Travel Bucket List: India – Utarakhand Part 6

One of the Panch Kedars in the world, Rudranath is a place religious significance and is situated at an altitude of 2300 meters above sea level and covered in thick forests. The town hosts a large Lord Shiva temple which requires a 21 km trek to reach. The temple also has idols as well as statues of Kunti, Pandavas, and Draupadi. Devotees take a bath in the holy Narad Kund situated near the temple before going inside the temple. According to the legends, the Rudranath Temple was built by the Pandavas. After the war, Pandavas went to the Himalayas searching for Lord Shiva so that they could be forgiven for their sins which they had committed after killing their relatives in the war. Since Lord Shiva was convinced that they were sinners and did not want to meet them, he took the form of a bull and escaped. He then appeared at the Panch Kedars, now known as the Panch Kedar Temple, his arms appearing at the Tunganath Temple, hunch in Kedarnath, face at Rudranath Temple, hair at Kalpeshwar and the navel and stomach at Madhyamaheshwar. Lord Shiva is worshipped as ‘Nilkanta Mahadev’ in Rudranath Temple. It is said that Lord Shiva jumped into the earth and appeared in Rudranath. However, the angry face of Lord Shiva is his temporary mask, and one can witness his pleasing beauty when it is taken off from the face while giving him the holy bath.

Our next destination is Guptakashi about 22 km west of Rudranath.

Also close to Kedarnath at a distance of 47 km, the temple town of Guptakashi is perched at an elevation of 1319 m and is framed by the snow-covered peaks of the Chaukhamba mountains. It houses two ancient temples namely the Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of the Lord Vishwanath or the Lord of the Universe and the Ardhnareshwar Temple. The Vishwanath temple is made out of regional stones and the tower is adorned with a wooden frame. In fact it resembles a lot to the kasha Vishwanath in Varanasi. Situated on the left of the Vishwanath Temple, the Ardhanarishwar Temple is also dedicated to Lord Shiva with the presiding deity being half man and half woman representing Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The Manikarnika Kund located within the complex of Vishwanath temple is another popular destination in the town. Here the Shiva Linga is bathed there from two source of water namely the Ganesha’s head and the cow’s head. The most fascinating thing is that it is considered that the water from the two sources is coming from two holy rivers i.e. River Ganga and River Yamuna. Guptkashi serves as a perfect stopover for those travelling to Kedarnath.

Nandprayag, our next destination is about 97 km southwest of Guptkashi.

One of the panchprayags, Nandaprayag is at the confluence of the rivers Alaknanda and Nandakini. Nandaprayag is one of the five meeting points of Alaknanda River with other rivers flowing into it Located at an altitude of 900 m surrounded by the mountains and beautiful scenery, the town used to be the capital of the erstwhile Yadu Kingdom whose king built the famous Nanda Temple. The Nanda Temple and the point of confluence of the Alaknanda and Nandakini rivers are the major tourist attractions & religious landmarks of the town. Close to Nandprayag at a distance of 20 km is Karnaprayag, the confluence of the Alaknanda with the Pindari River and is surrounded by an array of peaks like the Trisul, Dronagiri, Narad Ghunti, Mrigathuni and Maiktoli.

Close to Nandprayag, about 53 km west lies another temple town, Rudraprayag.

Lying at the confluence of River Alaknanda and River Mandakini, Rudraprayag is one of the panch prayags and a place of great religious significance. Offering spectacular views and spellbinding panoramic vistas, the town derives its name from Lord Shiva who is said to have appeared at the place in the form of Lord Rudra. Rudraprayag is sprinkled with several ancient temples and serves as a gateway to the two major pilgrimages towns of Kedarnath and Badrinath. It is believed that the celestial sage, Lord Narada performed intense penance to please Lord Shiva to teach him the mysteries related to music. Lord Shiva was pleased by his penance and appeared in the form of Rudra, teaching him music in the Rudra Temple. This is why the place came to be known as Rudraprayag. You can see pictures of Lord Narad with a Rudra garland around his neck, singing praises of Lord Shiva.

Moving on, let’s now travel 67 km west to Devprayag.

Marked by the confluence of the rivers Alaknanda and Bhagirathi, Devprayag is situated amidst rolling Himalayan ranges and is a popular pilgrimage centre. With ancient temples amidst lush green surroundings, this place oozes serenity. One of the panch prayag, the name Devprayag literally means the Confluence of the Gods as this is where the Alaknanda and Bhagitathi rivers join to become the mighty Ganges. One of the oldest temples of Lord Rama, the Raghunathji temple is believed to be around 10,000 years old and is made up of huge rocks and is located on the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers. Also known as Tirukantamenum Kadi Nagar, it is one of the 108 Divyadesam that are dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This temple is dedicated to Raghunathji or Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The main shrine has an idol of Raghunathji in standing position facing the east direction. A Deula or conical roof crowns the sacred shrine of Rama. Apart from the chief deity, the temple also houses Sita, Lakshman, Badrinath, Adi Shankara, Shiva and Hanuman. The temple made its name in 4 of the 18 holy Puranas with the Saraswati river flowing directly below the idol of Lord Rama and on certain days, a small puddle of water is found near the deity. The temple was believed to have been established by Adi Shankarachya during the 8th century and expansions were made later by rulers of the Garhwal dynasty. The present temple structure is said to be established in 1835 by Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of the empire of Jammu and Kashmir. In summers, the temple is open from 5 am to 12 noon and then again between 5 to 9 pm while in the winter months, it is ope from 6 am to noon and between 4 to 8 pm. Dedicated to Goddess of Power, the Chandrabadani Temple enshrines an idol of the Goddess Sati along with ancient statues and iron trishuls placed outside the temple. The temple is atop the Chandrabadani Mountain, which is 2277 metres above sea level. Unlike other temples, the main shrine has no idol of the chief deity. Instead, Shri Yantra is engraved on a flat stone surface shaped like the back of a tortoise. Goddess Sati is worshipped in the form of Shri Yantra. Once a year, the temple holds a puja in a manner not seen anywhere else. The priest is blindfolded and a cloth canopy tied on the ceiling right above the yantra. The Dasharathachal Peak is another popular attraction here.

From Devprayag, we make our way 75 kms south to the temple town of Rishikesh.

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Located in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Ganga and Chandrabhaga rivers meet, Rishikesh is a small town about 45 km south of Dehradun and located very close to Haridwar, Rishikesh also called Hrishikesh, is known as the Yoga Capital of the World as well as being the gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas and also a pilgrimage town and one of the holiest places for Hindus. Rishikesh is divided into two main areas, the downtown area known as Rishikesh town which is where the popular Triveni Ghat is situated. 2 km upstream from the popular Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula is the other side of Rishikesh where most of the popular ashrams, cafes, accommodation and tourists can be found. The city has hosted the annual International Yoga Festival on the first week of March since 1989.

The Neelkantha Mahadeva temple is one of the most revered Hindu sites dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is located about 20 odd km from the centre of the town. Visitors can also cross the Laxman Jhula to get to the temple. Pilgrims offer water from Ganga to this temple. One of the most ancient and sacred temples in Rishikesh, the Bharat Mandir’s presiding diety of Lord Vishnu carved out a single piece of Shaligram, a fossiled black shell with markings, was reinstalled by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century. The inner canopy of the temple contains Shree Yanthra while the architecture and interiors of the temple has been detailed in the ancient record of Kearkhand. The present structure was reconstructed on the ruins of the original temple destroyed by Tiamur Lang. The Trimbakeshwar or Tera Manzil Temple is a thirteen storey temple situated on the banks of river Ganga and located opposite the Lakshman Jhula. The temple enshrines several deities under one roof and is popular for its striking architecture. From the topmost storey, the temple also offers panoramic views of the town. Perched atop the Kunjapuri hill, the Kunjapuri Devi temple is dedicated to Goddess Parvathi. Besides being one of the fifty two Shaktipeeths in the state, the shrine is popular for its locale which offers panoramic views of the Shivalik range and the majestic peaks of Chaukhamba and Bandarpunch. The Raghunath temple is situated near the Triveni Ghat in the heart of the town and is dedicated to Lord Rama and his wife Goddess Sita. The temple premises also houses a tiny pond or kund known as Rishikund. The Virbhadra temple is a 1300-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in his fierce avatar which he took when his wife Goddess Sati, jumped into a burning yagya kund, to immolate herself because they were dishonoured by her father Daksha Prajapati, when he didn’t invite them for the yagya. The festival of Mahashivratri, the most important one here, is celebrated at the temple with great enthusiasm each year. A fair or a mela is also held at the temple on this occasion.

The Lakshman Jhula is a famous hanging bridge across the river Ganga that connects two villages, Tapovan and Jonk. Located 5 km to the northeast of the town, the bridge is made up of iron and is 450 feet long at a height of 70 feet from the river. Lakshman Jhula is well-known amongst tourists because it is believed that Lord Lakshman, the younger brother of Lord Rama, had crossed the river Ganga at this same site. The bridge is open from 5 am to 10 pm daily. Note that as of July 2019, this bridge is only accessible for pedestrians and both sides are blocked to prevent vehicles. Built in 1986, the Ram Jhula is a suspension bridge that connects Shivananda Nagar to Swargashram. The bridge spans 750 feet and offers a splendid bird’s eye view of the mighty Ganges. Situated on the banks of the holy river Ganges, Triveni Ghat is the biggest ghat in Rishikesh where the Ganga Maha Aarti happens every evening. Playing an essential role in Hindu mythology and is also mentioned in the Ramayan and Mahabharat, Triveni Ghat is also where the chattri of Lord Krishna was constructed and the ghat is considered to be the cremation ground for Lord Krishna. Devotees also make offerings to the river in the form of milk, while feeding the fishes in the ghat too. The evening aarti also called the Maha Aarti is conducted from 6 to 7 pm daily and is the most popular and well-attended rituals of the town. The Maha Aarti is performed by chanting bhajans in praise of the lord and is celebrated by beating electrifying drums and rhythmic bells. Devotees release small floating leaf boats with oil lamps or gleaming diyas in them. The entire river is dotted with these little burning flames and the beauty of yellow flames in the dark water under the twinkling night sky is unparalleled. Although the Ganga Aarti is performed at several ghats, the most popular ones are performed at the Parmath Niketan and Triveni Ghats. The prayers are made to Agni, the God of Fire.

Rishi Kund is a natural hot spring pond which is considered as a sacred water body and is believed to be filled with water only after a sage was blessed by River Yamuna. Locals also believe that Lord Rama had bathed in the kund during his exile and that the rivers, Ganges and Yamuna meet each other at this point. Muni ki Reti is considered as the gateway for the pilgrimage of the Char Dham. Literally meaning the sand of sages, Muni ki Reti is believed to be the place where King Bharat performed penance. Vashishta Gufa is an ancient cave where the human son of Lord Brahma, Sage Vashishta meditated. A legend states that the sage was extremely depressed after losing all his children and decided to commit suicide, but River Ganga didn’t allow him to die. He, therefore, decided to stay and meditate in the cave.

The alpine meadow of Kuari Pass has been attracting backpackers from around the globe for decades. Being in close proximity to Nanda Devi biosphere, Kuari Pass is at the center of the most remarkable regions of Garhwal known for its unique wild grandeur. In the background below the valley is the entrance to the formidable Rishi Gorge which until 1934 was considered un-penetrable. Kuari Pass is at a relative moderate altitude of 12,200 feet. The beautiful camping grounds of Gulling, Chitrakantha & Tali are the key attraction of the trek. The trails leading from Tali Top to Kuari Pass gives an impression of doing a full scaled Himalayan alpine expedition in truck loads of snow. At 380 m high, Kaudiyala is a popular rock climbing destination surrounded by dense forests. It also offers white river rafting tracks, and the sports is organized by the camping facilities around the place.

The Neer Garh waterfall is a beautiful narrow stream of cool water cascading down a rocky terrain in the midst of a dense green forest. It requires trekking a distance of about a kilometre through the forest and down a cliff to reach the waterfall. The Garud Chatti waterfalls is one of the most majestic and beautiful waterfalls in Rishikesh. Situated around 5 kms away from Lakshman Jhula, the waterfalls cascade down the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. At the base of the trek to the waterfalls, there is also a revered Garud Temple. The Patna waterfalls is located next to the Patna village with the highlight of the waterfalls is also a limestone cave situated right next to it. The Himshail waterfall is popular for yoga and meditation practices because of the peaceful environment. There is also a Tat Baba Cave situated right next to it. The Phool Chatti waterfalls are located between the Garudchatti and Neer Garh waterfalls and are hidden away from view between dense trees and bushes.

Haridwar which lies just 25 km or a 45 minute drive from Rishikesh is our next destination.

Haridwar, considered to be among the seven holiest cities in India, is an ancient city situated on the right bank of the Ganga river, at the foothills of the Shivalik ranges. Dotted with temples, ashrams and narrow lanes across the city, Haridwar is one of the only four cities in India which can host the Kumbh Mela which takes place every 12 years and where millions of devotees take a dip in the holy Ganges. Brahma Kund, the spot where the the amrit or the elixir of immortality fell, is located at Har ki Pauri or the footsteps of the Lord and is considered to be the most sacred ghat of Haridwar where it’s believed that taking a dip in the holy Har Ki Pauri relieves a person of all their sins. Every evening, Haridwar witnesses a set of rituals for the famous Ganga Aarti at the Ghats where thousands of devotees come together to pray to the river. The modern name of the town has two spellings: Haridwar and Hardwar. Each of these names has its own connotation. In Sanskrit, Hari means Lord Vishnu, while dwar means gateway. So, Haridwar translates to The Gateway to Lord Vishnu and earns this name because it is typically the place where pilgrim’s start their journey to visit a prominent temple of Lord Vishnu – Badrinath. Similarly, Hara could also mean Lord Shiva and hence, Hardwar could stand for Gateway to Lord Shiva. Hardwar is also a typical place to start a pilgrim’s journey in order to reach Mount Kailash, Kedarnath, the northernmost Jyotirlinga and one of the sites of the smaller Char Dham pilgrimage circuit, all important places for worship for Hindus. According to legend, it was in Haridwar that Goddess Ganga descended when Lord Shiva released the mighty river from the locks of his hair. The River Ganga, after flowing for 253 km from its source at Gaumukh at the edge of the Gangotri Glacier, enters the Gangetic Plain for the first time at Haridwar, which gave the city its ancient name of Gangadwara.

Located near the Chandi Devi temple, the Gaurishankar Mahadev Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is in a beautiful location with the Ganges flowing next to the temple and the Himalayas as a fitting backdrop. Devotees believe that wishes get fulfilled by praying at the temple. The Bhuma Niketan shrine houses magnificent idols of several gods and goddesses but the highlight are the sculptures of Shiva and Parvati adorning the entrance gates of the shrine. Located on the Haridwar Rishikesh highway, the Doodhadhari Barfani temple is a cluster of several small shrines dedicated to various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The temple is built of white marbles and has attractive interiors and elaborately carved exteriors. The Bilkeshwar Mahadev temple is situated in the valley of Billa Parvat near Har ki Pauri and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. It is believed that the site at which the temple sits is the same spot where Goddess Parvati worshipped Lord Shiva and he accepted to make her his wife. The temple complex also houses smaller shrines for Lord Hanuman, Lord Ganesha, Mata Rani and Mahadev. There is a Bilva tree located in the complex and it is a tradition to offer the Bilva leaves to Lord Shiva and do his abhishek with the water of the pious River Ganga.

