Summer Road Trip – Auli, Tapovan and Kanchula Kharak

Auli is planned in the fore noon and Tapovan (for the Hot Springs and the much-admired close-up views of the Nanda Devi from the Niti Valley) in the afternoon for today. A half day for each destination is quite inadequate as most people will say but we are treating this as a recce tour for when we find more time to give to this place and hopefully do the Kuari Pass trek too! The intent is to set out for Auli early and to stop at any suitable place along the roadside for a breakfast of fruits which we are carrying. As we climb the mountain towards Auli, it becomes clear that the haze in the atmosphere at this time of the year will spoil our chances of a good view of the Nanda Devi from the top.

The route is very pretty… a fairly well paved road with quaint houses on the slopes, most boasting of gardens absolutely bursting with flowers that a plains-dweller can only dream about! Even the roadside is not bereft of them. The verge also sports beautiful blossoms!

Wild flowers on way to Auli

Wild flowers on way to Auli

Wild flowers on way to Auli

Wild flowers on way to Auli

Half way up, we come upon a wide-ish stretch of road where we decide to have breakfast. What a treat it is to be surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks on all sides, the constant chirping of the birds around and the beautiful town of Joshimath nestled way down on the slope. Perfect place for a break!

Expectedly, there is no view from the top… at least not of Nanda Devi. That will have to wait for another time though Auli has been planned with the express purpose of viewing the highest Indian peak (Nanda Devi is the highest peak entirely in India, Kanchenjunga is part in Nepal) from there. The other peaks closer are visible. We do some birding there… a Red-billed Blue Magpie, Mistle Thrush, Blackbirds, Blue capped rock thrushs, Verditer Flycatchers being the most abundant along with the Himalayan Bulbuls.

Verditer Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

Blue capped Rock Thrush

Blue capped Rock Thrush

Grey winged Blackbird (f)

Grey winged Blackbird (f)

Eurasian Goldfinch

Eurasian Goldfinch

Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove

Back for lunch and a short rest, we set off for Tapovan and the hot springs by late afternoon. The road leaving Joshimath for the Niti Valley has been damaged in portions to the point where driving is a treacherous, laborious experience. After about 3 Kms, it becomes better though there are patches all along which are extremely bad.

Niti Valley

Niti Valley

All along the Dhauliganga which flows deep in the valley below are new Hydel projects coming up completely ruining the beauty of the place. It is now just a concrete jungle networked with dusty narrow roads where tens of trucks ply for the construction needs of the corporations and a blatant disregard for the very fragile ecology of the region. Now one can understand the reason for the scale of the disaster that hit Uttarakhand this June.

Hydel project under construction

Hydel project under construction

Both sides of the valley are dotted with small hamlets high up on the mountain sides with neat little terraced fields of golden yellow grain ready for harvest. Fields extend to impossible slopes and dizzy heights.

Golden fields ready for harvest

Golden fields ready for harvest

Harvested crop

Harvested crop

When we reach Tapovan, we expect to see some road sign for the Hot Springs but see nothing. On enquiry, we were told they are further up the road by about 3 kms. The sky is getting overcast and the road condition is worsening but we decide to go ahead. The magnificent views from this route are all veiled due to the haze and the clouds rolling ominously lower. We round a rather sharp bend and abruptly come upon the Sulphur Springs.

Hot spring at Tapovan

Hot spring at Tapovan

Hot spring at Tapovan

Hot spring at Tapovan

There is no signpost but the smell of sulphur hangs strongly in the air. I am surprised to actually see the water bubble up through the many vents and boil over the edges and flow across the road (I am witness to a hot spring for the first time!). No amount of info both visual and bookish can prepare one for the actual sight of such a spring. It is to be seen to be believed! Some distance away, the natural runoff from the spring is collecting in a little Kund (man-made) where one can attempt to have a bath with these medicinal waters. By now the water is just ‘very hot’ from ‘boiling’ a few metres away. The medicinal waters duly collected, we turn back. A very interesting place indeed!

An early dinner and bed sees us ready for destination ‘Kanchula Kharak’ tomorrow.

A comfortable 0700hrs start sees us leisurely driving back towards Chamoli, across the bridge over the Alaknanda and on towards Gopeshwar, the capital of Chamoli district. Gopeshwar is at a fair height and the road winds up rather steeply towards it.

Gopeshwar

Gopeshwar

The roads are very narrow and at times badly in need of repair making our progress slow. As we take the road out of town in the direction of Mandal, Chopta and Ukhimath, we realise that we are probably on the narrowest roads we’ve encountered on the trip so far. On the one side of the road is the steep hillside and the other a drop of maybe ten thousand feet! Very picturesque though and would be even more enchanting but for the heavy oncoming traffic from the Chardham Yatra (this is the shortest route between Kedarnath and Badrinath).

Road out of Gopeshwar

Road out of Gopeshwar

Somewhere on this path, a mountain stream has been channelized into a pipe making a water point. On the road for 8 days now, the car is truly screaming for attention. Not one to miss such opportunities, we take a halt and wash our car at this readymade ‘car-wash’.

Car wash point!

Car wash point!

The winding road hugs the high mountainside where the vegetation is very sparse and one can look down at the thick green cover on the lower slopes. It eventually starts descending through Mandal and then through very dense forests to Kanchula Kharak.

