Himalayas cover northern border of India and are a major attraction for travellers. There are many reasons for different profiles of travellers to arrive here. Let me put down ways to explore and experience Himalayas.
A combination of Himalayan Hill stations and Hillside / Riverside hamlets have been traditionally combined into popular tourist circuits. Every Himalayan State (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Kashmir) have such circuits (Typically 7-10 nights long) that are popular with family holiday travellers.
Some of the popular destinations are
Uttarakhand – Hill Stations (Nainital, Mussoorie – both 6000+ ft asl), Himalayan hamlet (Almora, Kausani, Ranikhet – All 6000+ ft asl) Riverside (Rishikesh), Wildlife (Corbett), Pilgrimage (Haridwar),
Himachal Pradesh and Punjab – Hill Stations (Shimla and around, Dharamsala, Dalhousie – All 6000+ ft asl), Riverside (Manali – 7000 ft asl), Tea Plantations (Palampur – 3500 ft asl), Pilgrimage (Amritsar)
Kashmir – Hill Station (Gulmarg – 9000 ft asl), Lakeside (Srinagar – 5000 ft asl), Riverside (Pahalgam (7200 ft asl), Sonamarg(8500 ft asl))
Darjeeling – Sikkim – Hill Stations (Darjeeling – 7000 ft asl, Gangtok – 5000 ft asl), Hamlets (Peling – 6000+ ft asl), Remote Himalayas (North Sikkim – 8000+ ft asl)
Wildlife Bird Watching
Himalayan foothill areas, Gangetic plains, lakeside and higher Himalayan areas are all renowned for its exotic birds. Uttarakhand is most renowned birding destination in India with 600+ bird species. Pangot, Sattal and Chopta are offbeat hamlets and have now evolved into birding destinations.
Corbett National Park is a prime Wildlife experience in India where travellers arrive for sighting the prized Royal Bengal Tiger alongwith wide ranging birds and other wildlife species.
Dudhwa, Kishanpur, Katarniaghat and Pilibhit around Gangetic Plains are upcoming wildlife and bird watching areas for experienced bird watchers and wildlife travellers.
Hemis and Kibber are renowned for Snow Leopards and visited during peak winter in extremely low temperature climate (minus 20) by International Photographers looking to photograph the elusive Snow Leopard.
Rishikesh is the home of Yoga and renowned for being the wellness capital of India. There are number of Ashrams and Yoga institutes where guests from all over the world arrive to learn Yoga.
For high end Wellness traveller Rishikesh is home to “Ananda in the Himalayas“, renowned as one of the best wellness retreats in the world.
In and around Rishikesh there are number of Ayurveda, Yoga and holistic healing that offer guests the “mind body and soul” experience around holy river Ganga.
Almora in Kumaon region has “Ayurved Kalmatia“, where you are treated with stunning Himalayan views (Oct – March) alongwith wide ranging wellness options.
Additionally, around Chandigarh there are a number of Destination Spa retreats that are recommended for spa holidays.
Active Holidays are holidays set around offbeat stays and nature centric activities such as Nature walk, hiking, Soft trekking, bird watching etc.
Himachal Pradesh (Sangla, Thanedar, Shoja, Tirthan Valley, Kasol, Raison) and Uttarakhand (Chakrata, New Tehri, Kund, Chopta) have the most renowned active holiday destinations and circuits that are popular with family travellers with grown up kids (especially during Summer holidays).
Auli (Uttarakhand), Manali (Himachal Pradesh) and Gulmarg (Kashmir) are popular three ski resorts in India. Jan – March is season for skiing where guests arrive for few days of fun skiing OR 1-2 weeks of Ski vacation.
Gulmarg is most accessible (50 kms from Srinagar Airport) of the three. Auli is best combined with Rafting in Ganga (around Rishikesh) for an adventure Holiday.
Rishikesh is rafting capital of India. Grade II, II and IV Rafting is conducted around Rishikesh and further ahead in tributaries of Ganga (e.g. Alaknanda) and is a very popular activity for all travellers.
Rafting is also conducted in Mori (near Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand), Zanskar (Ladakh) and Pahalgam (Kashmir).
Uttarakhand is a renowned trekking destination and there are number of well known trekking routes in the area such as Valley of Flowers, Har Ki Dun, Rupin Pass etc.
Himachal Pradesh (Manali, Sangla, Shoja), Kashmir (Pahalgam, Sonamarg), Ladakh have several trekking routes that are popular with entry level and experienced trekkers e.g. Great Lakes of Kashmir Trek.
Solang Valley near Manali (12 kms) has emerged as an integrated adventure hub where wide ranging adventure activities are conducted during Winter and Summer.
