Also known as Auli Bugyal which in the local language of Garhwali mean meadow, Auli is located at an elevation of 2,800 metres and is home to mountain ranges of Nanda Devi, Mana Parvat and Kamat Kamet. Many religious destinations are also scattered around Auli. It is believed that Shankracharya had blessed Auli with his visit. Between June to October, the valley has one of highest number of flower species found anywhere in the world, with 520 species of high altitude plants, 498 of which are flowering plants with significant populations of endangered species. Dotted with apple orchards, old oaks and pine trees there is no dearth of natural beauty in Auli. Apart from skiing visitors can also go for numerous treks in the hills of Garhwal Himalayas and enjoy the spellbinding views of the snow-draped mountains. Auli is a popular hill resort in the Himalayan range which dates back to the 8th century. The three Himalayan mountain peaks of western Kumaun as a whole form the Trishul peak.
Trishul Peaks Group: At a height of 7120 m, the Trishul group forms the southwest corner of the ring of peaks that enclose the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The three peaks that form Trishul Peak resemble the shape of a trident or Trishula, as known in Hindi and Sanskrit and the trishul is known to be the weapon of Lord Shiva. In 1907, the main peak – Trisul I – became the first peak over 7,000 m to have ever been climbed by someone. The peak can be best viewed from Kausani or during the Roopkund Trek. During the spring months of March and April the weather becomes very cold due to heavy snowfall in the valley and monsoons remain very cold too, while the temperatures fall further occasionally. In the months of September, October and November, the climate is pleasant and skies are clear. The first snow occurs generally in November/December. Panoramic views in Auli can be astonishing as it is surrounded by very high peaks including the Nanda Devi at 7817 m. The Hanuman Temple here is supposed to be the place where Lord Hanuman took some rest when he had come to the Himalayas to procure the herb Sanjivani to rescue Laxman, the younger brother of Rama during the battle in Lanka. Visitors can also enjoy a cable car here which can give them a beautiful view of the surroundings. There is an artificial lake as well in Auli which is the world’s highest man-made lake.
Joshimath: Also known as Jyotimath, Joshimath is a hill town perched at the height of 6150 feet in the Chamoli district of the Gharwal region. It serves as an important religious centre for Hindu pilgrims and lies in the proximity to one of the four maths founded by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century. According to Adi Shankara, Joshimath is in charge of the Atharvaveda, or ‘the procedures of everyday life’.It is believed that Adi Shankara himself placed the deity of Lord Narasimha in the famous Narasimha temple here.The temple is also one of the 108 Divya Desams in the country, which are Vishnu temples worshipped by the Alvar clan of Tamil poets. Overlooking the confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Dhauliganga at Vishnu Prayag, Joshimath is also the winter home of Lord Badri as the idol is shifted from Badrinath to Joshimath during the winter months. Because Joshimath is nestled amid the lap of the snow-capped Himalayas, it is also known as the gateway to trekking with many treks, including the Valley of Flowers trek located is closeby. Perched at an elevation of 3,056 m, Gurso Bugyal is a picturesque wide meadow known for its lush green pasture land and filled with giant coniferous and oak trees. This heavenly place provides a terrific view of all the nearby and significant mountain ranges namely Nanda Devi, Dron and Trishul. During spring, the white sheets of snow melt away making space for herbs and shrubs to grow. The land turns into a natural garden with infinite varieties of plants, trees and flowers. To witness the view in the most magical way, take the trail from Auli and enjoy the picturesque views of mountain ranges as you proceed towards the lush green land of Gurso Bugyal. A 3 km trek from Auli will lead you to this scenic, location. You can also trek towards Chattarkund, a small patch of land with an ethereal water body, known to have sweet water which is just one km away.