Dense forest near Kanchula Kharak

Dense forest near Kanchula Kharak

Kanchula was a forest dept. Musk Deer breeding centre which is now non-operational. This is a very remote place with no habitation around but there exists a very nice bamboo cottage with two bedrooms and a common dining-drawing area for eco-tourists. [The cost per double-bedroom is Rs 650/-, making the cottage worth Rs 1300/-] This can be booked through the DFO, Kedarnath range, Gopeshwar. Definitely worth it!

Touring officers rest house for Forest Officials-Kanchula

Touring officers rest house for Forest Officials-Kanchula

On reaching we realize that there is no provision for meals and one has to drive to Chopta about 8 kms further away for food. We drive there and have lunch at a dhaba which is quite good. Situated on the Gopeshwar-Ukhimath road, Chopta is a beautiful little hamlet situated at the highest point on this road (2900 m). This route to Chopta offers a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains and deep wooded valleys. This area gets copious rainfall annually and also sustains very high humidity levels giving a distinct character to its vegetation. The trees are moss laden and support good varieties of moist temperate plant life.

Moss laden trees

Moss laden trees

When we reached Kanchula a couple of hours back, the snow capped peaks in the north were visible though not bright and clear, but now the mountains are wearing misty shrouds. The sun is loath to come out and the air is turning positively cold making us shiver. Reluctant to call it a day as yet, we bundle up and spend the evening walking up and down the mountainsides around Kanchula bird-watching and generally getting the feel of the place. What is turning into a sore point is the numerous bugs around which bite and leave me completely itchy, prickly and inflamed. I cut short my trail and head indoors…
In spite of that I manage fairly good pictures of some common birds there.

Bar throated Siva

Bar throated Siva

Vareigated Laughingthrush

Vareigated Laughingthrush

White capped water Redstart

White capped water Redstart

Black throated Tit

Black throated Tit

By dusk, an icy cold wind is blowing leaving most of us scurrying for the warmth of our quilts. Tomorrow is going to be a big day. We need to leave at 0430 hrs to be stationed at the meadow enroute to see some wild life on the way to Chopta. Predawn is the best time to sight Monals and Tahrs we’re told, so we aim to be ready and waiting!!

8 Comments

  • Nice detailed, informative post.

    Yes, ‘Hydel Project…’ is the only distraction point, as you rightly pointed out. In the last 13 years of Statehood, State Govt. have blindly pushed roads, dams, tunnels, bridges and unsafe buildings even in the most fragile regions, with a single minded goal of creating wealth. The demand & basic objective of a separate State was completelty different.

    Are you sure to post the right picture of the ‘Hot Spring’? It is very sad to see this picture. I was in Rajgir (near Nalanda) long time back and saw Hot Springs for the first time and then in Bakreshwar (Birbhum, West Bengal)…both the places were crowded but it was really a different feeling. Near home, we did have one in Sohna (but, couldn’t locate the same on our own – need to take help from locals).

    Very nice shots of the birds as usual. There are some pictures missing…do post them whenever you will have time…look forward to the next part.

  • Naturebuff says:

    Hi Amitava,

    The hydel projects especially in the Niti valley are total eyesores… ecological disasters!

    Yes, certainly the right photo! No crowds, no signage, no nothing! I did like the place though for the simple beauty of the hot springs especially since there were no crowds!

    Thank you for your kind comments.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Naturebuff,

    Another lovely account!

    The hot spring is a find. All of a sudden two posts about the little known Tapovan but I guess Pradeep missed the hot spring.

  • Naturebuff says:

    Hi Nirdesh,

    The other Tapovan is probably the one near Dhanolti… this one we went to is close to Joshimath. If I’m not mistaken, there are at least 3 Tapovans in Uttarakhand.

    I’m glad you liked the post. Thank you!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    You indeed pack a lot of material into your daily sack. The post took us to Auli, to Tapovan and the quite and secluded sulphur spring (I witnessed one at Manikaran, near Manali but it was not so outdoor-ish) to Kanchula and what not.

    The pictures of birds are again brilliantly shot. Thank you Kranti.

    I also see markers for missing pics, my bad. Please email us the specific ones and I would fix the post.

  • Vipin says:

    Niti Valley being one of the least explored places really presents stunning views and an experience of a lifetime, you brought a part of it in the above post very beautifully. Photos are superb as usual. It would have been very useful for novices like me if the initial photos of the birds would carry captions just below them for proper identification…Thanks for sharing!

    During our wandering in this part, we did enjoy bathing in the hot water in the temple kund, it was so refreshing…we too missed Kuari Pass here…:(…though it was just a recce this time for you, i would highly suggest you to go to Bhavishya Badri next time you venture into this mesmerizing land, it is no less than heaven on earth…i had written a small story about Bhavishya Badri, have a look as & when you get time…http://www.ghumakkar.com/2013/01/02/gadhwal-visit-%E0%A4%97%E0%A4%A2%E0%A4%BC%E0%A4%B5%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%B2-%E0%A4%98%E0%A5%81%E0%A4%AE%E0%A4%95%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%95%E0%A4%A1%E0%A4%BC%E0%A5%80-%E0%A4%AD%E0%A4%B5%E0%A4%BF%E0%A4%B7%E0%A5%8D/

  • Naturebuff says:

    Hi Vipin,

    The captions have been fixed.

    Bhavishya badri is definitely on our to-do list. No time this time round but will plan it for the next.
    Thanks for writing in… very motivating indeed!

  • Shivank says:

    It was one of a great miracle buy mother nature. Plz watch this video for reference https://youtu.be/4Ru_U6uUr1Q

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