Skiing in India
Talk of skiing, and most people will think of the powder-white slopes of Switzerland; India, tropical country that it is, will invariably not come to mind. Which is sad, because India too offers skiing- limited, but fulfilling. Gulmarg, in Jammu and Kashmir, was a skier’s mecca for some decades before strife in the state effectively put a stop to nearly all tourism- but, in the meantime, other places have appeared on the ski map of India. Kufri and Narkanda (now getting a new lease of life, although they have been visited by in-the-know skiers for quite some time), Auli and Manali- both fast gaining a reputation for good slopes- all offer a very satisfying skiing holiday..
India’s ski resorts are largely confined to the western half of the Himalayas- in Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh, high enough to get a good cover of snow during the winter months, yet low enough to be easily accessible. Kufri and Narkanda in Himachal Pradesh have been frequented by skiers for decades now, while Auli is the new kid on the block- but what a kid!
All across the Himalayas, January to March is the skiing season, when the resorts are at their snowy best. By late December, most slopes are already well covered, but places really start hotting up only once the new year starts.
India’s premier ski zone, Auli lies high up in the mountains of Uttaranchal, above the town of Joshimath. About 2,500- 3,050 mt above sea level, it’s surrounded by forests of oak and deodar, against a backdrop of towering snowcapped mountains- Nandadevi, Neelkanth and Kamet included. The view, as you’d expect, is spectacular, and a number of tourists come here just to feast their eyes on the beauty of the place. During the summer, the slopes of Auli are covered with grass and wildflowers, but once the snow starts falling, the entire scene changes.
The main snow slopes of Auli stretch for about 5 km, and include 500 mt long ski-lifts and 800 mt long chair-lifts. Snow beaters and snow-packing machines are continually used to keep the slopes dressed. Auli, in fact, is so good that French and Austrian experts have compared it favourably to slopes in Switzerland.
The GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) handles all skiing activities at Auli, so you’ll have to contact them for reservations. They’ll be able to make arrangements for accommodation and transport, and will provide equipment too. Week-long and fortnight-long skiing courses are conducted by the GMVN at Auli as well. Whether you’re going as a novice or a veteran, you should contact either of the following:
General Manager (Tourism),
74/1, Rajpur Road, Dehradun
(Tel: 135-656817 / 654408)
Asstt General Manager (Tourism), GMVN
Kailash Gate, Muni-ki-Reti, Rishikesh
Joshimath, 13 km downhill from Auli, is the most convenient roadhead. Joshimath is connected by road to Haridwar (276 km), Rishikesh (253 km), Dehradun (295 km) and Delhi (about 500 km); from all these cities, and a host of other towns across northern India, daily buses arrive in Joshimath. Haridwar is the nearest railhead, with trains from Delhi, Varanasi, and Agra. Jolly Grant, at Dehradun, is the closest airport, but is currently rather unreliable, with erratic flights and periodic shut-downs for repairs and extensions.
Once you get to Joshimath, you can hire a car or taxi, or take the bus which climbs up to Auli. Much more exciting, however, is the cable car which runs between Joshimath and Auli. It covers a stretch of 4 km and rises from a height of 1,000 mt to 3,000 mt.
Where to stay
Basic accommodation facilities exist in the form of tourist bungalows at Joshimath and Auli. Rooms come with attached bathrooms, hot and cold running water, cable television and basic eateries- but that’s about all. Be prepared to rough it out a bit, and don’t expect any luxuries.
The ski resort which is perhaps the most easily accessible for anyone in northern India is Kufri. Just about 10 km from Shimla, Kufri’s a quiet little town which becomes a busy winter wonderland once the snow starts falling. British officers in the Indian Army discovered this beautiful little place way back in the 1930s, and a serendipitous discovery it was- for Kufri, within a few years, became one of the hottest winter resorts in Himachal. The 1950s and 60s, especially, were boomtime for Kufri, although it’s now been overshadowed by classier resorts like Auli. The snow still falls in Kufri, however, and a skiing trip here can be pretty satisfying. The Mahasu Ridge, just above Kufri, has some good slopes which are worth a try.
Shimla, just about 10 km from Kufri, is well connected to the rest of India by air, rail and road. Shimla’s Jubbarbhatti Airport has flights from Delhi, Chandigarh and Kullu, and a narrow-gauge train links Shimla to Kalka. Kalka has train connections to a number of cities and towns in India, including Delhi. Daily buses link Shimla to major towns in northern India.