Chenab Lake: An artificial lake that serves as a reservoir for Auli, the Chenab Lake is a small crystalline lake that is still less explored and in its purest state. The trek to the lake is for those who truly want to have a crude and authentic trekking experience – through rocky passes hurdled with twigs and plants. Guarded by the Garhwal Himalayan range, the Chenab Lake still has crystal clear water that acts like a prism to the mountains. As the area around the lake remains untouched, you will not find nicely built roads to trek. No motorbikes and vehicles can be ridden on this track, which remains snow logged during the winters and becomes impossible to trek, so it is recommended to explore this place from May to October.
Skiing in Auli: Offering beautiful views of peaks such as Mount Nanda Devi Kamet, Mana Parwat, Dunagiri, Beethartoli, Nilkanth, Hathi Parbat, Ghori Parbat and Nar Parbat, skiing in Auli is an experience like no other. The snow-covered Auli with evergreen conifers and the oak forest an altitude of 2000 – 3000 m is an ideal place for skiing in India. While skiing in the Gorson Reserve forest which is part of the Nanda Devi National Park is inhabited by some of the widely rare Himalayan wildlife like snow leopards, musk deer, wild boars, wild cats, wild rabbits, jackals, foxes, hyenas and bears. Most skiing packages in Auli include the accommodation as well. The average cost of skiing in Auli ranges between Rs. 20,000 – Rs. 50,000 depending on the length of stay. The best time to ski is between November to February as there is enough snowfall then.
Auli Cable Car Ride: One of the major attractions in Auli is to enjoy a cable car ride. Locally known as a Gondola, the cable car ride in Auli is the second highest and the longest cable car ride in Asia after Gulmarg. Covering a total distance of 4 km, the journey starts at Joshimath and ends at Auli, and takes a total time of around 24 min. Perched at a staggering height of 3010 m above sea level, the entire trip is a visual delight. Visitors can enjoy the majestic Himalayan peaks above them with lush green valleys below. The ropeway works with two cable cars through 10 towers and can accommodate upto 25 passengers. Although, the passengers have to keep standing as there are no seats. In case vistors are lucky and are travelling at the right time, they can also witness a skiing competition going on below. The ropeway station is situated 1 km from Panchvati Inn in Joshimath and can be reached either by car or on foot.
Moving on, we travel about 150 km southwest from Auli Bugyal to the town of Chopta.
Chopta is a small region of meadows and evergreen forest area which is a part of the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and a base for trekking to Tungnath, the third temple of the Panch Kedar, which lies 3.5 km away and Chandrashila which rises to 4,000 m and is located 1.5 km from Tungnath. An unspoiled natural destination, Chopta offers views of the imposing Himalayan range including Trishul, Nanda Devi and Chaukhamba and is located at an elevation of 2,680 m. The village of Chopta is surrounded by forests of pine, deodar and rhododendron and is rich in flora and fauna include rare species of birds and musk deer. The place is popularly known as a Mini Switzerland with the best time to visit from April to November. Chopta is also a popular destination during the winter months due to the snowfall that the area experiences. The Tungnath temple and Chandrashila are covered with snow from December to March. Camping in the open grassy meadows of Chopta that slopes on softly, among alpine, pine, deodar and rhododendron trees is soul-fulfilling.
