Himalayan Journal vol.14
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

H. W. Tobin
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  4. NANDA GHUNTI, 1945
    (P. L. WOOD)
    (L. CHICKEN)
    (R. V. VERNEDE)
    (C.G. Wylie)
  10. NOTES



One could presumably find somewhere to ski almost anywhere in the Himalayas, if prepared to go and find the place, but this does not mean that one could recommend it as a winter-sports resort. Garhwal in particular is difficult and inaccessible. The mountain sides are steep and rocky, the valleys deep and narrow. I have written this note, not because I claim to have discovered another Gulmarg, but because in a district I happen to know well, I have found one place where terrain, scenery, and apparently suitable snow conditions are associated together in a reasonably accessible area and which, there is every hope, will become more accessible within the next two years, in case anyone is interested.

In September 1945, while on tour as Deputy Commissioner, I walked from the Kuari pass to Joshimath along the ridge instead of by one of the two usual routes via Tapoban or Tungasi. It is one of the finest walks in the district. I noted some slopes, particularly at Garson and Auli bugials (grazing-grounds), which looked as if they would be ideal for ski-ing and I registered a vow to visit them in winter.

I have now visited them twice in winter-for three days, 18th- 20th February, in 1946 and one week, 20th-26th February, in 1947. On the first occasion it snowed for two days out of three, so ski-ing was out of the question. The scenery was so magnificent and local opinion so insistent that 1946 was an abnormal year, that I determined to try again. In 1947 I was luckier and enjoyed what the locals said was typical weather and snow conditions, and being on leave and travelling entirely at my own expense, I obtained a more useful idea of the difficulties and expenses. Some readers of the Journal may be interested in a note on the conditions found and expenses involved. I have added some photographs, but I find they do not do justice to the snow-fields. I was interested in a place called Ali before, near Wan, two marches from Gwaldam, but this is incomparably more promising.

The Journey

The railhead is Kotdwara on the E.I.R. From there it is one day by lorry to Pauri (68 miles) or to Srinagar (87 miles) and a second day on to roadhead at Karanprayag (61 miles from Pauri). There is one-way traffic; the road has only recently been made, and is not for the squeamish. From Karanprayag it is five marches by ordinary stages to Joshimath. With good coolies and light loads one could cut this to three days. It takes another day to get up to the ski-ing slopes above Joshimath. There are good if small P. W.D. Inspection Houses at all halts, but if doing double marches, one night would have to be spent in a dharmsala at Garurganga, half-way between Ghamoli and Joshimath. As there are stone huts at Garson and Auli, in this way one can avoid taking tents altogether.

When the motor road is completed up to Ghamoli in two years' time, it will be possible to reach there by lorry in two days and Garson in five days in all. If the motor road is extended to Pipalkoti as proposed, the time could be cut to four days. The climb from Joshimath is very steep (3 ½ miles) and a better route would be from Helang chatti on the pilgrim route via Palkhundi village to arrive at Garson from the south-west by a longer path but easier gradient, with less snow for the coolies.

The Ski-ing Slopes

The ski-ing-grounds which I visited are over the Garson and Auli bugials, lying directly above Joshimath, on the north-facing slopes of the ridge which runs from west of the Kuari pass into the angle formed by the junction of the Dhauli and Alaknanda rivers (1/2 -inch Survey of India, Sheet 53 N/se, 1st edit.). The highest point is 12,458 feet (Sq. A 1). From the north and north-north-west shoulders of this summit, good slopes run down to the tree-line at 10,500 feet at the foot of the Garson bugial. There is a short run following the path through conifer woods and then from c. 10,000 feet over open slopes again and following a fairly well-defined broad ridge to the limit of good snow near the foot of Auli bugial, c. 8,500 feet (in a good snow year), by a small temple. Apart from this, the longest continuous run, of about 2 ½ miles, there are numerous features suitable for practice and nursery slopes and there are some attractive slopes in the middle of the woods, a belt of which runs between Garson and Auli and in continuation of Auli to the east.

Although I could not test my assumption, I am pretty certain one could traverse on skis from west of the Kuari pass to Auli with runs across the slopes of Kuari and again from point 12,458 down to Auli, a total distance of approximately 8 miles with runs over 4 miles of the distance.

