When all this is over, or when things start to look up... don’t you find yourself often daydreaming about a long road trip to the mountains to refresh your senses?
A road trip from Delhi to Auli promises just that: a rejuvenating, no-rush, immersive Himalayan road journey. The roads snake past green mountains and valleys, grand deodar trees and slopes that remain swathed in snow all year long. You can stop at one of the tiny roadside eateries for snacks. Stalls offering a few refreshments can be found often enough in the hills, but proper dhabas are hard to come by. Mingle with the locals and eat farm-fresh pahari meals. Go for long walks in the sylvan woods and sit by the side of burbling creeks.
The stops in the Delhi-Auli driving holiday include Nainital, Binsar, Gwaldam, Joshimath and Auli. Jet off early in the morning and hit NH9 to get to Bhensia near Moradabad. Get to Major District Road 65W and merge with 49W and later Nainital Road to arrive at Mallital.
Take the road not taken in Nainital
Nainital is one of the most popular destinations in north India, so be prepared for the rush of postponed honeymoons, travel-deprived families devouring the scenery and day-trippers. Even so, a stroll along the lovely Naini Lake is in order, but those who love their long forest walks can also try the forested Ayarpatta area.
Jim Corbett lovers can get a glimpse of Gurney House, the Nainital residence of the hunter and naturalist. Closeby is the stately Clifton Homestay, which was once owned by Corbett’s family. For some splendid views of Khurpatal, walk from Tiffin Top to Land’s End, and thence to Bara Patthar. It is from Nainital that the real uphill drive begins. A serpentine road flanking brooks, deodar forests and valleys takes you to Almora after three-and-a-half hours of driving.
Morning tea with the Greater Himalayas
The first option for your Almora stopover is to drive another 30km northeast to get to the nature lover’s paradise, the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. The thick rhododendron, chir and oak forest here is home to leopards, black bears, red foxes, wild boars, ghoral and jackals, and over 200 species of birds. Get to the Tourist Rest House or Zero Point for unimpeded views of the Greater Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi, Panchachuli and Nampa. Those without the privilege of a two-day break can instead drive to the Bright End Corner—another popular vantage point to take in views of dramatic sunsets—after their arrival in Almora.
The history tour: Binsar-Gwaldam
On the road to Gwaldam, you can make two stops. The first is the lazy Bageshwar, where the Gomti and Saryu rivers meet. The 1,602-built temples here house ancient idols (whose origins are spread across nine centuries). About 26km due northeast is the Baijnath temple complex that has 18 shrines, all built between the 9th and the 12th century by the Katyuri kings.
Those not into temples can instead stop at the unassuming and underexplored town of Kausani that lies halfway. It is home to Mahatma Gandhi’s Anasakti Ashram, an observatory, tea estates, a famous woolen factory, and the home of the poet Sumitranandan Pant, now turned into a museum. The unpretentious rural hamlet is perfect for a day or two; you can hike to neighbouring villages and witness the amazing sunrise over the Panchachulis at the viewpoint.
The road to Gwaldam hereon is an hour-and-a-half of pure bliss — pines all around and little creeks gleaming from far away. Located at the border between Garhwal and Kumaon, Gwaldam is full of pines and apple orchards. From Benatoli, you can undertake salubrious forest walks, or head to the pretty Bodh Mandir gompa in Baghtoli.
The condition of the road beyond Gwaldam is poor, so make sure you leave early for the six-hour drive. Follow the Pindar River up to Karnaprayag, where you can make a stop to grab lunch, and then head northeast via Chamoli. Once in Joshimath, stop and spend the night here before taking the cable car up to Auli the next day.
Give Auli your all
The cable car from Joshimath deposits one from over the treetops right into the heart of snow. The air is scented with pine and there are oaks and firs everywhere. The ski resort is located at a height of around 10,000ft and despite there only being opportunities for skiing, the experience that it offers is unforgettable. The GMVN here offers beginner courses in January-March, and the fee covers boarding, lodging, equipment, lift and training. Do not miss the Nanda Devi sunrise and the camping experience, and most of all, the lovely Gorson Bugyal Trek (3km).