Tungnath Temple: Situated amongst the wondrous mountains of Tungnath in the Rudraprayag, the Tungnath temple is the highest Shiva temple in the world nestled at an altitude of 3680 meters. It is one of the Panch Kedars and is believed to be almost 1000 years old. The foundation of this temple was laid down by the Pandava prince Arjuna, the third brother and was built in the North Indian style of architecture with dozen shrines of other gods surrounding the temple. There are numerous tales associated with the place including the one where Lord Ram carried out meditation to get himself released from the curse of Brahmahatya or the killing of a Brahmin for killing Ravana. The distinguishing feature of this exquisite temple is its location amidst the beautiful mountain ranges. It is a fantastic place to visit especially for adventure lovers because of the trek they need to do to reach the temple. According to legend, it is believed that after the Kurukshetra war when the Pandava brothers defeated and killed the Kauravas, sage Vyas advised the Pandavas their act of killing off their own kins could be pardoned only by Lord Shiva. So they went in search of him who was already convinced of the guilt of the Pandavas and in order to avoid them, took the form of a bull and went into hiding. The Pandavas chased him to an underground safe haven at Guptakashi, where he was hiding. When Lord Shiva went back to his natural form, his remains of the bull-styled body is said to have rematerialized at five different locations. These five locations came to be known as the Panch Kedar and the Pandavas built temples of Lord Shiva at each of these locations as a sign of seeking his pardon and blessings. The opulent temple is made up of stones adorned with decorations which are painted on the outside depicting tall towers. There is a wooden stage present on top of the highest dome which also has sixteen openings. The roof of the temple is composed of stone slabs and at the entrance lays a stone image of Nandi facing towards the idol of Lord Shiva. There is an image of Lord Ganesha on the right side of the temple entrance. Inside the main chamber lies the Ashtadhatu which is composed of eight metals, idols of saint Vyas and Kala Bhairav and the followers of Lord Shiva. There are images of the Pandavas and four other Kedar shrines present inside the premises as well. At the end of the trek path of Tungnath, the entrance of the temple is marked with the presence of the name ‘Tungnath’ painted atop an arch which has recently been constructed. The Panch Kedar Yatra which involves trekking through all the five temples including Kedarnath, Tungnath, Rudranath, Madhyamaheshwar, and Kalpeshwar is considered to be very auspicious. The trek is undertaken to visit all the five shrines which are situated in Kedar valley and complete the circuit. Kedarnath is situated at the head of the Mandakini River, Madhyamaheswar is situated at the base of the Chaukhamba Peak at the height of 3500 m, Tungnath is situated in Garhwal at an altitude of 3810 m, and 500 m above the Tungnath Temple lays the Chandrashila peak. The Tungnath Temple opens when the Char Dhams of Uttrakhand is opened during April or May every year during Vaisakh Panchmi on the date that is decided by the Badro Kedar Temple Committee on Baisakhi. The temple is closed during the winter season after Diwali, and the image of the deity is moved to Mukunath which lies 19 km away from Tungnath by the temple priests during this time. During the months when the temple is not closed, it is open from 6 am to 7 pm.
Ukhimath: Also known as winter Kedarnath, Ukhimath is famous for the temple of Lord Shiva which houses the Lord during the winter months when Kedarnath is shut down. Ukhimath is also a very beautiful hill station and is located at an altitude of 1300 meters in the lower hills. Home to Lord Kedarnath and Lord Madhyamaheswar in the winters when Kedarnath becomes inaccessible due to heavy snowfall, Ukhimath is a deeply religious town with spirituality and devotion oozing through its lanes. Ukhimath also provides some great panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks which are covered in snow. It is a place fit for some time in solidarity and amidst a spirituality of significant religious centre. The town has a beautiful summer weather with comfortable temperatures and cool breeze while the winters are quiet cold yet very beautiful. Omkareshwar Peeth, a temple dedicated to Lord Kedarnath is a must, while in the town.
Deori Tal: Located on the Ukhimath-Gopeshwar road, the Deoria Tal is reached by a 2 km trek through the Sari Village. The lake is surrounded by pines in multitude and clearly mirrors these pines and the Chaukhamba peaks once still. The lake itself is one of the chief attractions of Chopta, with tons of visitors thronging it during peak season.
Kanchula Korak Musk Deer Sanctuary: Housing the famous musk deer, the Kanchula Korak Deer Musk Sanctuary has an abundance of lush green vegetation, a lot of varieties of which are claimed by locals to have not even been scientifically classified yet. Sprawled over an area of 5 sq. km, visitors can spend a larger part of their day here, lazing around with a pair of binoculars to explore the place.
