Shakti Ladakh – Image courtesy of shaktihimalaya.com
Must-see attractions in North and East India
Discover a choice of must-see attractions in north Inda, including the following. . .
(Jammu and Kashmir)
Hike ancient trails past remote monasteries and Buddhist villages in this high-altitude plateau that nestles between the world’s two highest mountain ranges – the Karakoram and the Great Himalayas. Trek for days or weeks through a road-less region of high-altitude grassland, isolated valleys and snow-covered passes.
Choose from several trails that wind throughout the stunning Markha Valley and across the Ladakh ranges, including Padum to Lamayuru, Lamayuru to Alchi and Stok to Kangri. Climb the slopes of 4848m-high Stok La or the 6120m-high Stok Kangr. Ponies and guides are available for long distance treks from Leh from June to September – the best time to hike this scenic region.
From Leh (3505m), take a jeep to the photogenic Tibetan Buddhist Thikse gompa (fortified monastery), where you can admire a huge 14m-high, seated gold Buddha, examine colourful murals and enjoy extraordinary panoramas from the temple’s rooftop terrace.
Or head by jeep to Tso-Moriri Lake, famous for its large herds of kiang (wild ass), which graze on the lake’s shores and on the nearby peaks of Lungser Kangri (6666m) and Chansmer Kangri (6622m). Take a three-day hike around the lake for the chance to meet local nomadic herders, see grazing pashmina goats and the high-flying bar-headed geese, which can reach heights of 10,175m.
(Jammu and Kashmir)
White-water raft the famed Zanskar River through the narrow 600m-high cliffs of the Zanskar Gorge. Or hike across 4000m-high alpine meadows carpeted with edelweiss and past exquisitely carved Mani walls (stone tablets) to the foothills of the Gumbok Rangan precipice (5486m).
Spot marmot, bear, wolf, snow leopard, yak and alpine Ibex as bearded vultures soar the thermals overhead. Meet local Zanskari tribespeople on the popular Darcha-Padum Trek route, along the way passing rows of stupas (dome-shaped monuments) and prayer flags snapping in the breeze above Tanze gompa (monastery) in the Kurgiakh Valley.
From Dharamsala, a choice of several hiking trails range over the Dhauladhar Range through forests of pine, oak and rhododendron, across mountain streams, past waterfalls and along vertiginous cliff faces to the Chamba Valley.
Allow five days for most routes, including those through the 4350m-high Indrahar Pass and the 4575m-high Toral Pass, with breathtaking views across the alpine meadows, valleys and peaks of the Greater Himalayas.
The best season to trek here is from September to November. Shimla is also a good base for treks into the beautiful Kullu Valley.
Himachal Pradesh is also noted for challenging white-water rafting on the Indus, Zanskar, Stod and Tsarap rivers, which can last up to 12 days for the truly committed adventurer. Expect class IV and V rapids in desolate, scenic gorges.
Popular routes include Spitok to Alchi via Nimmi, and the more challenging route between Alchi and Khalsi through a kilometre-long series of rapids at Nurla. The best time to raft is between the end of June and late August when water levels are high.
The trekking centre of Leh can be reached on a two-day 485km-long jeep adventure from Manali, in Uttar Pradesh, along the famous Manali-Leh highway, where you will travel via countless switchbacks and over the 5327m-high Taglang Pass and the 5359m-high Khardung La Pass – the world’s highest drivable road. You can also traverse the highway by motorcycle or mountain bike.
Manali is also a good take-off point to hike the 3657m-high Chandrakhani Pass, with stunning vistas to the Deo Tibba (6004m) mountain peak, as well as the remote Malana Valley in Himachal Pradesh.
Corbett Tiger Reserve
Explore one of India's finest wildlife sanctuaries from atop an elephant as you sway gracefully through sal forest and bamboo groves and from hilly ridges to rolling grasslands in the scenic Himalayan foothills.
While you’re searching for tigers, also keep an eye out for deer, elephants, the Himalayan black bear (seen at higher elevations), the sloth bear, a variety of jungle cats and more than 400 species of birds.
