Munsiyari: The northern valleys of the Kumaon region, where mighty rivers pour out of giant Himalayan glaciers, are some of the most picturesque in the Western Himalaya. None more so than the Gori Ganga valley, also known as the Johar valley, that descends from the Milam glacier. On a spur 2,200m high, overlooking the valley lies Munsiyari, the ‘place of snow’. The charming old town is famous for its spectacular views of the Panchchuli range, and you get even grander vistas if you hike up to the bugiyal on the top of the Munsiyari ridge. It’s the base for the Milam glacier, the Nanda Devi East BC and Panchchuli BC treks. In Munsiyari, check out Masterji’s Museum for information on the local Shaukya people, the Bhotiyas and the valley’s old trade links to Tibet, and check out the Birthi falls. Munsiyari is 275km by road from Kathgodam station
Gangotri: As far as mountain pilgrimages go, Garhwal has the market covered, with the Char Dham Yatra (to Kedarnath, Badrinath Yamunotri and Gangotri) and the many smaller dhams. The pilgrimage to the town of Gangotri, famous for its old Gurkha-built temple to Ganga, is easily the pick of the lot. This isn’t just because of the spiritual kick, but also the natural beauty of the region. The origin of the Bhagirathi river, the chief tributary of the Ganga, lies in the Gangotri glacier, some 18km further above Gangotri. Just a few hours’ walk from the town into the many nearby valleys takes you into the heart of the Himalaya. Whether it is a hike to Tapovan, or the great treks of Kalindi Khal and Auden’s Col, that link Gangotri to Badrinath and Kedarnath respectively, this is Himalayan heaven. Gangotri is 311km northeast from Dehradun. A drive takes eight hours.
Mukteshwar: Looking for a hill getaway but not attracted by the overdone charms of the Himalayan hill stations? Try Mukteshwar. Located at an altitude of 7,500ft in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district, it’s worlds removed from the bustle of the district headquarters. Mukteshwar’s name comes from the 350-year-old temple of Mukteshwar Dham, where the reigning deity is Shiva. There’s not much by way of ‘sights’ in this little town, not unless you have a special interest in the veterinary sciences (the Indian Veterinary Research Institute is located here), apart from a Shiva temple and a Methodist Church. But there’s lots and lots of lovely walks through the beautiful hills, plenty of birds to be spotted and, if you go in the right season, stunning views of the Himalayan peaks. Mukteshwar is approximately 370km from Delhi; the nearest railhead is Kathgodam (65km).
Nanda Devi National Park: This is one of the great wilderness areas of the world. Encompassing some 630sq km of the high Himalaya, the core sanctuary comprises of 380sq km of a ring of mountains, 110km long and an average of 18,000ft high. This ring encompasses the twin peaks of Nanda Devi, at 7,867m the highest mountain entirely within India and multiple gigantic glaciers. The only way in is through the fearsome gorge of the Rishi Ganga river, after crossing the Dharansi Pass from the Dhauli Ganga Valley. The core sanctuary is out of bounds, but you can trek to the outer sanctuary, including Dharansi, from Lata village. Mountain Shepherds (www.mountainshepherds.com) conducts treks and village stays among the local Bhotiya community in the area. Lata village near the Park is 284km from Rishikesh, and a drive there takes about nine hours.