Uttarakhand is littered with little towns, hamlets and villages of phenomenal natural beauty. But the horse-shoe shaped Almora, with her breath-taking views of the snow-capped Himalayas, forests with minimal human interference and a plethora of tourist attractions, takes one of the top tourist spots in the state.
Almora especially appeals to adventure lovers and people who love extreme treks and hikes. Then there is also the additional appeal of prehistoric caves, ancient temples and sunset hikes through the forests!
Here are 7 compelling reasons why you must visit Almora or better still, make it your next adventure holiday destination in India.
One of the top things to do in Almora is taking a trek up to Zero Point. If you start at the entrance of Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, the trek is an uphill climb of about 1.5 to 2 km to an amazing viewpoint that gives you fantastic views of the Himalayan ranges. On a clear day, from this altitude of 2400 mts above sea level, you can see Nandadevi, Kedarnath peak and even Shivling and Trishul.
February through to April and October through to November are the best times to make the trek. You need to shell out a fee of Rs 150 per person and Rs 250 per car to enter Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. These tickets are valid for 3 days so be sure to save them if you wish to return. You can park your car at the TRH car park about 9kms in from the entrance gate. Thereafter, since Zero Point is not accessible by road, trekking up the gradient of this easy-to-intermediate level trek through the wilderness is the only way to get there.
Binsar Zero Point is almost exactly at the centre of Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary and that's why you can get a 360-degree view of the thick forests below. The trek can be done in about an hour, longer if you prefer it to be more leisurely. There is even a gorgeous watch-tower at the top of the hill from where you can take unhindered photos of the snow-laden mountains or enjoy a stunning sunset or two.
Stay alert to wildlife in this dense forest. The sanctuary is home to langurs, leopards, barking deer and jungle cats.
Tip: Carry your own food and water. There is no café or restaurant along this forest walk, nor is there one at Zero Point.
If you are more of a serious trekker and camper, the outdoor experience of a 2-to-3-day Binsar trek should be the highlight of your stay in Almora. The easy-gradient-easy-paced trek starts at Binsar Sanctuary and walks through Kumaon's thick deodar, pine and oak forests to Jageshwar temple. This multi-day trek involves overnight stays either in nearby lodges and hotels or in camp setups.
There is a lot to see along the way, as you trek up the mountain. You can enjoy the breath-taking beauty of the valley of flowers if you go during the flowering season, or you can enjoy trudging through fresh snow, an unreal experience! The trek, that takes you up to an altitude of 3030 mts and higher if you choose to go further, lets you experience the complete, untouched wilderness. You can take short detours to see other attractions along the way as well, such as Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali's samadhi. If you go all the way to Jageshwar temple, you will have also visited one of the 12 holy Jyotirlingas on the planet!
The Binsar trek is not a monotonous one-way climb. With intermittent ascents and descents, occasional fresh-water streams and rivulets and an almost magical forest landscape, it is an exciting adventure experience for nature lovers. Take this trek anytime between mid-September to early July.
Tip: Be prepared for the weather, especially if you have a low tolerance for cold weather and cold winds.
India Hikes offers a 6-day Kuari Pass trek that's suitable for beginners and a Kuari Pass Trek comes highly recommended for beginners who would like to take a Himalayan Trek but aren't yet fit for the more difficult ones. This trek takes you up to an altitude of 3815 meters, approximately about 22kms, and also involves hiking up in the snow. This trek is most fun when taken between March and May or between September and December.
The Kuari Pass Trek takes you through beautiful forests that are dense one minute and open up the rolling meadows next. The wilderness that looks charming in green, is just as charming when it wears the snow cover of white. Then, as you stop for the day, you enjoy the magic of spectacular campsites, such as the Chitrakantha campsite in the forest and the Khullara campsite with stunning visuals of the majestic Dronagiri mountains.
The trek starts at Dhak and involves the average activity of 4 to 5 hours daily. Crossing the actual Kuari Pass requires about 8 hours, weather permitting. So though the trek is categorized as easy based on the climbing gradient, trekkers do need to be physically and mentally fit for it due to difficulties caused by the high altitude. Since temperatures here are often sub-zero, especially during the night, preparing proper clothes and gear is also necessary.
Tip: If you are seeking the thrill of conquering a summit, the Kuari Pass trek is not the ideal trek for you. Choose an alternate beginner Himalayan trek such as the Kedarkantha trek instead.
Approximately 2 hours away from Almora's town centre is Bright End Corner. Just as most hill-stations have their own favourite spots for catching beautiful sunsets and sunrises, Bright End Corner is the local paradise spot for the same. As it is surrounded by hills and mountains, the visuals of the sun peeking out to say hello in the morning or bidding farewell at dusk are stunning enough for your travel Instagram accounts.
If you go a little early in the afternoon, you can explore around and check out Vivekananda Library, Vivekananda memorial and Shri Ramkrsihma Kutir Ashram.
Lakhudiyar Cave in Barechhina Village is a prehistoric cave that offers testimony to the human civilization here from the stone age era. If you are historically or archaeologically inclined, exploring the cave and its vicinity makes for an interesting activity in Almora. There are no entrance fees here but the entry timings are between 8AM and 5PM. You can find and decipher several cavemen paintings on the walls of the cave.
The cave is located just under 20kms from Almora and requires a few minutes of climbing on foot along a path, once you leave the main road. The red and white paintings themselves though are easily visible from the road.
Jageshwar Temple, Katarmal Sun Temple, Kasar Devi Temple, Chitai Temple and Kalimath are just some of the beautiful temples in and around Almora. From the rest, if you must choose just two to visit as you are pressed for time, we recommend Jageshwar temple and Katarmal temple for sure.
The 7th-century temple of Jageshwar is about 30kms from Almora. It has free entry and is open to the public between 6Am and 9PM. This Shiva temple holds prominence in Hinduism as it is one of the 12 famed jyotirlingas in the region. It is also one of the 200 ancient temples hidden in Almora. The temple is surrounded by thick forests and the hike to get there is an incredible one.
About 7kms away from Almora is the Katarmal Sun temple, a temple that is said to date back over 800 years! This temple is part of a temple complex that had 44 shrines dedicated to the main deity, the sun god. This is one of the most famous attractions in Almora and no trip here is complete without a visit to it.
If you are a history buff, you must make a trip to Gobind Vallabh Pant Museum, which offers a sterling tribute to one of India's freedom fighters Gobind Pant. The Kumaon Regimental Centre Museum is another comprehensive museum that offers insight into the history of the region's most decorated infantry. Both the museums have an entrance fee.
If you like to hike, amble along making your own paths, head off to Martola. At 520 metres, this picturesque hilltop offers great views of Almora town, making it a great family picnic spot.
And if shopping is your preferred mode of entertainment, there is always Thana Bazar (also known as Almora Bazar). This heart-of-the-city market is a 1.5km stretch of roadside shops. You can visit the Bazar anytime between 10Am and 6AM. The Bazar is a treasure of local handicrafts, jewellery, Angora and Pashmina shawls, and brass works such as bells.