Embrace snow and serenity on a road trip to Auli

From spellbinding views of majestic mountains, to hiking trails and skiing trips, there are endless reasons why you must take a road trip through Uttarakhand this winter.

When I first thought of going on an impromptu road trip over the long Christmas weekend a few years back, Auli wasn’t the first destination to pop in my head. But then, I wasn’t picking any destinations, for what it’s worth. All I knew was that I wanted to escape the mundane, and chase the snow in the mountains somewhere far away. It was this little Christmas wish of mine, I guess, that led me to jump in a 4by4 and head to Auli: A winter wonderland where everything from the lush green valleys, to towering deodars and tiny homesteads get swathed in white the moment temperature starts to drop.

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The great Garhwal Himalayas, including Nanda Devi peak, as reflected in the calm waters of Auli Lake. Image: Shutterstock/Nilmani Parth.

The ski resort of Auli in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand is surrounded with coniferous forests and oak-lined slopes. At 2,800 metres, it is seemingly nestled in a bowl around which some of the country’s highest peaks stand bastion, including the Garhwal Himalayan ranges of Kamet, Dunagiri, Mana Parvat, and of course, Nanda Devi, the second highest peak in India. And right in the middle of it all, is a beautiful manmade lake with its calm waters reflecting the snow-peaked mammoth mountains.

Unlock adventures in Rishikesh

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Take a thrilling break in Rishikesh en route Auli. Image: Shutterstock/Peppy Graphics.

We started off early from Delhi one fine late-December morning and zoomed on NH334 to reach Rishikesh, covering 269km. Although the five-hour-long journey can’t be called tiresome, you can choose to make a pitstop. If you feel a spiritual calling, stop by Haridwar and explore various Hindu shrines here. Else, spend a day in the yoga capital of India for a dose of adrenaline through river rafting (beware of the bone-chilling cold water though!), bungee jumping, ziplining, and more. The roads ahead, from Rishikesh to Auli, promises a slow, immersive Himalayan journey, most of which means snaking past misty meadows, deep slopes, sylvan woods, and tiny dhabas serving fresh hot pahadi meals on roadside. The 265-km route makes for a scenic road trip, taking you through Devprayag, Rudrapayag, and Karnaprayag — situated at the breathtaking confluence of Alaknanda and Pindara rivers.

It feels like Christmas in Landour

While you can head straight to Auli, we decided to take a detour and visit the quaint cantonment town of Landour first. Brimming with vintage bungalows, age-old cathedrals, and thick forests of pine and deodar, the tiny hamlet near Mussoorie makes for a perfect getaway in the hills. The moment we arrived, Landour’s colonial charm and Christmassy vibe immediately disarmed me.

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Kellogg Memorial Church in Landour. Image: Shutterstock/Sonal Garg.

Life in Landour revolves around Char Dukan. Shortly after St Paul’s Church was consecrated in 1840, a market with four shops came up (hence, the name). It was Anil’s Cafe and Tip Top Tea Shop that first started serving quick snacks and hot cuppas here. The initial aim was precisely to cater to the needs of the nearby households, students enrolled at the Landour Language School, and foreigners visiting the area, but slowly, Char Dukan became inseparable from Landour! Today, there are six quaint little eateries, serving everything from piping hot parathas, butter-fried Maggi, sandwiches to waffles, pancakes, masala chai, and more. Quick tip: ask for the special bun omelet (prepared from a 100-year-old recipe) and off-the-menu Mathew’s Wai Wai (named afterone of the students who taught owner Anil Aggarwal how to make Wai Wai noodles) at Anil’s Cafe.

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Char Dukan is the most popular hangout in Landour. Image: Shutterstock/mrinalpal.

Strolling past Char Dukan, trying to avoid the touristy crowd, I found myself walking on a rather quiet, cobbled street that ended up gifting me one of the most mesmerising sunset views I’ve had witnessed. For a few good minutes, I just stood there, breathing in the crisp mountain air and soaking it all in, at peace. If you can find time, do go on a trek to the top of Jabarkhet Nature Reserve for a breathtaking view of the Doon valley. The private forest has eight guided walking trails offering various experiences like birdwatching, wildlife spotting, and learning about herbs and plants.