Tungnath and Chandrashila Trek: Tungnath, a quaint village, is known as the starting point of the popular Chopta Chadrashila Trek. At a height of 2680 m, this village is surrounded by evergreen forests of pine, deodar and rhododendron. This is one of the easier treks in the Himalayan region and hence, recommended for first timers. The trek covers a large region, starting from Haridwar and ending at Chandrashila. The trek initiates from the holy city of Haridwar towards Devarivatal Lake; which is located at an altitude of 2440 m. Here, you get a picturesque view of the Chaukhamba ranges. As one goes further, one comes across Chopta, with a height of 3000m. Next comes Tungnath, at an elevation of 3680 m. And finally, one arrives at the beautiful Chadrashila Top at 4130 m. The Tungnath temple and Chandrashila peak award you with a 360 degree, mesmerising view of the valleys below. The peaks of Panchchuli, Nanda Devi, Nilkanth and Kedarnath are all covered during the trek. The trek which takes around three days has entry fees at certain checkpoints, permits for the trek and obligatory forest camping charges in the region as per the length of the stay.
Moving further south, out next destination is the hill station of Lansdowne.
Lansdowne, is a cantonment town in the Pauri Garhwal district on the Kotdwar – Pauri road at a height of 1,780 m. A quaint little hill town, Lansdowne is laden with oak and pine forest and dotted with buildings of the colonial era and is a haven for bird watchers, casual hikers and weekend visitors. The town was discovered by British and got its name from the then Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne. The guesthouses here are fading reminders of the colonial period, and they offer a stunning view of the mountains from their balconies. Originally known as Kaludanda after Kalu or black and Danda or hills in the Garhwali language, Lansdowne was developed by the British to cater to the recruits training centre of the Garhwal Rifles. Today, the Garhwal Rifles has its command office here. The Annual Sharadotsava or the festival of autumn is also celebrated here during autumn. The old cemetery in Kitchner Lines is one of the more mysterious places and some even call it one of the most haunted places in Lansdowne.
Bhulla Lake: A local favourite and a popular attraction, the Bhulla Lake is a well maintained serene lake made and maintained by Indian Army known for its tranquil atmosphere with ample boating facilities. There is an amusement park is located nearby which is quite popular among kids.
Tip N Top: Also commonly known as Tiffin Top, Tip N Top is a small hilltop viewpoint that is located at 1700 metres above the sea level about 1.5 km from the city centre and provides visitors with magnificent, breathtaking views not only of the city but also of the nearby forested areas and the Garhwal Hills with the majestic Himalayan range in the background. To get to Tip N Top, visitors would have to pass through dense forests and terrains that terminate at high altitudes to reach the final destination. The place is located close to other famous tourist attractions such as St. Mary’s Church and Mata Santoshi Devi Temple which are also very popular, and can be visited in combination with Tip N Top. The viewpoint is open from sunrise to sunset and has no entry fees.
Snow Viewpoint and Hawaghar: Beautiful vantage points reached by a short trek, the views from Snow Viewpoint and Hawaghar are totally worth the effort and energy expended. The snow capped mighty peaks, verdant green forests and a bird’s eye view of the valley below is sure to mesmerise visitors and is worth the trip there.
Bhim Pakora: Reached after a 2 km trek downhill through a rough path, Bhim Pakora is quite surprising as there are two big stones one above the other in perfect balance and while the stone can be moved with a finger it never falls down.
Jungle Safari: If you would like to explore the wilderness of Lansdowne, there are many tour operators who organise jungle safaris into the heart of the forests where visitors can catch a glimpse of Himalayan wild animals in their natural habitat.
Kalagarh Tiger Reserve: A wildlife sanctuary about 13 km from Lansdowne,the Kalagarh Tiger Reserve is rich in flora and fauna. Sprawling over 300 sq km, the reserve actually forms the northern end of Jim Corbett Park. Apart from the regular spotting of tigers, barking deer, hog deer, goral, sambhar, porcupines and other varied exotic animals can be spotted here.