Situated on the outskirts of the city in Ranipur near Haridwar, the Sureshwari Devi temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga. Located in Haripur Kalan, the Adbhut Mandir is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The Chandi Devi temple is a charming temple dedicated to the Chanda Devi Goddess, perched on the Neel Parvat of the Shivalik Hills. Also known as Neel Parvat Teerth, the temple is one of the five pilgrimages of Haridwar and is also known as Siddha Peetha, a place where devotees worship to fulfil their desire. Pilgrims can also reach the temple zenith by the means of a ropeway, the view from which is exhilarating. The Mansa Devi temple dedicated to the goddess Mansa Devi, who is considered to be a form of Shakti and is believed to have emerged from Lord Shiva’s mind. This temple, which is one of the Panch Tirths or the five pilgrimages is also popularly known as Bilwa Tirth and is perched on the top of the Bilwa Parvat on the Sivalik Hills. The word Mansa means wish, and devotees believe that the goddess Mansa fulfils all the wishes of the dedicated devotee. The Bharat Mata Mandir is dedicated to India as a country and that’s how it gets its name as the name translates into the Mother India temple. The multi-storey temple is not a temple that worships gods or has any religious inclination, but one that stands for the many freedom fighters and patriots of the Indian Struggle for Independence. The temple stands at a height of 180 feet and has a total of 8 floors each with a specific theme. The temple has a massive map of the Mother India on the ground, denoting the statue of the mother of India depicted as a four-armed Hindu goddess wearing saffron-coloured robes, holding a book, sheaves of rice, a mala, and a white cloth. The statue has a design that indicates the Goddess of India for all the religious deities, freedom fighters and leaders.

Located in Kankhal, the Daksha Mahadev temple is one of the oldest temples for Shaivites. The chief deity of the temple is Lord Shiva and Goddess Sati and the temple is named after King Daksha Prajapati, the father of Goddess Sati. Also known as Daksheswara Mahadev Temple, it houses the Yajna Kund and the Daksha ghat on the left of the main temple where devotees take a dip in the holy Ganga River. The walls of Daksheswara Mahadev temple depict the various episodes of the yajna story of King Daksha and the entire history of the temple. A replica of the Vaishno Devi temple in Kashmir, the Vaishno Devi Temple of Haridwar is marked by tunnels and caves that lead to the inner sanctum containing the shrine of Goddess Vaishno Devi. The divine temple houses three deities, Lakshmi, Kaali and Saraswati. Apart from its architecture and tunnels, this temple bears no resemblance to the original Vaishno Devi Temple. After climbing a flight of steep stairs and crawling through a narrow tunnel, the devotees are blessed with the sight of the idol of Maa Vaishno Devi and the replicas of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. This is also one of the Shakti Peethas temple. Built in the 11th century, the Maya Devi temple is one of the oldest in India and is dedicated to Goddess Maya and is one of the three Shaktipeeths, believed to be the place where the heart and navel of Goddess Sati fell. Goddess Maya is considered to be a form of Adi Shakti, who is believed to be the Goddess of divine power. Maya Devi is considered by many as the chief Goddess of the city and no pilgrimage is complete without meeting her and taking her blessings. Along with goddess Maya, the sacred temple is graced by the idols of goddess Kamakhya and Goddess Kali who are also a form of Adi parashakti. It is a common belief that the holy temple is a Siddha peeth which means that the presiding goddess has the power to fulfil any desires or wishes of the person seeking her blessings.

Regarded as one of the most sacred Ghats in Haridwar and India, Har Ki Pauri is a revered landmark and is a highly visited place to seek the blessings of the Holy Ganga. Literally translating to the Steps of Lord Shiva, a dip in the Ganges at the Har Ki Pauri is believed to wash away one’s sins and according to mythology, it is one of the four places where the drops of elixir were accidentally spilled by the celestial bird Garuda. Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are believed to have visited the place in Vedic times with the large footprints on a stone wall believed to have belonged to Lord Vishnu. The river is filled in a golden hue of countless diyas offered by devotees floating along the river. The Ganga Aarti that takes place at the bank of river at the Har Ki Pauri ghat is a ritual of light and sound where the priests perform prayers with bowls of fire and the ringing of the temple bells. A sight to see and experience, devotees float diyas or small candles and flowers on the river. The Saptarishi or the seven sages Ashram was established by Guru Goswami Dutt in 1943. Famous for having hosted 7 great sages, Kashyapa, Vashishta, Atri, Vishwamitra, Jamadagi, Bharadwaja and Gautam, this ashram is well known for its tranquil atmosphere ideal for meditation. It is also believed that Ganga split herself into seven currents at this spot so the sages were not disturbed by the sound of gushing water. Because of this, the ashram is also called as Sapt Sarovar or Sapt Rishi Kund. Vishnu Ghat is among the most serene and tranquil ghats of the city and is situated close to Hari ki Pauri. Comparatively less crowded and visited mostly by Vaishnavites as this ghat is named after Lord Vishnu. Being one of the cleanest ghats in Haridwar, people often come to this ghat to take a dip in the holy River Ganga and absolve their sins. The Birla Ghat is an ancient ghat located adjacent to Vishnu Ghat. Here, there is a flight of stairs that lead towards the water, enabling devotees to take a dip with security barriers installed near the flight of stairs to prevent people from drowning while bathing in the Ganga River’s strong water current. Gau Ghat is located on the southern part of Subhash Ghat and is relatively less crowded. The ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were cremated at this ghat. It is a common belief among Hindus that killing a cow is a sin equal to killing a Brahman. Devotees visit Gau Ghat to cleanse themselves of the sin of killing a cow, hence the name. Believed to have been constructed in the 18th century by the Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar, Kushavarta Ghat is considered the most sacred and auspicious ghat of the city. The final rites and rituals of the deceased are performed at the banks of the river including the Shraddha rites, after which the devotees take a dip in the holy waters of the Ganges.

Our next destination is the Roopkund Lake.

Perched at an elevation of 5,029 m above the sea level in the lap of Trishul Peak and Nanda Ghunti is a place full of mystery, Roopkund. Also called as Mystery Lake, owing to the discovery of human skeletons and horses remains from Paleolithic age here. Surrounded by mesmerizing scenic beauty of lush green mountains and rocky glaciers, the lake is a perfect end to a trek. The human and horse skeletons found around Roopkund are believed to be about 500-600 years old and the lake remains frozen almost throughout the year. The trekking trail to Roopkund in itself is quite fascinating including the trek through rustic villages, bewitching alpine meadows and a beautiful sacred pond, Bedni Kund with its crystal clear water.

The Nelong Valley lies 45km away from the Indo-Tibetan border and is considered to be one of the most thrilling mountaineering treks in India. At a height of 11,000ft, the view from here is breathtaking. The valley offers a clear and surreal view of the Tibetan Plateau. Gartang Gali, a wooden walkway, is a main attraction of the valley said to have been built in the 17th century. It was known as one of the main routes for trade between India and China in 1962. The valley was closed to visitors upto 2015 and has only been recently reopened. Controlled by the Indian Government very stringently because it used to be a route for trade between India and China till the 1960s, this route, popularly known as Gartang Gali, was originally discovered by the Pesawar’s of Pakistan in the 17th century. Visitors wanting to get to Nelong Valley need to get a permit from a court and produce a fitness certificate in Uttarkarshi, the closest town. The valley is only open to domestic tourists.

The Gangotri National Park owes its name to the Gangotri Glacier. Challenging treks, crushed snow, beaten trails, whistling woods, and ruffled leaves are what makes this park unique. One will easily encounter some of the oldest settlements, the holiest pilgrimage sites and the source of the river Ganga while traversing through the Park. Idyllically situated in the natural surroundings of the Garhwal region, this National Park is a famous high-altitude Sanctuary. The park is spread over an area of 2390 sq km in the upper catchment of Bhagirathi river and was established in the year 1989. The Bhagirathi river flows from inside the park, and it provides nourishment to countless bird species and animals. Legends from the epic Mahabharata come to life here and places associated with the epic seen during treks or visits to the temples in this region. The northeastern part of the National Park shares an international boundary with China. The Park includes a considerable stretch of mountains clad in snow and glaciers and visitors can find variations in biomes from subalpine conifer forest to Himalayan alpine shrubs and meadows. The Park is surmised to be a pivotal link between the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and the Govind Pashu Vihar and . It comes under the biogeographical zone 2A of West Himalaya and provides a home-like feel to the wild creatures inhabiting the region. The National Park has the typical high-altitude ecosystem and is influenced by the trans-Himalayan elements to an extent. A unique feature of this National Park is the Alpine scrub. This park is famous for its myriad activities. From rugged terrains to adventurous sites, this National Park has everything to offer. Nelong Valley, Bhojbasa, Gaumukh trek, Tapovan Trek, Kedartal, Gangotri Temple, Chirbasa, Gangotri town, Bhoj Kharak, Kedar Kharak and Gangotri glacier are the prominent spots here. The entry fee for the park per person for three days is INR 150 for Indians and INR 600 for foreigners. For each extra day, Indians are will need to pay INR 50 per day and foreigners INR 250 per day. There is no charge for a camera and video camera for non commercial purposes while if you are there for a commercial use, its INR 500 for an Indian and INR 1500 for foreigners. To enter the park, visitors will need to get a permit from the District Forest Officer at Uttarkashi before entering the Park and on the form the areas to be visited has to be specified with the dates. The permit is then given which needs to be submitted at the Forest Check Post.

The Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, also called the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary’s primary purpose is to protect the endangered Himalayan musk deer. Consisting of an area of 975 sq km, it is the largest protected area in the western Himalayas and is famous for the alpine musk deer, Himalayan Thar, Himalayan Griffon, Himalayan Black bear, Snow Leopard and other flora and fauna. It is internationally important for the diversity of its flora and fauna, particularly of the ungulate species. Located in the Himalayan Highlands with an elevation ranging from 1,160 m to the Chaukhamba peak at 7,068 m . The sanctuary straddles a geographically diverse landscape and transitional environment. The sanctuary takes its name from the famous Hindu temple of Kedarnath which is just outside its northern border. The entire 14 km route from Gaurikund to the Kedarnath temple passes through the sanctuary. The sanctuary is reputed to be one of the world’s richest bio-reserves. It is host to temperate forests in the middle altitudes with higher elevations dotted by coniferous, sub-alpine and alpine forests, and further up by alpine grasslands and high-altitude Bugyals. The sanctuary is reputed to have many high value medicinal and aromatic plant species, of which 22 species are rare and endangered. Most visitors to the sanctuary are mostly Indian pilgrims on their way to the various temples as the approach to Kedarnath Temple is only through the sanctuary with a few international tourists. Visiting season at the sanctuary is from April to June and again from September to November.

The Valley of Flowers is near Badrinath and was discovered in 1931 and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wild untamed blooms surrounded by white peaks. At the meeting point of the Himalayan ranges, Zanskar and the Western and Eastern Himalayas, the valley of flowers discovered by Frank S Smith in 1931 is famous for its exotic varieties of medicinal herbs. It is believed that Lord Hanuman brought the Sanjivani herb from here to the ailing Lakshmana injured in the battle with Ravana in Sri Lanka. Combined with Nanda Devi National Park, the two of them together constitute the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. Initially known as Bhyundar Valley, its name was changed to Valley of Flowers by the British mountaineer Frank S Smythe in the year 1931. Gifted with a diverse range of flora and fauna, this picturesque beauty is one of its kind. No human settlements are present inside the park and grazing is completely banned. Situated in the transition zone between Eastern and Western Himalayan flora, seven restricted-range bird species are seen in this part of the Himalayas. The entire valley is covered with flowers of every colour and type which gives a magical quality to the place. It has more than 650 species of flowers present including Blue Poppy, Cobra Lily, and Brahmakamal. The area is also home to several rare and engendered animals. A diverse population of fauna can be found in the valley including the Asiatic black bear, blue sheep, brown bear, blue sheep, black and brown bears, and yellow-throated marten. A variety of birds too can be found here including the Himalayan golden eagle, Himalayan snow cock, sparrow, snow pigeon, and Himalayan monal. Spread over an area of 71,210 hectares, the park has a buffer zone surrounding it measuring 514,857 hectares. Since the valley of flowers is covered by the Himalayan mountains, it remains covered with snow most of the year. Heavy rainfall and dense fog can be witnessed at the place during the late summer months as well. The ideal time to visit the place is from mid-July to mid-August as colourful flowers start growing in this season with the settling snow and the climate is pleasant with warm days and cold nights. The valley opens up on June 01 and closes on 21 October and is open from 7 am to 5 pm with the last entry inside at 2 pm. The entry fee for a three day pass is INR 150 for Indian tourists and INR 600 for foreigners with each additional day costing Indians INR 50 and foreigners INR 150.

In proximity to Nanda Devi, the second highest peak in India, the Nanda Devi National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. It is home to some of the rarest and unique high-altitude flora and fauna in the world with the breathtaking views, coupled with the richness of biosphere, making this national park unique amongst all others. Given the national park status in 1982, the park is one of the most important ecological hotspots of the world and is home to a variety of birds, mammals, plants, trees and butterflies. The trek to the base camp at the park is considered to be one of the most challenging ones. The park is open to visitors for only six months in the year, from 1 May to 31 October. The Valley of Flowers, Badrinath Temple and Hemkund Sahib, located in the vicinity of the national park are famous tourist destinations. The increasing popularity and fame of the region led to an excess of expeditions here, and consequently, the amount of ecological damage to this pure and pristine area also increased. Following this, it was decided to shut down the national park in 1984 and reopened in May 2013, but under extremely stringent rules and policies, such as entry to only two groups of five people in a single day, and no more than the visits of four such groups each week. Abundant in wildlife and home to a wide variety of plants and animals of various species, the forest cover in the park is being restricted to the Rishi Gorge, the primary vegetation comprises of fir, birch and juniper. In the inner parts of the sanctuary, the conditions are comparatively drier, with almost zero vegetation near the Nanda Devi Glacier. A total of 312 species of flora are found here, of which around 17 are considered to be rare. Animal species like the snow leopard, Himalayan black bear, brown bear, leopard, Himalayan musk deer, Common Langur, Goral and Bharal dominate the area. Approximately 80 avifaunal species have been found here, including Indian tree pipit, Blue-fronted Redstart, Rose Finches and Ruby Throat.

The Govind Pashu Vihar Wildlife Sanctuary came into existence in 1955 as a part of the Upper Tons Valley. The area, where this national park lies, is rich in its past and certain legends are associated with it as well. During the colonial rule, the British used this area to extract timber, providing forest rest houses and building roads throughout the region for easier access. Post-independence, there was a decrease in timber extraction. The name of this wildlife sanctuary was Tons and it was later renamed after an eminent Indian politician and freedom fighter, Govind Ballabh Pant. Lying in the higher reaches of the Garhwal Himalayas, the park covers a total area of 958 sq km and manages the Snow Leopard Project started by the Government of India. his project aims to provide special conservation measures to protect the snow leopard. This endangered predator is threatened by the decline in wild animals on which to prey, by being poached for its skin and body parts, and by being killed by farmers to protect their livestock. It is one of the remaining strongholds in the Himalayas of the bearded vulture, a vital ecological catalyst. The altitude in the park ranges from 1,400 to 6,323 metres above sea level. Within the park is the Har Ki Doon valley which is a known spot for trekking, while the Ruinsiyara high altitude lake is also a popular destination. The sanctuary contains western Himalayan broadleaf forests at its lowest elevations, transitioning to western Himalayan subalpine conifer forests and western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows at its highest elevations.

