ADVENTURE: Rupin Pass Trek
The trek up the valley of the Rupin river, a tributary of the Tons in north-west Garhwal, is one of the least known, yet one of the best treks in the state. A moderately strenuous trek, it crosses a subsidiary spur of the Great Himalayan Range to enter the Sangla valley in Himachal Pradesh. The lower trail passes through gorgeous deodhar, pine and walnut forests, and past beautiful stands of white rhododendron. Further above, the trail is cut out through steep rock faces and over gorgeous alpine meadow before reaching the upper camp near a waterfall. The trail then crosses the 4,650-m pass with great views before descending into the beautiful Baspa valley in Kinnaur. There are many operators who do this trek, including Banjara Camps (Rs 56,800 per person).
HERITAGE: Jageshwar’s Temples
Jageshwar’s 1,000-year-old temple complex has over a hundred shrines built between the 8th and 13th centuries CE. Situated about 35 kilometres east of Almora in the Jarhganga valley, the site was patronised by the dynasties that ruled Kumaon. The temples, mostly dedicated to Shiva, are built in the classic North Indian Nagara style, and the largest (and one of the oldest) of these is the Mrityunjaya Temple. The architecture of the temples as well as the stone and metal images in the complex are exquisite. The village of Jageshwar is worth a visit for its beautiful medieval wood-carved houses.
SPECIAL EXPERIENCE: Orchids
You may be surprised to hear that Uttarakhand is an orchid hotspot, but it’s true that over 200 species of terrestrial orchids (those that grow in soil) have been recorded here, many of them rare and endemic.
The largest congregation of the exotic flowers can be seen in Kumaon, especially at the lower Gori Ganga valley in Pithoragarh, the eastern Ramganga valley, the Nainital region (especially in the forests of Maheshkhan) and Munsiyari. In Garhwal, you’ll find terrestrial orchids in Mandal near Gopeshwar in the Alaknanda valley. Epiphytic orchids (those that grow on top of other plants) can be found in the temperate forests of Rajaji National Park and Corbett National Park.
FOOD: Bal mithai
Almora’s traditional treat, the bal mithai, has become something of a culinary celebrity. The delicious sweet is made with khoya and cane sugar, which is cooked into a dark brown fudge, and then cooled and wrapped in sugar balls. Although the origin of the sweet is unknown, Almorah folklore has it that it was first made by a local halwai, Jogalal Shah, who used to cover the sweet in a sugar and poppy seed mixture that became wildly popular around the region. You can get delicious bal mithai in larger towns such as Nainital as well, although the best place to savour the sweet is at Khem Singh and Mohan Singh Rautela’s sweet shop in Almora.
WILDLIFE: Dhikala Forest Lodge, Corbett
The best way to enjoy the wild charms of Corbett National Park is to stay in the core zone, and the only way you can do that is if you stay at the Dhikala Forest Lodge (2N/3D for Rs 17,000 for two people; www.dhikalaforestlodge.in) run by the forest department. Situated right next to the famed Dhikala grasslands and the Ramganga River, the property has 32 rooms spread across the old guest house, new guest house, cabins and dormitory. The lodge can arrange for safaris, complete with a naturalist, as well as day trips to different parts of the national park.