We had been planning to visit Uttarakhand (formerly known as Uttaranchal and previously part of Uttar Pradesh State) for a long time now. We had earlier visited Nainital about 2 years back and were eager to explore the sublime state of Uttarakhand, known for its natural beauty. We were going to Delhi and Rudrapur (which is a district place in Uttarakhand State) for official work. After completing our work in Delhi, we had 4 days at our disposal before heading to Rudrapur for work, and we decided to make the most of it. This whole trip was unplanned but fortunately we got all the things right, right from hotel, taxi and railways booking. Not considering last minute changes (which included visiting Dalhousie, Kulu, Manali etc.), during free time after completing our Delhi work, we planned to visit Mussoorie, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun, being nearer to Delhi. Further, after Rudrapur work, as our return trip to Kolhapur was not yet booked, we planned to visit nearby places like Corbett Park, Kausani and Ranikhet.
- Day 1: This was our first trip after Kerala. Now to the North. We left Delhi in the afternoon by Taxi (Toyota Innova). Mussoorie is about 300 kms from Delhi and takes about 6-8 hours depending on traffic. It is a hill station situated in the foothills of the Himalayan ranges, is also known as the Queen of the Hills and at an average altitude of 6,500 ft (2,000 metres). It was peak season and all the hotels were booked, but our Delhi client was generous to book a hotel for us. We reached late night at 1:00 am and checked in. When we woke up the next day, the beautiful valley view from our hotel room greeted us. After having our breakfast, we visited Kempty falls located 15 kms from Mussoorie, which is one of the most popular attraction of the region. The weather was slightly warm, better than the blistering climate back in Delhi. Surrounded by high mountain ranges and located at a high altitude of 4500 feet, the falls offer a breath-taking view as the water falling down from a high altitude of 40 feet splits further into five more streams. Tourists were enjoying ‘swimming’ in the cold water in the scorching temperature beneath the Falls. Perhaps, we thought, the best time to visit is the off season. We had a ropeway ride down to the Falls. We had the ubiquitous Maggi noodles near the Falls and off we went back to Mussoorie town to visit the famous Mall Road in the evening. Mall Road is lined up by shops on one side and the Doon valley on the other. It has eateries like Café Coffee Day, Bistro and hotels serving Tibetan, Chinese and Thai dishes. Many shops sell woollen clothes, home made chocolates, fruits, handicrafts, antiquities etc. On the other side, is a beautiful view of the Doon valley and the city of Dehradun. We took an evening stroll along the street watching the tourists taking pictures, shopping, enjoying cycle rickshaw ride. We reached Gunhill point which is another tourist destination in Mussoorie. We then visited the famous Cambridge Book Shop, known to be frequented by the famous writer Ruskin Bond. It was Saturday, when he normally visits, but we missed him. We bought a collection of Ruskin Bond short stories. Then we did some shopping. It was dinner time and we were famished and heard that that the Mall Road houses great Tibetan food. We went to a Hotel called “Rice Bowl” run by a Tibetan family and ordered ‘Thukpa’ which is a staple noodle soup of Tibet. We hired a cycle rickshaw back to our Hotel and retired for the day.
- Day 2: The next day, we went to Dhanoulti, situated 28 kms from Mussoorie on a high rise mountain, which is an Eco Park with protected patch of small forest and is known for its quiet environs amidst the alpine forests of Deodar, Rhododendron and Oak. The road to Dhanoulti was on high rise mountains called Ghats. We were listening to Garhwali folk songs along the way and that set the mood for exploring Uttarakhand. Dhanoulti is a very beautiful place surrounded by Pine, Fir, Spruce, Deodhar Trees and huge mountains. From here, we can have a beautiful view of the Himalayas, if weather permits, which it did not in our case. It was crowded by Tourists and there was no peace, at least at the entrance of the park. There were eateries, children park at the entrance. But we trudged along the walk way of the Park, to move away from the crowd and sooner we were alone in the calm of the trees. The wind suddenly picked up and the cold started building up. This is what we expected of Mussoorie and the Himalayas. We felt rejuvenated as we trekked along the walk way through the Eco Forest. We could hear the birds chirping, the wind gushing. I immediately felt like becoming a poet and composing a poem at that very moment. Further on, we reached a valley where we sat down and enjoy the view of the mountains. We then continued walking to the end of the Eco Park, which ended in an open space on the mountain. This gave us a good vantage point of the surrounding hills called the Shivalik Mountain Range and it was a great feeling. There was no crowd at all. We did not feel like leaving this place. But it was after noon, and lunch beckoned. We came out of the Park and devoured like crazy after having a long walk in the Park. We spent the entire day in Dhanoulti.