Encompassing the Shivalik mountain ranges, the Rajaji National Park is abundantly rich in flora and fauna and is famous for its wildlife, especially tigers and elephants. Named in the honour of C. Rajagopalchari, this national park is enriched with valuable fossils which date back to 10 million back. The sanctuary is a unique combination of three sanctuaries, namely Chilla, Motichur, and Rajaji. After a name change in 2015, the national park is now known as the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. The Chilla Sanctuary is huddled against the eastern bank of the Ganga, about 10 Kms from Haridwar. The Motichur Sanctuary is 60 km fromDehradun and is also known as Kansro. It’s best known for its leopard sightings. The forest area is popular for sal, teak and other shrubs and the park is predominantly formed from dense green jungles, forming a habitat for a number of animals. An amalgamation of three different forests with distinctive life forms, Rajaji national park houses an enormous variety of land and fauna. The park is at the northwestern limit of distribution for both elephants and tigers in India. The park can be explored through a jeep or elephant safari. Asian elephants, tigers, king cobras, panthers, and other animals can be found here including migratory birds after the monsoons. The tiger reserve earns its name from Shri C. Rajgopalachari, a popular leader, first and last Governor General of independent India, and a revered statesman. He was famous among the masses as Rajaji. It was his wish to turn the vast stretch of wilderness into a sanctuary as he was awed with its diverse flora and fauna. That’s how Rajaji Sanctuary came into being and later got its name to the unified Rajaji National Park. Entrance fees to the park per person is INR 750 for Indians and INR 1500 for foreigners. For the jeep safari its INR 1500 per jeep and INR 150 per person. The safari timings are 6 to 11 am for the morning session, 11:30 am to 1 pm for birdwatching sessions inside the forest, and 2:30 to 5:30 pm for the afternoon sessions. The timings change depending on the season.

The oldest national park in India, the Jim Corbett National Park is set amidst the foothills of the Himalayas near Nainital. Known for housing the endangered Bengal tiger, it is part of the larger Corbett Tiger Reserve. Famous for its wildlife safaris, the park has multiple resorts set on the riverside. Home to more than 650 species of rare and migratory birds, it is a haven for bird watchers. The most popular attraction at Corbett National Park is Dhikala, a forest lodge located on the border of Patil Dun Valley, which is known for the stunning location and rich wildlife. Only 180 vehicles are allowed to enter the national park in a day and the park remains closed from July to October during the monsoons. However, the Jhirna, Dhela and Sitabani tourism zones remain open for tourists throughout the year. Safaris are organised in all the zones by two shifts by the forest officials in all the zones. Established in 1936 as Hailey National Park, the Jim Corbett National Park is named after Jim Corbett, a famous hunter and naturalist. The park is spread over an area of more than 500 sq km and is divided into 5 zones: Bijrani, Dhikala, Jhirna, Domunda and Sonanandi. The park jeep safaris, elephant safaris and canter safaris with the jeep safari being the most popular one and is allowed in all the five tourism zones. It can carry six adults and two children along with the driver and a guide. Indians pay INR 4500 per jeep while foreigner pay INR 9000 per jeep. The jeep safari is available between 6 to 9:30 am and then again between 3 to 6 pm. The canter safari is the only option to explore the Dhikala zone which is inhabited by the most number of Bengal tigers. The canter safari, which is an open-air vehicle, larger than a jeep is conducted in two shifts, and the best option for large groups of 11-12 people. The price for the canter per person is INR 1500 for Indians and INR 3000 for foreigners and the safari is open between 6 to 11:50 am in the mornings and from 12 noon to 6 pm in the evenings. Tickets for the safari has to be booked 45 days in advance by Indian and SAARC visitors while foreigners have to book it 90 days in advance with their passport details. In order to enter any part of the Corbett National Park, a permit needs to be obtained from the forest department with the permit for the day safari obtained directly at the entry gate of the zone to be visited. The mesmerizing and luscious green coverage of Jim Corbett is credited to the flowering trees which can be found in huge numbers. The park is home to a significant population of endangered and critically endangered species of animal including the Asiatic elephant and Ghariyal, but the star attraction of this reserve is the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger. The park also has an astounding 600 species of birds.

This series on Uttarakhand, the last for 2020 comes at a time when travel is not possible. I now know why it is called Dev Bhoomi or the Land of the Gods and hopefully I get to visit all these wonderful places once in my lifetime. I hope this journey through the state enthralled you as much as it did to me!

Travel Bucket List: India – Utarakhand Part 5

Known as Uttarakhand’s Kashi, Bageshwar is a small town situated on the confluence of the Saryu and Gomati rivers and surrounded by the mountains of Bhileshwar and Nileshwar to its east and west and by the Suraj Kund in the north and Agni Kund in the south. The Baghnath temple Baghnath dedicated to Lord Shiva finds a mention in the Puranas and the Shivratri and Uttrayani fairs are celebrated in a big way here. Bageshwar was a major trade mart between Tibet and Kumaun, and was frequented by the Bhotia traders, who bartered Tibetan wares, wool, salt and Borax in exchange for carpets and other local products in Bageshwar. The trade routes were, however, closed after the Indo-China War of 1962.

The Bagnath Temple in the middle of the town of Bageshwar derives its name from the incident of the celebrated sage Markandeya being visited Lord Shiva in the form of a tiger. Bagnath, literally translates to the Tiger Lord, Constructed in 1450 by the then ruler of Kumaon, Laxmi Chand, the temple stands at the breathtaking point where the river Gomati and Sarayu converge. Every year in the memory of the sage being visited by the god, a fair is held thronged by thousands of people who come to take a dip in the holy waters. The entrance is head lined by huge bells, which reverberate throughout the day, owing to the wish granting ability of the tiger-god. About 8 km from the town, one can pay homage to one of the few holy shrines in the city, that are located inside a natural cave, which is the Gauri Udiyar. About 2 km away from the town, the Chandika Temple is known to attract hoards of followers during the nine day long festival of the Hindu female deity, Goddess Durga. Vijaypur, located about 30 km away from Bageshwar, is a place where people come to enjoy the view. Vijaypur is surrounded by many peaks and has nice plain areas around. A tiny hamlet near Bageshwar, Bigul offers amazing views of the Himalayas including the Nanda Devi and Panchachuli peaks. This place is also important historically as Britishers used Biguls which is a form of instrument used for announcements here to call nearby villagers in order to collect taxes from them. The Dholinaag Temple is an important temple for the locals and is located at the highest point of the village.

Our next destination is Chamoli which is about 230 km from Bageshwar.

Also referred to as the Abode of Gods, Chamoli sits in the lap of nature and has a strong bond with spirituality, as seen from local legends. Home to temples across the entire village, this beautiful place is also renowned as the birth place of the Chipko Movement. Due to its surroundings, Chamoli attracts explorers and nature-lovers. Chamoli’s natural trails and laid-back lifestyle make it a perfect destination for all those who want to take a break. Mana, the neighbouring village, is power packed with a similar atmospehere, promising nature, Hindu shrines and some amazing trek trails.

The Vasundhara Waterfall is a captivating sight and offers bewitching views of the mountain peaks and glaciers. Situated 5km from Mana, it is said that is you have committed a sin, the fall will divert that away from you. Gopeshwar is a small scenic town known for its scenic beauty and ancient Hindu temples. Perched at an elevation of 1,400 m above the sea level, here visitors can enjoy the splendid views of the Garhwal Himalayas laden with the dense vegetation of the deodar and pine trees that surround this small town. According to the local beliefs, Gopeshwar is named after Lord Krishna. Gopeshwar is famous for its Shiva temple, Anusuya Devi temple, Chandika Devi temple and the Gopinath temple. The small town holds a great mythological and religious value for local Garhwalis. The hamlet is surrounded by four famous temples dedicated to the Hindu gods – Tungnath, Anasuya Devi, Rudranath, and Badrinath. The Tungnath Temple is the highest temple of Lord Shiva in the world. The Anusuya Devi Temple is dedicated to Goddess Sati and is considered to be one of the avatars of Mata Parvati. Rudranath is another temple dedicated to Lord Shiva surrounded by the holy kund with the backdrop of mighty Himalayas. Badrinath is the holy shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is also one of the temples of the famous Char Dham Yatra. Due to the number of holy shrines, many devotees visit Chamoli and offer their prayers to these religious places. The Gopinath temple, built by Raja Saggar is dedicated to Lord Shiva. As per legend, the king saw a cow squirting milk on the Shiva Lingam daily and he constructed a temple there. One of the famous Panch Kedars, Kalpeshwar is famous for the Kalpeshwar Temple which, is dedicated to Lord Shiva in one of his five forms or Kedars. Perched at an altitude of 2400 meters, Kalpeshwar is a breathtaking place with amazing views of the Himalayan peaks and is quite an experience. The last Indian settlement on the road to Tibet, Mana stands at an elevation of 10,500 feet. Winters in Mana go as low as -17 degrees celsius at Mana. Also famous from the Indian epic of Mahabharata, Mana in Uttarakhand is believed to be the same spot the Pandavas walked through the village before Bheem built a bridge on River Saraswati for Draupadi to cross the river. The Mana Pass was the ancient trade route between Tibet and India which from Badrinath to Guge town in Tibet. The trade route was fully functional till 1951 when it was shut down by the Chinese, though in 1954, via an agreement pilgrims and other travellers were allowed to travel this path. Deo Tal is the sacred lake situated atop the Mana Pass. The lake is considered holy and of great religious importance by the Hindus since it is believed that the mythical Saraswati river originated from here. You can also see Rajas Tal and Nag Tal in the vicinity. Known as the Lake of the Gods in Sanskrit, the lake remains frozen for most part of the year and is surrounded by icy peaks.

A short drive from Mana lies the holy town of Badrinath which is less than 5 km south of Mana.

Getting its name from the Badrinath temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the town is a major pilgrimage site re-established by Adi Shankara in the 8th century. A sacred site for followers of the Vaishnav tradition, the temple is open for six months every year, between the end of April and the beginning of November, because of the extreme weather conditions in the region. It is one of the four Char Dham and Chota Char Dham pilgrimage yatras and is one of the most visited pilgrimages in India. Placed between Nar and Narayan mountain ranges, Badrinath Temple is situated in the backdrop of the mighty Neelkanth mountain and is known for stunning natural beauty. The temple has been repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and avalanches. As late as WWI, the town consisted only of 20-odd huts used by the temple’s staff, but the site drew thousands each year and up to 50,000 on its duodecennial festivals which occurs every twelve years. Situated at the height of 10,279 feet, there is no historical record about the temple, but there is a mention of the presiding deity Badrinath in Vedic scriptures and according to some accounts, the temple was a Buddhist shrine till the 8th century when Adi Shankara converted it to a Hindu temple. The temple houses a black stone idol of Lord Vishnu which is 1m tall and is considered to be one of the 8 swayam vyakta kshetras or self-manifested statues of Vishnu. It also finds its mention in the 108 Divya Desams devoted to Lord Vishnu in India. The temple is closed for worship on the auspicious day of bhatridwityia in October. On the day of the closure, an Akhanda Jyoti lamp is lit to last for six months and the image of Badrinath is transferred to Narasimha temple at Jyotirmath. Badrinath reopens on Akshaya Tritiya, an auspicious day in April every year. Badri refers to a berry that was apparently said to grow abundantly in the area, and nath means Lordor Lord of as per context in which it is referred. Badri is also the Sanskrit name for the Indian Jujube tree, which has an edible berry. Some scriptural references refer to Jujube trees being abundant in Badrinath. The Badrinath Temple has a Tapt Kund, a hot sulphur spring which is considered to have medicinal values. The river Alaknanda is known to originate from here and the vibrant festivals of Mata Murti Ka Mela and the Badri Kedar festivals give you another reason to visit the temple. Badrinath is accessible by road and therefore driving up to this pilgrim spot is not difficult.

Charanpaduka: With imprints of what is believed to be Lord Vishnu’s footprints, Charanpaduka is a rock at a height of 3,380 ft, located 3 km from Badrinath on Narayan Parvat, reached after an arduous trek. This boulder is deemed as a religious site visited by hundreds each year as it is believed that Lord Vishnu set his foot first on earth here. It is believed that Lord Vishnu descended on earth from his celestial abode, also known as Vaikuntha and his steps were on the hill called Narayan Parvat, near Badrinath and left an everlasting imprint of his feet. There is also a legend traced to the Bhagwat Puran, where Uddhav, a nobleman in Lord Krishna’s court meditates for a benediction from Lord Vishnu so that he can get rid of his wrongdoings, Vishnu eventually comes down to bless him with his footprint.

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Neelkanth: Also known as Nilkantha, Neelakant, Nilkanth or Nilkanta, the Neelkanth is a major peak in Garhwal. At a height of 6507 ml, it is one of the most important and religiously revered peaks of the region due to its close proximity to Badrinath. It overlooks the lovely valley of the Alaknanda River. The snow-covered peak rises dramatically against the background of the crisp blue sky and presents one of the most beautiful sights that the region had to offer. Neelkanth lies in the midst of a medley of glaciers. The Satopanth Glacier lies on the northwest side of Nilkantha, while the Panpatia Glacier lies to the southwest, and feeds the Khirao Ganga, a stream running under the south of the peak. To the west of the peak, lies the Gangotri Glacier and its adjacent peaks while the Nanda Devi groups and Kamet lie across the Alaknanda Valley. Nilakantha’s origin may be seen as Nila means blue, Kantha means throat which is Hindu deity Shiva’s many epithets. As per Hindu mythology, there were initially no mountains on the spot where Nilkantha stands today. There was an old route between Kedarnath and Badrinath and the worshiper of the two temples worshipped them in one day. This continued for a long time until due to some sins of the worshiper, Lord Shiva became displeased with him and stood blocking the way as a huge sky-kissing mountain, which is said to be modern Nilkantha.

Tapt Kund: Believed to be the home of Lord Agni, the God of Fire,Tapt Kund is a natural hot water spring near the Badrinath Temple, heating to 45 degrees celsius. Located by the Alaknanda riverbank, visitors can take therapeutic baths here. The water of the kund is believed to have medicinal properties, curing various skin diseases. Devotees take a dip in the Tapt Kund before visiting Badrinath Temple. Known to purify the soul, pilgrims flock to this Kund to relieve themselves of their sins, known as the Agni Teerth. Mythologically believed to have originated from Lord Shiva’s Kapala or head, the Kund’s thermal energy is said to be much greater than most water bodies and the kund bathing area has separate arrangements for men and women.

Bheem Pul: A natural stone bridge on the river Saraswati, Bheem Pul is believed to be discovered by Bheem, one of the Pandav brothers while they were passing by. Some say the bridge was created by a stone Bheem threw between the mountains to create a path to cross the river. Nevertheless, the stunning natural bridge and the fierce river Saraswati gushing through it is a breathtaking sight.

Narad Kund: A hot water spring and holy site near Badrinath on the recess of the Alaknanda river, Narad Kund is believed to be the place from where Adi Sankaracharya recovered the idol of Lord Vishnu. An important point in the Badrinath Yatra, the devotees take a dip in Narad Kund before visiting the Badrinath Temple. Narad Kund is situated close to the Tapt Kund and gets its hot water from the Gauri Shila. Named after the sage Narad Muni who wrote the Narada Bhakti Sutra here, the beautiful surroundings attract visitors all year round.

Saraswati River: An important part of Hinduism, the Saraswati river has been mentioned in several Vedic scriptures as the milky way that leads to afterlife or immortality. It is named after Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom and is a tributary of the Alaknanda river which further merges with river Ganga amidst the breathtaking natural surroundings.

Vyas Gufa: A sacred place in Mana, Vyas Gufa is where Maharishi Ved Vyas documented Mahabharata with the help of Lord Ganesha. Many other Puranas, Sutras and Veda were also composed by Maharishi Ved Vyas in this cave. A unique feature of the cave is the roof that resembles the pages of a script.

Ganesh Gufa: A naturally formed cave located at Mana, Ganesh Gufa is believed to be where Maharishi Ved Vyasa dictated and Lord Ganesha wrote the Mahabharata. The cave and the mesmerising meadows that surround it also attract nature lovers and photographers.

