I woke up experiencing the worst night of my life. I had really went through the cold pain the entire duration. It was a kind of bucket list adventure which I had just ticked off. To sleep in the tent in the lap of Himalayas and that too in extreme winter. I was actually not prepared for it but, the circumstances forced me and I had left with no other option.
It had dawned now and when I opened the zip of my tent I was left amazed. I was presented with the most closeup view of the himalayas from inside of the tent. For a moment, my eyes were glued to whatever was present outside. The time was around 7 a.m and it was cold. Whatever was not visible the night before when I’d arrived here was now clearly visible.
The sun was still rising from behind the mountains and it gave me enough time to setup my camera to capture the timelapse of the morning. I’d setup the camera right in front of my tent and while it recorded the footage, I freshened up myself so that I could start my day. There was no question of taking a bath in this cold place and I had to use the public bathroom for the loo. For brushing my teeth, the resto owner gave me some hot water which was quite a relief.
I spent some time inside the restaurant where the heater was ON and till the time the breakfast was being prepared. Once it was fully sunny and the cold started to disperse, I went outside to the table to have my breakfast of Omelette and Bread along with Tea. Once, it was finished, it was time to leave and explore around Auli. At this moment of time, I could not see much crowd around.
I picked up my bike along with my camera and headed towards the Auli cable car office. It was not far and here I saw crowd waiting for their chance to sit inside the cab and get a good look around the Himalayas. I walked up through a flight of stairs only to see that there was considerable line of tourists to get the tickets. I decided to skip the line and instead visit the Hanuman temple which was located even at a higher place than my current location. It was again a 10min walk.
Along the way I could see that Auli was not the place as it is supposed to be. Fully covered in snow and skiing activities being happening and people enjoying the beauty sitting comfortably inside their cable car. There was no snow to be seen. Some people were hiking upwards from the low ground where usually once, skiing took place. The place looked brown although some snow presence could be seen atop but that meant heavy trekking to the top. I did not feel it that worthwhile and was happy that I did not take the cable car. Soon, I was at the entrance of the Hanuman temple ringing the bells mounted on the arch right in front of the gate.
There was nobody at the temple. Only the priest and me. I took the blessings from Lord Hanuman for my safe return back home. There was complete silence around. I sat for some time inside relaxing. I felt really good. There was some kind of power presence there. I felt it when even at my 1% of battery power left in my Mobile, I was able to transfer data to my hard-drive when still 10% of copying was remaining. Generally, in the past days with the habit of daily transferring data from mobile to my portable hard-drive, it would take more than 1% of battery power to transfer that much data. At that moment, sitting inside the temple, I really felt for the first time in my life that, there exists some kind of power which helps us in need. No doubt, why Uttarakhand is called the Land of Gods!
I wanted to visit Mana too, which has got the label of “The Last Indian village”. I also knew that Mana, currently was closed to tourists as it was off season and peak winters. Only Army was allowed. You’d require a pass to visit Mana at this time. I knew all this and took a risk to go there and see for myself. Mana was around 30 kms from Auli and being from a Ex-serviceman background, I had the card with me. I thought of giving it a try and see my luck. I had been told that the police at the check post would turn me back without asking questions. Without giving it a much thought, I left immediately.
The roads and the scenery was superb. I was enjoying riding along the winding roads. There was hardly any traffic to be seen and the roads were smooth as butter. The mountains were so huge that I was unable to get a view of their peak. Mana was approaching fast and seeing no checkpoint till now, I wondered, whether there was one. I thought luck was on my side. The distance to Mana reduced now to single digit. Some portion of the road at back was really terrible as it was under construction. Just when I thought that I was about to reach the ” Last Indian Village”, I saw a check-post ahead with its bar horizontal to the road. I knew it was the end now.
The police saw me standing there. Breaking any rules meant serious consequences and also it was not the right thing to do. The police was waving me from a raised platform located nearby. The office was situated there. I parked my bike and approached him. I pitched in my usual talk but he was standing his guard. He told me he was not the right person to let me through and if I still wished to travel further, then I would require the pass which can be obtained from collector’s office in Joshimath. Apart from that, there was no option left. I still had lot of time left for the day and thought of giving it a try and with that retraced my step back towards Joshimath.
After reaching Joshimath, I was in a shock as the office was closed due to Govt Holiday. Today was 25th of December, Christmas Day, a public holiday for Govt people. Luck was really not supporting me today. With all hopes vanished, I returned back to the restaurant. There was really nothing to do here in Auli apart from gazing at the beautiful mountains. It was total mood off for me.
The time was around 15:00 hrs. After consulting with the restaurant owner, I decided to leave Auli and head towards my next destination which was Chopta. It was a risky measure as Chopta was quite far away, around 120 kms. The time was not supporting that much distance.
But, I decided to take the risk and packed everything up as fast as I could and mounted the bike. At around 15:30 hrs, I left for Chopta. I was riding the same road via which I had come and it was for considerable distance. But, I was happy that I would be able to view the scenery which I had missed the previous night on account of riding in the dark. The views were indeed beautiful and roads were very narrow. You had to really keep your eyes on the road.
I didn’t even stop for a tea break and cruised my way through towards the destination. Later, in the evening the traffic started to pile up on the narrow roads due to which my speed dropped. On top of that, it started to get dark. A factor which I had already taken into account.
Soon, it was completely dark and I was alone on the roads. I had to be very careful as there was deep valley towards my left. The road ahead were giving me surprises due to presence of loose gravel onto it.
I could see the stars now. The time had crossed beyond 19:00 hrs. The visibility was very less now. Suddenly, I saw riding myself through dense vegetation on both the sides. It was difficult to make out. I was alone with the only support of my headlights. I could not see anybody ahead or behind me. As I was driving slowly, I stumbled upon a person walking on the side of the road with a torch in his hands on my right. I stopped to ask how much more for Chopta. To which he replied seeing that I was alone, that I better retrace my step towards the last village. He was the forest guard and told me that this was forest area and it was not safe riding alone in the dark. Chopta was still 20 kms to go and in the end he left the choice to myself.
Citing security reasons due to wildlife and unknown path, I duly listened to his advice and went back to the last village through which I had passed. The village name was ‘Mandal’ and I could easily get accommodation there. It cost me around 500 rs and the rooms were good. I had to get fresh quickly so as to not miss my dinner. The dinner was available at one of the restaurants ahead and since, It was late in the night I had to hurry up quickly.
I was lucky that the restaurant was open and was offering dinner. I told them to serve whatever was available. Later on, I was joined by one more couple who also had come there for food. They served me hot food which was very soothing to the stomach as it was cold outside.
After the dinner, I went back to the hotel and was ready to call it a day. The sky was completely filled with stars. It was a wow moment and in my life I hadn’t seen these many. I thought of taking a timelapse of them and in no time was ready with the DSLR and tripod on the terrace. Since, it was going to take a long time to shoot, I decided to keep the camera on the terrace itself and went to sleep. I was tired and was in no mood to stand there for another 2-3 hrs.
Making sure that the camera won’t fall off in the night, I headed downwards to my room. I slept around 22:00 hrs.