With Himachal Pradesh to the west, Tibet to the north and Nepal to the east, it's small wonder that the Himalayan hill-state of Uttarakhand holds some of India's most magnificent mountain scenery.

Garhwal and Kumaon's thickly wooded hillsides break softly towards a stunning range of snow-capped Himalayan peaks, including India's second highest mountain Nanda Devi, forming one of the world's most awesome natural borders. Were it not for travel restrictions imposed following hostilities between India and China in the 1960s, trekking in this remote and still relatively untouched region might now be as popular as in Nepal, whose natural beauty and variety of routes it easily matches.

Many of Uttarakhand's most stunning treks are in fact age-old pilgrimage routes (or 'yatra' routes). As the source of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, the state looms large in India's mythological history - it is the setting for much of the Mahabharata - and contains some of India's holiest shrines. On the banks of the Ganga, the holy cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh have served as spiritual magnets for millennia and receive a continuous stream of visitors seeking to study yoga or the vedas. However, March 2010, when Haridwar hosts the Maha Kumbh Mela, will see their numbers swell exponentially: billed as the largest gathering on earth, the last episode of this great mass Hindu spiritual bathe drew an estimated 70 million people.

Almora and Ranikhet have long served as charming, cool holiday resorts in the hills, while the great tiger reserve of Corbett National Park stands as a beacon of successful wildlife management. With India's whitewater rafting capital just north of Rishikesh at Shivpuri, and the development of skiing facilities at Auli, Uttarakhand is now establishing a reputation for adventure sports, too.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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