If India is called the land of spiritualism, Uttarakhand is one big contributor towards it. Home to the holy Ganga and the 4 most sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites, it is commonly referred to as 'dev bhoomi' (the land of gods). Sages and saints since time immemorial have housed under the shelter of the mountains here. The mighty Himalayan ranges provide great opportunity for high altitude trekking and mountaineering. Find glaciers from which rivers are born, find valleys overgrown with wild flowers, find lakes that reflect the sky and find temples as old as humanity itself. While you are at it, you'll also find a little bit of yourself, here in Uttarakhand.
Arrival in Temple Town
At the foothills of the Himalayas, Haridwar is everything its literary translation makes it out to be - 'gateway to the Gods.' Whether you're here for the supernatural 'Kumbh Mela' gathering every dozen years or the general mystic aura, there's no place that has a religious buzz quite like Haridwar does.
A 6 hour drive let's you check in early so that you have the evening free for the temple tour.
Temple Tour. A complete religious and spiritual experience with a tour of the famous temples of Haridwar. This is also a fantastic opportunity for culture enthusiasts to witness the sincerity and intensity of religious devotion. Visit the Gauri Shankar Temple and Chandi Devi Temple that are amongst the most-visited temples in all of India.
The Gauri Shankar Temple, over 900 years old, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple comes alive during the religious festival of Shivratri as people throng the temple with their offerings to Lord Shiva.
The Chandi Devi temple, on a hilltop, provides matchless views of Haridwar town.
The Chandi Devi Udankhatola is a ropeway leading right up to the temple, saving you a fairly exhausting 4-km hike.
Witness the evening aarti at Har ki Pauri ghat, on the banks of the Ganga, where hundreds of devotees gather every day chanting praises as priests hold huge large fire bowls to the sound of temple bells. Har ki Pauri is also the site where the annual Kumbh Mela begins.
Haridwar to Mussoorie
From the 'Temple Town' to the hills we proceed. One of India's original queens of the hills, Mussoorie is every generation's favourite holiday destination not just for the splendid weather and fascinating landscape but the huge colonial aftermath that follows you down every lane here. Irrespective of crowded peak seasons, Mussoorie is a definite welcome away from the smog of the city.
But before we proceed, we take a small tour of Rishikesh - the yoga capital of the world. The iconic bridges of Ram Jhoola and Laxman Jhoola over the mighty Ganga deserve a walk-upon. The sound of the temple bells and the hymns in harmony with the flowing waters of the turquoise Ganga makes one understand why people flock here to find spirituality.
Sightseeing in Mussoorie
The original "Queen of Hills" has still got some moves. While in Mussoorie, there's always something to do. A whole day devoted to this fascinating hill-town, head towards Kempty Falls 14 kilometres away from Mussoorie. This iconic waterfall is best visited earlier in the day, before tourists throng the area. Get up to Shedup Choephilling Tibetan Temple for Mussoorie's rich Buddhist heritage. Mussoorie Lake and Bhatta Falls on the Mussoorie-Dehradun road is the ideal stopover for a serene break before you move on to Gun Hill. Take the ropeway up to the top of the second highest peak here for some spectacular views of Doon valley. Stroll down Camel's Back Road before heading over to Mussoorie's highest point, Lal Tibba. Clear days offer lovely views of the mountains that house the Gangotri and Kedarnath shrines as well as the peaks of Chaukhamba, Nanda Devi and Sri Kanta. Make time for a visit to Sir George Everest's house (after whom Mount Everest is named). Well-preserved documents and pictures give you a glimpse into his life here; look out for beautiful views of the Doon Valley as well as the Yamuna valley on the other side. Drive back to your hotel as the sun slowly goes down on the valley.
Mussoorie to Corbett
We leave the hills for the jungle. Though named after the legendary hunter turned conservationist Jim Corbett, strangely enough only one of the maneater tigers he shot, the Mohan Maneater, was from these forests. Blessed with gorgeous landscape including forests, rivers and hills outside the park, Corbett as a destination today is far bigger than the national park itself. The drive from Mussoorie itself is a beautiful one with the thick flora never disappearing. Check in to your hotel and you have the evening to yourself to ramble around and maybe checkout the Corbett falls and some revered temples around the area.
Depending on the area of your stay and availability, your safari will be booked in one of the many zones of the Corbett National Park. Apart than the big cat, elephants, spotted deer, barking deer, sambar deer, wild boar, yellow-throated martens and leopards, are some of the animals that can be spotted here.
Corbett to Kausani
Once described by Gandhi as the Switzerland of India, Kausani is just as breathtakingly beautiful as its European counterpart. Spectacular views of the Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and Panchachuli Peaks are visible if the weather is clear. Head upto the Gandhi (Anasakti) Ashram where Gandhi once stayed to write the book 'Anasakti Yoga'. You will find numerous books on the life of Gandhi here and a quaint museum with lovely pictures in this serene setting.
Kausani provides an excellent opportunity to spend your day admiring its beauty. Drive down to one of the tea-plantations after some hot breakfast at your hotel. Tea plantations, from a distance, always give the impression of well-mowed green lawns on mountain slopes till you get closer. Around 16 kilometres from the Kausani town is the 12th-century Shiva temple at Baijnath. Originally built by the Katyuri kings, the stone temple complex is an intricate display of ancient architecture. The main temple holds a striking idol of Parvati, chiselled in black stone, unlike any other across the country.
Enjoy the beautiful sunset over the hills and head back to your hotel for the night.
Kausani to Nainital
From Kausani we head over to one of the most beloved hill stations of India - Nainital. With majestic views, Nainital is set in a valley around an eye-shaped lake, where according to legend, the Goddess Sati's eyes had fallen. Bustling markets with spectacular views of the hills essentially make Nainital a gateway to the upper reaches of the mighty Himalayas.
Enjoy the afternoon at your own pace. You can start by boating at the famous Naini Lake. Naini Lake has managed to maintain its serenity and cleanliness in spite of being bang in the middle of the general tourist buzz. You can visit the beautiful Naini Peak or experience the architecture and the grandeur of an era gone by at the well-preserved Raj Bhavan. The Raj Bhavan's grey building, in contrast with the white lines running through it, stands tall and imposing with a gravel foreyard.
Nainital Lake Tour
The quickest and most convenient way to enjoy the pretty lakes in and around Nainital, this tour begins at the famed Naini lake and then takes you to the other lakes in the area. Naini Lake has managed to maintain its serenity and cleanliness in spite of being bang in the middle of the general tourist buzz. The Sattal is a pristine lake that is actually an interconnected group of seven freshwater lakes. Set amidst dense forests of oak and pine trees, Sattal is the perfect setting for what you imagine a lake in the mountains to be. The Naukuchiatal lake derives its name from the fact that the lake has nine corners that are impossible to be viewed at the same time (prepare to disappear or attain nirvana, depending on which legend you like, if you do manage to see all nine corners). The Bhimtal Lake is the largest lake in the entire Kumaon region with a small island at the centre that is accessible by boats.
Nainital to Delhi
Prepare for the journey back home, refreshed and rejuvenated after your stay in the mountains. You have witnessed some of the best places that Uttarakhand has to offer.