Uttarakhand Travel Guide

About Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand is one of the most beautiful and enchanting region located on the northern part of India on the valley of Himalayas. It is often referred to as the Land of Gods – Dev Bhoomi due to the many holy Hindu temples and cities found throughout the state which are some of Hinduism’s most spiritual and auspicious places of pilgrimage and worship. The shrine of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath make up the Char Dham Yatra, four highly sacred destinations of the Hindus. This is the land where the Ganga, Yamuna, Alaknanda and the Mandakini are born and can be seen in their pure and blissful infancy.

The state of Uttarakhand which covers an area of 55,483sq.km was granted statehood on 9th November, 2000, becoming the 27th state of India. Nature has endowed this land with so much beauty and it is the only state to have ‘Sanskrit’ as one of its official languages in India. The diverse and bountiful state that is now a popular tourist destination was brought to fame by the Beatles’ 1968 visit. Uttarakhand, bordered by Nepal and Tibet, and shadowed by towering Himalayan peaks, is full of unspoiled natural beauty. It's divided into two regions – Garhwal in the north, and Kumaon in the south. The interim capital and the largest city of Uttarakhand is Dehradun. The High Court of the state is in  Nainital .

Uttarakhand is a ‘Utopia’ for both lovers of nature and adrenaline junkies alike. The beauty of Uttarakhand lies in its surreal hills and forests. It is a delight for Nature lovers. Adventure lovers like are greeted with an array of activities like Skiing, Trekking, Camping, Rafting, Paragliding, Mountain Biking etc, making it a perfect destination for anyone and everyone.

History of Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand was carved out of Himalayan and adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh on 9th November 2000, becoming the 27th state of the Republic of India. Originally known as Uttaranchal, the state was renamed Uttarakhand in January 2007.

Literally North Country or Section in Sanskrit, the name of Uttarakhand finds mention in the early Hindu scriptures as the combined region of Kedarkhand (present day Garhwal) and Manaskhand (present day Kumaon), the regions that are known according to Hindu legends as Devbhoomi (land of the gods). The traditional name of Garhwal was Uttarakhand and excavations have revealed that it formed part of the Mauryan Empire. It also finds mention in the 7th-century travelogue of Huen Tsang. However, it is with Adi Shankaracharya that the name of Garhwal will always be linked, for the great 8th-century spiritual reformer visited the remote, snow-laden heights of Garhwal, established a math (Joshimath) and resorted some of the most sacred shrines, including Badrinath and Kedarnath. The Garhwal Himalayas have nurtured civilization from the wee hours of history. It appears to have been a favourite locale for the voluminous mythology of the Puranic period. The discovery of rock paintings, stone tools, and megaliths throughout the state, suggest the existence of prehistoric civilisations.

Over the centuries the following powerful clans ruled over Uttarakhand –  Pauravas, Nandas, Mauryans, Kushanas, Kunindas, Guptas, Gurjara-Pratihara, Katyuris, Raikas, Palas, Karkotas, Chands, and Parmars. Of particular significance were the reigns of the Garhwal Kingdom and Kumaon Kingdoms, respectively. The history of Garhwal as one unified whole began in the 15th century, when king Ajai Pal merged the 52 separate principalities, each with its own garh or fortress. For 300 years, Garhwal remained one kingdom, with its capital at Srinagar (not to be confused with the capital of Kashmir). Then Pauri and Dehradun were perforce ceded to the Crown as payment for British help, rendered to the Garhwalis during the Gurkha invasion, in the early 19th century.

Uttarakhand is the place where most of the Hindu epic tales were set in the past. The ancient history of this place is abreast with the legends of Hindu gods and goddesses, the rule of British as well as The Beatles alike. Sir Jim Corbett has been, as if, immortalized by having a tiger reserve after his name as he was the one to play a key role in its establishment. The Beatles had come here as early as 1968 and had written much of ‘’The White album’’ in  Rishikesh . The story of their visit to the place transfigured Rishikesh’s holy land into one of the amazing focal points for unworldly claimants as well as yoga enthusiasts across the globe. A legend goes that sage Vyasa had scripted and penned the Mahabharata here as the five brothers, Pandavas, had camped in the region.

Geography of Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand has a total geographic area of 51,125 km², of which 93% is mountainous and 64% is covered by forest. The state is bordered by Tibet on the North and Nepal on the east. The indian state of UttarPradesh lies on the South Border and Himachal Pradesh on the North – West border. The state has 13 districts which are grouped into 2 major divisions, Kumaon and Garhwal , based on their historic divisions as the kingdoms of Kumaon and Garhwal.