Tarkeshwar Mahadev Temple: Located atop a hill at 2092 meters about 39 km from Lansdowne , the Tarkeshwar Mahadev Temple is believed to be an ancient holy site or SiddhaPitas dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple has a special Shivalinga and a Kund or a small pond known as Gauri Kund where devotees bathe before entering the temple. There are two other famous temples, Durga Devi Temple and Jwalpa Devi Temple, which are on the Pauri-Kotdwar road and are 24 km and 47 km away respectively. The Durga Devi Temple is one of the oldest Siddha Pithas in India. The Mahashivarathri festival at the Tarkeshwar Mahadev temple draws a huge crowd from across the country.
Kanvashram: A gateway to Puri, Kanvashram is an ashram located on the banks of Malini river surrounded by thick forests and hillocks. It is believed that Shakuntala, the step daughter of Sage Kanvan and the wife of King Dushyanta and who was deserted by him gave birth to her son Bharata in this Ashram. India got its name ‘Bharat’ in Sanskrit after Bharata became king following the death of his father. The Ashram also provides accommodation facilities to visitors keen on living on the premises.
Darwan Singh Regimental Museum: Established in 1923 and named after the Victoria Cross holder Darwan Singh Negi, the Darwan Singh Regimental Museum is a historical defense museum located near the parade ground in Lansdowne. This beautifully decorated two storey building is all about the origin and achievements of the Garhwal Rifles who participated in the two world wars among countless other battles throughout its more than 100 years of history. Many artifacts, including photographs, arms used by regimental commanders, captured weapons, campaign history and other information are displayed in this museum. There are many items, such as medals won by erstwhile Garhwal Rifle soldiers, that have been put on display, including the Victoria Cross awarded to Darwan Singh Negi and Gabar Singh Negi.
Our next destination is the popular hill station of Nainital.
A very popular hill station, Nainital is the judicial capital of the state and also houses the Governor of Uttarakhand, who resides in the Raj Bhavan in Nainital. Located in the Kumaon foothills of the outer Himalayas, Nainital is situated at an altitude of 1,938 metres with the city set in a valley containing an eye-shaped lake, approximately two miles in circumference, and surrounded by mountains, of which the highest are Naina Peak at 2,615 m on the north, Deopatha at 2,438 m on the west, and Ayarpatha at 2,278 m to the south. Founded by the British due to its resemblance to the Cumbrian Lake District, Nainital brims with elegant colonial structures that amplify the beauty of this place. It experiences a pleasant climate throughout the year, making Nainital a tourist getaway. The Naini Lake, along with the other lakes in the area, has earned this town the title of City of Lakes.
Nainital Lake: Situated in the centre of Nainital, Naini Lake which is short for Nainital Lake is a beautiful natural fresh body lake. The lake is in crescent or kidney shape and is one of the most famous lakes of the Kumaon region. Bounded by Naini Peak on North West, Tiffin Point on the South West and snow-capped peaks on the north, the Nainital Lake offers a breathtaking view, especially during early morning and sunset. The lake itself can be divided into two distinct sections, the northern part called Mallital and southern region called Tallital. Coniferous trees that cover the hillside add charm to the raw beauty of the place with the Naina Devi Temple on the shores of the lake.
