India Journal XI


10/19/04: Trek to Auli

                        Today              Total

Ascent              1,540               32,564

Descent            3,660               30,871


We had anticipated a gradual descent from out camp at around 12,000 ft to Auli where we would sleep in a real bed for the first time in two weeks.  Instead of taking a lovely rock path that led in to the valley below, Retan pointed upward and we began bush whacking (no trail) up a rocky slope until we gained a serpiginous, slimy half frozen trail on the ridge line. Today we hiked 21 kilometers of some of the most amazing trail I have ever been on. 

We followed this trail that wandered above tree line for several kilometers.  As we headed northwest the views of the high Himalayas to the north just kept expanding.  We gradually descended in to a large meadow called Gailgahr.  During the summer local villages and herders gather here to sell and trade their goods, but now the only sign of human habitation are a few stone wall ruminants. 

After wandering through the woods for a time we again climbed above tree line.  For the next four hours the trail traversed  steep hill sides and cliffs.  As spectacular as the views of the mountains were they paled in comparison to the exposure on the trail.  At times the mountain side was so steep that the trail was burrowed in to the mountain side.  There would be cliff hanging overhead and shear drops of several hundred feet below.  At one memorable spot on the trail a small slide had occurred leaving a six foot stretch where the trail was about 12 inches wide sloping downward and then dropping off about 200 feet.

I am fairly comfortable with heights from rock climbing, but I was worried that Mo would have some issues.  I didn’t need to worry, she just kept her eyes on the trail and hardly slowed down.  For a stretch of about 2 miles any step off the 18” wide trail would have been death.

The most spectacular views of the day, and possible of the trip, occurred when we reached a point on the trek where our direction turned from north to a more westerly direction.  At that point you could not only see the  Nanda Devi Range to the east, but a good deal of the Kandernath Range to the West.  I was a few minutes ahead of Mo and Retan and it gave me a minute to appreciate the peace, quite and beauty of this place.  It also brought to mind the contrast between my current state of tranquility and the political turmoil and suffering that was hidden behind many of the peaks that surrounded me.


To my right, 55 miles as the crow flies and just past Nanda Devi to the east, is Nepal where Moist rebels are killing people every day and the average income per year is $200-$300.

Straight ahead just over Changabang is Tibet, where the Chinese invaded and occupied in 1956 and  destroying an untold number of Buddhist temples and shrines.  Where in 1959 the holy leader of Tibet and the Buddhist world was driven out and now lives exile in Northern India.







Changabang summit catching the late evening sun











To my left northwest over the four peaks of Chaukhamba is Kashmir.  When the Hindus expelled the British in 1947 and formed a democratic India, the Muslims migrated to Kashmir and formed their own state.  Ever since then there have been territorial disputes between the Indians and Pakistan.  Fortunately both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons to protect themselves.  The borders are now closed to all foreigner due to these disputes and numerous terrorist attacks over the past several years.  If I could see way beyond Chaukhumba (about the driving distance from here to Salt Lake City) I would be able to see the mountains along the southern border of Afghanistan where you know who hangs out.

A short time later we entered the upper slopes of the Auli ski area.  It is one of only two ski resorts in India.  The upper 2,000 ft have no lifts, so my guess was that some type of tracked vehicle must bring people up to the above tree line portion of the ski area.

As we descended we encountered more people.  Met a doctor and his family who were visiting from Calcutta.  Met three Indian guys who were trekking to Kauri Pass.  Each of them must have been carrying 80 lbs.  This would have been impressive enough, but their packs were home made and hand tied.  I whine if my padded shoulder strap isn’t adjusted just right.  One of the trekkers was hauling an aluminum box the size of a family Coleman cooler and a kerosene stove on a pack with  ropes for shoulder straps.  I will never whine again, or at least not for a day or two.

As we came on to the ski area proper we could see a tram that came up from Auli to the ski slopes.  The tram is a recycles Swiss model that is 4.1 kilometers long. After another hour of descending we came in to a clearing and there was the Cliff Top Lodge.  With its white washed walls and red trim roof it looked like a worthy reception back to the comforts of the modern world.