Our suggestion for those travelling to Mussoorie, avoid during peak season, look beyond Mall Road, Gun Hill and the Kempty Falls, as Mussoorie has great walks and it is a “Walkers Paradise”. Other good walks to visit are Camel’s Back Road, Lal Tibba.
- Haridwar and Rishikesh:
- Day 3: It was pilgrimage time for us. We first visited Rishikesh, holy city for Hindus and a famous centre of pilgrimage. It is also known as the gateway to the Himalayas and is located around 25 kilometres away from another holy city, Haridwar, which was our next destination. Rishikesh is the starting point for traveling to the sites that form the Char Dham pilgrimage — Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The sacred river Ganga flows through Rishikesh. In fact, it is here that the river leaves the Siwalik mountains in the Himalayas and flows out into the plains of northern India. It is also becoming a popular spot for white water rafting enthusiasts, both from India and abroad, as it offers medium to rough rapids in the course of river Ganges. The Beatles stayed in an ashram in Rishikesh and even recorded a few songs here. The Ram Jhula (suspension bridge) connects the town with the temple over the Ganga. Also there is another similar bridge a few kilometres away called Lakshman Jhula. It was believed that Lord Rama’s brother, Lakshman crossed the river on this very place using Jute rope. There are many ashrams here in Rishikesh where one can contemplate and meditate. Many devotees visit Rishikesh to pay respects to Lord Shiva and attain moksha by taking a dip in the holy river Ganga. We had lunch in a hotel called “Flavours”, which we read is ‘Recommended by Lonely Planet”, which was my favourite show on Discovery Channel. Then we crossed Ram Jhula and visited the adjoining temple and paid our respects. We then descended into the Ganga. It was 45 C and hot, but the Ganga was stone cold.
We then proceeded to Haridwar to be just in time for “Har-ki-pauri” – Ganga Aarti. There was a huge crowd compared to Rishikesh. The Mega Maha Kumbh Mela had just concluded about a month back. People were taking a holy dip in the Ganga. The river torrents were rougher. Each evening at sunset priests perform Ganga Aarti here at sunset, when lights are set on the water to drift downstream. A large number of people gather on both the banks of river Ganges to sing its praises. The priest hold large fire bowls in their hands, the gongs in the temples at the Ghat start ringing and the chants flowing out of lips fill the air. People float earthen Diya, with burning flickers and flowers in them as a symbol of hope and wishes .The golden hues of floral diyas reflected in the river Ganga present the most enchanting sight. It was a lifetime experience to see such a Mega Aarti. The Aarti touched our souls and it was the most amazing experience. After the Aarti, we proceeded to Dehradun for night’s stay.
- Day 4: Dehradun is the capital city of Uttarakhand. It is located in the Doon valley surrounded by the Himalayas in the north, Sivalik Hills in the south, the river Ganga in the east, and the river Yamuna in the west. The water divide of Ganga and Yamuna passes through the city. It is also famous for its schools and you can see school children going to school in their uniforms. Our first stop here was a place called Sahasradhara – The greenery and the foam of waterfalls make it a best picnic spot. It is believed that Dronacharya performed penance in the caves here. There is a ropeway to the mountain, where there is a well maintained Sai Mandir, children’s park, restaurant and nice view of the surrounding green mountains. The next stop was Robbers Cave, known for the stream of water that disappears and flows underground through a cave. It again reappears as a stream of water after some distance. Then we visited Forest Research Institute which is said to be built in 1906 and is a premier institution in the field of forestry research in India. The beautiful FRI building has colonial style of architecture. Its museums, in addition to being a source of scientific information, are an attraction for tourists.
We then checked out our hotel and boarded the Kathgodam Express to Rudrapur.
- Corbett Park:
- Day 5: From Rudrapur (not considering our working days), we went to Jim Corbett Park, about 90 kms from Rudrapur. The park was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park. Situated in Nainital district of Uttarakhand, the park acts as a protected area for the critically endangered Bengal tiger of India, the secure survival of which is the main objective of Project Tiger, an Indian wildlife protection initiative. We hired a Gypsy vehicle and went inside the forest. This forest houses varied wildlife, flora and fauna. We were feeling like adventurers atop the Gypsy. We had no hope of sighting a tiger, as it is a rarity. We started around 2 pm and our ride ended at 7 pm. We spotted deers, sambar, jungle fowl among other wild animals. The deciduous forest mainly consists of sal, haldu, pipal, rohini and mango trees, and these trees cover almost 73 per cent of the park. The 10 per cent of the area consists of grasslands. The experience was great and we had a good time. We then returned back to Rudrapur.
