Described by many as the land of Gods, Uttarakhand is the abode of the towering Himalayas, mesmerizing lakes and holy rivers. Due to its close proximity to New Delhi, the place lures a significant number of Indian tourists every year and offers them a perfect reviving holiday. It is in Uttarakhand where the four holy pilgrimage sites for Hindus – Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath – are located. At large, Uttarakhand is an enticingly diverse state, with some of India’s best treks, yoga schools and holiday towns. This is moreover the land where the holy Ganges finds its origin before making its way to the other Indian states.
TOP PLACES TO SEE AND EXPERIENCES TO TRY IN UTTARAKHAND
Learning Yoga in Rishikesh: Among dozens of Ashrams to live in, hundreds of yoga schools to choose from, and thousands of Saadhus to speak with – you will definitely find that India in Rishikesh that you had always pictured in your mind. Rishikesh is moreover a perfect place to meet other travellers; to eat, sleep and live on a budget; and to enjoy a laid-back hippies experience. Remember to get your accommodation near ‘Laxman Jhula’ as this is the best area in the entire town.
Experience skiing in Auli: If you’re planning to learn skiing and you want the lessons to be no less than affordable then head to Auli. A beginning level 6 day course, including your food and stay, costs no more than 15,000 Rupees. The town moreover has a long chairlift-car ride, many trekking routes, camping options and other adventure activities including river rafting and hang-gliding. Auli is about 8-10 hours drive from Rishikesh.
Visiting the Char-Dham (or the four pilgrimage sites): Uttarakhand is all about pilgrimages. The sacred sites of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath open around April/May and continue till Oct/Nov each year. Yamunotri and Kedarnath are accessible only by foot and require you to walk 5 km and 16 km, to reach the main temples at both locations, respectively. Gangotri and Badrinath can, however, be reached all the way in a bus/taxi.
Ganga Aarti in Haridwar: Though some find it a crazy, frenzied experience, in my view, if you can handle a little chaos of Indian cities, attending the daily Aarti at Har Ki Pauri, in Haridwar, at least once in your lifetime is a no miss. Since it’s only a 45-minute drive from Rishikesh, you can come to Haridwar for a few hours and head back to your silent refuge in Rishikesh.
Gangotri-Gomukh trek: Since Gomukh is the source of the Bhagirathi river, an important tributary of the Ganges, this trek is totally recommended if you’re planning to walk a little in the lofty and vainglorious mountains in Uttarakhand with a touch of spirituality. The trek is fairly easy and can be done in 2-3 days time. Given it takes you through Gangotri national park, you would have to pay a fee of 100 Rupees (for Indians) or 500 Rupees (for foreigners) on the way. You can hire a guide or go on your own, though a guide is recommended as the walk is a little confusing at times.
Exploring The Unheardof Dharma Valley: Located right next to the Nepal border in its East, and stretching all the way to Tibet, Darma valley, by far, is my personal favourite in Uttarakhand. According to the Indian mythology, it was in Darma valley that the Pandavas cooked their last meal on the five peaks of Panchachuli before leaving for heaven. ‘Panchachuli’ or`Panch Chuli’ literally does mean `five-pointed oven’. Visit Dharma Valley to explore one of the widest and the most beautiful valleys in the entire state of Uttarakhand. [Also Read: Panchachuli Base Camp Trek]
Valley of Flowers trek: Okay, this is apparently the most beautiful trek in the entire Indian Himalayas. It takes you through the charming meadows of alpine flowers, germinated and burst into reds, and purples and yellows. Imagine a colourful endless sight spread over an uneven land – that’s what the Valley of Flowers is. And since the place is all about flowers, it is open to visitors only during monsoon – between the month of June and September.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL UTTARAKHAND
For Rishikesh and Haridwar, the ideal time to visit is between the months of November and March, when the temperatures are at maximum lows. Auli, as well see much tourist activity during winters as many flocks here to learn and experience skiing. For most of the other tourist places, with high altitudes, the best time is between April and June and then after monsoon during the months of September and October.
COST OF TRAVELLING IN UTTARAKHAND
Food: Food in Uttarakhand is quite cheap. And if you’re on a strict budget just go to any seemingly cheap-looking hotel and ask for a ‘Thali’. This is standard Indian food which gives you unlimited rice, Chapattis, Dal and some kind of mix vegetable – all in a price of 60 Rupees (expect the usual +/- 10 Rupees depending upon the kind place you’re dining at). Even for a better quality food and inside a restaurant with a decent locale, you will not have to pay more than 120, 150 Rupees per person.
Accommodation To stay is Uttarakhand is also cheap as compared to other Himalayan states. You can get a private room for as low as 300 almost in any season, and in most of the places.
FEW OTHER TIPS
- Avoid the popular towns of Nainital, Mussoorie and Dehradun.
- A number of the treks in Rishikesh require you to hire a guide, as per the local tourism authorities. Guides around Uttarakhand (and also in the neighbouring town of Himachal) charge a standard 800-1000 Rupees per day. So make sure you bargain accordingly.
- Uttarakhand witnesses some of the most brutal rains in entire Indian Himalayas. Between the month of June and August, landslides, in high altitudes are quite common – transforming the entire state into no less than a deadly zone. Be sure to check the weather updates to avoid ending up here during a wrong time.
- Since Uttarakhand is considered a land of go and Hinduism discourages and moreover curbs its followers to eat any meat and consume liquor – getting both, particularly around 50km radius to the four pilgrim sites (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath) is almost next to impossible. Many hotels and restaurants here don’t even serve Onion and Garlic.