Adventures in Auli: An Unforgettable Experience of A Wanderer
Auli is an important ski destination in the Himalayan mountains of Uttarakhand, India. It is also known as the ski capital of India. Paradise is the only word which can describe this small tourist destination during Winter. I had an opportunity to witness Auli when the beauty of the place was at its peak. It was the month of January and winter was starting to set in. We, a team of 30, were raring to experience some thrill in one of the coldest destinations in India. My objective was to capture the white beauty through my third eye.
But never in my wildest dream did I imagine that it could get as cold as -23° C.
We took an 18-hour drive to Joshimath across 320 km, and Auli was waiting 15 km away from this point. Tired yet excited, we stayed the night in the last known town before Nature took over human existence. The overnight snowfall made our 15 km trek to Auli quite memorable. I had never seen fresh snow before. The whiteness of the snow made me imagine how Snowwhite got her name. We left Joshimath early in the morning. The Sun was still hiding behind the snow-covered mountains. We passed some locals and their cottages by. Watched them enjoy their quiet lives. I was trying to imagine how they spent their days in such solitude. My heart told me that was how they were brought up. The 10-year old kid probably did not even know there was a bigger and faster world lying just a few hundred kilometres away. I thought they don’t really want to discover that life, they were away from worldly pleasures, but they enjoyed the mental peace in the heart of Nature which we craved for in the jungle of concrete. I took out my camera to capture what my eyes saw. Weather conditions weren’t allowing me to even hold the camera with strength, my hands were numb, my shoes could not find any grip in the snow, yet I was stubborn.
I knew I had to focus to capture some of what I saw. I might never get this opportunity again.
When the Sun rose, the white landscape glistened with a golden sheen like an Egyptian Queen after a rosewater bath. The Sun greeted the world with warmth. We kept walking, cutting through the newly made footmarks by the locals. Suddenly, I noticed a yellow bird chirping, its sweet sound was the only living voice between us and Nature. Probably, it was trying to explain the purpose of existence, but we humans just treated its efforts as mere chirping. My heart was speaking to me a lot that day.
I was trying to find meaning out of everything I could see. I was trying to go back to William Wordsworth and see Nature through his eyes.
Ripping through the heart of Nature, we reached Auli late in the afternoon. The Sun was saying goodbye to the world. The temperature dipped to -19°C. The road to our cottage was blocked. We had to make our own way, cutting through the snow. I wished I could make my own way in life as simply as I made it to the cottage. It was a tiring day’s trek, but the snow made me feel fresh. The Population of Auli was 28 at that point of time. The place was as quiet as Death Valley, yet it had the positivity to fill life with light, hope and expectation. I dragged myself to my room and was hoping to get some good footage the next day.
Although my motive of going to Auli was professional, it seemed I was a changed person ever since I set foot in that magical place.
I wanted to clear my mind and experience the seemingly eternal bliss. That night when the clock struck 12, I was gazing outside the window, the moon was shining with all its brightness. I could not stop myself from stepping out from our cottage and once I did, I felt like I was in a dream. I looked at my cell phone; it said -23° C, but I could not feel the cold sting. The beauty of Nature had numbed me. I could not take my eyes off the white snow glowing like silver in the moonlight. Even today, I don’t know how far I had gone from my cottage. Probably because I was spellbound by the charm of the landscape. I kept walking and looking at the landscape changing with every single step I took and every centimetre my head turned. I was the only life who was trying to destroy Nature’s calm. Prateek, a dear friend, followed my footsteps in the snow to find me, brought me back to my senses and took me back to our room. It started snowing as soon as we reached our cottage. I could not sleep that night. It was not because I had forgotten my motive of being there but because I was left stranded with the questions that Nature had presented in front of me. The next morning, I felt more normal.
I focused on my documentary.
Took a few interviews, shot the sunrise and then took the cable car to reach the topmost point for which Auli is famous. I was amazed to see a huge frozen lake. The snow cover was until 7 feet that day. It gave me a clear indication of how heavily it had snowed the previous night when I was out on my clueless adventure. I could have died if Prateek did not bring me back to the room. The morning was not as quiet as the night. The locals, although very few, tried to promote tourism. They were out with their ski blades, which was their major source of income. I had to finish shooting by 1300hrs as we were scheduled to leave Auli by afternoon. We had to make sure we had enough time to trek back to Joshimath before sunset. But things did not go as per our plan. Our schedule shifted and we were able to finish shooting only by 1500hrs. We started trekking back just as the Sun was setting. We all knew there was a lot of risk involved but we did not have a second choice.
