Uttarakhand, the Abode of Gods aka Devbhoomi is a beautiful northern state of India. It is a land nestled in the majestic Himalayas- Nanda Devi, Panchachuli, Trisul to name a few and locked among the mighty rivers- Ganga and Yamuna in its varied forms. Snow clad mountains, lush green forests, meadows, and valleys come with fresh, non-polluted mountain air. While the state is popular and loved by all people alike for what it has to offer – be it temples, pilgrimage centers, adventure or peaceful getaways, most of the regions in Uttarakhand are still unexplored.
For the last five years, I have been fortunate to explore this land which is mighty rich in its culture and heritage. We were stationed at the Garhwal region before and is now at Kumaon, making us feel humbled and blessed because back to back postings in the same state is definitely kind of a miracle in Defence Forces.
EXPLORING UTTARAKHAND – THE ABODE OF GODS
UTTARAKHAND- THE ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISIONS
Uttarakhand meaning Northern (Uttara) Land (Khand) was formerly known as Uttaranchal. It was part of the state of Uttar Pradesh but the BJP government of 2000 headed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made Uttarakhand a separate state. It has thirteen districts and is broadly divided into two regions, mainly for administrative purposes – the Garhwal division in the west and Kumaon division in the east.
GARHWAL HILLS, UTTARAKHAND
The Garhwal Region of Uttarakhand gets its name from the word ‘Garh’ meaning the Land of ‘Forts’. It has its name and fame from the Puranic period, having referred in Mahabharata and Skanda Purana.
HISTORY OF GARHWAL
In the 15th century, King Ajai Pal diminished the minor territories and brought together the 52 separate realms into one kingdom of Garhwal, with each realm having its own ‘Garh’ or fortifications. Ajai Pal and his successors ruled the kingdom for around 300 years. Mind you, it wasn’t a piece of cake. They were under constant attack by the Mughals, Kumaon, and Gorkhas. In the 18th century, the Garhwali soldiers succumbed to the brutal attack of Gorkhas who had also captured Kumaon.
The 12 years of the reign of Gorkhas is known as Gorkhyani, synonymous to their brutal attacks, massacres, ravage and marauding of armies. They ruled with an iron fist imposing excessive taxation policy, an iniquitous judicial system, slavery, and torture of people.
In the Gurkha War of 1814, the British attacked the Gurkhas and the region of Garhwal and Kumaon came under the British empire. The Garhwal rulers gave 60 percent of their kingdom to the Britishers for their support in chasing the Gorkhas away. Thus, the Britishers ruled in the eastern part of the Garhwal region, then known as the town of Dehra and later became popular as the Dehra’dun’. The western part of Garhwal – the Tehri region was restored to the Garhwal kings.
CULTURE OF GARHWAL
Garhwal is culturally colorful and the hospitality here is heartwarming. The people of Garhwal region are known as Garhwalis and they primarily speak Garhwali language with varied dialects of its own. It belongs to the Indo-Aryan language and most of the Garhwalis also speak Hindi and Sanskrit. The region celebrates music, dance and a number of festivals and fairs. The folksong ‘Bedu Pako‘ is quite famous and yeah, once in a while you can find me humming the tune.
THE GARHWAL CUISINE
Uttarakhand is popular for its food too. The Garhwali and Kumaoni food is something that you should discover and relish when on a trip to this state. The cuisine is made of simple ingredients, mostly cereals and grains, and local produce. Winter calls for heavy meals. I wait for winters for it brings fresh greens in the form of Fenugreek leaves (Methi), Mustard greens (Rai), Spinach (Palak), Radish Greens (Mooli ke pathe) and more. Mandua (finger millet) ki Roti, Chainsoo (made with black Urad Dal), Phaanoo (made from a mix of different lentils including Gehat), Rajma, Kafuli (made with spinach and fenugreek leaves) and Jholi (a thin gravy made of potatoes, tomatoes and curd) are some staple food.
Non-vegetarian foods are loved too, primarily curries (Jhols) made with river fish and gravies with red meat and chicken. Dessert options include Jhangore ke Kheer (made from millet) and Arsa (sweet balls made with jaggery and curd).