Legend says that once upon a time, a very powerful king named Daksha ruled in the country. He had a beautiful daughter named Sati, and when she came of age, King Daksh began looking for a suitable groom for her. As luck would have it, Sati got attracted to Lord Shiva whom King Daksh despised thoroughly. Despite wanting otherwise, Sati and Shiva got married and started living together. This was not acceptable to King Daksh, and he decided to organize a ‘yajna’ or fire sacrifice ritual where Shiva and Sati were not invited. However, Sati decided to attend her father’s prayer service in spite of not being invited to the same. Upon reaching the venue, she and her husband were thoroughly disrespected by Daksh and unable to tolerate the humiliation, Sati jumped into the ritualistic fire. Upon learning of Sati’s death, Shiva was livid and he started performing the Tandava or the celestial dance of destruction and according to legend, it is said that Lord Shiva performed his tandava at Naini Lake as well. This gave way to apocalyptic destruction on the Earth, and the Gods feared that the world was nearing its end. When repeated pleas to Shiva by the other Gods went in vain, Lord Vishnu used his Sudarshan Chakra upon Sati’s dead body which cut it into 52 different parts. Each of the remains fell on a different portion of the country and a temple emerged there. The Naini Devi Temple was the site where Sati’s ‘nayan’ or eyes had fallen. Hindu scriptures such as the Skanda Purana mention a lake called the Tririshi Sarovar, which is believed to be the Nainital Lake. This name was derived from the names of three great sages who used to meditate here, namely Atri, Pulastya and Pulaha. A hole was dug by the three of them which soon got filled with water and came to be known as the Naini Lake or Tririshi Sarovar. According to the historical records, in 1839, a European businessman P. Barron while on a hunting expedition, accidentally found the Naini Lake and was captivated by its beauty. He then decided to build a European colony on the shores of the lake as a summer retreat for Englishmen.
A trip to the Naini Lake is perhaps incomplete without boating on the lake. Boating is available from 6 am to 6 pm when the lake is open from March to June and if you are inclined to a brightly painted gondola-like boat, it will cost you INR 210 per hour while a boat ride through the Nainital Boat Club will set you back by INR 350 per hour and a pedal boat will cost INR 150 per hour.
Peora: Best described as a hidden gem, Peora iis nestled between the Kumaon Hills and is situated at an elevation of 6000 feet. Serene and tranquil with natural beauty and untouched by industrialisation, Peora is a perfect place to enjoy some peaceful moments away from the stressful city life. There are a number of British era bungalows that give the village a rustic vibe with the snow-capped mountains, juicy fruit-laden trees, green meadows and a variety of fauna. The lush green trees are home to a myriad variety of birds and so bird watching becomes an essential activity in Peora and treks and strolls are elevated here. Since Peora is replete with trees that bear juicy fruits, you can carry a basket and collect fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, plums and many more.
Sariya Tal: Located near Kaladhungi, Sariyatal, is an artificial lake constructed as a tourist spot. The tiny lake has numerous activities like paddle boating and water sports. It is also popular for the Himalayan botanical garden which is a research centre other than being a herbarium and a butterfly park. Hiding a steep waterfall at the corner, Sariyatal is an ideal spot for solitude seekers, nature lovers and photographers. Open from 10 am to 5 pm, the entrance fee is INR 20 per person.
Eco Cave Gardens: Famous for its interconnected rocky caves, hanging gardens and the musical fountain, the Eco Gardens are a set of six small caves in the shape of various animals. Located in the Mallital area of Nainital, visitors need to crawl their way in. In the evenings, there is a musical fountain with various audio video effects. Set up to give tourists a glimpse of the natural habitat of the Himalayan Wildlife by constructing different caves for different animals, similar to their natural home, the Eco Cave Garden is lit with petroleum lamps with the most popular caves being the Tiger Cave, Panther Cave, Apes Cave, Bat Cave and Flying Fox Cave. Please note that if you are elderly, have toddlers or have any other conditions which may be aggravated by visiting the Eco Cave Garden, please stay away. The gardens are open from 10 am to 4:30 pm and adults need to pay INR 20 and children need to pay INR 10 as entrance fee. You also need to pay INR 25 as camera fees.