- Day 6: We hired a taxi from Rudrapur to Kausani, a picturesque hill station. Many people don’t know about this place. Another hill station near Rudrapur is, of course, Nainital which we skipped, as we had earlier visited. During our last visit to Nainital, we were told by many people to visit Kausani, which stuck in our minds and at last we decided to visit Kausani, this time around. Kausani is a destination for Himalayan tourists. It is located 53 km North of Almora. The altitude of this place is about 1890 mts. En route Kausani, we passed through Almora, another hill town and a district place. The town roads of Almora were dangerous, as a slight mishap will end up in the deep valley below. Our driver told us that tapes and CD players are not allowed in the vehicles and if found, the cops will fine upto Rs. 5,000. The entire town of Almora can be seen from far away as it is wholly situated on hill top. When we were nearing Kausani (often misspelt / mis-pronounced as Kasauni), it started raining heavily. We reached our hotel and retired for the day.
- Day 7: It was 6 a.m. in the morning and we felt as if it was 10 a.m. I casually looked out of the window of our room, and lo and behold!, the Great Himalayas lay right before our eyes. The Range was so close as if we can touch it. The sight was spectacular. There are very few places in the Himalayas which can compare with the beauty of Kausani famous for its scenic splendor and its spectacular 300 km-wide panoramic view of the Himalayas. Our Hotel Manager said we were very lucky cause it had rained heavily the past night. The previous guests were very unlucky on that one though. He told us that the best time to visit Kausani is October to January, when it is cold, but it is cloudless and blue offering a beautiful view of Himalayas in its entire glory. I couldn’t take off my eyes of the beautiful peaks. There were clouds but not enough to cover the spectacle. We ordered lemon tea and sat in the balcony viewing the splendour and sipping away our tea. After breakfast, we went to Anasakti Mahatma Gandhi Ashram, which was just 50 meters away from our Hotel. Mahatma Gandhi had come to Kausani for 2 days, but he stayed back for 15 days, marvelled by its beauty. He coined Kausani as “Switzerland of India”, due to similarily in landscape. Tourists can also stay at the Ashram. It has a prayer hall which contains pictures of Gandhi and historic moments. The view point from the Ashram is also breathtaking. We spent the whole day in walks and watching the splendour that is Himalayas. In the evening we went to a nearby Shiva temple from where we could see the sun set over the Himalayas and the changing color of the mountains. Enchanting!
- Day 8: We woke up at 5 a.m. to see the sun rise. We could see the whole Himalayan range (300 kms) as a silhouette in the sky as the Sun was rising from behind the Great Ranges. B-e-a-utiful! We thought it will be a clearer day than yesterday. But, in a while, the Himalayas were covered by thick clouds. We were fortunate enough the previous day. Phew!! Without the Himalayan view in Kausani, it is just another ordinary day in a hill station. This day, we decided to visit a few places around Kausani. We went to Baijnath temple, 19 kms from Kausani, amidst the mountain ranges with the splendid sceneries around. The 12th century temple complex exhibits the amazing Katyuri architecture of the age. Then we visited a Tea Factory and had some different flavoured tea. Then we retired for the day. We drove past the Kumaoni villages surrounded by the mountains and the Himalayan view. The lifestyle of the villages were typical of Pahari people. The main occupation was to grow paddy, rice and fruits. The hills have been carved into steps using stones for agriculture purposes. It was marriage season and many decorated cars could be seen throughout the day carrying the bride and the groom. On the way back, we visited a Shawl Factory, which produces hand woven, Kumaoni pattern shawls, scarves.
- Day 9: The next day, we left to Ranikhet, a hill station and a cantonment town in Almora district. Ranikhet is at an altitude of 1869 metres above sea level and within sight of the western peaks of the Himalayas. Ranikhet Uttaranchal offers an excellent view of the great Himalayan peak of Nanda Devi (7816 m), but weather did not permit. We took a walk around the town and its sylvan surroundings. We then visited The Jhula Devi temple (known for its thousands of bells tied around the temple) and the Chaubatia orchards where apples are grown. Upat Kalika, 4 km from Ranikhet, offers a panoramic view of the Himalayan ranges, if you are lucky and has a nine-hole golf course. We then visited Mankameshwar Temple. We then checked in our hotel and retired for the day.
Then we were back to Delhi and then to Kolhapur. The whole trip above was unplanned but never felt like it. We dropped our second visit to Nainital and visited Ranikhet instead. We could book our hotels, trains and flights at our convenience through Internet. In Kausani, we booked our return train ticket from Lal Kuan to Delhi through my Nokia E63 mobile (using ngPay) as there was no internet access. It was very convenient.
We have now visited almost all places in Uttarakhand, except of course the Char Dham (Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) and Pithoragarh (also called as the Doosra Kashmir). Watch out for this space on these remaining places. Coming Soon!