FLORA AND FAUNA OF GARHWAL
The meadows, valleys and lush green forests come with rich flora and fauna as well. The feline family including Tiger, Snow Leopard, and Panther is bountiful in the mountains. You can also spot Jackal, Musk Deer, Bear, Monkey, and Flying Squirrel among many others.
Oh, don’t get me started with birds. One can spot over 400 different varieties of winged creatures including Bulbul, Kingfisher and Jewel Thrush.
From Oak, Fig, Deodar, Pine, Chestnut, and Poplar, to medicinal plants and over 500 varieties of flowers, Garhwal Uttarakhand is home to rich flora.
PEAKS AND RIVERS OF GARHWAL
A large part of Uttarakhand is occupied by some mighty mountain peaks. A part of the Himalaya Shivalik Hills can be seen in Garhwal mountain ranges. Chaukhamba peaks come with three mountains and rest at the Gangotri glacier. Swargarohini boasts itself along the Saraswati range in Uttarkashi along with Gaumukh, a treasured glacier. The Shivling and Kedarnath peaks are part of Gangotri.
The two most holy rivers, Ganga and Yamuna have their origin in Uttarakhand. The Yamuna originates from Yamunotri glacier and is the longest river that does not end up in a sea. The river Yamuna merges with Ganga at the Triveni Sangam in Uttar Pradesh – the confluence of three rivers- Yamuna, Ganga and Saraswati, the latter now believed to be in invisible form.
The Ganges has many streams including Bhagirathi and Alaknanda and forms the five holy unions in Garhwal Himalayas namely, Vishnuprayag, Nandprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag and Devprayag. Ganga hits the plains at Rishikesh.
POPULAR PLACES TO VISIT IN GARHWAL REGION OF UTTARAKHAND
The districts that fall under Garhwal region are Chamoli, Dehradun, Haridwar, Pauri Garhwal, Rudraprayag, Tehri Garhwal, and Uttarkashi.
With lofty snow-covered peaks, enchanting rivers, rich flora and fauna, and sacred temples and pilgrimage centers, the Garhwal division of Uttarakhand gives you the option of relishing and quenching the travel lust in you.
Whether you are an admirer of nature, or is keen to undertake adventure activities or want to go on a pilgrimage or simply wants to take some time off your busy schedule and relax, Uttarakhand provides them all.
The four pilgrim destinations – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath is collectively known as Char Dham or ‘Four Abodes’. Many thousands of devotees take up this pilgrimage every year where each destination is devoted to one deity. Yamunotri is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna, Gangotri to Goddess Ganga, Kedarnath to Lord Shiva and Badrinath to Lord Vishnu. The pilgrimage is considered to complete only if one follows this exact order, commencing from Yamunotri towards Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally at Badrinath. You are to experience Moksha/inner peace and absolute bliss after taking up this spiritual journey.
Counted as one of the seven holy places for Hindus, Haridwar aka Gateway of God is situated at the base of the Shivalik Range of Himalayas. Come June and July, millions of Lord Shiva Devotees gather to attend the Kumbh Mela. Take a holy dip at Har ki Pauri and you do not want to miss the Ganga Aarti.
Hemkund Sahib is popular not only for its stunning landscape but it is said that Guru Gobind Singh meditated here for years before leaving for the heavenly abode. This place is of great significance for the Sikhs and is thus an important Sikh Yatra center.
Staying true to its name, Auli or ‘meadow’ is an offbeat but popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Why head to Switzerland if you can go to Auli! The meadows are a beautiful green in summers and covered with snow in winters. Auli is a favorite destination for skiing.
Known as the Yoga Capital of the World, Rishikesh is home to both spiritual as well as adventure tourism. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of life and enjoy a quiet introspection of life in this place. Go on solitary walks along the banks of the Ganges, walk across the Lakshman Jhula or go kayaking, bungee jumping or river-rafting. Chat with travelers from around the world, sip a cup of ginger tea at cafes overlooking the brilliant landscape. Ah, there is so much to do in Rishikesh.
| Read: Soul Searching in Rishikesh
The International Yoga Week from 2nd to 7th Feb is held here on the banks of Ganga and attracts participants from all over the world. The Rishikesh International Film Festival is another event to look forward to every year. It screens films and videography of eminent filmmakers, conducts cultural workshops and also emphasizes music and dance. You can find more details on their Facebook event page.
