Crowded around a deep, green volcanic lake, Nainital is Kumaon’s largest town and favourite hill resort. It occupies a steep forested valley around the namesake lake Naini and was founded by homesick Brits reminded of the Cumbrian Lake District. Plenty of hotels are set on the hillside around the lake.
Perched on a ridge 2km high, the 'Queen of Hill Stations' vies with Nainital as Uttarakhand’s favourite holiday destination. When the mist clears, views of the green Doon Valley and the distant white-capped Himalayan peaks are superb, and in the hot months the cooler temperatures and fresh mountain air make a welcome break from the plains below.
Perhaps best known for the institutions the British left behind – the huge Forest Research Institute Museum, the Indian Military Academy, the Wildlife Institute of India and the Survey of India – the capital of Uttarakhand is a hectic, congested city sprawling in the Doon Valley between the Himalayan foothills and the Siwalik Range.
Propitiously located at the point where the Ganges emerges from the Himalaya, Haridwar (also called Hardwar) is Uttarakhand’s holiest Hindu city, and pilgrims arrive here in droves to bathe in the fast-flowing Ganges. The sheer number of people gathering around Har-ki-Pairi Ghat give Haridwar a chaotic but reverent feel.
Corbett Tiger Reserve
World-renowned Corbett Tiger Reserve was established in 1936 as India’s first national park, and covers 1318 sq km of wild forests. It’s named for legendary British hunter Jim Corbett (1875–1955), who brought this region international fame with his book The Man-Eaters of Kumaon.
Valley of Flowers & Hem Kund Trek
British mountaineer Frank Smythe stumbled upon the Valley of Flowers in 1931. The bugyals (high-altitude meadows) of tall wildflowers are a glorious sight on a sunny day, rippling in the breeze, and framed by mighty 6000m mountains that have glaciers and snow decorating their peaks all year.
Perched high on a forest-covered ridge, this tiny village has lovely panoramic views of distant snowcapped peaks, fresh air and a relaxed atmosphere. Mahatma Gandhi found Kausani an inspirational place to write his Bhagavad Gita treatise Anasakti Yoga in 1929, and there is still an ashram devoted to him here.
Badrinath & Mana Village
Basking in a superb setting in the shadow of snow-topped Nilkantha, Badrinath Temple appears almost lost in the tatty village that surrounds it. Sacred to Lord Vishnu, this vividly painted temple is the most easily accessible and popular of the char dham temples. It was founded by Guru Shankara in the 8th century, but the current structure is much more recent.
Hindu pilgrims visit Bageshwar, at the confluence of the Gomti and Saryu Rivers, for its ancient stone Bagnath Temple. For travellers, it’s more important as a transit town connecting Munsyari and other points east with Kausani and Almora. There are a couple of internet cafes around, and there’s a State Bank of India ATM in the main bazaar.
Spread across the hillsides above a scenic valley that’s been dubbed ‘Little Kashmir', Pithoragarh is the main town of a little-visited region that borders Tibet and Nepal. Its sights include several Chand-era temples and an old fort, but the real reason to come here is to get off the tourist trail.
Uttarkashi, 155km from Rishikesh and the largest town in northern Garhwal, is a major stop on the road to Gangotri Temple and the Gaumukh Glacier trek. The main bazaar is worth a wander and has all the supplies you might need. A number of outfitters can arrange treks in the region, including to Tapovan (beyond Gangotri/Gaumukh).
Rajaji Tiger Reserve
Unspoilt Rajaji Tiger Reserve, covering over 1000 sq km in the forested foothills near Haridwar, was declared an official tiger park in 2015, despite having only about 13 of the striped cats within its boundaries. It's best known for wild elephants – around 600 at last count – and leopards (about 250).