Uttarakhand is a part of the Western Himalayan ranges starting from the Shivalik foothills to Greater Himalayas. Apart from the Terai region in the Shivalik foothills, the entire state of Uttarakhand is a part of the Himalayan ranges. Uttarakhand, in its entirety, is a place of saga and folklores in combination with picturesquely beautiful mountain landscapes. At 7,816 m above sea level, Nanda Devi in the district of Chamoli is the highest point in the state. The region has many glaciers, passes, meadows, and trekking routes with several major rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna originating from here. A major part of this Himalayan state comes under rainforests and alpine forests that are home to some of the highly endangered wildlife species.

Tourism in Uttarakhand

The tourism in Uttarakhand is an opportunity to explore as well as to soak the culture of a state that is adorned with significant nature’s beauty and charming traditions. The state also renders an excellent chance to attain the complete rejuvenation of body, mind, and soul.

Uttarakhand, well-known as the “Land of the Gods” or “Dev Bhoomi“, has the most sacred Hindu temples or the Char Dhams – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, in the state. The state is the point of origin of the most sacred and famous rivers of the country, Ganga and Yamuna. Home to a myriad holy shrines; pilgrims from far and wide visit this state seeking salvation and self-purgation. Another prominent pilgrim destination is Haridwar, where the prestigious Kumbh Mela is held every twelve years, attracting millions of people from all over the world.

Uttarakhand is home to all the famous hill stations of northern India, such as Nainital, Uttarkashi, Mussoorie and Chamoli. All these places have their own highlights and a plethora of things to try. While Almora will sing praises of its culture, Mussoorie will present Gun Hill, Mall Road, Kempty Falls and claim why it’s the ‘Queen of Hills’.  Nainital is the home to Corbett  and a pristine lake, Bageshwar is dipped in the worship of Lord Shiva. Dehradun seals the deal with its natural wonders, temples and wild realms. One thing that all these tourist spots in Uttarakhand share is a beautiful spot amid the mountains and almost perfect weather anytime you come. Along with that, Uttarakhand is just the right place for aspiring trekkers.

The Garhwal region offer treks such as Roopkund Trek, Dyara Bugyal, Har Ki Doon, Chopta – Chandrashila circuit, Gangotri, Kedartal, and Satopanth Lake. The state also contains numerous peaks of interest to mountaineers, although Nanda Devi, the highest and best-known of these, has been off-limits since 1982. It also boasts one of the finest ski destinations, Auli, which is also one of state’s top popular adventure tourism places. Other national wonders include the Valley of Flowers, which along with Nanda Devi National Park; form a UNESCO World
Heritage Site. The altitude of Uttarakhand varies from 300m to 7,800m and the state has eight major types of forests. There are 6 National parks and 6 Wildlife Sanctuaries of which sites of Nanda Devi National Park and Valley of Flowers are World heritage Sites. Together the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers National Park is a biosphere reserve. Asan barrage- a paradise for migratory birds and Jhilmiltal, which is perhaps the only Swamp deer habitat in Uttarakhand, they are the first Conservation Reserves established in the country.

Weather and Best Time to Visit Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand is a destination to be visited all through the year as each season has something special to offer. The best time to explore the destination is during the summer season as climate conditions remain comfortable. Its summers (March-June) are pleasant and a great time to soak in the scenic beauty and embark on adventures. Tourists can also plan to travel to the place during winters, although, certain areas become inaccessible during this time due to heavy snowfall. So, if you enjoy the cold, this is a beautiful time to visit the state. From July to September the state of Uttarakhand experiences monsoon. This time of year is not considered as the idyllic season as compared to other two seasons. The reason for this is that the place witnesses heavy rainfall in these months. But, Monsoon in Uttarakhand is refreshing. One can enjoy to the fullest, the lush greenery and the natural beauty of destinations like  Mussoorie , Dhanaulti, Lansdowne, Mukteshwar and Pangot will makes you relax and enjoy like never before.

Summer (March – June): Arguably the best time to visit Uttarkhand, the temperature is at a pleasant average throughout this season, making it a haven for pilgrims, wildlife and nature lovers as well as adventure sport enthusiasts. Summers are counted as favorable to plan a trip to Uttarakhand. The temperature in summer season varies from 20 degree Celsius to 35 degree Celsius.