Brahma Kapal: The place where Lord Brahma is said to live even today, Brahma Kapal is the place where it is said that those who perform funeral rituals for the deceased in their family themselves attain nirvana here. Many visit the sacred site to immerse the ashes of their deceased family member in river Alaknanda, on the banks of which Brahma Kapal is located.

Yogadhyan Badri Temple: Considered the abode of Lord Kubera, the God of wealth and Lord Udhava, the Yogadhyan Badri temple is one of the seven badris. The idol of the presiding deity, Lord Vishnu is seen in a meditative pose and is believed to be installed by the Emperor Pandu, the father of the Pandavas.

Alka Puri: The source of the river Alaknanda, the majestic Alka Puri glacier with the breathtaking mountain peaks surrounding it is a treat to the eyes. Alka Puri also has a great religious significance in India as it is believed to be the holy abode of Lord Kuber, the Gandharvas and the Yakshas.

Mata Murti Temple: Dedicated to the mother of twin brothers, Lord Badrinath and Nara, the Mata Murti Temple is a sacred Hindu temple. Lord Badrinath is also known as Narayan. It is believed that Mata Murti prayed with utmost dedication to Lord Vishnu and requested him to take birth from her womb as his next incarnation. Lord Vishnu, pleased with her devotion, took birth in the form of the twins. Therefore, praying to the Goddess is believed to free one from the sufferings of the materialistic life. A fair is held every year in September at the temple on the day of Shravan Dwadashi in the honour of the Goddess.

Pandukeshwar: Located at an elevation of 6000 feet, Pandukeshwar is a sacred site for the Hindus as it is believed that this is where the father of the Pandavas worshipped Lord Shiva. The Vasudev Temple in Pandukeshwar is believed to be built by the Pandavas.

Sheshnetra: It is believed that Lord Vishnu took retreat here on Ananta Shesha. A boulder marked with the eye of Ananta Shesha is believed to have the genuine imprint. Sheshanetra is also believed to protect the region and the shrine of Lord Badrinath.

Satopanth Lake: An enchanting water body surrounded by beautiful snow peaked mountains, the Satopanth Lake is located at an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level and is considered to be religiously important to the locals. They believe, on a particularly auspicious day, Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Lord Maheshwar bathe in the sacred waters. The natural terrain also serves as a perfect location for adventure activities, especially trekking and hiking.

After the holy temple town of Badrinath, let’s make our way to yet another holy place, this time of those who adhere to the Sikh faith, the Hemkund Sahib.

At a distance of 12 km as the crow flies, Hemkund Sahib, formally known as Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib Ji, is a Sikh place of worship and pilgrimage site devoted to Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, and finds mention in Dasam Granth, a work presumed dictated by Guruji himself, but insufficiently verified, where mythological components exist in the work. With its setting of a glacial lake surrounded by seven mountain peaks, each adorned by a Nishan Sahib on its cliff, it is located in the Himalayas at an elevation of 4,160 meters. Hemkund is a Sanskrit name derived from Hem meaning snow and Kund meaning bowl. The Dasam Granth says this is the place where Pandu Raja practiced Yoga and that in a former life, Guru Gobind Singh meditated intensely at Hemkund on Mahakal Kalika. Hemkund is inaccessible from October through April because of snowbound paths and glaciers. Sikh pilgrims arrive in May and set to work to repair the damage to the path over the winter, which tradition is called kar seva or selfless service, a concept which forms an important tenet of the Sikh faith.

Travelling another 53 km west brings us to another holy temple town, the town of Kedarnath.

The most remote of the four Chota Char Dham sites, Kedarnath is located in the Himalayas, about 3,583 m above sea level near the Chorabari Glacier, the source of the river Mandakini, and is flanked by snow-capped peaks, most prominently the Kedarnath mountain. Kedarnath is the most important among the 12 Jyotirlingas in India dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Kedarnath Temple can only be reached from Gaurikund through a trek and remains open only for six months from April to November, due to heavy snowfall in the region the rest of the months. During the winters from November to May, the diety is shifted from the Kedarnath Temple to Ukhitmath and is worshipped there. Kedar is another name of Lord Shiva, the protector, and the destroyer, and it’s believed that a journey to Kedarnath provides one moksha or salvation. The present Kedarnath Temple is believed to be re-constructed by Adi Shankaracharya, and was initially built by the Pandavas thousand years ago from enormous stone slabs over a large rectangular dais. The name Kedarnath means the lord of the field and is derived from the Sanskrit words kedara for field and natha for lord. Kedarnath has been a pilgrimage centre since ancient times. One of the earliest references to Kedarnath occurs in the Skanda Purana, which names Kedara or Kedarnath as the place where Shiva released the holy waters of Ganga from his matted hair, resulting in the formation of the Ganges river. It is believed by some that Adi Shankaracharya died near Kedarnath, though others believe he died at Kanchi and there are ruins of a monument marking the purported resting place of Adi Shankaracharya here at Kedarnath. The town suffered extensive destruction during June 2013 from flash floods caused by torrential rains in the state.

Kedarnath Temple: The Kedarnath Temple was built around a thousand years ago with massive stone slabs and stands on a raised rectangular platform. It covers an area of approximately 3 sq. km. Before the main temple, there is a low roofed hall which has images of Parvati and the five Pandavas. The walls are adorned with figures of other deities from Mahabharat. Outside the temple door, there is also a huge statue of Nandi bull which is also worshipped by the tourists and in the main temple, a conical rock is worshipped as Lord Shiva. It is believed that Kedarnath temple had been revived by Adi Shankaracharya many centuries ago. It is believed that Pandavas, after the battle of Kurukshetra, felt guilty for killing their Kaurava cousins. So, they wanted Lord Shiva to absolve their sins but Lord Shiva was annoyed with them. The Pandavas first went to Kashi to meet Shiva where they learnt that he was in the Himalayas. They proceeded for the Himalayas too but miffed Shiva did not want to absolve their sins easily. Therefore, he disguised himself as a bull and went to Guptakashi. The Pandavas reached Guptakashi too and spotted a unique looking bull. Bheema, one of the Pandavas, grabbed its tail and the bull was disintegrated in different directions. It is believed that its hump fell in Kedarnath and hence, the Kedarnath Temple was created. Another legend was when Shiva appeared before the worshippers Nara-Narayan, they requested him to stay there in his pure form for human welfare. Therefore, Shiva decided to reside as a Jyoti in the snow-clad Himalayas in a place known as Kedar. That is why he is also called Kedarnath or Kedareshwara. The temple did not suffer any major damage during the disastourus flood of 2013. In what can only be called a miraculous act, a huge rock got stuck behind the temple and protected it from the destructive floods. The temple unbelievably withstood the calamity, suffering only a small crack in one of its four walls. But the entire valley suffered a huge loss of life and property.

Bhairavnath Temple: Situated at a distance of 500 m from the Kedarnath Temple on the southern side, the Bhairavnath Temple is enshrined by the revered Hindu God, Lord Bhairava. It is perched on top of a hillock and offers magnificent views of the surrounding Himalayas and the entire Kedarnath valley below. Lord Bhairav is believed to be the main gana or devotee or of Lord Shiva and hence the temple is all the more important. The enshrining deity of the temple is also known as Kshetrapal or the guardian of the region, has a Trishul for a weapon and a dog as his vehicle.

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Agastyamuni: Dedicated to Saint Agastya, the temple commemorates his one year mediation here. This ancient temple stands as an example of grand architecture and interiors with wall art adorning its walls.

Shankaracharya Samadhi: It is believed that Sri Sankaracharya who propounded the Adwaita Philosophy established this holy shrine and one of his four Mathas in the 8th century and attained Nirvana at age 32 here.

Triyuginarayan Temple: Situated at the height of 1,980 metres above the sea level, the Triyuginarayan temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple is said to the the place where Lord Shiva got married to Goddess Parvati witnessed by Lord Vishnu. A special feature of this temple is a perpetual fire, that burns in front of the temple. The flame is believed to burn from the times of the divine marriage and so the the temple is also known as Akhand Dhuni temple. The name of the temple Triyugi Narayan is made up of three different words with Tri meaning three; Yugi means period of time and Narayan refers to Vishnu. Pilgrims have been offering wood to the fire in the havana-kund or fireplace for the past three yugs, hence the name of the temple. The uniqueness of the temple lies in the fact that devotees can worship Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi at a single place. Since Lord Brahma also witnessed the marriage, the temple completes the trinity of the Hindu Gods, that is Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The temple also has the idols of Lord Hanuman, Lord Vinayaka, Garuda and Annapurna Devi in it. One can also find four sacred ponds or Kunds which are filled with fresh water in the temple. As per Hindu mythology, goddess Parvati was the daughter of Himavat, who was the personification of the Himalayas. She was also the rebirth of Sati. She initially tried to lure Shiva by her beauty but failed in her attempts. Later on, she practised severe penance at the Gauri Kund, which is 5 kilometres away from Triyuginarayan. Pleased, Shiva proposed to Parvati at Guptakashi and the two married in the village of Triyuginarayan. Vishnu acted as Parvati’s brother during the marriage ceremonies, while Brahma served as the priest of the wedding. The holy fire that witnessed the matrimony continues to burn in front of the temple in a fireplace till date. Before the marriage ceremony had begun, the three gods had taken a bath in the three kunds of the temple, which are the Rudra-kund, Vishnu-kund and Brahma-kund. The Saraswati-kund, which is believed to have originated from Vishnu’s navel, is the source of water supply to these three kunds. According to scriptures, devotees who visit the Triyuginarayan Temple consider the ashes from the burning fire in the Havan Kunda to be holy. Thus they add samidha, or sacrificial offerings of wood to the flame, collect the ashes as blessings and carry it back with them. It is also believed that these ashes promote conjugal bliss. The water from the three kunds is also considered to cure infertility in women, and devotees are often found taking a dip in these holy waters. The temple resembles the temple of Kedarnath and the present shrine is believed to have been built by Adi Shankaracharya. The shrine also consists of a 2 feet high silver image of god Vishnu, accompanied by an idol of his consort, goddess Lakshmi and goddess Saraswati. The exact location of the marriage is marked by a stone which is known as the Brahma Shila in front of the temple.

Vasuki Tal: A lake at an altitude of 4135 meters, Vasuki Tal offers a view of the neighbouring Chaukhamba peaks. Trekkers would find this an ideal range o climb up. The Chaturangi and Vasuki glaciers can be found en-route to the lake.

Chorabari Lake: Located at a distance of around 3 kms from the Kedarnath Temple, Chorabari Lake is a quaint lake which also goes by the name of Gandhi Tal. Tucked cosily in the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas, the lake is perched at a towering altitude of 3900 m above the sea level. Chorabari Tal originates from the Chorabari Bamak Glacier and can be reached through a short trek from the Kedarnath Temple. As per historical records, in 1948, the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were also immersed in the lake. In addition to that, it is also believed that Lord Shiva used to impart sermons of yoga to the Saptarishis at the spot.

Located 21 km north of Kedarnath, our next destination is Gomukh

Also known as Gaumukh or Gomukh, and literally meaning the mouth of the cow, Gomukh is is the terminus or pout of the Gangotri Glacier and the source of the Bhagirathi River, one of the primary headstreams of the Ganges River. Located at a height of 13,200 ft it is one of the largest in the Himalayas with an estimated volume of over 27 cubic kilometers. On 26 July 2016, following heavy rains in Uttarakhand, it was reported that the front end of Gomukh was no more, as a large chunk of the glacier had collapsed and was washed away as huge cracks had emerged on the glacier due to the cloud burst and flash floods in the state in 2013. Prior to 2016, the opening of the cave looked exactly like the mouth of a cow. It is often considered the cradle of North Indian Hindu mythology, primarily the one centered around the river Ganges, who reincarnated on Earth upon sage Bhagirath’s insistence to purge his ancestors if their sins, so they could ascend to heaven.

Our next destination is Madhyamaheshwar, which is about 19 km southeast of Kedarnath.

A small sacred town, Madhyamaheshwar is a place of mysteries and blessed with the bounty of nature. Dotted with small huts and villages with their own culture and unique traditions, this quaint little town has an old world charm with the snow covered Himalayas as a backdrop and sprawling alpine meadows and a thick cover of forests adding more charm to its beauty. The town is renowned for its Madhyamaheshwar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Perched over an elevation of 3490 m above the sea level, visitors need to trek to this temple which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is considered to be one of the oldest religious places in India. It is said that in order to avoid meeting with Pandavas, who came here to seek his blessing after the war of Mahabharata, Lord Shiva transformed into a bull here. Despite the uphill trek to get here, once devotees get inside the temple, they can see an idol of Shiva lingam in the shape of a naval which is placed along with the idol of Goddess Parvati and Ardhanarishwara, the form of Shiva in a half man and half woman. The temple is closed during the months of November to April during which prayers are shifted to Ukhimath. The Madhyamaheshwar Omkareshwar Temple is part of the Panch Kedar and is also dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is simply known as Ukhimath Omkareshwar Temple. During the winters, the idols from Kedarnath temple and Madhyamaheshwar are brought to Ukhimath and worshipped here for six months. Situated 2km from Madhyamaheshwar, the holy shrine of Budha Madhyamaheshwar is a cluster of rocks. The journey to this place quite captivating with picturesque views of various peaks that can be seen like Kedarnath, Neelkanth, Trishul, Kamet and Panchachuli over a small lake. Kanchani tal is 16 km away from Madhyamaheshwar, but the trek to this lake is deemed to be quite difficult, so keep that in mind.

We next go 48 km north to Gangotri.

Set in the dense forests of the Greater Himalayan Range, with a mystic view that one is bound to gasp at in awe, Gangotri, at a height of 3100 m, is the origin of the River Ganga. The ancient and fascinating legend of Gangotri is that, for many centuries, King Bhagirath undertook a series of severe self-mortifying rituals as a way to show repentance of the sins carried out by his ancestors. He performed a very harsh penance, in order to bring nirvana to his ancestors who were said to have been burned to ashes due to a sage’s curse. The River Ganga, who only flowed in the heavens before this, then decided to descend into the Earth, after Bhagirath’s prolonged meditation. However, it was said that once the Ganga starts flowing, no one on the face of the Earth could stop the Goddess’s mighty tides and flow which had the power to sweep the entire planet away. It was then that Lord Shiva, on the day of Gangavataran or Ganga Dussehra, decided to rise and channelise the waters and took the Ganga in the locks of his hair and released one of the strands of his hair in Gangotri. Ganga then flowed down, in the form of 12 streams of water from here, later called its tributaries. Since then the Himalayan glacier from which Ganga emerges has also been called Bhagirathi. Ganga derives its name after the river passes Devprayag and merges into the river Alaknanda. An interesting belief around this area is that after a pilgrim comes back from Ganga darshan in Gangotri, they have to give up one piece of food forever, be it a fruit, vegetable or anything else.

The Gangotri Temple is dedicated to Goddess Ganga and is the highest and the most important shrine dedicated to the deity, perched at an elevation of over 3000 metres above sea level. It was built about 3000 years bck by a Nepalese general, Amar Singh Thapa. The architecture of the temple is traditional 18th-century architecture. Its simplicity reflects in the white granite stone that composes the entire structure. The temple stands 20 feet tall and has a Sabha Mandap that leads to the shrine where the Goddess Ganga’s Idol has been placed. The top of the temple has three main and some smaller domes or cupolas with golden Shikharas. The Gangotri temple is a simple and humble structure that withstands the extreme climatic conditions in the region. The temple is open daily from 6:15 am to 2 pm and then again between 3 to 9:30 pm. At 4238 m above sea level, the Bhagirathi glacier begins at Chaukhamba to merge into the Gaumukh. Owing to its mineral content and the terrain of medicinal plants through which it flows, it is believed that the Ganges water is extremely pure and therapeutic. It is believed that even when it is kept for years, the water doesn’t become contaminated and pretty much every Hindu home has a pot of the waters of the Ganges. Auden’s Col is a high altitude mountain pass, which connects the Rudragaira valley and Bhilangana valley and forms a bridge between north west ridge of Gangotri III and the ridge coming from Jogin I on the east. It also binds two glaciers on opposite sides, the Khatling and the glacier belonging to Jogin I. Home to the famous Himalayan trouts, this sparkling Dodi Tal lake at 3204 m. has little log cabins scattered around the lake for camping and resting. Located at an altitude of 4425 m above sea level, the Kedar lake is known for its cool waters and beautiful trek up the rolling hills spanning 18 km.

