As any experienced mountaineer will tell you, the hills can never belong to you, you belong to them. No matter how rarely you visit the mountains, each visit will have a profound impact on your life. The atmosphere and life there function on a very different plane. If there ever was a place where the grass was genuinely greener and the sky so strikingly blue that it could blind you, it is in Uttarakhand. Shrouded in rolling mist and towering deodars, there are few mountain ranges in the world that can compete with the majesty and grandeur of the Himalayas. Whether it is an adventure you seek or a romantic getaway, this mountain range has it all and then some.
In the words of acclaimed author Ruskin Bond on the mountains, “It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.”
Some of the most gorgeous hill stations like Nainital and Mussoorie have become overly commercialised, and to a certain degree, that takes away from the charm of it. But the Uttarakhand government has put some guidelines in place in order to ensure that the pandemic does not become widespread in these areas.
All persons travelling into Uttarakhand will have to remain in institutional quarantine for 7 days at free facilities or at paid hotels that provide quarantine facilities. All travellers have been requested to register themselves on the Dehradun Smart City website and upload their contact information, place of stay and duration. This also includes medical documentation including any Covid-19 test results. Travellers also have to carry a hard copy of this document when they are arriving in the state. It is mandatory for all persons to have the Aarogya Setu app downloaded on their phones.
That being said, there is no better place to spend the quarantine in than the lower mountain ranges of the Himalayas. Here are our top picks for offbeat places in Uttarakhand that you can visit while still maintaining social distancing, thanks to the remoteness of these locations.
1. Pangot, Nainital
Located just 15 kilometres away from Nainital, Pangot offers some of the most picturesque landscapes, making it the perfect hub for campers and photographers. This quaint little village offers the solitude that is not available in the main city of Nainital. Located at the height of 6510 feet above sea level, the drive up to this village takes you through some of the lushest green mountain forests of Kilbury and Snow View. You might find the occasional café along the road, but for the most part, Pangot remains a hub of isolation. There are many camps available that travellers can choose from that also offer a variety of activities like rock climbing, paragliding and trekking.
2. Bhimtal, Nainital
Located in the foothills of the Nainital District, Bhimtal is only 4500 feet above sea level. It is about 22 kilometres from the main city of Nainital. It plays host to a beautiful lake with an island in the centre. Considering it is only a short drive away from Delhi, Bhimtal makes an ideal place for a weekend getaway. There are a few ancient temples that you can visit if so inclined. The 17th century Bhimeshwar Temple is one of them. The small town of Bhimtal has recently seen an influx of new resorts and hotels being built, drawing in more and more people to its quaint life and solitude.
3. Munsiyari, Pithoragarh
Munsiyari is often referred to as ‘Little Kashmir’ by those who have visited it. Located at the height of 7500 feet above sea level, Munsiyari is perched on the border of India, Tibet, and Nepal. It offers some of the most uninterrupted views of the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan range. Munsiyari is also referred to as the ‘Gateway to Johar Valley’ which was the ancient trade route between India and Tibet. This town also serves as the base for three glaciers – Namik, Milam and Ralam. If you are looking for some alone time to write and immerse yourself in the spirituality of the mountains, Munsiyari offers the perfect escape.
4. Binsar, Almora
Here is a place where you can go to forget about life for a while. There is practically nothing to do here besides taking in the scenery and relaxing. Located about 7000 feet above sea level and a 90-kilometre drive from Nainital, Binsar offers some of the most beautiful roads to travel by. From flowing rivers that accompany you on the road to paths surrounded only by deodars and silence, Binsar serves as a trekker’s paradise. Chances are that you might not come across a single soul for hours on end once you leave the main city of Almora and head up to Binsar. The Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is the main attraction of this quaint hill town, it hosts numerous rare Himalayan creatures and birds.
5. Mukteshwar, Nainital
Located about 7500 feet above sea level and a 51-kilometre drive from Nainital, it is famously known as the place where Jim Corbett first came to meet the Indian tigers and leopards, Mukteshwar gets its name from the 350-year-old Temple of Lord Shiva located at the highest point in town. Like most towns and villages in the Nainital District, Mukteshwar is a sleepy little town, shrouded in mist and rainfall for the majority of the year. The crisp mountain air makes it an ideal spot for trekking and camping. Chauli-ki-Jali is an overhanging cliff that is the highlight of this town. It is used for rock climbing and rappelling. The top of this cliff offers some of the best views of the valley below. The town is also home to a post office founded in 1905, which Jim Corbett mentions in his work.
We all need a break from our busy lives and realities for a while and what better place to forget about all our troubles than in the lap of the mountains. Even a short trip can enrich your mind and recharge your batteries to get back to the hustle.
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