Almora is one of the three hill districts of Kumaon. The other two being Nainital and Pithoragarh. It is the cultural capital of Kumaon. Almora is also referred to as the unspoilt child of nature. It is situated on a three-mile long horse saddle-shaped ridge and is surrounded by four hill ranges - Banari Devi, Kasar Devi, Shayahi Devi and Katarnal. The three peaks have temples of Goddesses while Katarnal has an ancient Sun temple worth visiting.
Almora stands at a height of 1,638 meters. It has a moderate and salubrious climate. The best season is April-June and September-November. For those interested in snow views the best time to visit is in early summer and autumn. The rainy season is also very pleasant here.
Almora was the capital of the Chand dynasty, which ruled Kumaon for more than one thousand years. One remarkable fact about Almora is that while almost all hill stations were discovered and developed by British, Raja Kalyan Chand founded Almora in the year 1568 when he transferred his capital from Champawat to Almora.
Legend has it that about 500 years ago Raja Kalyan Chand, then the ruler of Kumaon with its capital at Champawat, was riding hard in pursuit of prey on this horseshoe shaped spur. The hunted quarry saved itself by taking refuge in a thicket of Kilmora - a wild bush - and revealed to the royal hunter the site of his would-be capital. The origins of settlement in Almora may have been different but the story continues to hold sway in the minds of many of the locals. Bounded by the Kosi and Suyal rivers, the local of the new capital was well suited strategically. Till the Gurkha onslaught, in the last decade of the 19th century, Almora remained well protected naturally.
Places to see
Almora is situated in the midst of the Himalayas, the king of mountains and abode of the gods. From time immemorial people have visited this region for peace, solitude and liberation of the soul.
Almora is a good place to conveniently enjoy the spectacular snowscape of the central Himalayas. On a clear day - and most days in Almora are flawless - you can see forever and almost every peak. Almora allows you to enjoy the mighty Himalayas together with ridge after ridge of hills painted in different hues of blue and green. The terraced fields, the stone slatted barrack-like village houses have so far put up a valiant fight against the encroachments of urban expansion and destructive development.
Almora also has some beautiful health resorts. The chief among them is Ranikhet (1,829 meters). Ranikhet literally means queen's field. It is said that a Rani camped here once and gave this name to the city. During the days of the Raj, Ranikhet was a British cantonment.
There are a number of places of tourist interest around Ranikhet. Chaubatia is famous for its orchards; Tarikhet, eight kilometers away, was once the nerve center of the Freedom Movement. Mahatma Gandhi also lived here for a while; Majkhali presents a fascinating view of snowy peaks and Upat, about six kilometers from Ranikhet, has an exquisite golf course. Kausani, 32 miles from Almora, is situated at a height of 1,890 meters. An enterprising Englishman, Mr. Norman Troop, developed it as a tea garden. Binsar, about 32 kilometers from Almora is situated at height of 2,412 meters. The Chand Rajas used to camp here during summer. It offers a wonderful view of the Himalayas.
Bajinath situated on the banks of the Gomti (a local river) in Garur Valley, is an idyllic place. It is famous for its 13th century temples. Jageshwar has a group of Shiva temples and is on the Almora-Pithoragarh road and is situated in a densely wooded beautiful narrow valley. The temples were constructed in the 13th century. They are a marvel to see for their artistic beauty and craftsmanship. Jageshwar is among the 12-jyotir lingas in the country.
Bageshwar and Sitalakhet are other places of interest. Bageshwar is one of the main camping sites for the journey to Pindari Glacier, which is situated at a height of 3,820 meters. Kafni Glacier is also close by (3,860 meters) and Sitalakhet is the new tourist resort on the Syahi Devi hill.
Almora has a museum that is a storehouse of information about the cultural heritage of Kumaon. There is a deer park on the outskirts of the city. The Nanda Devi temple in the heart of the city is a must for visitors.
Almora: A Favourite Getaway
Though Almora was founded in 1568, much has changed since, but the attractions of Almora have not paled. Swami Vivekananda included it in his itinerary at the turn of this century. His famous lectures - From Almora To Colombo - record that he was stirred as much by the stark beauty of the mountains here as by the ocean at Kanyakumari. The headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, for long, were located at Mayawati Ashram - then in Almora. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore spent a summer to get over the personal grief after the loss of a beloved child and found the environs salubrious. A little later followed the great dancer - choreographer Udaya Shankar. He fell in love with the place and set up a cultural center here and, for a while, sleepy Almora hummed with creative energy. Ravi Shankar, Zohra Sehgal, Simki and the youngster Guru Dutt have all been here. Others have followed in their footsteps. Painters like Brewster, mystics like Lama Govinda and scientists like Boshi Sen. Pundit Nehru had served a term of imprisonment in the Jail at Almora and has left behind an evocative account of the pleasures of solitude and the changing moods of nature in his various letters written from this place.
One can visit the picturesque places around Almora, for sightseeing. Binsar, which has now been designated a sanctuary, is an hour's motor drive from Almora. Binsar hill, locally known as Jhandi Dhar, rises to a height of 2,412 meters and offers a panoramic view of Almora town, the Kumaon hills and the Greater Himalayas. The region around abounds in alpine flora, ferns, hanging moss and innumerable species of wild flowers. The brow is reached by an unpaved ridge lined by prosperous private estate. A walk through the woods comprising mostly oak and rhododendron forest, leads to a vantage point at the summit, which offers an uncluttered view of the Himalayan ranges and the surrounding valley. Binsar was the favorite summer resort of the eminent Hindi poet Ajneya.
Way back in 1929, Mahatma Gandhi spent three fruitful weeks at this charming spot called Kausani (51 kilometers from Almora) in the Kumaon hills and described it is India's Switzerland. Today, despite deforestation in the area, Kausani can still lay claim to the title bestowed on it. Quaint villages, orchards laden with fruit and hill slopes covered with pine trees escort one into Kausani. In the distance, snow mantled peaks glitter in the sun and the breeze carries with it much of the cool freshness of the snows.
All through the day the mountains around Kausani seem to change in shape and color. Each change provides an entrancing spectacle and induces a deeper communion with nature. The Anakshakti Ashram atop a hill where the Mahatma stayed commands one of the most magnificent views of the mountain ranges around Kausani. The vast sweep of the mountain view (simply called "The View" locally), which encompasses a remarkable 350 kilometers at Kausani, is the central point of attraction in this little hill station.
All round are gentle walks where a profusion of wild flowers keep one company. There are shady paths carpeted with pine needles and in the air is the wonderful, inimitable fragrance of pine. Terraced fields add a distinctive touch to the pastoral picture around.
By Air: The nearest airport is a Pant Nagar (Nainital). Regular flights operate during the summer.
By Rail: The nearest railhead for Almora is Kathgodam.
By Road: Almora is well connected with all-important cities by road.
Accommodation: There are hotels, Inspection Bungalows, private cottages available to suit all budgets.
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