This Unexpected Destination In India Is A Heaven For Adventure-Loving Travelers

Tucked away in the northern part of India, Uttarakhand is a land that defies the typical expectations of travelers. Once visited by the Beatles in 1968 to study Transcendental Meditation, this state is a unique gem waiting to be discovered by those who yearn for an off-the-beaten-path trip. Also dubbed the "Land of the Gods," some of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage sites are located here. Uttarakhand boasts a highly varied and spectacular natural landscape that is literally heaven for adventure lovers.

Uttarakhand's diverse geography sets the stage for many outdoor activities. The large state is divided into two regions: Garhwal and Kumaon. Garhwal is located in the northwest, characterized by ubiquitous spirituality, proximity to the holy Ganga (Ganges) River, hiking, camping, and the exciting town of Rishikesh. Kumaon is to the southeast, notable for its wildlife, tourist-friendly towns, beautiful viewpoints, and hill stations. The majestic Himalayas serve as a backdrop for both, inviting trekkers, mountaineers, and nature enthusiasts to explore its untouched beauty.

Uttarakhand offers some of the best hiking trails in India, ranging from easy forest walks to challenging treks up mountain meadows. The Valley of Flowers Trek, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must-do, showcasing an endless variety of alpine flowers in bloom during the monsoon months, from July to September. For those seeking something a little more rigorous, do the trek to the source of the Ganges at Gaumukh and the high-altitude Roopkund Trek (from 8,000 to 16,000 feet), with its mysterious skeletal lake and ancient oak forests.

Water, snow, air, and earth adventures

If you're looking for thrilling river-rafting adventures, the gushing rivers of Uttarakhand, particularly the Ganges, are perfect. Rishikesh, often referred to as the adventure capital of India (and also the yoga capital of the world), is the hub for water sports like kayaking and rafting. Thrill-seekers flock here to navigate the rapids, with grades varying from II to IV in stretches of 5 to 15 miles.

During winter, the tiny mountain town of Auli transforms into a paradise for skiers and snowboarders. With its well-maintained tracks, state-of-the-art facilities, and jaw-dropping views of Himalayan peaks like Nanda Devi, Auli remains low-key but still feels world-class. There are also many mountain lodges (The Royal Village) and ski resorts (Clifftop Club) available for your stay. 

Uttarakhand's clear skies and favorable winds make it ideal for daredevils wishing to paraglide thousands of feet in the air. Mukteshwar and Ranikhet in the Kumaon region offer flight packages and paragliding courses. Rishikesh also boasts one of the highest bungee jumps in India, providing yet another adrenaline-pumping experience. Jumpin Heights offers a 272-foot bungee jump for 3,700 INR ($45). 

For those who prefer something quieter and more nature-inclined, how about a bonfire under the night sky while camping in the meadows of Uttarakhand? Chopta, Bedni Bugyal, and Dayara Bugyal are sublime for camping. Uttarakhand also has several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, including the famous circa-1936 Jim Corbett National Park, where safaris provide an opportunity to spot tigers, elephants, and many other species in their natural habitat.

The spirit of Uttarakhand: Tips for your journey

Uttarakhand's adventure offerings are not just limited to physical activities. The state's spiritual heritage, with 166 Hindu temples and many yoga ashrams, provides an authentic and rigorous opportunity to explore yoga and meditation in its actual birthplace, northern India. Moreover, the Char Dham Yatra, an arduous pilgrimage to four sacred shrines (Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath), is considered the ultimate spiritual journey, attracting devotees and adventurers alike.

The best time to visit Uttarakhand depends on the activities you plan to undertake. For rafting, wildlife spotting, and skiing, it's ideal to visit in the winter from October to February. For any other outdoor adventure, from hiking to paragliding, the peak season of summertime, from March to June, is best. From July to September, Uttarakhand experiences the monsoon season — although this is a beautiful time to visit as everything turns green, the relentless rain can also dampen your travel plans. 

It's relatively easy to get to Uttarakhand, since it is well-connected by air, rail, and road to the rest of India. Fly into Jolly Grant Airport (DED) in Dehradun or Pantnagar Airport (PGH) near Nainital. A more affordable option is to take the train and stop at the railway station in the city of your choice. Around 1,000 buses by the Uttarakhand Transport Corporation service the state and are also available from nearby destinations like Delhi. Otherwise, rent a motorbike or car and enjoy the views of northern India.