The fourth fall is the one when you start to learn. As your skis slice through the thick carpet of fresh snow, for about five seconds when you&rsquore upright and your imagination deems you nothing short of a world-class athlete, you feel in control. On the sixth second, you&rsquore upside down in the snow, and the world rights itself again. My impatience amused my friends, but the snowy slopes of Auli are patient teachers.
Hundreds of tourists flock to Uttarakhand&rsquos quaint little ski resort every winter for a taste of its very European charm. Elevated approximately 2,909 m above sea level, Auli is nestled amidst the giant snowy peaks of Nanda Devi, Kamet and Dunagiri, offering a spectacular view of these mountains. A week-long stay is perfectly sufficient to explore the town. After a night&rsquos stay at Joshimath, the cable car ride to Auli is a refreshing start to the next day. Two families with a litter of kids between them were squashed in front of me in the cable car, and the kids&rsquo generous wailing punctuated the pristine panorama as we touched down in Auli in under twenty minutes.
Several chalets and small cottages dotted the many slopes of the town as our local guide told us how the end of January was the perfect time to visit. The end-of-year crowd dissipates around the third week of the month, leaving only a manageable number of tourists to explore properly. The local dogs are the fluffiest and the friendliest you would find anywhere, sitting outside the tea shacks buried in the snow, waiting for your shivering fingers to drop that last biscuit. One of them helped fetch my glove as a thank-you for the treat.
There isn&rsquot much to do outside of skiing and a regular day comprised of just that and then back to the cabin before the snow hardened into icicles, which made traipsing back a task fraught with peril. We would have a simple homecooked dinner in the dining hall beside our cottage, with the twinkling lights of the town hugging us through the glass. Out of our four days, two were spent skiing, one trekking through the snow, and the last in recovery. As there isn&rsquot much to do in the town after sundown, with every shop and public place being down in Joshimath, you have to stay indoors. The real struggle in the morning is breaking the ice in the bucket to brush your teeth.
The climb up isn&rsquot a hard one, but be advised that without a professional guiding you throughout, it isn&rsquot something you would want to undertake on your own. We started at ten in the morning, coming back down a couple of hours after noon. The view that greets you at the top is one of serenity and absolute wonder. Surrounded by thick deodars and oaks all dusted over by the previous night&rsquos snowfall, you are in the lap of the Himalayan range and armed with a brilliant vantage point to take in the beauty of the adjoining peaks. I must have sat there for a good twenty minutes you can almost ignore the sub-zero temperatures when you&rsquore encircled by that degree of beauty. I wondered if the Dunagiri peak, visible to us directly from our spot, truly had some mythical healing herb growing in abundance. Our guide wholeheartedly agreed to my offhanded quip, and his earnestness made us all shut up and enjoy the magical moment. It was the downward trek that made me question my decision of ever agreeing to trek. We had to hurry back down before the snow hardened, and by the time we reached the base, it had started to snow.
When snow falls in Auli, it&rsquos a storm of glitter with the glacial wind kissing your skin. In January, blizzards are frequent, and the whooshing wind kept my insomnia company on my third night there. Although there is snow all year, if you want to ski, then you should choose to go between December and February.
Switzerland Of India
On our last day, the cable car was not operational because of heavy snowfall, which left us to either extend our stay or take a car to Joshimath. The drive down was less forgiving but beautiful nonetheless. Although every second hill town in India self-proclaims itself as the Switzerland of the country, Auli is the most deserving contender for a title similar. If you&rsquore blindfolded on your way there, you might almost believe you&rsquore in Santa&rsquos village in Finland. The cold beauty of Auli is only rivalled by the warmth of its people.
Take a direct flight to Dehradun Jolly Grant Airport and then go by road or take an overnight bus from Delhi to Rishikesh, from where take a shared taxi to Joshimath and then the cable car to take you up the peaks of Auli.
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