Offbeat / Experiential Himalayas
Lakeside, Riverside and Hillside hamlets in Kumaon region around Nainital are renowned for their experiential stays, villas and heritage style small retreats where travellers arrive to experience Himalayas. Retreats such as Soulitude, Te Aroha have become celebrated retreats for travellers to arrive to experience a unique mix of luxury, character and experience.
Binsar (8000+ ft asl) has emerged as a hub for experiential stays where travellers arrive to stay inside the reserve forest areas for a bit of walking, trekking, bird watching and offcourse outstanding Himalayan Views.
Naggar area near Manali is also emerging as a destination for offbeat / do nothing travellers. Kasol, Tosh and Parvati Valley are ones renowned for their stunning riverside / Himalayan character and where travellers arrive for soft trekking / walking.
Tirthan Valley at the entrance of Great Himalayan National Park is one to arrive for walking, fishing, riverside activities and bird watching. It is a perfect place to arrive for one that is looking to stay away from tourists enjoying offbeat character of the area.
Upper Kinnaur (Nako), Spiti Valley (Nako, Kaza), Lahaul Valley (Keylong, Jispa, Sarchu), Ladakh (Pangong Lake, Tso Moriri Lake, Zanzkar Valley), Upper Kumaon (Patal Bhubaneshwar, Munsiyari), Arunachal Pradesh (Tawang), Sikkim (Lachung, Lachen) are some of the remotest corners of India offering stunning Himalayan views and one to arrive for an ultimate Himalayan experience.
Some of these areas have a Buddhist majority with very ancient monasteries (Tabo, Kyi, Shey, Thiksey etc.) that add another dimension to the experience.
The entire perception of Himalayas and India as we think we know changes after a trip to remote Himalayas, such is the profoundness of the experience. Overland trips to these remote areas remain one of the most sought after for all experiential travellers.
Uttarakhand is considered “Dev Bhoomi” (meaning Land of the Gods) and is most visited for its Char Dham circuit (Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath, Kedarnath), the most visited pilgrim circuit in India.
There are number of significant regional pilgrimages in foothills of Himalayan ranges such as Kalkaji, Chamunda Devi, Vrajeshwari, Jwalamukhi, Chintpurni, Nainadevi, Shakumbhri Devi, Renukaji and Vaishnodevi that are popularly visited as part of the Nine Devi circuit.
Hemkund Sahib near Badrinath, Paonta Sahib (50 kms from Dehradun) and Manikaran Sahib (near Kullu) are some of the most revered and visited Sikh pilgrimages.
Dharamsala is home in exile of His holiness Dalai Lama and home to the renowned Tibetan Monastery. Ladakh, Spiti Valley, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are home to some of the most ancient Tibetan monasteries where monastic traditions and rituals are followed the same way as it was hundreds of years ago. These are visited as part of holiday itineraries or standalone circuits.
Himalayas and foothill areas are renowned for destination getaways where idea is to arrive and spend a few days around nature, luxury and experience.
Some of the most popular Himalayan getaways are:
- Oberoi Sukh Vilas (near Chandigarh) and Oberoi Wildflower Hall Mashobra is two most luxurious Himalayan getaways
- Taj has two new resorts near Shimla and Rishikesh that are becoming popular
- Rakkh and Lodge at Wah (both near Palampur) are two experiential retreats for travellers who would like a bit of experiential character in their stay
- Terraces Kanatal is perhaps the most popular premium family getaway offering superb views and wide ranging activities
- Himalayan Glamping Rereat would be the best remote area retreat alongwith Banjara Retreat at Sangla
- Binsar Forest Retreat is where you arrive to stay in heart of reserve forest overlooking stunning Himalayan views (Oct – March) where you enjoy walking around rich Flora-fauna of the region.
- Glenburn Tea Estate is the most experiential and sought after Tea Estate experience in India and therefore a sought after getaway for experiential travellers for their special occasions
International Holiday (Nepal or Bhutan)
Himalayas extend well beyond India into neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan.
Nepal offers a mix of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimages, Heritage areas (some of them are UNESCO world heritage sites), lakeside destinations and Wildlife. However Himalayas remain central theme of Nepal and most travellers arrive here for trekking be it Mount Everest base camp trekk or Annapurna base camp trek OR Kailash Mansarovar or just a short mountain flight from Kathmandu for a glimpse of the mightly Mount Everest.
Bhutan is where you go back in time. Its a world within a world. Civilisation here has remained away from ills of moden times and retained its authentic character, be it monasteries, be it festivals or be its core values. Riverside Paro, Scenic Punakha and Charming Thimphu offer a holiday unlike any other, one that is full of stunning views, mountain passes, charming monasteries and amazing hospitality.
Himalayas have been an inspiration for my starting a travel company and they continue to inspire me after 25 years. Do write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more ideas and recommendations. Me and my team would be delighted to help you plan an amazing himalayan getway / Holiday.