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The iconic Landour Bakehouse deserves a visit. Image: Courtesy Landour Bakehouse.
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Sit back with hot coffee and soak in the Christmas vibe at Landour’s best bakery! Image: Sushmita Srivastav.

Later, we walked to the popular Landour Bakehouse. They say you can’t come back from Landour without dropping by the bakery, and they say it rightly, for the place does dish out most delicious muffins, pies, plum cakes, gingerbread cookies, and more. Twinkling fairy lights hanging down the ceiling and the walls, a glass shelf stacked with literary classics, and a little corner lit up with Nativity Scene — it was as if Landour Bakehouse had its very own private Christmas soiree going on. I treated myself with a hot cuppa and some fresh walnut banana bread before heading out and gaping at a splendidly illuminated Kellogg Memorial Church, the Tibetan settlement of Happy Valley, and of course, Ruskin Bond’s home in the hills, before driving away.

Chasing the snow in Auli and beyond

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Auli covered in snow looks like a white magic land! Image: Shutterstock/sumankyal.

After spending the night in Landour, we began the final leg of road trip that meant crossing little gems like Dhanaulti, Tehri, Rudraprayag, and Karnaprayag, and driving all the way to Joshimath. We, first, decided to stop by the holy town of Karnaprayag where the brimming Alaknanda meets the Pindari river to make a sight to behold. After driving for another two and a half hours, we reached Joshimath, from where you can either continue on the road for 11 km or take a 4km-long ropeway ride to finally arrive at Auli.

I had been hoping to see every tree and house heavily laden with a thick blanket of snow, and find a rather secluded valley dominated by the colour white. Instead, we arrived at Auli to find melted layers of hoarfrost at fewer spots and almost every nook flocked with tourists. Disheartened, we pitched our tent on a downward slope and decided to call it a night. The next morning, I took one step out of my tent, only to squash my boot into some freshly fallen powder of snow. Overnight, the valley had turned into a winter wonderland, and it seemed no less than a sweet, sweet Christmas miracle!

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Trek up to Gorson Pass from Auli for a skiing trip down the slope. Image: Shutterstock/sumankyal.

In Auli ski resort, a ski-lift connects the lower and upper slopes, making it easier to do multiple ski runs. If you wish to find a quieter place, do it our way and trek to the nearby Gorson Bugyal that has thicker layers of snow all winter long. Not to mention, the frozen lake at the centre, the mammoth Garhwal Himalayas in the backdrop, and cheery ski lovers only add to Auli’s charm from above.

Getting there

Auli is well-connected by motorable roads from Delhi (525 km) via NH7, and all major destinations in Uttarakhand including Haridwar (287 km), Rishikesh (263 km), Nainital (282 km), and Mussoorie (330 km). The nearest railway station is in Rishikesh, and regular buses and taxis are available to take you directly to the ski resort. If you are planning on flying down, Jolly Grant Airport (277 km) in Dehradun is the closest, with daily direct flights from Delhi as well as regular flights from major Indian cities, including Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Kolkata.

Perfect wheels

Nothing beats a 4×4 SUVs when it comes to road-tripping through the snaking roads in the hills of Uttarakhand. For your off-roading adventure to Auli, pick the latest Mahindra Thar, Ford Endeavour, Jeep Compass, or Volkswagen Tiguan AllSpace. Not only these AWD wheels will make your ride through rugged terrains smoother, but will also add luxury to your journey.

Best time to travel

Known for its ski trips, Auli is ideal for a winter vacation. Hence, December to early March is the best time to visit. If you love nature trails, you can arrive in the monsoon season (June to August) when Auli as well as Valley of Flowers in Chamoli District offer breathtaking hikes and adventurous treks.

