It was obvious... The temperature was soaring, there was a long weekend and we just wanted to get away to the hills. As we researched, destinations such as Shimla, Mussorie and Dehradhun were sounding very uninspiring. Someone suggested Almora in the Kumaun region, of Uttarakhand,near Ranikhet and my
friend and I decided to make it one of our quick summer getaways.
With every passing mile on the train from Delhi to Kathgodam, the weather became cooler and our nerves calmer. A taxi ride from Kathgodam up to the hills to Almora allowed us to be swept off our feet with the verdant view of the mountains which kept changing their contours as the light and shade played hide and seek, giving us some exquisite picture postcard images. And as we were to soon discover, this was jus the trailer, for the real picture was awaiting for us to a few hours away.
Almora, with its untouched, barely commercial look had a comforting feel to it, getting us adapted to its scenic environs in no time at all. Standing at 1638 meters above sea level, this ancient hill station is set on a horse saddle shape ridge between the rivers Kosi and Suyal. Famous for its rich culture, handicrafts and extravagant cuisine, its roads and pathways are largely unplanned with the majestic snow peaked Himalayas standing as a rock steady unwavering backdrop. While the best option would be to just find a nice rocking chair and watch the Himalayas awestruck but if wanting some action, then you could set off on a trek or even hire a bicycle and head out on a trail that can give you a feel of what it is to be truely free spirited.
This charming hill station was once ruled by Katyuri King Baichaldeo who later donated major part of the land to Sri Chand Tiwari, a Gujarati Brahmin. Later in the year 1568, the town of Almora was founded by Kalyan Chand. Evidence of its rich past is available in the relics of old forts, palaces and monuments built by Chandravanshis and Katyur dynasty.
Uday Shankar, the internationally acclaimed dancer was enchanted by the place and setup the cultural academy here. Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, artist Zohra Sehgal, the film star Guru Dutt came here and became earnest lovers of the town. During the British rule, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru served a term of imprisonment in the jail at Almora.
The Chittai temple or the 'temple of a million bells', is just 6kms from Almora. With its large number of brass bells hanging within the premises, the temple which is dedicated to Golu Devta (Lord Shiva) sees thousands of devotees thronging to seek blessings daily. Devotees write their requests on a stamp paper to seek desired judgment in litigations. Once their wishes are fulfilled, they hang a bell or sacrifice a goat to show their gratitude to the deity. It is considered one of the most sacred temples to the people of Almora.
This temple is believed to be a thousand years old. It boasts of magnificent stone carvings. Nanda Devi was the patron goddess of the Chandravanshi kings. It comes alive during the Nanda Devi dance festival in September every year.
Just 2 kms from Almora is a calm and peaceful place from where you can get a view of the beautiful sunrise and sunset over the snow clad mountains. It is a vantage point which will tempt you with awe inspiring views of the horizon. A government circuit house is close to this spot and is a must visit for its sheer location and the view it provides. A centre for meditation known as Shri Ramakrishna Kutir Ashram has been set up near Bright End Corner. Tourists from all around the world come here seeking tranquillity. For book lovers, there is the Vivekananda Library.
At an elevation of 1,870 mts above sea level and about 37 kms from Almora is this temple of Lord Shiva. Believed to be the home of one among the twelve Jyothirlings (a shrine where Lord Shiva, an aspect of God in Hinduism is worshipped in the form of a Jyotirlingam or "Lingam (pillar) of light.") it is surrounded by dense deodar forests. Around it are as many as 124 small and large stone temples. The oldest temple being Mrityunjaya, and Dindeshwara. Dotted with statues reflecting the craftsmanship of the period, there is a strong a Buddhist influence in the architecture here.
Just about 50 kms from Almora is a fascinating and beautiful hill station, offering a magnificent view of the Himalayas. Ranikhet meaning "queen's fields" is situated at 6000 feet above sea level and is an all-weather tourist destination.
6. Kausani -
Once called the "Switzerland of India" by Mahatma Gandhi, this hill station is about 52 kms away from Almora. It is a place for honeymooners and a great weekend getaway. Pinnath (10KMs), Bura Pinnath (5KMs) and Bhakot are the highest points near Kausani. Nanda Devi, Trishul, and Panchachuli peaks are visible from Kausani.
Nestled amongst thick forests of oak trees lies the small hill town of Binsar about 30 kms from Almora. Perched at an elevation of 2412 meters above sea level on top of the Jhandi Dhar hills, Binsar offers a grand view of the Kumaon Himalayas. It was once the summer capital of the Chand rulers. The entire area is now a wildlife sanctuary and is rich in flora and fauna. Binsar is the perfect place to take long peaceful nature walks.
The closest airport is Pantnagar, 127 kilometres from Almora. Flights are available during summers.
he closest railhead is Kathgodam (90 kms) which is well connected by trains to Delhi, Lucknow, Dehradun, Agra, Bareilly and Kolkatta.
There are daily route to Delhi to Almora bus service (380 kms.), Lucknow (466 kms.), Dehradun (415 kms).
April to June, September to November
Where to shop -
Lala Bazaar and Chowk Bazaar
Woollen garments, brass decoratives, Kumaoni-style Jewels
Kalmatia Sangam, WelcomHeritage Khazanchand Mansion and The Den Resort.