Sunday, March 8, 2009
Given above is the poster with which I boarded the train to Haridwar from Delhi, en route to JoshiMath by road. "Auli has the best slopes in the world facilitating snow skiing during winters beginning January to the end of March." My friend and I were looking forward to seeing the International skiing festival organized in February every year. 'Snowfall predicted for 24 Feb 2009, temperatures expected to fall below -12 degrees' my brother looked up some weather forecast on the Internet and warned me before I boarded the train.
The road journey was hot-the sun became hotter as we climbed up. Joshimath: Local people informed us that there has been no snowfall in Joshimath this year, unlike last year. But they carefully added that weather in these parts is always unpredictable. Auli is sure to have snow. We hurried to make it to the cable car which will lift us to Auli, at 10,000 feet. "No cable car today, we were informed at the cable car base; Today is maintenance day after a three day strike by workers". Sumo drivers appeared from somewhere offering to drive the stranded passengers of Cliiftop Club. Our own car driver backed out saying the 14 km drive is too risky for his car. Snow makes roads slippery, he averred.
As we drove up through steep, dusty and winding roads, the peaks Nanda Devi, Kamet, Mana parbat and Dronagiri began to look closer and closer. The landscape looks a bit like Leh with brown rocks all around -Leh in summer that is, my friend observed. The snow tipped Nanda Devi was tantalizing, I forgot we had come to see snow and the skiing festival.
ClifftopClub did not look like the pictures on the web- The building was there. But where is the snow and the Deodar trees around? Instead there were huge bulldozers working up the roads in dusty clouds, removing the last bit of vegetation which clung desperately to the slopes.
Then the realization dawned. Auli has had just one snowfall this year. The January snow fall did not last enough for snow to harden. In winter 2008 Auli had 3-4 feet snow compared to the usual 8 feet or so every year. The writing was on the wall and Government authorities moved in with an ambitious plan to create artificial snow slopes. The bulldozers and mules around were busy getting the slopes ready for December 2009, for the South Asian Skii festival.
When it snowed on 24 February for about ten minutes, the bulldozers were silent just for a few minutes till the flakes melted away and the fierce sun dried the slopes again.
Global warming was here and too close. We were in for a different kind of holiday!
(My slide show on Auli is getting ready and I hope to upload it soon.)