Our next destination is Gauri Kund which about 39 km south of Gangotri.

Gaurikund in Guptakashi, is famous for being the starting point to and the last road head before the Kedarnath Yatra begins. Located on the banks of the river Mandakini at an altitude of about 2,000 m, Gaurikund is a place of infinite beauty, breathtaking landscapes and immense devotion. After the disastrous floods in Kedarnath in 2013, the original trekking route from Gaurikund to Kedarnath, via Rambara, a total walking distance of 14 km, was completely washed away. However, today the trek route has improved considerably and is now absolutely safe, complete with all facilities. Gaurikund is named after the Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. According to popular myth and legend, Gaurikund is where Goddess Parvati did penance, which involved ascetic and yoga practices, to win over Lord Shiva. Gaurikund is also related to Lord Ganesha and the story of how he acquired his elephant head. It is believed that while taking a bath, Parvati fashioned Ganesha from the soap lather on her body and placed him at the entrance as her guard. When Lord Shiva arrived and was stopped by Ganesha, he became furious and chopped off the boy’s head. Upon Parvati’s insistence that the child be brought back to life, Shiva took the head of a wandering elephant and placed it on Ganesha’s body. The Gaurikund temple has the idol of Goddess Parvati and devotees on their way to Kedarnath make it a point to stop here. Also known as Gauri Lake, Parvati Sarovar or the Lake of Compassion, the Gauri Kund is the lake where Goddess Parvati had breathed life into Lord Ganesha. Hindus consider this lake to be a sacred spot and take a ritual bath here. Sadly, after the 2013 floods, there is only a small stream of water flowing in place of the Kund.

Our next destination is Yamunotri, which lies about 67 km northwest of Gangotri.

The source of the Yamuna River and the seat of the Goddess Yamuna in Hinduism, Yamunotri is situated at an altitude of 3,293 metres in the Garhwal Himalayas. It is one of the four sites in India’s Chhota Char Dham pilgrimage with the sacred shrine of Yamunotri, the source of the river Yamuna, being the westernmost shrine in the Garhwal Himalayas, perched atop a flank of Bandar Poonch Parvat. The actual source, a frozen lake of ice and glacier, known as Champasar Glacier is located on the Kalind Mountain at a height of 4,421 m above sea level, about 1 km further up, and is not frequented as it is not accessible; hence the shrine has been located to the foot of the hill. The mountain adjacent to the river source is dedicated to Yamuna’s father, Surya and is called Kalind Parvat, Kalind being another name for the sun deity, Surya. Yamuna is known for her frivolousness, a trait that she developed because, according to legend, Yamuna’s mother could never make eye contact with her dazzling husband. The approach to the glacier is extremely difficult and pilgrims therefore offer puja at the temple itself. Hindu mythology hail Yamuna as the sister of Yama, the God of Death, and it is believed that a bath in Yamuna can make death painless. According to another legend, sage Asit Muni had his hermitage here. All his life, he bathed daily both in the Ganges and the Yamuna. Unable to go to Gangotri during his old age, a stream of the Ganges appeared opposite Yamunotri for him.

The temple of Yamuna, on the left bank of the Yamuna, was constructed by Maharaja Pratap Shah of Tehri Garhwal. The temple is made of granite stones, topped by a conical minaret, painted in the vibrant combination of pale yellow and bright vermillion. The deity is made of black marble. Close to the temple are two hot water springs gushing out from the mountain cavities known as Gowri Kund and Surya Kund, dedicated to the Sun God, believed to be the father of Yamuna. Near the Surya Kund there is a rock pillar called Divya Shila, which is 3000 meters high, which is worshipped before puja is offered to the deity. Devotees prepare rice and potatoes, tied in muslin cloth, to offer at the shrine by dipping them in these hot water springs. Rice so cooked is taken back home as prasadam or offerings. A stone walkway leads to the temple, with a large rock formation at the entrance known as the Divya Shila, where devotees pay their respects prior to entering the temple. Influences of the 19th century Nagar style of architecture can be seen as a result of renovations undertaken by the queen of Jaipur during this period. The pujaris or priests of Yamunotri come from the village of Kharsali near Janki Chatti and are the administrators who are well-versed in the sacred texts. The temple opens every year on the auspicious day of the Akshaya Tritiya, which generally falls during the last week of April, or the first week of May. The temple always closes on the sacred day of Diwali which comes around mid-October or the first week of November, with a brief ceremony. The temple staff return to their villages and for the rest of the time the valley is gripped in silence and covered with a white sheet of snow. A base camp for some of the most exciting and major trekking trails, including the char dham yatra, Hanuman Chatti is a beautiful place situated at an altitude of about 2400 meters at the confluence of Hanuman Ganga and Yamuna River. A hot bed of hot springs and trekking, Janki Chatti is close to Hanuman Chatti and acts as an alternative base for treks to Yamunotri. Just off Janki Chatti is Kharsali, a lovely picnic spot sprinkled with a number of thermal springs, water falls and rolling meadows covered by Oaks and conifers. Lord Shiva in the Someshwar form inhabits an ancient 3-storied temple with beautiful wood work and stone carvings. A popular natural lake at 4421 metres, the Saptarishi Kund is considered to be where Yamuna originates.

Moving on, our next destination is Rudranath which is about 100 km south of Yamunotri.

Travel Bucket List: India – Utarakhand Part 4

A cluster of seven fresh water lakes set against the captivating surroundings of dense oak and pine woods, Sattal offers visitors the rustic beauty of the lower Himalayas. Situated in Kumaon Region at an elevation of 1370 m above the sea level, the area boasts of its cluster of seven interconnected lakes namely: Panna, Naldaymanti Tal, Ram, Sita, Lakshman, Bharat and Sukha Tal whose sources are underground spring and which are flanked by lush green cover of oaks and pines. One of the few unspoiled and unpolluted freshwater biomes in India, the Sattal lakes are a paradise for migratory birds. With pleasant weather throughout the year, a visit to this destination away from the noise of cities is an experience not to be missed. During the British Raj, the area had a tea plantation, one of four in the Kumaon area at that time. Subhash Dhara is a fresh water natural spring that lies bundled in the dense forest of oaks. It offers its visitors a sight to behold with its pristine clear water attracting tourists in large number. The Butterfly Farm at Sattal is a museum at the John Estate that houses nearly 110 species of insect and over 2500 varied species of butterflies and was created by Federic Smetacek known as the butterfly man.

We next move on to Bhimtal, which is just about 14 km east of Sattal.

Bhimtal is an idyllic and less-crowded version of Nainital, whose charm lies in its off-beat, tranquil atmosphere. The picturesque Bhimtal Lake is a popular attraction for paddle boating, birding and nature walk. Bounded by a dense forest of oaks, pine and shrubs, it is also known for a few ancient temples. The 17th-century Bhimeshwar Temple is a must-visit spot in the hilltown. The Bhimtal Lake, with an island at the centre of the lake which houses an aquarium and a temple is a must-visit place here. A ‘C’ shaped lake over 47 hectares, the surroundings are well maintained and clean offering a pleasant experience to everyone visiting it. The lake is open from 9 am to 6 pm every day. Located on the bank of the lake is the 40-feet high Victoria Dam with its flower gardens on either side making it look quite entrancing. The Hidimba Parvat is a beautiful hill, located 5 km from Bhimtal which gets its name from Hidimba, the wife of Prince Bhima from the epic the Mahabharata. This hill also houses a wildlife asylum called Vankhandi Ashram, a habitat developed by Vankhnadi Maharaj, an environmentalist and monk who lives there. Situated on the banks of the Bhimtal Lake, the Bhimeshwar Mahadev Temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Believed to be already in existence during the visit of Pandavas while on exile, today it is often flooded with visitors. A small natural lake located about 2 km from Bhimtal, the Nal Damyanti lake contains shallow waters and is a perfect spot for enjoying some me-time. Though the trek route for reaching the lake is not very good, the amazing scenery around will make up for it. There are several old houses showcasing traditional Kumaoni architecture present here. The Karkotaka temple which is located on the top of the hill by the same name is dedicated to the serpent god, Nag Karkotaka Maharaja and this temple is especially crowded on the occasion of Rishi Panchami. Locals believe that the serpent god protects the villagers from snakes. The Folk Culture Museum at Bhimtal is an amazing place to explore traditions, culture and past of the state. Also referred to as the Lok Sanskriti Sangrahalaya, this place displays interesting artifacts, information on traditional customs and rituals and stone implements and other items of archeological importance including a fascinating collection of rock art and photographs.

Moving on, let’s make our way to Naukuchiatal, which lies less than 10 km from Bhimtal.

Naukuchiatal or the lake of nine corners is a small hill station near Nainital. The lake is 175 feet deep and is situated at 1,220 metres above sea level. It is covered in trees and shrubs also is said to have a hidden route under the lake to China. It is the deepest of all the lakes in the Nainital region with a length of the lake being 983 metres, breadth being 693 metres and a depth of 40.3 metres. Within the valley are opportunities for angling and bird watching. Other activities include parasailing, paragliding, fishing, rowing, paddling or yachting. The lake is fed by an underground perennial spring. Naukuchiatal is also known for the ‘escape festival’ which happens once every year in the month of May. It is believed that this lake was created after the hard worship of Lord Brahma and a small temple dedicated to him exists nearby. According to locals anyone performing a parikarma or circumulation of the lake will be blessed by Lord Brahma. A legend says that one glimpse of all nine corners of lake with both feet on the earth can make the viewer disappear into smoke and achieve nirvana. Lake Naukuchiatal is located at an altitude of 3996 ft above sea level and is regularly filled by the underwater stream. The lake is a magnet for numerous exotic bird species. Activities like paragliding, boating, biking, swimming, fishing and parasailing attracts tourists. Jungliagaon is a photographer’s paradise located 8kms from Naukuchiatal and is an ideal spot for angling, bird watching and wildlife photography. The Hanuman temple, also known as the Vaishno Devi temple has a 52 feet statue of Lord Hanuman at its entrance. The artificially made caves further lead to the famous Vaishno Devi Shrine which surrounds the temple and gives way to different parts. The temple complex consists of many sections like three temples in main complex, the meditation room, Shani Temple, Ram Darbar Temple and the resting area for pilgrims.

We now move 120 km north to Kausani.

Also known as the Switzerland of India because of a similar landscape, Kausani is a hill station famous for its scenic splendour and its spectacular 300 km-wide panoramic view of Himalayan peaks like Trisul, Nanda Devi and Panchchuli. After India’s Independence, Kausani was part of the Almora district until 1997 when the Bageshwar district was carved out of Almora. Situated at an altitude of 1890m with Pine tree forests, meandering creek, Kausani is ideal for honeymooners, nature lovers and travellers. Previously known as Valna, Kausani receives snowfall during the winter months. Some of the common trek routes from Kausani are the Adi Kailash trek, the base Kausani trek and the Bageshwar- Sunderdhunda trek. The Rudradhari Falls and Caves which lie at a distance of 12 km is bounded by paddy fields and green pine forests. Located on the trekking way to Adi Kailash region, one can also explore the mysteries of the ancient caves lying near the falls. According to the legend, this place holds connection with Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The Shiva Temple of Someshwar lies in the proximity to the waterfalls. The presiding deity here is Lord Shiva and it is a highly revered temple among locals. The rock-cut shrine of Someshwar is rustic and humble in construction, with the hills that surround the temple offering a unique experience. The temple has a wishing well nearby which is believed to grant all the wishes of devotees. A beautiful, quaint and sleepy village sandwiched between Garhwal and Kumaon, Gwaldam is full of forests and small lakes providing the setting for a peaceful retreat. Nestled amongst the pine forests and apple orchards at an altitude of 1700 meters, the village is tucked in the middle of Kumaon and Garhwal and offers some wide and enchanting views of peaks such as Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Ghuti. There are dazzling hills covered by tall pine trees, terraced farms on the enchanting hill slopes and little wooden houses scattered in the middle of it as far as the eyes can see. The entire area is full of orchids rendering the whole scenery charming. The most famous trekking expedition here is the Roopkund Lake trek. Another beautiful ancient town tucked in the eastern half of the Garhwal Himalayas, Baijnath is popular for the Baijnath Temple and other ancient temples, a lot of which are now in ruins. Situated in the easternmost corner of Uttarakhand on the banks of River Gomti Baijnath was the capital of the erstwhile Katyuri Kingdom. The temple which is the heartbeat of the town is dedicated to Lord Shiva and was built around the 12th century and is remarkably well preserved. The Kausani Tea Estate located 5 km away from the main town is spread across the area of 208 hectares arranges short tours to show their process guided by their staff. One can also taste and buy different flavored tea. Note that it is closed from November to March. The Sumitranandan Pant Museum in Kausani is the place dedicated to the famous Hindi poet who was born in Kausani. It offers a wide range of his creative work on display from manuscripts of poems and draft work of her literary work to his awards and letters written by and to him. There is also a large collection of his books in English and Hindi showcased in a glass shelves. To celebrate his birth anniversary, every year a poetry discussion is organised in the museum. High up in the majestic Himalayas at Kausani, lies the Stargate Observatory, dedicated to the observation of celestial objects. Located at an altitude of about 1800 meters, visitors can get spectacular views of the Himalayas from here and engage in stargazing and learn the nuances of astrophotography. The observatory is open from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm and has an entry fee of INR 100 per pax.

Our next destination is Ranikhet, about 60 km south of Kausani.

Ranikhet, meaning the Queen’s Farm is a hill station developed by the British around ancient temples, undulating Himalayan hills and forests. Maintained by the Indian Army, it is the home for the Military Hospital, Kumaon Regiment and Naga Regiment and lies at an altitude of 1,869 m above sea level and within sight of the western peaks of the Himalayas. Ranikhet is popular for its views of the Nanda Devi Peak, trekking ranges, mountainous climbs, golf courses, orchards and temples. Giving a glimpse of the majestic Sonya peak, Majhkhali en-route to Almora is endowed with scenic beauty and lovely weather. About 6 km from Ranikhet is the small town of Kalika which is surrounded by thick, lush green forests and snow-capped mountains and is famous for the Kalika Temple and golf course. The backyard of the erstwhile Katyuri kings, Manila today is home to the popular Maa Manila devi Temple and this small town is a mesmerising place with wide and panoramic views of the Himalayas. Dwarahat is an ancient town full of beautiful temples which is just 35 km from Ranikhet. Home to some 55 odd ancient temples built in the medieval ages by the Katyuri Kings, Dwarahat is not only historically significant, but these temples house some of the most revered deities in Hindu mythology.