Cliff Top Lodge, Auli










To be honest I have mixed emotions about leaving the trail.  During our time trekking I felt part of something unique and special.  The rhythm of traveling by foot was becoming very comfortable.  As it turned out I didn’t need to stress about being thrown back in to civilizations since the Cliff Top Lodge turned out to be just another unique Indian experience.

Everything in this “resort” had been built in the past 20 years, yet they had managed to maintain much of the feel of the predevelopment era.  A gentleman named Jitender Singh described Auli in the late 80’s; “I went to Auli when it was still developing and I was only 16 years old in the late 1980's. There was no lift then, no proper housing, no food. We had to trek back up the slope every time we skied downhill, lived in tents on the snow and cooked our own food.”

Mo and I entered a small 8’ X 10’ lobby on the main floor. No computer check in and reservation system here, just a book and a pen.  We then went through a door, past the ski rental shop and climbed six flights of stairs before we were introduced to our room.  Incidentally, after having climbed 33,000 ft in two weeks, this felt like the hardest climb yet. 







The entire Cliff Top Ski and Snowboard rental shop (Christie Sports eat your heart out)










We entered our two room suite at the resort.  The first room was large, about 15 by 25 ft, with a small table and chairs in one corner.  The floor covering was a well worn indoor outdoor carpet with a few holes.  The air was heavy with mildew and the white walls were covered with the source of the odor.  The temperature in the room was a tad colder than our average night time tent temperature.  The second room was similar, but it did have a bed and there was a bathroom with a shower adjoining the bedroom.

The first thing we did was to call the front desk to report the heat was off.  The clerk informed us that it in deed was on.  This was hard to accept since there was no thermostat, no hitter vents and the air temp was about 40F.  After some discussion about what constituted heat, they brought a space heater to the room. 

Our next task was to wash some clothing since we still had three days traveling before we got back to Delhi and we didn’t have a single item of clean cloths.  We were informed that we could use the sink to wash and then hang the cloths on the outside railing to dry.  That might have worked except we were on the dark side of the building where the sun hadn’t shined in a long time.  I did hang one pair of underwear and a shirt outside off our deck.  This turned in to a mildly embarrassing event when my underwear blew off the balcony on to the downstairs’ neighbors porch and I had to retrieve them.  Hindus are very modest people. Fortunately we had the space heater which got a real work. 

Next, but not least, was what Mo had dreamed of for two weeks and I seriously desired, a hot shower.  We could not get hot water, so I called the front desk.  The clerk informed me that the showers would be turned on in the morning as usual.  For many reasons this didn’t go over big, particularly since we were leaving at six in the morning.  They agreed to turn on the shower special for us.  An hour later there was still no hot water.  We called again, but the clerk did not speak English.  I decided that it would be best to just hike down stairs and talk to them in person.   I was met by a very friendly fellow who seemed to understand our plight and would provide what was necessary to bath.  As I got ready to head back up stairs, he asked “would you like the hot water brought up in a basin or running?”.  I thought running would be best.

An hour later still no water.  Mo went to the top brass at this point and after explaining that a shower tonight would really really be appreciated, he promised that not only would hot water be delivered running and hot, but that we could enjoy it for a full 30 minutes.

It was the best shower of our lives.

Next was dinner.  They brought up dinner in courses and set them up on the table in room #1, the refrigeration unit.  As soon as the waiter left we would shuttle the food in to the bedroom, close the door, and sit around the jet heater like it was a camp fire.

Finally it was time to sleep.  The bed was so hard and supporting so much wild life (hopefully just flora), that we slept on our back packing mats. 

We owe a dept of gratitude to the Cliff Top Lodge for easing us back in to the comforts of modern life.  To give them credit though, they did pick a place with great views.





Nandi Devi Masif, (25,645 ft)


















Sunrise view from Cliff Top Lodge on departure day











10/20/2004:  2100  Glass House on the Ganges

“What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”.  We have walked on two foot wide trails with 1,000 foot drop offs.  We have climbed over 5,000 ft in a day to an elevation of 16,500 ft in a blizzard.  We have slept in a tent for two weeks through snow, rain and cold.  We have eaten nothing but home cooked Indian food for three weeks, but all of these pale in comparison for pure adrenaline overload, risk and mind numbing exhaustion compared to our drive from Auli to Rishikesh.


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