Kushal Anand, our rope way operator from Auli to Joshimat said "Kya kare, bahot log Valley of flowers nahin ja paate hain, isliye mein Valley vahan dikata hun aur flower yahan dikata hun (What to do? Many people cannot go up to valley of flowers, so I show the valley there and flowers here)" pointing his finger to high mountain ranges through the cable car and to the flowers below the cabin. We all burst into laughter. More importantly, my mother too laughed, clearly and loudly. I was surprised seeing the smile on her gladdened face. While going up from Joshimat to Auli, which was precisely an hour back, her face was knotted with worry lines on the forehead and was uttering Krishnaashttotthara, Vishnusahasranama while holding the arm rest of cable car as though she is clinging on to the last stone on a cliff and will fall off at any time. She was so tensed that she did not even look far out from the cabin.
Visit to Auli was a surprise pack of our tour programme, so much so that even Sudhira, our tour CEO, did not know how much surprise was in store. We left Badri after having the awesome Poori bhaji from Hotel Devlok at around 8:30 in the morning, went to Mana village and were back by 11:00 so as to get the gate clearance at Badri. We reached Joshimat by 3:10pm. Ustadji asked us to hurry up, only to realise that cable car is at 4pm. Sudhira did the homework and told us that it would Rs.500 per head. So Sudhira, Aravind, me and my wife managed the show and got eight tickets. The ticket issuing lady asked "Aaap log waapas kab ayenge (at what time you are coming back?" I was about to tell "aaj..hi"...Sudhira said "Paanch baje". I thought I am saved! Sudhira, Anna and Aravind went to the hotel and got some "Aloo paranta" and "Achar". I was with my mother, making her feel good while climbing as many as 40 odd steps to reach the gateway of the ropeway.
This was also my first ever journey in ropeway, but it never occurred in mind, untill I asked myself after getting down at Auli, "did I ever travel like this before?". At 4pm on dot, cable car operator invited us to get into the cable. The signboards inside the car said, "no photography". I sincerely followed this, until I saw the first glimpse of Nandadevi peak. As soon as the operator pointed out, I just broke all the rules, opened the tripod and camera, went on clicking this amazing snow clad mountain. That's probably the luckiest moment in our Auli trip, after that, we could not get such clarity of the peak in the next few hours we spent at Auli. My mother saw the peak, yet she was tensed and her mouth was still murmuring some shlokas. We reached Auli, precisely after 22 minutes of journey over a kilometer of elevation.
Camera's clicked all around the place! Clouds were moving at our eye level, snow clad peaks were doing hide and seek, its really a strange feel to be with family on top of a hill. Though there is a famous saying, on reaching the top you are alone, but here it was quite reverse. We had two plates hot 'pakoras' with hot tea and coffee from the hotel at Auli.
At 5pm, we were literally "forced" to get back into cable car. We all felt a day is not enough to fill our eyes with those scenic beauties. It's precisely in this return journey, we met the Maulvi of the Auli, Kushal Anand. He is a great entertainer indeed, as soon as we entered, he said "Mumbai log gaate hai ki...'lift karaadeh'...hum yahan sabhiko 'lift karaadetehai'". Its from him, I learnt that the real name of Joshimath is Jyotirmat, for the reason that Adi Shankara got his enlightenment in this area and also that during winter, Badrivishal statue will be kept at this place. He explained how this place is being readied for 2010 commonwealth games and why the skiing at Auli is considered better than any other place in India.
He showed us "Queen" and "Elephant", which I personally consider the height of imagination. He carved out a queen face, pointing and moving his fingers over five peaks in front of us. Wow...its amazing, it really looked like queen's face. Hmmm...and youthful too. Then he said "I show her to many, but no one ready to marry!" Next was the Elephant peak, which he again carved out. I was just astonished to see that the peak was in front of us from 3pm, we did not even think of what it could be! Within a span of two minutes, we all agreed that it looked like an elephant.
To test his presence of mind or to test our nerves, power went off when we were two towers before Joshimath. He mentioned in rhyming words " the power is gone, but not to worry we will put our generators on". Yes, the cable car again moved within a minute. He talked so simple, yet his words were well weighed and said. My mother personally thanked him and said, "Aap agar pehli baar aajaate, mein itna chintit nahi hoti (If you had come during our upward journey, I would not have worried that much)". We all thanked Kushal Anand, for making us feel the 22 minute tour less than 2 minutes. He is such a nice person with great sense of humor, knowledge, dedication and great commitment to his work, who not only made us to laugh with his one liners, but also relax and learn a lot during this short trip in cable car.To me he looked more like a Maulvi in uniform and in a cable car! Hats off to you! Sir.