For devout Hindus, a trip into the Himalayan ranges of Uttarakhand -- source of the sacred Ganges -- is no mere journey, but a yatra, or spiritual pilgrimage. For the city-smothered traveler, it's balm for the soul, particularly the less commercial Kumaon region. This relatively untouched area sees far less tourist traffic than the more hyped neighboring Himachal Pradesh, yet is in many ways more accessible, with plenty of wonderful places to stay.
Comprising the territories of Garhwal (west) and Kumaon (east), tiny Uttarakhand was carved from Uttar Pradesh in 2000, when it was named Uttaranchal; 7 years later it adopted the name bestowed upon it in the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Puranas: Uttarakhand. Besides Hindu pilgrims and adventurous trekkers and river rafters, Garhwal attracts New Age Westerners who flock to the ashrams of Rishikesh on the banks of the holy river Ganges, and to nearby Ananda-in-the-Himalayas, one of the top spa destinations in the world. For visitors looking for a gentle road trip, the picturesque lower-altitude hill stations of the Kumaon offer glorious views of snowcapped mountains and a chance to spot tigers in one of the country's best-known wildlife sanctuaries, Corbett National Park, which vies with Rajasthan's Ranthambore National Park in terms of accessibility (264km/164 miles from Delhi; 6-7 hr. by road or rail). With the addition of Shakti's fabulous village walks through Kumaon and stunning accommodation perched high on a table-land, Uttarakhand can now comfortably vie for attention along with other top Himalayan destinations in India.
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