What to pack

Wardrobe essentials: Expect heavy snowfalls and extremely cold nights in Auli during this season, so pack lots of warm layers and cosy woollies without compromising on style, of course. Oversized sweaters, quilted coats, turtlenecks, bomber jackets, patterned cardigans are trending this season. Throw in woollen socks and thermals to keep you warm, and knitted scarves and bright-coloured beanies to add an edge to your otherwise muted tones. Pair joggers with stylish sneakers, flared pants with thick-soled ankle boots, and straight trousers with pointed knee-high leather boots. Check out the amazing winter collection by ace Indian designers Rajesh Pratap Singh and Kunal Rawal for contemporary statement pieces both for men and women. If you wish to crank it up a notch, pick something out of the latest Gucci x The North Face collection! Trust Prada for chic, high-fashion boots — from chunky platform to classic leather riding, it has a pair for everyone.

Gadgets galore: If you are planning on camping in the snow, it’s advised that you carry your own tent. Or better yet, invest in glamping tent for some added comfort and luxury. Cabela’s Ultimate Alaknak Tent and Winterial Teepee Tent are your best bet. Packing a pair of ski or snow goggles, portable heated travel mug, and portable WiFi-cum-power bank is a good idea. For smart tech gadgets, try GoPro Hero 10, Garmin fēnix 5s Multisport GPS Smartwatch, and goTenna Mesh that pairs up with your smartphone, and keeps your group connected when venturing off grid!

Where to stay

The Roseate Ganges: Arrive here for the resort‘s opulent stay options as well as bespoke experiences like spa offerings, nature walks by the river, treks, beach yoga, the renowned Ganga aarti, white river rafting, as well as visits to organic farms.

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The serene, opulent property of The Roseate Ganges. Image: Courtesy Roseate Hotels.

Rokeby Manor: Located in the heart of Landour, the 175-year-old heritage hotel is known for its vintage rooms, outdoor Jacuzzi, butler service, and panoramic vistas.

JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa: A scenic 15-km drive from Landour takes you to this luxury Himalayan resort that finds itself amid Mussoorie’s glittering valleys, misty meadows, and towering oaks. Arrive at the 115-key property to enjoy bespoke experiences like walking trails through walnut groves, visit to the cascading Kempty Falls, rejuvenating therapies at Cedar Spa by L’OCCITANE, and more.

Cliff Top Resort: The high-altitude adventure property overlooks the Garhwal Himalayas at 10,000 feet in Auli, and offers luxurious apartments with kitchenettes and modern amenities, hot baths, inhouse restaurant, ski safaris, and more.

Where to eat

Om Freedom Cafe: Om Freedom Cafe near Lakshman Jhula in Rishikesh is known for offering undisturbed views of the Ganges, as well as an elaborate menu of sandwiches, shakes, freshly-brewed coffees, and pancakes.

Landour Bakehouse: Visit the iconic Landour Bakehouse in Sister’s Market to sit by the window overlooking the valley and enjoy freshly baked goodies like lemon cake, chocolate cookies, and apple pie.

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Landour Bakehouse is famous for its fresh bakes. Image: Courtesy Instagram/Geetanjali Bhandari.

GMVN Complex: The no-frill inhouse restaurant at GMVN Complex in Auli serves authentic Garhwali cuisine including dishes like kachmauli (stuffed goat with local spices), kafuli (spinach and fenugreek leaves flavoured with ginger, chilies, curd, and spice), and bal mithai (a popular local sweet dish).

Where to go

Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara: Located at an altitude of 4,329 metres by the serene banks of an eponymous lake, Hemkund Sahib is among the highest gurudwaras in the world. Surrounded by seven snow-capped peaks, the gurudwara’s picturesque natural settings and trek routes, including the one to the Valley of Flowers, make it a popular destination for trekkers and tourists 

Valley of Flowers: A quick detour from Auli can take you to the UNESCO-listed Valley of Flowers laden with exotic blooms including orchids, poppies, primulas, marigold, daisies, and anemones during monsoon. It is only accessible from June to August.

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Kuari Pass is every trekker’s dream come true in winter. Image: Courtesy Instagram/Himalayan High Adventures.

Famous treks in the region: The Garhwali ski resort is also the gateway to some of the best offbeat winter treks including Pangerchulla Summit, Nanda Devi, Kuari Pass, and Tapovan but it isn’t recommended by the end of the year as the weather becomes unbearably cold and the routes get blocked. Best time to try these offbeat winter treks is from April to June and September to October.

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