Winter (October – February): With temperatures dropping to sub-zero levels, parts of the state are inclined to receive heavy snowfall during these months due to its geographic location. The winter season in Uttarakhand is quite cold and the season lasts from October to March. Snowfall is quite common especially in the upper regions of Uttarakhand. Tourists are advised to pack in their woolens if they make a plan to explore Uttarakhand in the winters.

Monsoon (March – September): Uttarakhand is likely to receive heavy rainfall almost every monsoon season. The rainy season is not a very pleasant phase in Uttarakhand as the hilly parts are particularly prone to landslides. Caution is advised to visitors travelling to Uttarakhand during the monsoon.

Food in Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand has a large variety of distinct foods to indulge into, in both the Garhwal and Kumaon regions. The use of local herbs and spice add that extra zing to the food in Uttarakhand. You can taste the traditional flavours in the following dishes: Mathir and Til Laddus; Madua Roti; Dubkas with Chholia Roti; Gahat (Kulath) Soup; Gahat Rasmi Badi (Kofta); Urad Ke Pakore (Wada);Bhangjeera ki Chatni; Aloo Ke Gutke; Chainsoo; Kafuli; Phaanu; Til ki Chutney; Bal Mithai; Singodi; Bhangak Khatai; Sisunak Saag; Jhangora Ki Kheer; Kaapa; Gahat Ki Dal and Singal.

Other than traditional foods, various other cuisines can also be found in restaurants in the state. You can try out some of the famous eateries such as the Sakley’s Restaurant, Pyramid Cafe, Chotiwala, Lovely Omelette Centre, Little Buddha Cafe, Kasmanda Palace restaurant, Chetan Puriwallah, and Devraj Coffee Corner, to name a few.

Travelling Cost & Money

Budget:  For a traveller low on budget it is easy to get by in less than Rs. 3000 per day approximately. The amount can suffice for an accommodation in dorm rooms, travelling through local buses and trains and food from small eateries.

Mid-Range:  A daily budget of around Rs. 3000 to Rs. 9000 is sufficient for an accommodation in mid-range hotels, meals at decent hotels and tickets for most museums or historic places and travelling through local cabs or auto rickshaws.

Luxury: A stay in a deluxe resort or hotel, meals in top restaurants, travel via train in first class or renting a car/ driver can all come under a daily budget of more than Rs. 9000 approximately. ATMs are widely available but it is still wise to carry enough cash when travelling to farther areas of the state. Credit Cards are accepted at most big retail shops, hotels and restaurants.  Tipping is usually expected although a small service tax is generally is already added to bills. Bargaining can be required in most places but some shops only sell goods at fixed prices and may not entertain haggling for price reduction.

How to Reach Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand is very well connected to the rest of the country via air, rail and road making it very easy for the travellers to reach the majestic state.

By Road – One of the best ways to reach Uttarakhand is by road. There is a wide road network which covers the entire state. The roads are well-connected with Delhi and few other state highways. Almost all the important places in the state are connected by roads.

By Rail – Dehradun, Haridwar, and Kathgodam are the major railway stations connected to almost all parts of the country with regular trains. Not many places in the state are connected by rail because of tough terrains. The rail routes here are connected to various cities of the country such as Delhi, Varanasi, Kolkata, Jaipur, Lucknow among others.

The major trains which run in Uttarakhand are as follows.

1: Ranikhet Express – Kathgodam station to New Delhi station.

2: Bagh Express– Kathgodam station to Howrah station.

3: Uttaranchal SamparkKranti Express – Kathgodam station to Delhi station.

4: Nainital Express– Lalkuan station to Lucknow station.

5: Kumaon Express– Lalkuan station to Mathura station.

By Air: There are two domestic airports in Uttarakhand – Jolly Grant Airport in the capital of Dehradun and Pantnagar Airport near Nainital. There are several busses and taxis for visitors to get around from these two airports.

Travelling Within Uttarakhand : Road transport is the main mode of transport in the state with over 28000 km of roads across. There are bus services and taxi, which operate on a daily basis to different destinations in Uttarakhand on the local routes. In hilly areas you get to enjoy a Pony ride. Helicopter services are also operational in Uttarakhand, though it is mainly for the purpose of ferrying pilgrims to the char dhams. Due to the mountainous region it is not possible to build wide roads. For those visiting places in the higher altitudes, trekking and road routes are the only options available.