As we walked downhill, darkness fell upon us. Moonlight was the only source of light we were left with.
According to the normal rules during trekking, the team tends to break into small subunits, and so did we. We were left with four from the group of 30. We were young, so we seemed to be running after adventure. Or maybe, the adventure was running after us. But that night changed the meaning of shortcut in my dictionary. As we walked through the main snow-covered road, we came across a small lane going downhill which merged with the main road after some distance. We were pretty sure it would save us more than a kilometre’s walk. One of us refused, and followed the main road. We gave him our camera kit and continued.
We successfully managed to conquer the first challenge.
It was very stiff and slippery, but it was fun, only because we managed to dodge the normal conventions. We kept walking until we saw our second challenge. The only difference this time was we did not know where it was heading. The lane was as small as the first one and certainly as slippery. We had to take our chances. Our hearts said that if we could manage it, our legs would be saved from two hours of pain. Three of us kept walking downhill. We did not just walk. We walked, crawled and even slid down. It was getting darker and darker as we kept moving downhill. After walking for almost a kilometre, we realised we were in the middle of nowhere in the woods and there was no way out of there. The place was dark, the moonlight was hardly creeping through the high dense trees.
Suddenly, Raunak shouted, “There is something black in the bushes.” Our hearts stopped beating. We feared it was a bear.
We tried to run uphill with hardly any success. It was dark and the rocks were slippery. Climbing up was a herculean task. Fortunately, the black object wasn’t a bear but a fluffy black dog. His eyes were shining in the dark. Unfortunately, it looked very dangerous. Raunak shouted at the top of his voice for help, without any success. We decided to follow the dog because we had lost our way in the darkness. The dog was climbing up fast. It waited for us to reach him and then it continued the climb uphill. We were slipping at every step. We cheered each other up. We were optimistic we could dodge death. Temperatures reached -20° C by then, but we could feel beads of sweat on our foreheads. Although, it hardly took seconds to condense. Our struggle to reach the main road continued for an hour. We kept following the dog until we reached the main road and all three of us were down on the fresh snow shouting, “We made it!” Our happiness was multiplied when we saw the Technical Head of our group walking down alone with his camera.
The Moon’s ray fell on him and he looked like an angel whom God had sent to save us from the dark woods of death.
We kept walking, so did the black dog. We had another 6 km to travel before we reached Joshimath. We stopped near a broken wooden stall, the only stall between Auli and Joshimath. I changed my socks which were now full of soft snow. The hot Maggi tasted like nectar (Amrit). My mind was numb with the thought of the incidents of the last hour. I set up my tripod and camera. I just wanted to capture the frame in front of me, I could not judge the beauty of what I saw although I was could see snow glittering in the moonlight and the Moon shining as brightly as ever before. The photograph I managed to capture was technically weak, but that snapshot has become an integral memory in my life. It was not a snapshot but a gateway to transfer my mind from the state of agony to stability. The black dog had been following us right from the time we met. He was just like the guide one would require while visiting a historical monument.
After our adventures in Auli, we reached Joshimath late that night.
The dog moved away after we entered our hotel. I am a hardcore atheist and I don’t believe in miracles. But that dog made me ask a lot of questions in my mind since that day. Although my mind did not want to sleep that night, my body was probably too tired to keep awake. I slept for a good 6 hours before we left for Delhi the next morning. A long 18-hour drive was waiting for us. I was still not feeling a thing. I still don’t know if it was because I was moving away from the serenity of Nature or the events that took place the previous night. But I could feel that those 72 hours will remain crystal clear in my memory all through my life. I did not eat much during our drive back to Delhi. My mind was still stuck in the beauty of Nature.
It took me quite some time to recover.
After almost 15 days, I opened my hard disk to see what kind of footage and photographs I had managed to bring back from the dream kingdom. I took the next few days to edit my documentary. I don’t know if I could have made it better. But I’m sure is that the documentary that still runs in my brain could never have been filmed even if I had a camera in my hands during those hours. I am sharing the link of the documentary I managed to make from the footage I shot and a few photographs from the tour. Hope you’ll give it a fair judgement.