Ranikhet is home to numerous sunset points that offer wonderful views of the snow covered Himalayas. The best ones among them are Machkhali, located near woodvilla point between the Transit Camp and Ganiadeoli and the one on the road from Jhoola Devi Temple to Bhargaon. The place is best visited between February and November to witness these breathtaking mountains and sunsets in all their glory. An artificial lake surrounded by idyllic forests, the Bhalu dam is the perfect spot for a picnic complete with birds, breeze and snow-capped valleys. However, the water is typically low or negligible except during monsoon season and one needs to trek for 3 km to reach this reservoir. Originally built for rainwater harvesting, the Rani Jheel is a vast artificial lake that is located amidst natural ridges and woods and is located at an altitude of 7,500 feet above sea level. Dedicated to Haidakhan, who is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva, the Haidakhan Bababji Temple was constructed by Haidakhan himself. Other than the main temple, the complex also has five guest houses, along with an Italian temple, Sri Babaji’s Kutir and the Sri Baba Research Hospital. The temple is a must visit during Navratris and in the evenings on all days. Situated near the Chaubatia Gardens, the Ram Mandir is perched on the top of a hill and can be reached by using a flight of stairs. The temple also has a monastery where students learn ancient Vedas and Vedic and modern mathematics under the tutelage of Sant Sri Mouni Maharaj. The Binsar Mahadev Mandir is an ancient temple in Bisaona built by King Pithu in the 10th century, and is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is worshipped as Bindeshwar in the temple. One can also find the idols of Lord Ganesha, Goddess Gauri and Goddess Mahisasuramardini in the temple, along with the idol of Mahisasuramardini. Also known as Katarmal, the Sun Temple in Ranikhet dates back to over 800 years, and can be reached by a small yet exciting trekking route. The temple is surrounded by a total of 44 small shrines with ancient architectural patterns and exquisite stone carvings. The Dunagiri Temple is a famous shrine dedicated to Maa Dunagiri or Maa Durga and is located 8000 feet above sea level and is known as a Shakti Temple. People often visit this temple during the Chaitra and Ashwin months of Navratri. It is believed that when Lord Hanuman was carrying the mountain with the Sanjeevani herb for Lord Laxman, a piece of it fell on this location and since then, it has been called Doonagiri. Visitors need to climb a total of 365 steps to reach the temple. Dunagiri is one of the two Vaishnavi Shakti Peeths, the other one being Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu and Kashmir. The Kumaon Regimental Centre was built in the 1970s to showcase the rich legacy of the Kumaon region. Established by Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army, the museum houses war artefacts of historical importance that exhibit the glory and achievements of the Garhwal and Kumaon regiments including displays of photographs of wars, weapons used by the armed forces, medals and uniforms as well as flags, stone tablets and other objects. It also houses valuables such as silver sceptres of Rani Jhansi and documents and pictures associated with Kargil War, a wireless field telephone used in World War II by the Japanese and Chinese rifles captured in the 1962 war. The KRC golf course is another major attraction.

We now travel 45 km east from Ranikhet to Almora.

Considered the cultural heart of the Kumaon region, Almora is located on a ridge at the southern edge of the Kumaon Hills of the Himalaya range. Founded in 1568 by King Kalyan Chand, Almora got its name from Bhilmora, a kind of sorrel, a short plant commonly found there. Prior to that the region was under the control of Katyuri King Bhaichaldeo who donated a part of Almora to Sri Chand Tiwari. There are also accounts of human settlements in the hills and surrounding region in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. According to local tradition, the earliest inhabitants in Almora were Tewaris who were required to supply Sorrel daily for cleansing the vessels of sun temple at Katarmal. The Chand dynasty from their inception in 953 A.D. to their ouster in the late 18th century present a saga of strife, with horrifying series of wars with rulers of Garhwal culminating in the destruction of this prosperous land and establishment of inglorious Gurkha rule. In 1791, the Gorkhas of Nepal while expanding their kingdom westwards across Kali River, invaded and overran Almora. The Gorkha rule lasted for twenty-four years. The Anglo-Gorkha war of 1814 resulted in the defeat of the Gorkhas and subsequently led to the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816, according to which, Nepal had to cede all those territories which the Gorkhas had annexed to the British East India Company. This agrarian town has two major rivers, Koshi also known as Kaushaki and Suyal or Salmali flowing through it.

Binsar: Located at a distance of 33 km from Almora, Binsar is a small town known for the beauty of the snow-laden Himalayan peaks. Set amid forests covered with oak, pine, rhododendrons and deodar trees, Binsar is home to beautiful green meadows, temples and the famous Binsar wildlife sanctuary. You can also visit Zero Point which is the highest point at an elevation of 2412 m which has beautiful views during both sunrise and sunset. One can see a 360-degree panoramic view of the Himalayas including peaks like the Kedarnath Peak, Shivling, and Nanda Devi. To reach Zero Point, one has to walk inside the sanctuary for 1.5 kilometres. A guided trek up to Zero Point is the recommended way to explore the green beauty of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. It is also a great location for bird-watching. Situated at the height of 2420 metres, the weather of Binsar remains pleasant throughout the year. Besides the Binsar wildlife sanctuary, one can also visit the Kasar Devi temple and the Bineshwar Mahadev temple.

Jalna: A small and sleepy village, Jalna is the place for some trekking and exploring. A small scenic village, a few kilometers from Almora, Jalna is situated at an altitude of 1700 meters amidst the wild of the Himalayas. The sleepy hamlet is a wonderful place for trekking and exploring the natural forest cover of the area. Entry to Jalna has to be before sunset.

Kasar Devi: Splendid views of the of Himalayas, from Nanda Devi to the five snow-capped peaks of Panchachuli surround the town of Kasar Devi. The place is famous for its namesake temple, the Kasar Devi Temple. The area is home to pine and deodar trees, offering a panoramic view of the Himalayas along with an eye-pleasing view of Hawabagh Valley. A single road runs up high with 200 houses on each side. The village derives its name from the namesake deity Kasar Devi, with the Kasar Devi Temple dating back to the 2nd century. In the 1890s, Swami Vivekananda visited the place and meditated here for days and this place became a powerhouse for the counter culture that erupted in the ’60s. The region around Kasar Devi has an enormous geomagnetic field as the region comes under the Van Allen belt. The Kasar Devi fair is a large fair organised every year on Kartik Poornima as per the Hindu calendar. People often trek up to the temple from the town of Kalimath, through cosy little alleys carved in the hills.

Jageshwar: A small town with equisitely carved temples, Jageshwar has about 124 exceptionally well preserved temples. Mostly built in the 9th century, the temples will leave you feeling enchanted, with an unquenchable thirst of exploring beyond. The most visited one is the Jageshwar Mahadev Temple, situated in the Jataganga Valley, dedicated to the incarnation of Shiva in the form of a child. The story goes as Shiva being an attractive alpha male was attractive to all the women folk of the village, where he used to meditate. To not offend the men of the village, Shiva incarnated himself as a child. The temple itself is divided into two parts, with one dedicated to Shiva, and the other to his consort, Goddess Parvati. The entrance is flanked by the idols of the keepers of the sanctum sanctorum, Nandi and Skandi, complete with all the armaments, adding to the majestic bearing of the temple as well. The Mahamrityunjaya Temple is is made from three words. Maha, meaning great, mrityun, meaning death, and jaya, meaning victory. Hence the word itself literally translates to the great victory over death. The idol itself, is one of a kind carving, with no similar representation anywhere in the country. An epitome of Nagar style architecture, the Dandeshwar Temple is as tall as you can crane your neck, quite literally. It is believed to house the shrine of Lord Shiva as the staff bearer, hence the name Dandeshwar, or the bearer of the ‘dand’, the staff. The idol of the deity is in the form of a large uncut natural rock, following the prevalent custom of worshipping the Gods in their unaltered natural form. The Archaeological Museum at Jageshwar, maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, houses an exquisite collection of the ancient carved idols and old world representations of the deities. With galleries containing pieces dating back to the 9th and 13th centuries, the most prominent figures are those of Uma and Maheshwar or Parvati and Shiva and the Sun god as well as the Nav Graha, or the nine planets. The museum is worth a visit, The most noteworthy figure is of one of the rulers of the area, Pona Raja, who is still well respected and remembered in the region.

Bright End Corner: Situated about 3 km from Almora, Bright End Corner offers breathtaking views of sunset and sunrise. This place is dedicated to Swami Vivekanand, who spent few days during his stay in the Himalayas and the viewpoint has a Vivekanand library situated very close to it.

Chitai Temple: Locally known as the Golu Devata Chitai Temple, the Chitai Temple is located 9 km from Almora City. This Temple is dedicated to Gollu or Goljyu Devta, an avatar or incarnation of Lord Shiva in the form of Gaur Bhairav, built during the Chand regime. The temple is known as the abode of the God of Justice and there are various beliefs that cause people to come and pray here. There are many bells hung by devotees as an act of offerings, wishing or thanksgiving which can be heard far and wide and this is why the temple is also called the temple of a million bells.

Katarmal Sun Temple: Located at an altitude of 2,116 m, the Sun Temple in Katarmal village is considered the second most beautiful shrine dedicated to the Sun God or Lord Surya in India. Around 19 kilometres away from Almora, this temple complex where the main temple is dedicated to the the incarnation of Lord Surya, Vraddhaditya. This shrine is lightened at dawn as it receives the first rays of the sun. Its very location amidst the Kumaon hills interrupted by the Kosi river, makes this site extremely photogenic and an absolute delight. This 9th century temple complex dates back to when Katarmalla, a Katyuri ruler used to rule the region. This 800-year-old temple has one main temple and 45 smaller shrines. Other smaller shrines have idols of Shiva, his consort Parvati, Lakshmana and Narayana, enshrined in them.

Gobind Vallabh Pant Museum: Holding some of the legacies of the Katyuri and Chand dynasties, the museum on Mall Road also has beautiful collections of folk style painting known as Aspen and Kumaoni antiquities.

Moving on, let’s head to Champawat, which lies about 130 km east of Almora.

Champawat is an intrepid town perched 5,299 feet above the sea level and was the former capital of the Kumaon Kingdom. The place holds historical and religious significance because It is believed to be the place where the Kurmavtar or the turtle incarnation of Lord Vishnu took place. Today, there is a temple called Kranteshwar Mandir, which is dedicated to lord Shiva. It is also believed that the head of Ghatotkacha, the son of Bhima and the demon Hidimba fell here after he died in the battle of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata with the Gahtku Mandir the temple dedicated to Ghatotkacha. There is a famous temple called the Shaani Mandir or Manokamna Purn Mandir Kaula in the village of Maurari. The only structure in the area said to have been constructed in the medieval time, Banasur ka Kila is about 20 km from Champawat. It is believed to be the capital of demon Vanasur who faced his defeat at the hands of Lord Krishna. Banasur ka Kila was constructed in the memory of Banasur, the eldest son of the mythologically famous King Bali because he was assassinated here by Lord Krishna when Banasur had tried to kill Krishna’s grandson Aniruddha. The fort is based on the name of a boon-bestowed Banasur, the man with the thousand arms; whereas the fort gives an air of disintegration and dilapidation.

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The Lohawati River also originates from this site and is located alongside the Bhowali Road. Ek Hathiya ka Naula is one of those structures, that is known not only because of its uniqueness, but also for its creators. A single handedly carved architectural marvel, situated about 5 km away from Champawat, Ek Hathiya ka Naula is named so, because it was literally carved by an artisan who had only one hand, over the span of a single night. One of the oldest temples in Champawat, the Baleshwar temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva was built around 10th century by the rulers of Chand Dynasty. Among the two temples in the campus, one is dedicated to Ratneshwar while the other is dedicated to Goddess Durga. An amazing example of architecture, the temple complex is mostly built of stone. The Kranteshwar Mahadev Temple which lies at a distance of about 6 kms from Champawat is a small complex of stone made structures and is locally known as the Kandev or Kurmapad. It is atop a hill at a height of 6000 meters and there is the ever blooming red blossoms in the temple complex which provide a one of its kind visual treat. The panoramic view of the temple is simply majestic and worth the trip. The Nagnath temple is a wooden carved double storey structure that is also the oldest and the most well preserved shrine of Lord Shiva. According to locals, they worships Lord Shiva in his perpetual form of the wielder of the serpentine creatures, signifying his detachment to the world, but also his love for the outcast creatures, the nag or the India cobra. The Nagnath Temple was built by Guru Gorakhnath, a noted sage of the hills. Despite the destruction caused by the Rohilla and Gorkha tribes, the temple has been restored and sports a very intricately carved wooden doorway of the 18th century Kumaoni style architecture. Gwal Devta, more popularly known as Goll Devta or Goril Devta, is a deity of enormous significance in the area, and is known to deliver justice and instill faith in his populace as their ruler prince. However, he became a victim of his cruel stepmother’s plans and was drowned in a river nearby, locked in an iron cage. His faithful people bullt the temple in his memory, and believe he still presides over the town and metts out justice to the helpless and the needy. The temple at Golchaurh receives quite a lot of pilgrims throughout the year and is held in high esteem by all devotees. Lohaghat is a beautiful hill station located near Champawat and this ancient town is an important place for temples with historical and mythological significance. Situated on the banks of Lohawati River and at an altitude of 1800 meters, Lohaghat is blessed with natural beauty in abundance. Situated at an altitude of 1500 meters in the foothills of Garhwal Himalayas, Shyamla Tal is a beautiful lake town with umpteen amounts of greenery and freshness to it. Alongside the lake there is a Swami Vivekanand Ashram which is one of the highlights of the place and is a great for some meditation and self-exploration. The lake has been named so as it looks like a mirror to the sky reflecting its blue tint all over itself.

Lets now drive 200 km north from Champawat to Munsiyari.

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Often referred to as Little Kashmir, Munsiyari is a cosy hamlet located in Pithoragarh. Situated at an altitude of 2298 metres, the pretty little hill town is known for its panorama of snow-capped Himalayan Range and some adventurous trekking trails. Perched between the borders of India, Tibet and Nepal, Munsiyari is a base for three glaciers namely Namik, Milam and Ralam glaciers. The scenic village with the stunning backdrop of the Panchachuli or the five peaks, Nanda Devi and Nanda Kot is also dubbed the Gateway to Johar Valley’ as Munsiyari is the starting point of Johar Valley which was the ancient trade route between Tibet and India. In local parlance, the name Munsiyari refers to a place with snow. Situated on the banks of Goriganga river, it is commonly used as a trekking hub or base camp. Munsiyari also falls on the ancient salt route from Tibet and is at the entrance of the Johar Valley, which extends along the path of the Gori Ganga river to its source at the Milam Glacier. The upper part of Munsiyari is called Malla Johar, which comprises 14 trans-humant alpine villages, that are seasonally occupied during the months of May to early November.

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Falling from the height of 126m, Birthi Falls which is located about 35 km from Munsiyari offers an extremely refreshing experience. With lush green surroundings blooming in various colors, it makes for an ideal place to sit and enjoy some time alone. A beautiful place with a very fascinating legend attached to it, Maheshwari Kund is just a few km walk from Munsiyari. Once cursed by a Yakshi who use to live in a small lake there, the place faced drought for several years. After the villagers apologized to the Yakshi for not letting him marry the sarpanch daughter and emptying the lake in form of revenge, the ritual is practiced even today and there is a pond there now offering nature in its absolutely raw form and a incredible view of Panchachuli Peak which is a prominent peak which looks majestic from Munsiyari. The Thamari Kund is an enrapturing natural lake bound by alpine and paper trees as well as many Musk Deer and enriched in variety of flora. Located at a distance of 15 km from Munsiyari on the way from Birthi, Kalamuni Top is 9,500 feet tall and famous for its Kali Temple dedicated to the Naga God. The fantastic view of Panchachuli peak from there flanked by the sprawling pine forest makes this place a must visit. Situated at a height of 9,000 ft, Betulidhar is covered with red rhododendrons in full bloom. However, the best feature of this place is absolutely gorgeous sunsets and sunrises with an entrancing view of snow covered Himalayas and the Balati and Ralam Glaciers. A small quaint village just 6km from Munisyari, Darkot is a paradise for shoppers offering a varied range of articles to buy, the most famous being pashmina shawls and sheep wool blankets. The Nanda Devi temple at Munisyari is a structure of typical Kumaoni architecture dating back to 1000 years, and naturally well preserved. The Nanda Devi Fair, that started in the 16th century, continues here, and falls every August, much to the delight to all the lovers of lesser known mythologies.

