Rishikesh.
Just as soon as we hit the highway it was all foggy and we even got a scratch on the safari which barely hit the truck that stopped in middle of road coz it hit another truck just minutes before we reached there. Thankfully it was just a scratch and we continued our journey more cautiously after that. We had some breakfast in a dhabha and touched Rishikesh around 11ish. The road after rishikesh is broken at few spots and has landslides at other places but other than that its mostly a good road with Ganga river flowing close to the road most of the way to joshimath. The flowing river close to the road makes the route very scenic and beautiful. The best part is that i had never been on this route before in my life and i never knew that Ganga river looks so pure and beautiful after rishikesh. The water was so blue and clear that i just felt like going and sitting on the rocks on the river bank. But time wasnt on our side. Its a long drive from Delhi to Auli (500kms almost) and takes atleast 14 hours (rishikesh is just 4-5 out of these). We crossed some small cities/villages on the way and after having lunch @ dev prayag decided to drive at a stretch to reach Auli by 8. We came to know that driving in uttarakhand is not allowed from 8PM to 5AM so we had to push ourselves a little. We crossed Karnaprayag, Srinagar (Uttarakhand's version, not J&K) etc and it was already dark. Kapil kept on driving so that we atleast make it to Joshimath by 8. Priya, my nephew priyank and Ravi were sleeping at the backseat and got up around 6ish after which we were all tired and energized to talk as the way got more adventurous. We hardly saw another car on the road and it was pitch dark all around. December is not exactly the right time to visit auli as it snows only in late december or early jan when tourists start visiting and Badrinath etc close down in winters. While driving kapil and I got a glimpse of a animal on the road and we felt it wasnt a dog or pig and it surely looked like a tiger/leopard to us. All of us got alert and excited to see that and kept our eyes open to see if we would be lucky enough to see another one. We even started discussing what will happen if we have to stop somewhere and get out and the same animal comes and says hi ;) . After a while all of us again got a glimpse of a similar animal but this was much smaller than previous one and had a long tail. We just prayed that we reach in time and safely :D.
Finally we did make it to joshimath around 8:10 and started looking for hotels. GMVN b@@@@ds were not exactly friendly over phone and so I couldnt book in advance. But we did manage to get 2 rooms in GMVN joshimath guest house at a reasonable 1100/600 each (deluxe and non-deluxe room) and decided to crash early. It was awesome cold outside that we couldnt stay out much longer when we went for a walk. We slept early around 10.30ish so as to go to Auli in morning.
GMVN food was freshly cooked, and looked good but tasted very bad. Even the breakfast was tasteless. After breakfast we extended our stay @ GMVN thinking that Auli will be too cold in the night and drove to Auli. The way is again very scenic and though it was sunny it really was very cold.
It must have been like 6-8 degrees but the super cold winds made it really cold. Kapil got excited seeing some rough terrain in the open space in Auli and started driving his safari there. Auli is surrounded by barren, high and weirdly awesome hills on each side. We could see snow peaks all around from here. We clicked some photos and went ahead to the last point till which one can drive in Auli. The ropeway goes a little further than this point. There is only one hotel at this top point - Hotel clifftop which I would say is too overpriced (he showed us a 9000 rs room which wasnt worth it) but it would have been really nice to stay there as its the only hotel in that area and there is literally nothing much else around the hotel. One can have a nice and quiet (or a super party time if there is a bigger group) by staying in this hotel as there is really no disturbance from outside and you would spend most time in / around the hotel.
We had some maggis near the place at a dhabha where some locals told us that they were guides and there is a trek to a place from where you see a village which is naturally in shape of a heart and some other view which forms the shape of India map. After reaching i felt both heart and india shape were crappy talk but the trek and the view from the end point of trek were worth it. It was really really tiring more so because there was not much oxygen in air at that height. It started becoming cloudy and as we started thinking it might rain the guide said it might snow :P. We started hurrying up as there was absolutely nothing to take cover during the trek but once we reached the end it became sunny again.
We drove back to Joshimath after coming back from trek and retired to rest as we (atleast some of us :P) were really tired. We dint feel like having another crapy dinner at GMVN so we thought of trying out Hotel Drona. This was the hotel that is searchable on internet when you are looking for hotels in auli/joshimath and surprisingly the guy said it was empty and available when every one else was just talking crap and saying Auli is all full. Crazy skkkers. The food menu was very exhaustive but there was no point looking around the menu as the only things available were roti, paneer and dal and soup, and chinese would take lot of time sir. Still, the food was pretty good and this was probably the best meal we had in the trip. I walked back to the hotel with Ravi and it was really dark and we could see tons of stars in the sky. It didnt even look like the same sky we see from city which mostly just lets us see 10-20 stars at max. It was really awesome. The last time i had seen these many stars (or a little less then this) was from Rishikesh while camping. It was a pretty site.
Next morning breakfast was somehow better than GMVN standards (or may be our level came down) and after breakfast we went to "Tapovan - hot water springs". Well give it a pass, there is really nothing much there other than a small temple and a covered area where some locals are washing clothes or taking bath. We did miss tapovan by mistake and kept driving towards dont know where (we later came to know that we were going towards border :P) which was still better than tapovan. After coming back from here kapil, di and ravi went for trolley ride to Auli but i stayed back in joshimath and wandered around aimlessly. Late in evening we went to nar singh (or something similar) temple which is the place where Badrinath temple's puja is conducted during winters when Badrinath temple closes.
The temple was very different and there were no other people so it was good to visit that temple. After seeing the temple we went to main market and ate some crappy 'chaat' at a local shop. We went for dinner to a 'multi cuisine' restaurant which claimed that it served south indian and surprisingly was the only place which actually did south indian (unlike others which just claimed). We slept early after dinner so as to start on our way back by 4.30 in morning back to delhi.
All in all it was really a nice and quiet trip to Auli. Though there is hardly anything to do in Auli but it does make for a calm and quiet trip.