Auli, nestled in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, is a paradise for ski enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. At an elevation of 2,500-3,050 meters above sea level, this sleepy hamlet transforms into a bustling ski resort during winters. The pristine slopes and state-of-the-art ski facilities attract skiing aficionados from across the globe. However, Auli offers much more than just skiing. With breathtaking views of Nanda Devi, Trishul and Dunagiri peaks, scenic treks, virgin forests, and tiny mountain villages, it is the perfect destination to find respite from the chaos of urban life.
My friend and I decided to head to Auli in the first week of January to welcome the New Year amidst snow-clad mountains. We booked our tickets on a Volvo bus from Delhi to Rishikesh, from where Dehli to Auli is an 8-9 hour drive away.
Day 1: Delhi to Rishikesh
We started from Delhi around 6 PM after finishing work. It took us about 6-7 hours to reach Rishikesh – the yoga capital of India. We decided to halt for the night at Rishikesh and restart our onward journey early next morning. After checking into a riverside hotel, we decided to take a stroll along the Ganges. The evening aarti at the Triveni Ghat was a soothing experience. The Decorated diyas floating in the river, holy chants, ringing of bells and blowing of conch shells created a spiritually surreal ambience. Turning in early after a light dinner, we dozed off with the sound of gurgling river waters.
Day 2: Rishikesh to Joshimath
After an early breakfast, we commenced our road trip to Auli at 7 AM. Our cabbie Mr. Sharma was a seasoned driver who knew the route like the back of his hand. Initially, the drive along the Ganges was smooth. We crossed Devprayag – the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers that gives birth to the mighty Ganges. The scenic mountain vistas and greenery all around rejuvenated our spirits. We stopped at Srinagar to have lunch at a roadside dhaba. The simple yet delicious garhwali food hit just the right spot.
As we moved ahead, the roads got narrower and started winding through the Garhwal ranges. Mr. Sharma expertly maneuvered the car around the hairpin bends as we gained altitude. By late afternoon, we reached Rudraprayag – one of the five confluences of Alaknanda river. We offered our prayers at the Rudranath temple and continued our ascent towards Joshimath. The sun had set by the time we entered Joshimath, which would be our halt for the night. Joshimath is a small town situated at around 6150 ft and serves as a stopover on the route to Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib. After checking into a hotel, we called it a day.
Day 3: Joshimath to Auli
The next morning, we were excited for the last leg of our journey. Joshimath to Auli is a short drive of just 14 km but the route is extremely picturesque. Vishnuprayag, where Alaknanda meets Dhauli Ganga, was our first pitstop. We spent some time at the ancient Vishnu temple and Devi temple at the sangam. From Vishnuprayag the road starts climbing rapidly towards Auli. We passed through dense oak, pine and deodar forests on one side and snow-clad Himalayan peaks on the other. Mr. Sharma informed that Auli also has the longest cable car in Asia covering a span of 4 km.
By afternoon, we finally entered the charming ski resort town of Auli, also known as the skiing capital of India. Fresh snow had fallen the previous night turning Auli into a winter wonderland. Our hotel was right opposite the ski slopes with spectacular views of snow-covered mountain peaks all around. After checking in and grabbing a quick lunch, we decided to take the cable car ride. It was a surreal experience gliding at a great height over snow-laden trees and valleys. We visited the artificial lake and Gandhi top before calling it a day.
Day 4: Skiing and Snow Activities
Today was an exciting day as we had planned to try our hand at skiing. After renting out the gear and wearing the unusual but stylish ski suits, we headed to the Bunny slope. As beginners, our first attempts were shaky and wobbly. But the skilled instructors patiently taught us the basics and within a couple of hours we were sliding and gliding effortlessly. We even mustered up the courage to try a small slope. Skiing downhill with icy mountain winds in our face was such an adrenaline pumping experience!
In the evening we participated in snow football, snowman building contest and snow tubing which were organized by the resort. Sledging or going downhill on a toboggan was another fun snow activity we enjoyed. We ended our action packed day by visiting the evening market and gorging on piping hot momos, Maggie and garhwali cuisine.
Day 5: Trek to Gorson Bugyal
Today we embarked on a short 4 km trek to Gorson Bugyal. The alpine meadows of Gorson were completely covered in thick snow. Situated at an altitude of around 3,056 m, the meadows offered breathtaking views of Auli slopes on one side and mighty Himalayan peaks like Nanda Devi, Dunagiri and Mana Parvat on the other. We had a splendid time playing and taking photographs amidst the snow. Later, we enjoyed a warm cup of tea at a small dhaba run by a local lady. We returned to our hotel by afternoon and spent the evening lounging in our rooms playing board games and sipping hot cocoa.
Day 6: Snowboarding and Cable Car Rides
Our skiing expedition was nearing its end, but we weren’t done enjoying the snow yet! Today we decided to try snowboarding which seemed more exciting and challenging than skiing. After picking up another round of bruises and falls, we were able to stand and maneuver on the board fairly well. Later we went on the cable car ride once again and enjoyed the bird’s eye view of the splendid landscape. In the evening, we checked out traditional shops near our hotel that were stocked with warm woolen garments, exquisite jewelry and pretty souvenirs. We picked some local produce and woolens as memorabilia of our memorable Auli vacation.
Day 7: Return Journey to Delhi
Today with heavy hearts, we bid adieu to beautiful Auli to embark on our return journey. We took one final look at the magnificent snow slopes and peaks, hoping to come back again next winter. The drive back was again extremely scenic but seemed shorter since we had become familiar with the route. We halted again at Joshimath for the night. Next morning, we drove back to Rishikesh en route Delhi. Fond memories of our Auli winter escapade with old friends made this road trip even more special. The virgin beauty of snow-blanketed Auli will be etched in our hearts forever.
As this short trip neared its end, I realized once again how our mountains are true treasures. They humble us with their grandeur while also elevating our spirits. The serenity of snow-laden landscapes interspersed with shades of green is a sight to behold. Auli is definitely on my list of favorite haunts. I urge every traveler and nature lover to head to the hills more frequently. For it’s only when we explore the mountains that we pause, reflect and reconnect with our inner selves.