Let’s now travel 130 km south to Pithorgarh

Situated in a beautiful Soar valley and flanked by Nepal in the east and Tibet in the north, Pithoragarh is a small urban town which is a prime example of raw beauty of nature. A gateway to Himalayan range, this town also serves as the stop over for pilgrims on their way to Kailash Mansarover. With the river Kali flowing through the town which is prettily adorned with tranquil temples, villages, fort, lush green forests and natural resources, this place is a blessing in disguise for travel enthusiasts. Pithoragarh and its surrounding areas were part of the Manaskhand region, which extended from the Kailash Mountain in the north to Bhabar & Terai in the south, as mentioned in the Skanda Purana. The Asuras and Nagas appear to be the earliest inhabitants of the region, who were later superseded by the Kiratas, Khasas and the Kunindas. The Kushana Kings held their sway over the region in the last quarter of the 1st century after which the region came under the Kurmanchal kingdom, which had its capital first at Jyotirmath and then at Karikeyapura which is today Baijnath in the Katyur Valley.

Upon the disintegration of the Katyuris and the fall of kingdom in the 13th century, Pithoragarh came under the rule of Bam kings of Saur. In the 15th century, King Bharti Chand of Champawat amassed a huge army, and started plundering and killing in the regions ruled by the Doti Kings. The resultant war, lasting 12 years, ended with a victory for the Chands. The kingdom of Saur came under direct control of the kingdom of Kumaon in the 16th century during the rule of King Balo Kalyan Chand, when it was gifted to him by the Raika king of Doti as dowry for marrying his daughter. Legend has it that during the reign of the Chand Rajas of Kumaon, one Piru, also called Prithvi Gosain, built a fort here and named it Prithvigarh which, in the course of time, got changed to Pithoragarh.

Chandak is a hill with an opportunity for a small trek situated on the north side of the Soar Valley. Located at a distance of 8 km from Pithoragarh, this beautiful place also offers hang gliding adventures. The Mostamanu Temple is about 2 kms away on foot. This temple attracts a lot of visitors during August and September when a fair is organized. Tucked away in the eastern corner of Uttarakhand, Didihat is a wondrous and pristine hillock full of natural beauty. The place is known for its ruins of forts and temples belonging to a bygone era as well for being a halting point on the Kailash Mansoravar Yatra. Situated at an altitude of 1800 meters, Didihat is blessed with infinite natural beauty and some great viewpoints of the mighty Himalayas. Didihat also has some remnants of its glorious past in the ruins of the forts and temples belonging to the Doti and Chand rulers and is known to provide some amazing views of mighty Himalayan peaks such as the Panchachuli and Trishul peaks. Gangolihat is famous for hosting the Shakti Peethas of Goddess Kali. A very small town located near important tourist spots such as Patal Bhuveneshwar, Binsar and Abott Mount, it is located at an altitude of 1800 meters. Nestled at an elevation of 1106 metres, the small town of Askot borders Nepal and China, and is known for its rhododendron carpeted hills, enchanting valleys, meandering streams and picture perfect settings. Enveloped by the Chhiplakot and the Panchchuli ranges, the offbeat hilly hamlet is popular for its Askot Musk Deer Sanctuary. The rocky mountains offer perfect trekking opportunities for both amateurs and professionals. Patal Bhuvaneshwar is known for its deep caves underground and is 82 km away from Pithoragarh. The Kapilaswar cave is a cave temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and offers breathtaking views of the Soar Valley and the equally bewitching sight of snow covered peaks of the great Himalayas. Situated 3 km from Pithoragarh, the cave houses many tunnels to the temple which are now closed. To worship the deity placed in the complex, one has to travel 10 m into the cave. Another temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is also situated about half a km away. Pithoragarh Fort affords spectacular views of the Kali Kumaon and was established in year 1789 by the Gorkhas after the invasion of town. Surrounded by views of the majestic Himalayas, the Dhwaj temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Maa Jayanti and is 10 km from Pithoragarh. Visitors can also hike to the temple which is 4 km across the terrain. A heaven for wildlife lovers and botany enthusiasts, the Askot Sanctuary has a wide range of flora and fauna. Located at the height of 5412 m and at a distance of 54 km from Pithoragarh, one can witness vivid kinds of animals like chirs, pheasants, koklas, bharals, Himalayan black bear, chukors, snow leopards and musk deers here. Apart from the wildlife, Askot is also dotted with many temples.

From Pithoragarh, our next destination is Bageshwar

Travel Bucket List: India – Utarakhand Part 3

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.

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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.

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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.

Travel Bucket List: India – Utarakhand Part 2

Located in the foothills of the Garhwal Himalayan range and popularly known as the Queen of the Hills, Mussoorie is a hill station and with the adjoining town of Landour, which includes a military cantonment, as well as Barlowganj and Jharipani are all considered part of greater Mussoorie. The town sits at an average altitude of 2,005 meters and has the Himalayan snow ranges to its north and the the Doon valley and the Shiwalik ranges to its south.

The name Mussoorie is often attributed to a derivation of mansur, a shrub which is indigenous to the area and the town is often referred to as Mansuri by locals. In 1803 the Gorkhas under Umer Singh Thapa conquered the Garhwal and the Dehra, during which time Mussoorie was established. On 1 November 1814, a war broke out between the Gorkhas and the British and Dehradun and Mussoorie were evacuated by the Gorkhas by the year 1815 and were annexed to the district of Saharanpur by 1819.

Mussoorie as a resort was established in 1825 by Captain Young, a British military officer. With Mr Shore, the resident Superintendent of Revenues at Dehradun, he explored the present site and jointly constructed a shooting lodge and also raised the first Gurkha Regiment and planted the first potatoes in the valley. Though there are no memorials to commemorate Young in Mussoorie, there is a Young Road in Dehradun. In 1832, Mussoorie was the intended terminus of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India that began at the southern tip of the country. Although unsuccessful, the Surveyor General of India at the time, George Everest, wanted the new office of the Survey of India to be based in Mussoorie; however, a compromise location was Dehradun, where it remains. The same year the first beer brewery at Mussoorie was established by Sir Henry Bohle as The Old Brewery and the brewery opened and closed twice before it was re-established by Sir John Mackinnon as Mackinnon & Co. in 1850. By 1901 Mussoorie’s population had grown, rising in the summer. Accessibility became easier in 1900 with the railway coming to Dehradun, thus shortening the road trip from Saharanpur. The Nehru family, were frequent visitors to Mussoorie in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and stayed at the Savoy Hotel. On 20 April 1959 during the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion the 14th Dalai Lama took up residence at Mussoorie, until April 1960 when he relocated to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, where the Central Tibetan Administration is today headquartered. The first Tibetan school was established in Mussoorie in 1960 and today about 5000 Tibetans live there, mainly in Happy Valley.

Camel’s Back Road: Incorporating a nature walk, Camel’s Back Road is a road, which takes its name from a rocky outcrop in the shape of a camel’s hump overlooking the Doon Valley and contains hotels, motels, and a cemetery with the oldest Christian church in the Himalayas, St Mary’s, above the Mall Road. This road offers stunning views of the Himalayas and is a popular place for viewing the sunrise and the sunset. Taking a long walk along this road or coming here for an early morning jog is the best way to explore what this beautiful road has to offer. You can also see a 180-year-old British cemetery, the first of its kind in Mussoorie, en route the Camel’s Back Road.

Gun Hill: The second highest point in Mussoorie, Gun Hill is at an altitude of 2,024 m and is accessed by cable car from the Mall road. At Gun Hill is a cannon previously used to sound midday. Said to be an extinct volcano, the view from Gun Hill is a panoramic view of the snow-clad Himalayan ranges right beside the widespread Doon Valley and a full view of Mussoorie. During the British colonial period freedom fighters brought a canon to the top of the hill and fired at the British. After this, the hill which is now part of Woodlawn Cemetery, started to be known as Gun Hill. The road that leads to the hill, previously known as Kingsbridge Road, is now called Gun Hill Road. Another story associated with Gun Hill says that the British brought up a large canon on the hill in 1857 during the Sepoy Mutiny, and the canon was shot every day at noon to set the time. Even though the gun was removed in the 70s, the name stuck. Gun Hill’s highlight of Gun Hill is the ropeway which provides a scenic view of the Himalayan ranges. The ropeway cable car round trip costs INR 75 per head and undoubtedly offers a picturesque view during the climb of the distant hills and green landscapes. The ropeway is open from 10 am to 6 pm daily and during the peak period months of May to July and October, it is open from 8 am to 10 pm and during the months of August, September and from late November to April, it is open from 10 am to 7 pm.

Kempty Falls: Located on the way between Dehradun-Mussoorie roads, in the Ram Gaon area of Tehri Garhwal, Kempty Falls is accessed by track from Kempty Fall Road. Surrounded by high mountain cliffs, Kempty Falls is nestled at an altitude of around 4500 ft above the sea level. The pond formed at the bottom of the falls makes an excellent spot for swimming and bathing. The name of Kempty Falls is taken from the terms camp and tea implying the elaborate tea parties that were once organized here in evenings eventually leading to a localized name Kempty. It was developed as a picnic destination by John Mekinan owing to its captivating surroundings and scenic beauty. Offering a stunning view of water stream cascading down from a great height, it divides into two main falls. The perennial Kempty waterfall is crowded almost throughout the year. One of the best ways to explore the terrain of Kempty Falls is by the means of its ropeway. Precarious and thrilling at the same time, the ropeway takes you over lush green mountains and even overlooks waterbodies and has a cost of INR 80 per person. You can also enjoy boating in the nearby man-made pond and climb from the first main Kempty Falls to the second. The first waterfall is located 5-10 minutes walk from the main road. The second falls has to be reached by walking further inside. The falls are open from 8 am to 5 pm and does not have any entry fees.

Lake Mist: About 5 km before the Kempty Falls is Lake Mist, through which flows the Kempty river with its numerous small waterfalls. The pristine Lake Mist is one of the most beautiful places in Mussoorie with its emerald waters that are covered by green forest terrains from the sides. The lake is not as crowded as Kempty Falls, so it becomes easier to enjoy it. The lake is open from 8 amto 6:30 pm.

Bhatta Falls: Located in the village of Bhatta, the Bhatta Falls in Mussoorie is a popular tourist attraction. Reaching the exact spot of the waterfall requires a little hike of 500 metres. This natural waterfall cascades down from an altitude it 30 feet into a circular pool where people enjoy swimming and bathing. There is a children’s park there as well with slopes and swings provided for them to play. The place has some small eateries as well. The falls are open from 8 am to 5 pm

Jharipani Fall: Located 6 km downhill of Mussoorie in the Jharipani village, the Jharipani Falls is a small waterfall which gushes with water just after the monsoons and remains like a thin strip of flowing water during other time of the year. The highlight of Jharipani Falls is the 1.5 km trek to reach the base. On clear days, there is a mesmerising view of the nearby peaks and the amazing valley, especially when the sky is painted a rosy red during the sunset.

Mossy Fall: Cosily tucked amidst the tantalizing mountains and the exuberant woods, Mossy Fall is surrounded by a dense forest and is accessed via Barlowganj or Balahisar. The falls are a well-kept secret of Mussoorie and are named after the moss-laden rocks surrounding the gushing waterfalls. Literally veiled from view, with a cleft in the hillside, the charming Mossy Waterfalls can be reached with a little bushwhack following slightly rough terrain. The highlight is a Shivalinga hidden near the fall, which is drenched by the continously flowing water, creating a surreal site. The scenic Lake Mossy is a hotspot for trekkers as the trail offers moderate to difficult hikes for the tourists to choose from. In addition to that, it is the go-to place for the photography enthusiasts owing to its rich scenery and minimal human interactions. The falls are open from sunrise to sunset.

Happy Valley: Lying on the western side of Library Point and famous for some magnificent Tibetan monasteries, Happy Valley is more popularly known as Mini Tibet and is one of the most detailed and largest rendition of a typical Tibetan society and home to around 5000 Tibetan refugees. The valley boasts of gorgeous views in the 360 – degree panorama. The story goes that back in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama escaped from his home in Lhasa, Tibet and was given refuge in Mussoorie by the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The Dalai Lama stayed in the valley for about a year before he moved to Dharamshala. During this period, a Tibetan school and a beautiful Buddhist temple was established and the valley started flourishing with the Tibetan culture and eventually came to be known as the Happy Valley, owing to its vibrancy, zeal and exuberance. When the Dalai Lama moved to Dharamshala, a large part of the population stayed back and made this valley their permanent home. The Tibetan culture continued to thrive with more temples and monasteries built and in no time the valley came to give the look and feel of a Mini Tibet as it is colloquially called. The Dalai Lama was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for which he delivered his acceptance speech on December 10t 1989 and since then the entire valley gets together every year to celebrate the event. Its recommended that visitors time their visit at this time to be a part of the celebrations. The places in the valley are open from 10 am to 6 pm.

Nag Devta Temple: The ancient Nag Devta Temple on Cart Mackenzie road is dedicated to Snake God Lord Shiva, about 6 km from Mussoorie on the road to Dehradun. There is vehicular access to the temple, which provides a view of Mussoorie and the Doon Valley.

Jwalaji Temple on Benog Hill: At an altitude of 2,240 m the Jwalaji Temple is 9 km west from Mussoorie, and cannot be accessed by vehicle although a motor road goes most of the way from Mussoorie. To get to the temple one has to trek for about 2 kilometers uphill to reach the temple. The path starts from Cloud’s End and passes through thick vegetation of line and deodar trees. The trek offers some panoramic views of the Shivalik ranges, Doon Valley as well as Yamuna River. Atop Benog Hill, it contains an idol of the Goddess Durga and has a view of the valley of the Aglar River. Also known as the Jwala Devi Temple, it is believed that anyone who visits this temple is resurrected from the sufferings of life and is bestowed with sacredness. Apart from pilgrims, nature lovers also visit the place to admire the thick green forest around the temple as well as the Yamuna River and Shivalik range. The temple is open from 5 to 12 noon and then again between 4 to 8 pm.

Mussoorie Christ Church: Situated on little hill-lock slightly above the Kasmanda Palace, the Mussoorie Christ Church boasts of being the very first Catholic church in all of the Himalayan region. Built in 1836, the exquisite church is an exemplary example of Gothic architecture which evolved from Romanesque architecture. The prominent style being followed, the church exhibits the pointed arches, ribbed vaults and flying buttresses ideal to the gothic style. Furnished with gorgeous pre-Raphaelite glass windows, this fetching piece of art was a gift to India from the British. The tinted glass window panes tell the tale of life events of Jesus Christ. The high altar is adorned with caricatures about the life and times of Christ from his birth to his sufferings and certification with beautifully done interior walls and a striking century-old William Hill organ. The courtyard of the church still holds the deodar tree planted by the Princess of Wales in 1906 and offers enticing views of the Doon valley on the side. The church is open from 7 am to 6:30 pm, Mondays to Saturdays and from 8 am to 6:30 pm on Sundays.

Tibetan Buddhist Temple: Nestled amidst the hustle bustle of Happy Valley is the Shedup Choepelling Temple. The huge idol of Buddha on top of the temple gives a unique charm to the tiny Buddhist temple. Located on the highest cliff of the valley, the Shedup Choepelling Temple is adorned with murals, prayer wheels and meditation chambers. Situated in between the snow-capped mountains, the temple is colloquially known as Tibetan Buddhist Temple and the first Tibetan shrine to be built in India and consecrated by the Dalai Lama. Besides the numerous idols and statues of Lord Buddha, seated in the main hall of the temple are two huge life-like idols of Buddha and the Dalai Lama, as a mark of respect to both. The vibrantly painted walls, tiny clay lamps and prayer flags add to the appeal of the place. The temple also has a rich collection of books on Buddhism and Tibetan literature and offers lovely mesmerising views of the valley, blooming flowers and snow-clad mountains. The temple is open from 7 am to 5 pm.

