Spread out over a hilltop overlooking terraced fields, 67km north of Nainital, ALMORA (1646m) is Kumaon’s official and cultural capital. Founded by the Chand dynasty in 1560, and occupied successively by the Gurkhas and the British, it remains a major market town, and has attracted an eclectic assortment of visitors over the years, including Swami Vivekananda, Timothy Leary and the Tibetologist author of The Way of the White Clouds, Lama Angarika Govinda. While many foreign visitors prefer the nearby traveller colony of Kasar Devi, around 8km north, Almora has a few of its own attractions and makes a practical base for regional excursions.
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Spread among the cedar and rhododendron forest below the unassuming hilltop temple of Kasar Devi (of Swami Vivekanda fame), 8km north of Almora, is the pleasant hamlet of KASAR DEVI. Nicknamed “hippieland” by some of the locals, it plays host to a thriving long-term travellers’ scene.
Spread out east to west along a narrow pine-covered ridge 52km northwest of Almora, the village of KAUSANI has become a popular resort thanks to its spectacular Himalayan panorama. It’s a simple day-trip from Almora, though as the peaks – Nanda Choti, Trisul, Nanda Devi and Panchol – are at their best at dawn and dusk, it’s well worth an overnight stay. The tourist scene is growing, and a number of new hotels and restaurants have sprung up in recent years to cater for the very seasonal demand. Up the hill from the town centre are several ashrams, including one that once housed Mahatma Gandhi, who walked here in 1929, thirty years before the road came through.
There are numerous possibilities for short day-hikes in the woods and terraced valleys around Kausani, among them the scenic hike to the Kausani Tea Estate (4km north), and the pleasant trail down the valley to the temples of Baijnath (10km). Further afield is the important pilgrimage site of Bageshwar and the trailhead for the Pindari Glacier, a few hours away in Song.
Pindari Glacier trek
Pindari Glacier trek
One of Uttarakhand’s lesser-traversed trails connects the most accessible glacier in the Kumaon region, the Pindari Glacier, which stretches more than 3km in length and almost 0.5km in width. Passing through pristine high mountain country and a host of tiny Himalayan villages, the trail follows the Pindar River to its source, offering views along the way of the region’s giants, among them Nanda Kot (6861m), Panwali Dwar (6663m) and Maiktoli (6m).
Beginning and ending in Song (1600m), the trail covers about 90km roundtrip and takes six days to complete, crossing over the Dhakuri Pass (2680m) and beyond the final settlement of Khati to reach Zero Point at the edge of the Pindari Glacier (3660m).
The whole trek can be done tea-house style, as basic government lodges dot the trail; near the glacier itself, you can opt to stay with a locally famous Sadhu who goes by the name Baba Ji. However, camping equipment and sleeping bags are highly recommended. Guides and porters are easily arranged in Song, connected to Bageshwar by jeeps (1hr 30min) and buses (2hr). The Pindari Glacier has also caught the attention of mountain bikers: two-wheel tours are run by Mike McLean (w mountainbikekerala.com) in April and October.