The Swiss Alps or the Indian Himalayas?? Both breathtakingly beautiful and picturesque it’s a tough choice for any mountain lover. These magnificent mountain ranges are home to some of the most sought after mountain destinations in the world. The Swiss Alps are infamous for it’s green mountains with snow capped peaks and beautiful lakes…and The Himalayas are just as stunning!
The Himalayan mountain range, which includes outlying subranges, stretches across five countries: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Together, the Himalayan mountain system is the planet’s highest and home to the world’s highest peaks: the Eight-thousanders, including Mount Everest and K2. To comprehend the enormous scale of this mountain range consider that Aconcagua, in the Andes, at 6,962 m, is the highest peak outside Asia, while the Himalayan system includes over 100 mountains exceeding 7,200 meters.
The Himalayan range encompasses about 15,000 glaciers, which store about 12,000 km of freshwater. The 70 km long Siachen Glacier at the India-Pakistan border is the second longest glacier in the world outside the polar region.
The Himalaya region is dotted with hundreds of lakes. Most lakes are found at altitudes of less than 5,000 m, with the size of the lakes diminishing with altitude. The largest lake is the Pangong Tso, which is spread across the border between India and Tibet. It is situated at an altitude of 4,600 m, and is 8 km wide and nearly 134 km long.
The arc-shaped Himalayas extend along the entire northern boundary of India and carve just as far across the Indian subcontinent as they do deeply into the life around them. The term “Himalaya” — a Sanskrit word meaning “the Abode of Snow” — was coined by the Indian pilgrims who traveled in these mountains in ancient times. For centuries, the inhabitants of India have been fascinated by this mountain chain. The feeling is a mixture of admiration, awe and fear; and for the Hindus of India, the Himalayas are also “the Abode of God”. There are numerous pilgrim routes that have brought the Hindu pilgrims to these mountains since time immemorial.
The Indian Himalayas run mostly through the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttranchal , Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.
They can be divided into four zones running parallel to each other. These zones are determined by elevation and geological age.
1. The Sub Himalayan (Outer) Zone, the Siwalik foothills – 5 to 50 km wide, their altitude rarely exceeds 1500 meters above sea level. This region is generally covered with damp forest.
2. The Lesser Himalayan (Central) Zone – 40 to 80 km wide, their altitude averages about 3050 meters above sea level. A number of Hill resorts are located in this region. The lower slopes have magnificent forests of chir, deodar, blue pine, oak and magnolias. Above 2450 meters there are woods filled with birch, spruce and silver fir.
3. The Great Himalayan Zone – the oldest of the zones, this about 160 km from the edge of the plains. It consists of a lower alpine zone up to 4875 meters above sea level and an upper snow-bound zone over 4575 to 5100 meters above sea level. The latter has a large number of the world’s highest peaks including the three highest ( Mount Everest , K2 and Kanchendzonga). The alpine zone has rhododendrons and thick shrubs with variety of beautiful flowers and grass. The upper snow-bound zone has rare medicinal herbs.
4. The Trans Himalayan Zone – About 40 km in width, this encompasses the valleys of the rivers rising behind The Great Himalayan Zone, at an altitude of 3600 to 4250 meters above sea level.
The Kashmir valley is perhaps the single most famous part of the Indian Himalayas. Kashmir is a seemingly impossible tourist cliche. Scores of books, pamphlets, and brochures have been written about the region, and movies and documentaries made, but the reality far exceeds the expectations and nothing that has been said about it quite prepares one for the enchantment of the place. Often called “The Paradise on Earth”, Kashmir is, or rather was, a real Shangri-La.
The exquisitely beautiful summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir , is famous for its lakes (Dal, Nagin and Wular) and the charming houseboats ( shikaras ) floating on them. Srinagar used to be India ‘s most popular hill resort, and its Mughal Gardens (Chashme Shahi – Royal Spring, Nishat Bagh – Pleasure Garden , Shalimar Bagh – The Abode of Love) were a favourite locale for shooting Hindi films.
