Uttarakhand, bordered by Nepal and Tibet, and shadowed by towering Himalayan peaks, is full of unspoiled natural beauty. It's divided into two regions -- Garhwal in the north, and Kumaon in the south. Ancient holy places, mountains, forests and valleys, and an abundance of trekking options are some of the attractions that make travel to Uttarakhand worthwhile. Check out these top tourist places in Uttarakhand for inspiration.
Uttarakhand is also an excellent place to get off the beaten track. If you're looking for fresh air and tranquility, you'll love some of these boutique Himalayan getaways.
One of India's most popular national parks, Corbett National Park is named after hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett. It has dense forest and an array of wildlife, although tiger sightings aren't as common as some other places in India. The park can be explored by jeep or elephant safaris, which take place daily in the early mornings and afternoons. The Dhikala zone of the park is the most panoramic, with stunning valley views. It offers the best chance of animal sightings (which are unfortunately sometimes disappointing). If you're lucky, you might spot wild elephants.
- Location: About 5 hours drive northeast of Delhi.
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Ancient Haridwar (the "Gateway to God") is one of the seven holiest places in India, and one of the oldest living cities. Located at the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, it's particularly popular with Hindu pilgrims who come to take a dip in the holy waters of the fast flowing Ganges River and wash away their sins. The evening Ganga Aarti holds a special appeal.
- Location: About 4.5 hours drive northeast of Delhi.
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Rishikesh, located not far from Haridwar, is as popular with western spiritual seekers as Haridwar is with Hindu pilgrims. Known as the birthplace of yoga, people flock there to meditate, do yoga, and learn about other aspects of Hinduism in the various ashrams and yoga institutes. Despite the growing number of visitors, the town's lanes and alleys retain an old-world charm. It remains a wonderful place to relax and unwind among nature.
- Location: 40 minutes drive northeast of Haridwar.
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The hill settlement of Nainital, in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, was a popular summer retreat for the British during the time they ruled India. It features emerald colored Naini Lake and an action-filled strip called The Mall, lined with restaurants, shops, hotels, and markets. Enjoy one of the many forest walks, explore the surrounding area on horseback, or relax on a boat in the lake. This destination gets very crowded during summers, especially on weekends, due to its proximity to Delhi. Around Nainital, you'll find Jeolikote, Bhimtal, Ramgarh and Mukteshwar which are all less developed and quieter places to stay.
- Location: About 6 hours drive east of Delhi.
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Mussoorie is another super popular weekend destination for north Indians, as well as honeymooners. One of the main reasons for this is because it has a lot of facilities developed especially for tourists. Take a cable car to Gun Hill, enjoy a beautiful nature walk along Camel's Back Road, have a picnic at Kempty Falls, or ride a horse up to Lal Tibba (the highest peak in Mussoorie). Mussoorie also offers a superb view of the Himalayas. If you're looking for a quieter alternative nearby, check out Landour.
- Location: About 6 hours drive north of Delhi and an hour from Dehradun (Uttarakhand's capital). IRCTC offers a convenient two-night weekend rail tour package from Delhi to Mussoorie.
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Almora, now the capital of the Kumaon region, was established as the summer capital of Chand kings in 1560. It attracts its share of foreigners who head to nearby Kasar Devi Temple, where Swami Vivekananda meditated. There are some chilled out places to stay in the area, such as Kasar Rainbow Resort and Mohan's Binsar Retreat, as well as inexpensive guesthouses with private cottages just outside Almora town. Around Almora, you'll find the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kausani (where Gandhi spent time writing his Bhagavad Gita treatise), Ranikhet and the Jageshwar temple complex.
- Location: About 8 hours drive northeast of Delhi.
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The remarkable landscape of The Valley of Flowers National Park in the Gharwal region comes alive with the monsoon rain. This high-altitude Himalayan valley has around 300 different varieties of alpine flowers, which appear as a bright carpet of color against a mountainous snow-capped background. It's a popular trekking destination, open from the start of June until the end of October.
- Location: About 13 hours drive northeast of Delhi, plus a trek.
Located high up in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, the Char Dham (four temples) mark the spiritual source of four holy rivers: the Yamuna (at Yamunotri), the Ganges (at Gangotri), the Mandakini (at Kedarnath), and the Alaknanda (at Badrinath). Hindus consider a pilgrimage to the Char Dham to be very auspicious. Not only is it believed to wash away all sins, but it will also ensure release from the cycle of birth and death.
Uttarakhand even has a skiing destination! Auli lies on the way to Badrinath and has a 3-kilometer long slope, gondola, chairlift, and Poma ski lift. For skiing, conditions are best from the last week of January to the first week of March. However, it's dependent on good snowfall, which is variable. If you're into trekking, the Kuari Pass trailhead is at Auli. This trek, which passes through Nanda Devi National Park, is one of the state's best and most accessible. Thrillophilia offers six-day guided trips from Haridwar. There are many other hiking trails around too.
Accommodation options in Auli are scarce but Devi Darshan Lodge is recommended if you don't stay at the popular government-run Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Hotel (which offers ski programs). Alternatively, the Himalayan Abode Homestay near Joshimath is excellent, and the host is a skiing and snowboarding champion and coach. Another good option is Himalayan Eco Lodge.
- Location: About 13 hours drive northeast of Delhi, near Joshimath.
Magical Munsiyari, a small town surrounded by towering mountains in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, is paradise for mountaineers and trekkers. Blazing sunsets create a stunning backdrop of color-stained peaks there. However, the hiking and trekking routes are the biggest draws. Munsiyari is the base for the challenging eight-day Milam Glacier Trek, and the much easier 2-3 hour trek to Khalia Top is another attraction. The Tribal Heritage Museum, filled with artifacts from Munsiyari's trade with Tibet on the ancient salt route, is also worth seeing. Milam Inn, albeit basic, is the best place to stay in Munsiyari and it offers fabulous mountain views from the guest rooms.
- Location: About 16 hours drive northeast of Delhi.
Not to be confused with the Chopta Valley in Sikkim, Chopta lies between Kedarnath and Badrinath in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, at the entry to Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. It attracts travelers who want to enjoy the great outdoors away from the crowds and development. Chopta is the starting point for treks to Tungnath temple (open from June to September) and Chandrashila summit. It's a short, yet scenic, moderate trek that can be completed in a day. Notably, the temple is the world's highest Shiva temple. Thrillophilia offers four-day guided trips from Haridwar.
- Location: About 10 hours drive northeast of Delhi, via Rishikesh.
It's likely that you've never heard of Kalap, a tiny remote village that's only accessible by foot, 7,500 feet above sea level in the upper Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. That's because it's totally off the tourist map. A responsible tourism project was established there in 2013 to help improve the livelihoods of the villagers. Kalap is an outstanding place to get away from it all and experience the simplicity of village life or go trekking along trails followed by nomadic shepherds.
- Location: About 5 hours north of Dehradun in Uttarakhand.