Like Rishikesh, Uttarkashi is famous for both its pilgrimage importance as well as adventure sports. It is said that at one point, there were over 365 temples here. Home to ashrams, it is also a trekker’s paradise.
One of the popular hill stations of the country, Dehradun is also home to some of the finest education centers in India including the Indian Military Academy, Doon School, and Forest Research Institute. It also houses some busy shopping streets like Paltan Bazaar, Tibetan Monasteries, and nature’s hideout at Lal Tibba and Robber’s Cave.
This quiet hill station is a biker’s paradise. Surrounded by pine and oak forests and hills, Lansdowne is loved by nature lovers. The picturesque town is also easily accessible by road. There are many beautiful churches, lakes, and museums. The Garhwal Rifles Regiment is situated in this town and the Regimental War Memorial is a must-visit.
Dhanaulti is around 24km from Mussourie and is another sought-after hill station. It is one of the best places in Uttarakhand to watch snowfalls.
Known as the ‘Queen of Hills’, Mussoorie is one of the favorite honeymoon destinations of India. When in this hill station, don’t forget to take a walk down the Mall Road, take a ride on a cable car to GunHill, take in the remarkable view of the Doon valley, take bath in the stunning Kempty Falls, relish momos and treat your palate at various quirky restaurants and of course, meet Ruskin Bond if on a Saturday.
Being close to Delhi, Mussourie is a favorite place to celebrate New Years. However, since thousands flock to this hill state at this time of the year which forces the authorities to close down the place due to massive jams and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Trust me, it isn’t a pleasant scenario. We were fortunate to visit the place and get back on time than getting stuck in this chock-a-block traffic which may last for a day until revelers are cleared and asked to return mid-way.
Another wonderful destination known for its picturesque picnic spots, Chakrata is home to some fun and adventure activities. One can trek your way to Tiger Falls or go camping in this quaint hill station. Waterfall rappelling, river crossing, and mountain climbing are some of the popular activities one can undertake here.
The Department of Uttarakhand Tourism has taken special measures to develop New Tehri which engulfs some popular tourist attractions. This includes the spiritual tour of many revered temples and also watersports including jet skiing. The Tehri lake Festival boasts of Asia’s biggest lake festival and includes a plethora of fun and frolic events. The 3-day Tehri Lake Festival of 2018 included activities such as Light and Sound show, Yoga and Meditation, Stargazing, Paragliding, and Water Zorbing among many others. The region also houses one of the highest dam projects called the Tehri Dam.
VALLEY OF FLOWERS
Situated in the Chamoli district near Badrinath, Valley of Flowers is a stunning national park with beautiful meadows of alpine flowers. The Valley of Flowers is open only from the month of June till October as it is covered with snow the rest of the year. That said, the best time to visit is in the months of July and August when the flowers are in full bloom. To reach the Valley of Flowers, one should go on a 13-hour trek from Govind Ghat which is the nearest you can get to by road. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a true paradise on earth with the view of melting glaciers, snowclad mountains, and rich flora.
Mythological legends say Lord Hanuman visited this valley to collect the ‘Sanjeevani’ herb to save Lakshman’s life.
Mana is the last village of India near the Indo-China border. It’s one of the best destinations for bikers and is home to tiny yet quaint houses.
The Garhwal region is dotted with many treks routes which you can go on including Har ki Dun Valley Trek, Nanda Devi, Nachiketa Tal, Dodi Tal, Sat Tal, Kedar Tal, Gangotri, Gaumukh, Nandanvan Tapovan and to Yamunotri in Garhwal.
WHERE TO STAY IN GARHWAL, UTTARAKHAND
There are many budget-friendly hotels in and around most of the iconic places in Garhwal. However, be rest assured that you would find a GMVN – Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Guest Houses at prime locations across this region. They provide deluxe, luxury bungalows as well as budget room accommodations.
HOW TO REACH GARHWAL, UTTARAKHAND
The Garhwal region of Uttarakhand is well connected by rail and road. The cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh has got good rail connectivity as well. Public transport in the form of taxis and buses are available in almost all the places. The Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun is also a saving grace.
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by any agency.
Have you been to the Garhwal Region of Uttarakhand? Share your experiences with me. Stay Tuned for more in this series of Exploring Uttarakhand.