Pangot: Located just 15 kilometres away from Nainital, Pangot is a small and picturesque hamlet at a height of 6,300 feet and is well known for its rich and exotic bird life. Pangot also becomes a hub for photography enthusiasts when hundreds of different species of birds flock here during the harsh winters in the upper Himalayas and settle down here temporarily. The entire drive that reaches up to this marvellous area passes through the forested areas of Chenna Peak Range via Snow View Point and Kilbury, both of which are famous and excellent habitats for birding. A myriad of bird species can be seen along the way to Pangot. Some of these include Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Spotted & Slaty-backed Forktail, Himalayan Griffon and Khalij pheasant. Spotting mammals like Yellow-throated Himalayan Marten, Sambhar, Himalayan Goral, Leopard Cat, Serow, Wild Boar, Red Fox etc. is also not uncommon. The famous Corbett National Park is situated just 80 kilometres from Pangot. Thick oak, pine and Rhododendron can be found dominating the vegetation of Pangot and nearby areas. The streams that pass by further enhance the aesthetic appeal of this breathtakingly fantastic sight. Undoubtedly, Pangot is the apt place for a small vacation with your partner, or the entire family, wherein you can simply lay back and relax. Other than bird watching visitors can indulge in camping, trekking and sightseeing.
Snow View Point: Standing at a dizzying altitude of 2270 meters above sea level, Snow View Point offers a panoramic view of the mighty Himalayas draped in a blanket of snow. One can see a picturesque view of all three important peaks, namely Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Kot peaks together from this point. A huge pair of binoculars has been installed here that allows visitors to take a closer look at the Himalayan range and its peaks. Looking closer, one can find a small temple housing the images of Ram, Sita, Laxman, Hanuman with Durga and Shiva. An aerial cable car connects visitors to Snow View Point directly from the Mall Road of Mallital and offers a spectacular view of the beautiful town. The view point is open from 10:30 am to 5 pm on all days except Saturdays when it is closed.
Naina Peak: The highest peak of Nainital at a height of 2615 metres, Naina Peak remains covered with snow throughout the year along with a blanket of trees over it. Due to the high altitude and scenic trails, the peak is very popular among hikers and trekkers. Also known as China Peak, it is renowned among tourists and locals for its romantic sunrise and sunset. Apart from trekking, people also reach the summit of the mountain with the help of a pony-ride. About 3 kilometres from the base of the peak is Tanke Band, which is the nearest taxi stand. One can indulge in a photography session of nature and snowclad mountain views during the day and the immensely beautiful cityline of Nainital at night. A trip to Nainital is incomplete without undertaking the 6 kilometres trek to the summit of Naina Peak from Mallital. The trek is an easy to moderate one passing through trees of deodar and cypress, pine forests and rhododendrons. At the beginning of the trek, one goes across the forest covered with blooming rhododendron trees and as the trek advances, one can see oak trees dark and laden with mosses, towering the sky. The trail upwards is steep and it can take an hour to reach the peak. There is a lodge where one can have tea and chat with the forest rangers and hear from them the stories of leopard sightings. It is best to watch the sunset and return downwards before it gets dark to avoid any mishaps. The trek downwards takes about half the amount of time one takes to reach upwards. From the summit, one can look at the elevated view of the tranquil kidney-shaped Naini Lake, the Nanda Devi peak and the mountains of Tibetan border.
Lands End: Set across the Khurpa Tal and the vast stretches of plains, Land’s End is literally the spot where the land ends and all you can see is steep cliffs surrounded by snow-dusted mountains. 4 km off the main town, Land’s End is frequented by adventure enthusiasts who trek to the scenic spot and relish the breathtaking view of mango-shaped Khurpataal Lake. The less-adventurous can take a pony, horse or taxi from the city. Do keep in mind that the view from Lands End depends on weather conditions.
Nainital Ropeway: The most popular attraction in Nainital, the Nainital Ropeway or Cable Car Ride is touted as one of the fastest ropeways in the country. The aerial ropeway connects Mallital to the Snow viewpoint, from the base to a height of 2270 metres. The aerial trip hovering over the Naini lake and the valley offer panoramic views of the breathtaking landscape. The stunning Nainital ropeway covers half a mile distance in about 3 minutes with 2 trolleys accommodating around 11 people in total at a time. The ropeway is open from 10 am to 4 pm and the entry fee for adults is INR 150 while children between the ages of 3 to 12 need to pay INR 100.