From Shimla, buses or hired taxis can be taken to get to Kufri.
Where to stay
Kufri’s so close to Shimla that it’s really not essential to stay in Kufri. You could, if you’re willing to do the short trip to and from Kufri everyday, stay in one of Shimla’s many hotels. Himachal’s capital has a wide range of properties, all the way from economy to deluxe. If you’d rather stay in Kufri itself, there’s a holiday resort, a winter sports club run by the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, a PWD Resthouse, and a few guesthouses.
Manali in Himachal Pradesh is known mainly for heli-skiing. The area around the town, including Deo Tibba, Hanuman Tibba, Rohtang Pass and Chanderkhani Pass, is where heli-skiing takes place. Skiers are taken aboard a helicopter up to a height of close to 14,000 ft, where they can then get off the copter and ski downhill. It’s exhilarating- and expensive- and is fast becoming a popular alternative to just going to Manali for treks.
Further out from Manali, good ski slopes exist at Solang; Solang Nallah, 10 km from Manali, also hosts an annual skiing tournament.
The Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali is one of the premier institutions for skiing in the Himalayas. The organisation offers ski courses throughout the winter, and can provide both assistance as well as advice on where and how to go skiing. The directorate also hires out equipment.
The airport closest to Manali is at Bhuntar, near Kullu; domestic flights arrive here from most major airports in India, and connecting buses do the trip to Manali.
The nearest railhead is Jogindernagar, 135 km from Manali. Manali itself has no train connections, although it’s well linked to the rest of northern India by road. There’s a large bus station on the Mall, with daily buses from Kullu, Chandigarh, Shimla and other major towns and cities in this part of the country.
Where to stay
Manali offers a reasonably wide range of accommodation. Some nice old hotels are situated on the outskirts of the town, while inexpensive lodges and privately owned guesthouses abound in the old town. Fortunately for skiers, Manali’s most crowded during the summers, when hordes of families from all across India descend on the town, determined to enjoy their summer vacations. Winters are low season for everybody except skiers, and the chances of getting good accommodation at relatively low tariffs are bright.
64 km from Shimla is one of India’s oldest ski resorts, Narkanda. Narkanda lies at an altitude of 8,100 ft, and is an important horticultural centre. Fruit orchards on the surrounding hills produce some of Himachal’s most luscious apples and cherries, making Narkanda one of Himachal’s pleasantest settlements, no matter what time of the year. What’s good about Narkanda is that it’s still comparatively unspoilt and uncrowded, so you won’t find yourself suffocated by hordes of fellow skiers.
The slopes at Narkanda run the gamut from beginner’s to advanced, from slalom to cross-country. Hattu Peak, 6 km from Narkanda, towers 2,000 ft above Narkanda and has popular ski slopes.
Himachal Tourism manages all the skiing facilities at Narkanda. They hire out equipment, conduct training courses, and provide everything from accommodation to transport. The Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports at Manali also plays a part in the skiing at Narkanda; they organise special skiing courses January onwards every year.
Fortunately for visitors, Narkanda is conveniently situated on the main highway from Shimla to Kinnaur. There are regular buses to and from Shimla (which, in turn, is connected to the rest of northern India by road and rail). The journey to Narkanda from Shimla is just about two hours, and both taxis as well as private vehicles can be hired in Shimla to do the trip.
Where to stay
Narkanda’s list of tourist accommodation facilities is rather modest. The town has a pretty- but otherwise fairly unpretentious- resthouse, a small hotel operated by the Himachal State Tourism Development Corporation, and a handful of other properties. Most are clean and comfortable, but nowhere near luxurious.
Besides Manali, Kufri and Narkanda, the other areas where skiing is being developed include Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur, Laka and Triund- the latter above Dharamshala. All of these have good ski slopes, and plenty of potential for pulling in crowds of eager-beaver skiers; all that’s required is a lot of development in the way of infrastructure. Until access routes are developed, accommodation improved, and other facilities spruced up, they’re unlikely to attract any but the most passionate of skiers. If you’re one of the adventurous kinds who’re willing to put up with a little hardship, you could contact the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation- they’ll be able to give you information on alternative destinations for skiing, and make the requisite arrangements.