Trekking Through the Land of the Gods
Below are some of the best treks in Uttarakhand. You should definitely engage the services of a guide for any of the routes, and bring clothes and footwear to withstand extreme weather conditions. Note that certain treks in Garhwal require a permit; your trekking company can arrange this as well as equipment should you require any. We have recommended trekking companies below; for more assistance, contact the local tourism office.
Garhwal -- From Uttarkashi, a short drive takes you to Kalyani, which is the starting point for one of Garhwal's most popular treks -- to fabulous Dodital, a striking lake surrounded by fantastic alpine forests. A relatively easy trek lasting 3 days, the 23km (14-mile) route takes you through the Asi Ganga River valley.
Several treks of varying levels of difficulty start out from Gangotri (at an altitude of 3,000m/10,000 ft.), a small pilgrim town at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Kedar Ganga rivers, in the shadow of Mount Sudarshan (6,500m/21,325 ft.), some 98km (60 miles) from Uttarkashi. One popular trek from Gangotri goes along Kedar Ganga Valley, to Kedartal, a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountain peaks. But arguably the most beautiful Garhwal trek is the 26km (16-mile) hike that takes you along a gradual ascent from Gangotri, along the Bhagirathi, to Gaumukh, which is where the river has its source in the Gangotri Glacier -- here the water gushes out from a small amphitheater carved out of the 15- to 20m (50-65-ft.) ice walls. En route, you pass through scenic alpine forests near Chirbasa, following an ancient pilgrimage route; a panorama of snowcapped peaks accompanies you throughout. At night, you camp on the banks of the embryonic Ganges, known here as the Bhagirathi. Beyond Gaumukh, you can cross the glacier to reach the high-altitude meadows of Tapovan and Nandanvan; note that the route to Tapovan varies with the constant downward movement of the glacier. You can schedule the full trek to last anywhere between 6 and 9 days; longer if you wish to explore the meadows and glaciers at the foot of Hinduism's center of the universe, Mount Meru. Another short and fabulous option is the Chopta/Tungnath hike which can be done in a relaxed 5 days, including travel time to/from Delhi. The high altitude meadows are breathtaking and with the quaint temple at Tungnath, a walk to the Chandrashila Pass and camping without any concrete around, this is a great option.
There are a number of reputable operators organizing treks in Garhwal but our number one choice is Aquaterra Adventures India (tel. 011/2921-2641 or -2760; www.treknraft.com), not least for their highly professional and reliable service. Other good options are Himalayan Eco Adventure (tel. 01389/222-446 or -252; based in Joshimath) and Garhwal Himalayan Explorations (tel. 0135/244-2267 or -2667; www.thegarhwalhimalayas.com; based in Rishikesh).
Kumaon -- One of the best-known and simplest routes in the Kumaon is the Pindari Glacier Trek, a fairly moderate trek that lasts up to 8 or 9 days and can easily be combined with a sojourn in or near Corbett National Park. A shorter trek takes you on a 20km (12-mile) climb through Valley of Flowers National Park, high up in the Himalayas. Between June and September, hundreds of species of flowers -- many of them rare alpine varieties -- cover the valley floor, through which the Pushpawati River flows. We recommend Nainital's Parbat Tours (tel. 05942/23-5656) for organized treks in the Kumaon.