Khurpa Taal: At a distance of 12 kms from Nainital, Khurpa Taal is a pristine lake situated at an elevation of 5,500 feet. Laced with tall trees, the lake is considered ideal for fishing owing to its crystal clear waters and abundance of freshwater fish. Unexplored by tourists, the lake is a secret haven replete with bounteous nature and idyllic locales. Located on the Bajpur Road – Kaladgungi Road, Khurpa Taal is a great photography spot, especially during sunrise as the lake glistens like a diamond when the rays of the sun fall on it.
Astronomical Observatory: Perched on top of the Manora Peak in Beluwakhan, the Astronomical Observatory or Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Science or ARIES helps visitors see the stars, celestial bodies, the moon and other heavenly bodies with the help of high powered, imported telescopes. Visitors will need to make a prior appointment before visiting the place. Housing one of the most advanced telescopes in India, the Astronomical Observatory is an autonomous institute open of the public during working days and in the afternoons. For night viewing, three fours days are fixed during the full moon period, the permission for which has to be obtained. The observatory is open from 7 to 9 pm and there is no entry fee.
Gurney House: The former abode of British hunter, conservationist, naturalist and author Jim Corbett is called Gurney House. A charming colonial cottage, located near Nainital Lake, the house has a tiny museum with the achievements and life story of Jim Corbett. A quaint little nursery is also housed in the premises with a variety of shrubberies and plants. The Gurney House was sold to Mr Sharda Prasad Varma in 194 by Jim Corbett’s sister. It is currently owned by Mr Varma’s grandaughter Nilanjana Dalmia. Even though the Gurney House is a private residence, tourists are welcome to visit by prior permission. The lovely owners also give a complimentary house tour to Corbett lovers. If visiting the house, it is open from 8 am to 5 pm, strictly by appointment.
Sitabani and Sitabani Wildlife Reserve: Covered with a huge number of sal and oak trees, Sitabani is situated at the foothills of the Himalayan range and is a place of great historical significance housing splendid temples. The main attraction of this place is the myriad flora and fauna which makes the place a perfect weekend getaway to unwind. Don’t forget to visit the Sitabani temple dedicated to Goddess Sita which is where she gave birth to her twin sons, Luv and Kush. Near the Sitabani temple is the Valmiki Temple believed to be the place where the earth absorbed Goddess Sita. The temples are usually open from 6 to 8 am and then again from 1 to 3 pm daily. The Sitabani Wildlife Reserve is abundant in flora and fauna and is spread prolifically. The place is surrounded by lush green trees with the melodious chirpings of many colourful birds echoing through the forest. Animals that can be spotted lazing around in the reserve include elephants, jackals, sambhars, spotted deer, nilgai and wild boars. The various birds inhabiting the reserve are the emerald dove, white bush chant, red wattle lapwing and kingfisher. There is also a a safari ride to explore the wildlife sanctuary to the fullest and witness the beauty of as many birds and animals as possible. There is no entry fee to the reserve and it is open all days between 7 am to 6 pm.
Raj Bhawan: The Governor’s House is a Victorian Gothic edifice resembling closely the Castle of Scotland and consists of two stories of buildings with 113 rooms, a garden, a swimming pool and a golf course. The second Raj Bhawan in Uttarakhand, it was built in 1899 by F.W. Steven as the summer residence of the Governor of North East Province. The Governor’s House now serves as the residence of the Governor of Uttarakhand. A guided tour is available to explore the Raj Bhawan, however, all rooms are not accessible to the public since the Governor still resides here. The Raj Bhawan is open from 8 am to 5 pm during the months of March, April, September and October and from 9 am to 4 pm during November and December. It is closed on Sundays and public holidays. Entrace fee is INR 50 per person and access to the golf course will set you back by INR 450 per person.
Our next destination is Sattal which lies just 23 km east of Nainital.