Cloud’s End: Surrounded by a thich deodar forest, Cloud End is a bungalow, built-in 1838 by a British major and was one of the first four buildings in Mussoorie which has been converted to a hotel today. The Cloud’s End viewpoint marks the geographical end of Mussoorie and is surrounded by thick oak and deodar forests. It tracks 2 km up to the Benog Wildlife Sanctuary offering a lovely walking track, taking in the soothing mountain air and a breathtaking view of the Aglar River Valley. Another major attraction at Cloud’s End is a heritage building set up by a Britisher in 1838, which is one of the oldest buildings in Mussoorie. Retaining the original architecture and other relics, it has now been converted into a heritage hotel, the Clouds End Forest Resort. Tourists spend some tranquil time during their stay, along with partaking in activities like hiking, hill climbing and nature walks arranged by the hotel on request. People often club the visit to Cloud’s End with the famous attractions nearby, the Jwala Devi Temple and Benong Wildlife Sanctuary.

Lal Tibba: Also called Depot Hill because of its former use as a military depot, Lal Tibba, also is the highest point in Mussoorie, with views over the town and its surroundings. A Japanese telescope, with breathtaking views of Himalayan ranges including Badrinath, Kedarnath, Banderpunch, was installed at Lal Tibba in 1967. A popular viewpoint, Lal Tibba is approximately 6 kilometres from Mussoorie and rises to a height of 2,275 meters and is a popular sunrise and sunset point. The Lal Tibba region has long been occupied, serving as a summer getaway during the British-Raj and a recovering station for the military, hence gaining popularity as a cantonment cum hill station. It is now occupied by the Indian Military Services. The main thing at Lal Tibba would be the undisturbed sight of the Himalayan ranges and a snowy white line of ranges can be easily viewed from near Char Dukan, a famous sightseeing café in Landour. There are few spectacular hikes you can undertake in the region, some of which include Pepperpot Mountain and Deo Tibba, a short hike from Tehri road. Lal Tibba is open from sunrise to sunset, so between 6 am to 6 pm and has an entry fee of INR 50 per person.

Van Chetna Kendra: A 339 hectare sanctuary, about 11 km from Mussoori, the Van Chetna Kendra was established in 1993. It is significant for the extinct bird species Mountain Quail or Pahari Bater, which was last spotted here in 1876.

Benog Wildlife Sanctuary: The sanctuary, about 6.3 km from Mussoori and open to the public, provides a woodland habitat for indigenous birds, and animals. A part of the Rajaji National Park, the Benog Wildlife Sanctuary is famous for its almost-extinct mountain quails, deer, leopards and red-billed blue magpie. The wildlife sanctuary is well known to house rare species of birds and offers an excellent trail of pine-clad slopes surrounded by Himalayan peaks for a refreshing walk. It is an ideal site for bird watching and capturing gorgeous views of the surrounding Chaukhamba and Bandarpunch Peaks. Apart from housing the fir and pine trees, the Benog Wildlife Sanctuary also hides some medicinal plants. Also known as Vinog Mountain Quail Sanctuary, it is spread across 339 hectares. The abundant wildlife paired with stunning views of the enveloping scenic vistas makes Benog Wildlife Sanctuary a must visit, especially for the nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts. Open all days of the week, the sanctuary is open from 7 am to 5 pm.

Jabarkhet Wildlife Reserve: The first privately owned and operated wildlife sanctuary in Uttarakhand, the Jabarkhet Nature Reserve is located on the Mussoorie- Dhanaulti road, around 15 kms from the heart of the city and spread over 100 acres of land. At an elevation of approximately 2000 metres above the sea level, Jabarkhet Nature Reserve is set around different altitudinal zones with an extensive variety of rare plants, insects, reptiles, animals, trees, birds and mammals. The wildlife reserve is a hidden gem and an ideal getaway in the bliss of nature. The park houses eight well-demarcated trails for a walk amidst stunning natural serenity. Guided tours are available for birdwatching and wildlife spotting. If you are seeking yet more adventure, you are free to venture off on your own with the help of tour maps which are colour coded and super easy to follow. Open from sunrise to sunset, a non-guided walk costs INR 350 while a guided walk which includes a guide, binoculars, umbrellas and leech socks costs INR 500. The reserve also organises special walks every month, with expert historians, naturalists and photographers. If you are interested, get in touch with them to get on their mailing list. Charges for this vary from INR 600 to INR 1000 depending on the duration of the walk, guide and area covered. They can also organise customised walks for you depending on the difficulty level of treks and the like. The charges for this vary between INR 1200 for day hikes to INR 3000 for overnight hikes. It is recommended to book your hikes well in advance, online or in person.

Mussoorie Lake: Located at a distance of 6 kms on the Mussoorie – Dehradun highway, the Mussoorie Lake is an artificial lake developed and maintained by the City Board and the Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority. Surrounded by a mesmerising natural charm and some surreal views of the charming Doon Valley, this lake offers a rejuvenating retreat in nature’s lap. It’s a newly developed picnic spot originating from a natural waterfall and other than the umpteen outdoor activities available at the site, paddle boating is the most popular one. For a nominal fee, you can paddle your way across the lake to enjoy scenic views of the valley and a serene boating experience. The lake is open from 8 am to 7 pm and there is an entry fee of INR 15 per person.

Sir George Everest’s House: At Park Estate are the remains of the building and laboratory of Sir George Everest, the Surveyor-General of India from 1830 to 1843. It is after George Everest that the world’s highest peak Mt. Everest is named. A scenic walk from Library Bazar and 6 km from Gandhi Chowk, the place provides a view of Doon Valley on one side and a panoramic view of the Aglar River valley and the peaks of the Himalayan ranges on the other. Built in 1832, the house is also popularly known as Park House. Sir George Everest owned this house spent 11 years living here and using it as his observatory and laboratory. Although, very derelict and in a precarious state, the house still holds its walls and has a roof; and is likely to be converted into a museum soon. The interiors have been stripped of any belongings but the doors, fireplace and windows still remain in place. The walls have been covered in graffiti though it is whitewashed often. Today the house now comes under the jurisdiction of the Tourism Department. It is open from 10 am to 6 pm and there is no entrance fee to visit.

Company Garden: Located arund 3 km from Maill Road, the Company Garden is a popular tourist attraction nestled amidst the high Himalayas. Also known as Municipal Garden, it is maintained by the Garden Welfare Association of Mussoorie and was laid down by Dr H. Fackner in the early years of this millennium. The main attraction of the Company Garden is its vast variety of flora. The lush green carpeted lawn of the Company Gardens is covered with more than 800 types of flowering plants, and during the late spring till the end of monsoon, most of these flowers are in bloom – making the place look like the heaven’s garden. The lawn with a fountain in the middle offers a perfect place to have a little picnic with your friends and families. The heart of the garden is the gigantic China tree which offers a lovely shade during the days the sun shines real bright. The flower shrubs also work as brilliant background for photographs. There is a greenhouse nursery from where you can purchase smaller versions of the flowers you saw out in the garden in little tubs and pots to bring home. There is also an amusement park inside the Company Garden to keep tiny tots busy with safe and exciting rides. There is a man-made lake inside with an artificial waterfall where one can do paddle boating. It costs INR 75 per person for 15 minutes of boating. There is also a shop where you can get yourself photographed by a professional photographer in authentic and traditional Himachali dress. The telescopic view of the surrounding Himalayan mountains, which are otherwise far away and hidden in grey mist, costs INR 10 only. The garden is open between 9 am to 8 pm and has an entry fee of INR 18 per person.

Mussoorie Heritage Centre: Located at a distance of 3 kms from the main market, the Mussoorie Heritage Centre is a social enterprise showcasing the rich culture and heritage of the Mussoorie. Established in November 2013, the Mussoorie Heritage Centre basically displays the archives of the historical heritage of Mussoorie back from 1814 when the National Survey compiled the first map of the region; to 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama took refuge here in Mussoorie. Started by the father-daughter duo of Vinod Kumar and Surbhi Agarwal, the heritage centre has the objective to preserve and showcase the rich cultural heritage of the town and its adjoining areas. In addition to the numerous exhibits, paintings, artefacts and historic evidence records, the Heritage Centre conducts regular research programmes, curated walks, city tours; to give an elaborate perception on what actual Mussoorie was before commercialisation took over. The Centre has two kinds of exhibitions – Exhibition 1 is the permanent display and representation of ancient pictures, factual paintings, murals and antiques, which define the look and feel of the cultural centre. With a general idea of the evolution of Mussoorie from 1814 to 1949, this exhibition targets to reinstitute the legacy of the hill town. Exhibition 2 is an annual affair with varying topics of interest every year, which runs for a year at a stretch. The topics covered include early modes of transport in the hilly terrain, commercialisation and growth of the tourism industry etc. The centre is open from 10 am to 6 pm daily and has no entry fee.

Soham Heritage Centre: Located on the Chamunda Peeth Temple Road, the Soham Heritage Centre is a private enterprise preserving the rich Himalayan heritage by showcasing the cultural diversity of the Himalayas through paintings, murals, scrap art, frescoes and artefacts. An admirable initiative by Mr Sameer Shukla and his wife Dr Kavita Shukla, the art centre is an effort to display the diversity of the Himalayas through varied art forms. Established in January 2014, the Soham Heritage & Art Centre is the result of around 18 years of tireless planning, inspiration, dedication and collecting of data. Through diverse art forms, paintings, sketches, the Soham Heritage centre aims to educate and inspire the localites and the tourist about the bounteous heritage. Mostly visited by media and architecture students, the centre also conducts occasional workshops and heritage walks to promote the same idea. The centre also has a tiny souvenir corner to help you pick quality antique products including jewellery, musical instruments, utensils, agricultural equipment among other things. The heritage centre is open from 10 am to 5 pm with an hour long lunch break from 2 to 3 pm. It is open on all days except Wednesdays and has an entry fee of INR 100 per person above 5 years of age.

Mall Road: With its architectural evidence of its colonial past, Mall Road contains shops, cafes, video game establishments, skating rinks, a nearby Tibetan market place, and a Methodist church. Located in the heart of Mussoorie, the Mall is a colonial relic with benches and lampposts and visitors can often find the author Ruskin Bond browsing the Cambridge Bookstore. Do try out a photograph in local traditional attire here. Mall Road is open daily between 9 am to 9 pm.

Library Bazaar: Snuggled amidst the eventful Mall Road of Mussoorie is the vibrant Library Bazaar, bustling with energy and vivacity and a stroll in the bazaar can take you back to the vintage times. Arranged along a small circular path, the market oozes with gusto and radiates a colonial feel. The tiny shops dotting the arena perfectly fit into the settlement and present a compressed pretty picture of the entire place. Other than finger-licking street food, local trinkets, handcrafted jewellery, you can find every bric-o-brac at the Library Bazaar. Dribbling with every possible gewgaw knick-knack, this market introduces you to the desi side of Mussoorie. The Library Bazaar gets its name from the 19th-century Victorian style library that was built in the vicinity. Another feature of the popular market is the Band Stand, where you can go to enjoy some good old colonial music. The market also houses a large statue of Mahatma Gandhi in one corner, hence it’s also popularly called as Gandhi Chawk. A haven for compulsive shoppers, the Library Bazaar has something for everyone. The bazaar is open from 10 am to 8 pm daily.

Lambi Dehar Mines: A couple of kilometres from Mussoorie, the Lambi Dehar Mines is an infamous yet popular tourist attraction. Also known as the Mine of Death, it is locally believed that the mines are haunted by a witch. The area in and around the mine is enveloped in lush greenery and surreal landscape but with an eerie and spooky silence. The mine was functional till the early 1990s, after which it was shut down due to the death of around 50000 people working here. While experts say that the death was caused due to inappropriate mining practices causing lung disorders and the eventual death of the people, locals believe that the accident was caused by some spirit who haunts the place still. There have also been reportings of sinister behaviour, blood curdling wails, strange accidents and paranormal activity near the mines, by locals. There have been several road accidents near the spot and a helicopter crash, which perpetuated the belief of witches and hauntings.

Moving on, our next destination is Dhanaulti, a town which is about 60 km east of Mussoori.

Located at a distance of 62 km from Mussoorie, this little town is an offbeat destination located at a height of about 2200 meters above sea level. A hill station from where the Doon Valley and snow-covered Garhwal Himalayas can be viewed, the town does not have much human presence. A popular attraction built in the 16th century, the Deogarh Fort has many beautiful palaces and has several murals. The place also has a number of Jain temples in and around the area. Another attraction, the Tehri Dam boasts of ultra scenic views of the hills in the backdrop and clear waters in the front. People usually come here to enjoy a day out or a picnic amidst beautiful setting. Originally known as Panchayatan temple, the Dashavatar Temple is located 10 kms away from Dhaulti in Deogarh. The temple dates back to the Gupta Empire and is enshrined by Lord Vishnu. Besides a wonderful architecture, the walls of the temple have beautifully carved panels. The walls also have inscriptions of the Vaishnava mythology. At a distance of about 8 km from Dhanaulti on the road towards Chamba, and a 2 km trek from the village of Kaddu Khal is the Surkanda Temple. While the climb is tough, it’s worth the view and serenity. This temple is based on the popular mythology of Sati jumping in to the sacrificial fire to go against her father Daksha’s act of not inviting Lord Shiva to a ceremony, this temple is one of the most popular Shaktipeeths in India. A Shaktipeeth, going by the literal translation, is a holy site with the female goddess residing for her followers. The temple is famous for its Ganga Dussehra fair in autumn and is part of the Devi Darshan triangle, which offers trekking opportunities around Dhanaulti which include Surkanda Devi, Chandrabadni and Kunjapuri.

Spread over an area of 13 hectares and covered in deodar and oak trees, the Eco Park at Dhanaulti is a very popular attraction. It was developed by the DFO and the citizens of Dhanaulti to create employment opportunities for the poor as a measure to reduce poverty, the Eco Park is located at the height of 7800 m and enjoys a pleasant weather throughout the year. The park is very well-maintained and is an amazing place for the kids to hang out with a separate playground for them. A tradition known as memory sapling plantation is followed in the park as a part of which one can plant a sapling in memory of their loved ones. The Eco Park is divided into two forests namely Amber and Dhara which are situated at a distance of 200m from each other. One gets a superb view of the Himalayas from this point with the best time to visit the park during sunrise and sunset. The best time to pay a visit to the park is between September and June. The temperature here remains pleasant throughout the year, but monsoons and winters should be avoided. Summers are a perfect time to unwind with the maximum temperature being 31 degrees celcius. The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm and entry fee is INR 15 for an adult and INR 10 for a child. Pretty much every adventure activity you can think of including sky walking, sky bridge, valley crossing, zip swinging, zip lining, trekking, rock climbing, rappelling, paragliding, cave exploration and so much more is available at the Dhanaulti Adventure Park. Located amidst towering hill, snow capped mountains and a magnificent view, it has a perfect mix of leisure and adventure. Another adventure camp, approximately 14 km away from the main market, the Thangdhar Camp is situated at a height of about 8300 feet and surrounded by pine and deodar trees. The camp organises activities like rock climbing, snow camping, trekking or mountain biking as well as sightseeing tours to the nearby Jain temples, which are the structural marvels of a bygone era, intricately carved with the Jain deities. The temples are located in the Kanali Fort, overlooking the Betwa river, and make up for a well deserved break in the journey. The Burma Bridge is a popular camp spot for a perfect campfire experience and the glaciers of Bandarpoonch and Gangotri can be seen far away.

After Dhanaulti, we travel about 325 km east to the town of Auli.