One should be able to start from point 15,050 (Pangarchula) (Sq. B 1) or at least from a small subsidiary peak on the north-north- west ridge from Pangarchula, height approximately 14,000 feet, and run north-north-west over the northern slopes of the Kuari pass to the point where the ridge narrows again to a true backbone ridge just above the Khulara camping-ground, where the height is shown as 11,950 feet (Sq. A 1). From this point one would have to traverse, climbing slightly at places still on the northern side and passing below point 12,631 (Ghitarkana) to the north shoulder of point 12,458. From the map and to the eye there are even more attractive slopes to the north-east of point 15,050 near Dialisera, between 13,000 and 11,000 feet, but I have not been over these even in summer.

Auli Bugial above Joshimath Garhwal

Auli Bugial above Joshimath Garhwal

Garson, ski-ing above Joshimath Garhwal

Garson, ski-ing above Joshimath Garhwal

Garson ski-ing slopes above Joshimath Garhwal

Garson ski-ing slopes above Joshimath Garhwal

Nilgiri Parbat and the Valley of Flowers from Auli

Nilgiri Parbat and the Valley of Flowers from Auli

Owing to the height and distances involved and the absence of natural or artificial transport, this stretch of ski-ing country calls for at least three huts-one at Auli at 9,000 feet, one at Garson at 10,500 feet, and one at Khulara at 11,000 feet. The location and scenery are superb. Fringed by snow-festooned pine and oak trees and hanging over the blue depths of the Dhauli and Alaknanda valleys 5,000 feet below, the snow slopes are outlined against a wall of snowy peaks rising from the main Himalayan range from Ghaukhamba round to Dunagiri and including Nilkanta, Mana, Kamet, Nilgiri, Gauri and Hathi Parbats, the Niti, and other peaks of the Zaskar range. From point 12,458 the view is extended to the south-east to include the Lata aiguilles, Nanda Ghunti, and Trisul.


I reached Auli on the 20th February. The coolies were most reluctant to carry any farther, and it was certainly heavy going for them in 5 feet of snow, so I stayed in a cowshed on Auli at approximately 9,700 feet. If I had had longer I would have moved up to a similar hut at Garson at 10,500 feet where I had stayed the year before.

The cowshed was free of all insects and cosy enough with a charcoal stove, but of course very smoky. I took a Garhwali boy to cook for me and two local men who volunteered to come. Narain Singh was very knowledgeable about the terrain and snow conditions, and had a remarkable knowledge of the local wild animal life. He wore snow-shoes, provided by me, and found them useful, except of course when the snow was wet and sticky. He generally accompanied me most of the way when I was climbing on skins. The other man was the Patwari's orderly-an ex-soldier-who arranged for milk and charcoal.

I had four days reasonably good ski-ing. The best snow was above 10,500 feet. After 2.30 p.m. below 10,500 feet the slightly thawed snow rapidly froze into harsh ice-crust. I was never above 10,500 feet after 2.30 p.m., but I presume the same thing happened. On the 23rd it snowed lightly and finely from 12 noon to just after midnight, resulting in about 5 inches of new snow, which was wet and sticky, and seemed to make the old snow below also wet. The 24th and 25th had to be written off for ski-ing. On the 26th-my last day- the snow was all right again, and being acclimatized I had my best day.

I encountered some wind-slab but it could generally be avoided, some wet cake in small patches, and wind-furrowed snow, but the latter was all right. I was struck by the variety of snow met with in one morning's expedition over a small area.

As I was alone I avoided very steep slopes all the more. These were mostly short, consisting of the sides of short lateral ridges running north-north-west from point 12,458 and separated by deep gullies, which are not continuous. Both Garson and Auli, I should say, are free of snow avalanches. The locals said they had never known them there.

This winter it snowed there on the 28th-2gth November 1946 (lightly), 28th-2gth December 1946 (heavily), 4th~5th and 22nd- 23rd January 1947 (heavily), 6th February (lightly), 15th February (fairly heavily), and 23rd February (very lightly). All the locals and in particular Narain Singh, whose opinion I valued, maintained that February was the best month for weather and snow. It is freest from wind-the greatest enemy. There seems to be little chance though of getting more than ten consecutive days clear weather in February.

I found warm underclothes and a grey army flannel shirt worn with gaberdine ski-trousers just right for climbing and added a windproof jacket and gauntlets for running down. I wore what I call a woollen scrum-cap to protect my ears, and personally I wore a jungle hat in the sun, having a tender scalp and exiguous hair thereon, but most people I am sure would have done without. Snow-goggles and face cream were of course essential. Plenty of dubbin had to be applied to boots and all leather daily as they got very wet. I only waxed my skis once.

It was a strenuous but enjoyable holiday and would have been improved by a ski-ing companion.