The balmy hills of the Lower Himalayas are home to popular hill stations, set up by the British who were forever looking for a piece of England on the subcontinent. The hills of Uttaranchal came closest to their vision, and they headed here to escape the blistering heat of the Indian plains.
Set atop a long, curling ridge, Mussoorie overlooks Dehradun and the Doon Valley. The buzzing hill station- one of India's most popular- was established by the British way back in the early 19th century.
Nainital, Almora and Ranikhet are other popular hill stops. At a height of 1938 metres, Nainital is set around the beautiful Nainilake. The British built Nainital because it reminded them of the Cumbrian Lake District in England. Indeed, after the number of pretty mountain lakes in its vicinity, this is called india's 'Lake District'. Lake Naini has recently been restored to its pristine state and offers excellent boating.
Trekking :- Uttaranchal offers exciting and challenging trekking destinations. Opportunities for trekking exist almost everywhere, whether you're in Garhwal or Kumaon (the two administrative regions). Popular treks are to the Valley of Flowerds. Har- ki- Dun valley and to high- altitude lakes like Dodi.
Mountaineering :- Some of the highest peaks in the world- Nanda Devi (7817 metres), Kamet (7756 metres), Bander Poonch (6316 metres) and the Panchchuli peaks (6904 metres) - beckon the avid mountaineer to Uttaranchal. For beginners, there are several smaller peaks too.
Whitewater Rafting :- Ten kilometres upstream from Rishikesh is Shivpuri, from where white water rafting tours operate from October through May- popular with amateurs. For hardcore enthusiasts, most of Uttaranchal's rivers offer rafting opportunities at varying grades of difficulty. Kayaking is also on offer.
There's more. Auli, Munsiyari and Dayara Bugyal have great skiing slopes; there's paragliding at Naukuchiatal, and water- skiing courses in the state.
Ecotourism :- Uttaranchal boasts diverse and unique flora and fauna. There are over 4000 kinds of flowering plants and 2248 species of animals. This makes it an ideal gateway for ecotourists. Options include jungle safaris, trekking along forest trails, nature walks, sport fishing (the Mahseer is the fish of choice in Uttaranchal's rivers and Lakes). You can't fish everywhere though, so check and get an angling permit before venturing forth.
The Valley of Flowers is a great ecotourism destination. It's snowed in between November and May, but after the thawing of the ice in June, a blaze of alpine flowers takes over. More than 300 species of wildflowers bloom during this period.
Wildlife :- Corbett National Park named after the naturalist and hunter Jim Corbet, who wrote the well-known Man-eaters of Kumaon- maintains its primacy as India's finest national park (it's the first too constituted in 1935). Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, it is one of the most dramatic habitats of the tiger in India. The park is spread over 520 square kilometres along the banks of the Ramganga river. The elevation of the park ranges from 400 metres to 1210 metres and animals belonging to both peninsular India as well as the Himalayas can be spotted here. Crocodiles, gharial, elephants, sambar, chital and leopard and over one-fourth of India's bird species are a few of the inhabitants.
Rajaji National Park, spread across 820 square kilometres in the forested foothills near Haridwar, is known for its wild elephants. Nandi Devi National Park and Govind Wildlife Sanctuary are pristine, high- altitude parks.
Wellnesess :- Mysticism, spirituality, the Ganga, ascetics, meditation and concepts of healing based on Indian systems of medicine, all make Uttaranchal the ideal destination for wellness the Indian way. The temple town of Rishikesh marks the beginning of the descent of the Ganga into the great Indian plains. The town enjoyed worldwide attention when the Beatles visited in the 1960s. Numerous ashrams by the river-side offer opportunities to explore one's spirituality with meditation and yoga. The international Yoga Week, which is held in February every year, attracts enthusiasts from all over the world. Ayurvedic treatment is also on offer in Rishikesh
Char Dham Pilgrimage
Every year, two million pilgrims start their journey from Rishikesh and travel hundreds of kilometres into the Himalayas, walking up steep mountain trails where necessary, to the four shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath, all set in spectacular locations.
Traditionally the pilgrimage is done from West to East, starting from Yamunotri, proceeding to Gangotri and then on to Kedarnath and Badrinath.
Although connected by motorable roads for your comfort, arduous and challenging trails do exist for the devout and the enthusiast.
Although the final six kilometres to Yamunotri have to be covered on foot, the shrine attracts hordes of visitors. On the banks of the Bhagirathi (as the Ganga is known till it reaches Deoprayag) stands the shrine of Gangotri. The Gorkha commander Amar Singh Thapa built the temple at Gangotri in the 18th century.
Kedarnath lies at an altitude of 3584 metres at the source of the Mandakini river. Badrinath, the final stop for the pilgrim, lies on the left bank of the Alaknanda. This shrine, dedicated to Vishnu, is the holiest of the four sites.
Other attractions for the devout include the sacred Sikh pilgrimages of Hemkund Sahib, Nanakmatta and Reetha Sahib. For Hindus there are the PanchKedar, PanchBadri and PanchPrayag pilgrimages to look forward to.
The Ganga is the spiritual lifeline of the Hindus and millions flock to the holy towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar every year to bathe in its waters. Haridwar is one of the four sites of the Kumbh Mela (the largest religious gathering in the world), one of the four places where a drop of amrita (nectar) fell from the Kumbh (vessel) when the gods fled with it. Once every 12 year, devotees from all over the country (and around the world) gather in the millions for a holy dip at the auspicious hour. The Ardha Kumbh is also held every12 years. In the intermediary years there is always the festive Magh Mela to watch out for. Not to be missed is the atmospheric Ganga Aarti on the riverbank every evening. Afterwards, devotees launch hundreds of floating lamps on the river, till it becomes a channel of stars flowing into the dark.
The ancient temples of Garhwal and Kumaon are of great heritage and archaeological significance. The most important ones are at Lakha Mandal, Adi Badri, Dwarahat, Jageshwar, Baijnath, Gangolihat, Champawat and Almora.
Almora, perched atop a saddle- shaped ridge at an altitude of 1646 metres, is said to be the cultural capital of Uttaranchal. The picturesque mountain town serves as the administrative capital of Kumaon and has been the administrative centre for the Chand kings, Gorkha invaders and British colonialists in the past.
Thirty-eight kilometres from Almora lies Jageshwar, a cluster of 124 large and small temples said to be over 1500 years old. Another interesting excursion from Almora is PatalBhuvaneshwar, a complex of subterranean caves. One of the caves houses a temple with stone carvings of a number of traditional gods and goddesses and is said to be the abode of thousands of deities from the Hindu pantheon.
Uttaranchal promises to be the holiday of a lifetime for you. Even as it strives to make Uttaranchal as attractive a destination as possible, Uttaranchal Tourism is committed to the preservation of the natural habitat of the state and its delicate Himalayan ecosystem. For its commendable tourism promotion efforts, the state bagged a National Tourism Award in the International Year of Ecotourism. Uttaranchal Tourism emphasizes enhanced private- sector participation, the improving of infrastructure and professional- quality service.