The Shaivite temples of Kumaon do not attract the same fervour as their equivalents in Garhwal, so there is far less tourist traffic, villages are largely unspoilt and trekking routes unlittered. To the east, Kumaon’s border with Nepal follows the Kali valley to its watershed with Tibet; threading through it is the holy trail (closed to foreigners) to the ultimate pilgrimage site, Mount Kailash in Tibet, the abode of Shiva and his consort Parvati. Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, or KMVN (w www.kmvn.gov.in), are in charge of tourism in Kumaon, providing a similarly patchy range of services to GMVN in Garhwal. Note too that Kumaon’s electricity supply can be capricious, with frequent power cuts, and that, ATMs apart, the only banks that change cash are in Nainital, though you can change travellers’ cheques in Ranikhet and Almora.Read More
- Corbett Tiger Reserve
The small and deliberately undeveloped hill station of RANIKHET, 50km west of Almora, is essentially an army cantonment, the home of the Kumaon Rifles. New construction is confined to the Sadar Bazaar area, while the rest of the town above it, climbing up towards the crest of the hill, retains atmospheric leafy pine woods. Beautiful forest trails abound, including short cuts from the bazaar to the Mall; leopards still roam some of the more remote areas within the town boundaries, despite efforts by army officers to prove their hunting skills.
Ranikhet’s Mall – something of a misnomer, as it’s a quiet road with few buildings apart from officers’ messes – starts just above the town and continues for 3km along the wooded crest of the ridge. Above the Narsingh Stadium Parade Ground, at the very start of the Mall, the KRC Shawl and Tweed Factory, in an old church equipped with looms and wheels, offers the opportunity to watch the weavers in action, a fascinating display of concentration, dexterity and counting. The herringbone and houndstooth tweeds are sold in the shop next door. For a taste of Indian military life, men and women can join the Ranikhet Club, 1km up the Mall, which has a rather fine bar, restaurant and billiards room, and features men with grand moustaches calling each other chaps.
Spreading from 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 worth staying overnight. 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. There 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 valleys around Kausani, as well as longer excursions to the important pilgrimage sites of Baijnath and Bageshwar. Kausani is connected by bus and shared jeep to Almora.
Kuari Pass and the Curzon Trail
Kuari Pass and the Curzon Trail
The long route over KUARI PASS (4268m) in northeastern Garhwal provides some stunning mountain views. It is known as the Curzon Trail after a British Viceroy who trekked along parts of it, though officially it was renamed the Nehru Trail after Independence. Traversing the high ranges without entering the permanent snowline, the ten-day trail starts on the border with Kumaon at Gwaldam above the River Pindar and ends around 150km north, at the hot springs of Tapovan in the Dhauli Ganga Valley near Joshimath. There are numerous alternative paths and shorter trails to approach the pass, including one of around 24km from Auli. The whole route, and connected hikes, is mapped out on the Leomann map of Kumaon–Garhwal (sheet 8 in the India Series). The best time to go is from May to June and mid-September to November.
An ideal expedition for those not equipped to tackle glacial terrain, the trail over Kuari Pass follows alpine meadows and crosses several major streams, skirting the outer western edge of the Nanda Devi National Park. Along the way you’ll get excellent views of Trisul (7120m), the trident, Nanda Ghunti (6309m), and the elusive tooth-like Changabang (6864m), while to the far north on the border with Tibet rises the unmistakable pyramid of Kamet (7756m).
Camping equipment is needed, especially on the pass. Guides can be negotiated in Gwaldam, on the main road between Karnaprayag and Almora, or at several points along the route. You can either take local transport from Gwaldam, which has a range of accommodation, or trek down through beautiful pine forests and cross the River Pindar to Debal 8km away, where there is a forest resthouse and a tourist lodge. Motorized transport is available from Debal to Bagrigadh, just below the beautiful hamlet of Lohajung, which has a pleasant tourist lodge. Also here is the shrine of lohajung – a rusted iron bell suspended from a cypress tree and rung to announce your arrival to the devta or local spirit.
Following the River Wan for 10km from Debal, the trail arrives at the large village of Wan, where there’s a choice of accommodation, including a GMVN Tourist Bungalow and a forest resthouse. The small village of Sutol is 14km from Wan, along a trail following pleasant cypress and deodar forests. From Sutol to Ramani, a gentle 10km trail passes through several villages. A steep trail rises for 4km through dense forest from Ramni to the pass of Sem Kharak before descending for a further 9km to the small village of Jhenjhenipati, from where a rough track continues to the village of Panna 12km away, passing the beautiful Gauna Lake. From Panna a relentlessly steep trail rises for 12km to Kuari Pass (4298m) on the high divide between the lesser and the greater Himalayas, with rewarding views of Nanda Devi and Trisul.
Using Kuari Pass as a base, a climb to the peak of Pangerchuli (5183m), 12km up and down, is thoroughly recommended – the views from the summit reveal almost the entire route, including breathtaking mountain vistas. Although snow may be encountered on the climb, it is not a technical peak and no special equipment is necessary, save a good stick. From Kuari, a gruelling, knee-grinding 22-kilometre descent brings you straight down to the small village of Tapovan, overlooking the Dhauli Ganga, which has a hot-spring-fed tank. From here, local buses run 11km to Joshimath. An alternative descent from Kuari Pass is the picturesque and less abrupt 24km route through forest to the ski centre of Auli via Chitrakantha.