Along Ramganga River, see long-snouted fish-eating gharial crocodiles, and in the jungle spot langur and rhesus monkeys – you’ll probably hear their warning screeches when they see either a tiger or leopard from their tree-top perches. The best time to visit is from November to June when daytime temperatures average 23˚C. Read more about Corbett Tiger Reserve . . .
Valley of the Flowers National Park
From the village of Gobindghat, a 17km-hike through forests of birch and rhododendron brings you to the picturesque alpine meadows of the Bhyundar Valley, carpeted with daisies, anemones, orchids and poppies in spring through summer.
From around 3500m, the valley climbs to a height of 6719m at Gauri Parabat and is surrounded by the rugged mountain wilderness of Nanda Devi National Park, which in turn rings the peak of the 7817m-high Nanda Devi.
Together these parks form a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boast a wide range of easy and challenging hiking trails from local villages to several mountain passes from where you can assault peaks in the Lesser and Greater Himalayas, including the hike from Kuari Pass to the 5183m-high summit of Pangerchuli. Or hike to the snow-melt lake of Hemkund from the village of Ghangaria.
Look out for wildlife such as tahr (wild goat), snow leopard, musk deer, red fox, common grey langur, Himalayan black and brown bear as well as pheasant, Himalayan golden eagles, Griffon vultures, snow partridges and the Himalayan snow cock.
Valley of Flowers National Park requires a trek of about 17 km. The nearest major town is Joshimath in Garhwal, which has road connections from Haridwar, about 270km from Joshimath.
Elsewhere in Uttarakhand, get wet on a thrilling white-water adventure down the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers in the Himalayan foothills. Raft class V rapids past forests, beaches and the occasional village in this less-travelled region.
At dawn, watch devout Hindus wash away their sins in the holy Ganges River as you drift quietly in a small boat opposite Varanasi's riverside bathing ghats (steps).
At Dashashvamedh Gnat, against a backdrop of temples and palaces, see devotees perform ritual ablutions, wrestle each other, pump iron, perform yoga contortions and sit cross-legged in prayer or meditation – an unforgettable and surreal sight.
The best time to visit Varanasi is between September and November when the monsoon rains cleanse the river.
Betla National Park
From atop a watchtower or swaying elephant or jeep, spot numerous wildlife in this 25,000ha reserve of sal and bamboo forest. Some of the species you may encounter include tiger, chital, chinkara, langur, dhole (wild dogs), elephants, gaur, nilgai, monkey, mouse deer, pangolin, ambar, wolves and, if you’re really lucky, leopard, panther and sloth bear.
Bandhavgarh National Park
Once the personal hunting grounds of local maharajas, Bandhavgarh is now a protected wildlife sanctuary and one of the best places in India to watch tigers in their natural habitat.
More than 70 tigers roam the 43,700ha park and are best observed from atop a swaying elephant or from an open jeep. Look out also for spotted deer, sambar, nilgai (large antelope), barking deer, chinkara (Indian gazelle) and wild boar.
If you’re really lucky, you may catch sight of an elusive leopard or sloth bear. Overhead, exotic birds such as woodpeckers, long-billed vultures, brown fish owls and Malabar pied hornbills fly between the forest and grassland that blanket the hilly terrain.
The park is also home to the 14th century Bandhavgarh Fort and caves featuring inscriptions that date from the 2nd century BC.
The best time to spot wildlife is during March and June when the summer heat forces tigers out of the jungle and down to the park’s numerous waterholes and streams.
Explore on foot or by bike the atmospheric ruins of Mandu. Once known as Shadiabad or ‘City of Joy’, the medieval fortress-town sits on a rocky plateau of the Vindhya hills, about 100km from Indore.
Within the 37km-long city walls, discover onion-domed mausoleums, elegant Islamic palaces and mosques that showcase a stunning range of Mughul architecture. Don’t miss the Royal Enclave, which is dominated by the splendid Jahaz Mahal.