Uttrakhand is many things. Birthplace of the Ganges. Wildlife haven. Spiritual land. Mountain playground. Bordering Tibet to the north, and Nepal on the east, Uttarakhand is often referred to as the Land of Gods, thanks to its profusion of some of India’s most ancient Hindu temples and holy pilgrimage sites.
The state is also blessed with abundant natural beauty. Lying on the southern slopes of the Himalaya range, snowy peaks and verdant forested hills dominate most of the northeast while the southwest is characterised by dry, flat plains. There are protected forests all around the edges of the state, some of which hide India’s most elusive wildlife like tigers and musk deer.
Divided into 2 regions – the western Gharwal region and the eastern Kumaon region – each has a distinct personality and landscape. The Gharwal is home to some of the holiest sites in India, and the most
visited region in the state. The Kumaon region, however, has soaring hill towns surrounded by verdant forests rich in flora and fauna, and is home to the famed Corbett National Park.
The capital of Uttarakhand, Dehradun, is also the gateway into the state. Located in the west, its airport has regular services from Delhi (1-hour flight), and rail links to other major cities including Mumbai and Kolkata.
Home to the holiest sites in Hinduism, the four mountain temples of Char Dham (Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) see millions of pilgrims every year when the temples open from spring to fall. Nestled in the snowy Himalayas, the trails that lead to these temples make for some of the most dramatic hiking routes.
Bordering China (Tibet) and Nepal, this mountainous region of Uttarakhand is a popular trekking ground, where you’ll find lofty mountain peaks of over 6,000m, as well as glaciers that are the birthplace to some of the holiest rivers in India. Favourite treks include Har-Ki-Dun (a remote area with good chances of seeing wildlife), Chandrashila (a ridge hike that passes a lake and ends at an ancient temple), Gangotri (the glacier that is the source of the Ganges) and the Kuori Pass (a mountaineer’s favourite, which offers a mix of village life, wilderness and culture with views of Nanda Devi in the distance).
Surrounding a teardrop-shaped lake is the hill station of Nainital (1,938m),
where you can see a smattering of Colonial-era buildings. It is also a good
base for visiting the surrounding heavily-wooded mountainous regions like
Mukteshwar (2,286m) and Pangot (1,900m), both boasting vistas of snowy
peaks and home to fruit orchards. This area is a wildlife haven, rich in birdlife, as well as a variety of deer and the occasional predator, which can be seen at Corbett National Park (part of Project Tiger).
Thanks to easy air and rail access, this region is well-visited by tourists. Famous for their nightly riverside ganga aarti (a Hindu fire and water ceremony), both Haridwar and Rishikesh are packed with worshippers who come to get blessed, and to bathe in the holy Ganges. Rishikesh is also a renowned world yoga capital, which sees a large number foreign tourists who come for yoga courses.
A principle adventure activity in the area is whitewater rafting along the Ganges, where the river is graded at Class I-III+. Currently, over 40 operators provide whitewater trips, where you can end the day at one of the many riverside campsites along the way.