Srinagar is famous for its canals, houseboats and Mughal gardens. The city itself is quite unlike most other large Indian cities, for here you are much more in Central Asia than on the sub continent. It’s a city full of intriguing alleyways and curious buildings. A place where it’s very easy to spend a few hours simply wandering – particularly along the old city streets near the Jhelum river.
Gulmarg translates as ‘Meadow Of Flowers’. The grand vistas of Gulmarg are covered with wide spanning meadows dotted with countless colourful Bluebells, Daisies, Forget Me Nots and Buttercups. The valley itself is about 3-km long and up to a km wide. Many people take a road trip from Srinagar to the lower slopes of the Gulmarg range, passing through rice and maize fields. Its proximity to Srinagar makes it a favourite tourist haunt.
The snow-clad slopes of Gulmarg, backdrop for many a movie, offer Asia ‘s best skiing and heli-skiing. Gulmarg also has an 18 hole golf course (the highest green golf course in the world) and spectacular views of the towering mountains including Nanga Parbat (26624 ft.).
Across the Kashmir Valley and over the famous Zoji La pass(Zozi La pass) lies Ladakh — the Land of High Passes. It is a magical land, so completely different from the green landscape of some other parts of the Himalayas. It is nature at it’s extreme. A land of freezing winds and burning hot sunlight,Ladakh is a cold desert lying in the rain shadow of the Great Himalayas and other smaller ranges. Little rain and snow reaches this dry area, where the natural forces have created a fantastic landscape.
Ladakh has an average elevation of 2,700 m to 4,200 m..Parts of Ladakh are under the illegal occupation of Pakistan and China, respectively. The border of Ladakh touches those of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, the Kashmir Valley (India) and Himachal Pradesh (India).
Himachal is situated in the western Himalayas. Covering an area of 55,780 kilometres (34,660 mi), Himachal Pradesh is a mountainous state with elevation ranging from about 350 metres (1,148 ft) to 6,000 metres (19,685 ft) above the sea level.
Shimla has been blessed with all the natural bounties, one can think of. Dwelling on a panoramic location, the hilly town is surrounded by green pastures and snow-capped peaks. The spectacular cool hills accompanied by the structures made during the colonial era create an aura, which is very different from other hill stations. Shimla is situated at an altitude of 2,159m, which makes the journey more exciting and enticing.
Once the summer capital of India (during the British Raj), and currently the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, Shimla is a place where The Raj still lingers. Set at an altitude of 2,130 metres above sea level, Shimla is one of the best places to try out ice skating (in fact, it hosts a sports festival every winter). Ride one of India’s the hill trains – the Kalka Shimla toy train – to get there and marvel at the scenery and the 19 th century civil engineering that made it possible.
Situated at the Northern end of the Kullu valley, at an altitude of 2050 meters above sea level, picturesque Manali, situated along the banks of the river Beas, is a popular honeymoon destination. It also provides an enormous variety of heli-ski runs. Visit Arjun Gufa (the cave where Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, is believed to have performed penance), t he hot sulphur springs of Vashist and T he Rohtang Pass, which once served as a crucial trade route to Central Asia.
Surrounded by towering peaks at an arm length, Manali’s major asset is its proximity to the snow line. It is a flourishing orchard industry, a popular honeymoon destination and trail head for numerous treks as well as a great countryside ideal for adventure sport lovers. Discover serenity in its ideal form at Manali.
Out here, the path leads you to exhilarating adventures in some of the most breathtaking settings in the continent. It leads beyond anything you have experienced. Located in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 1220m, the town of Kullu has long been a centre of faith. Kullu was once known as Kulanthpitha, which means the end of the habitable world. The ‘Silver Valley’ comes alive with the majestic grandeur of the Himalayas, the river Beas cutting across the town, verdant valleys with rolling meadows and grazing herds dotting the hillsides, apple orchards and the folk music adding romance to the ambience and presenting a wondrous canvas to the traveller. Take your pick from varied wilderness adventures and solitary moments and come back with insights and revelations you could cherish for a lifetime.
Often called Little Tibet, the hill resort of Dharamsala has been home to the 14 th Dalai Lama and the base of his Tibetan Government in Exile since 1959. S ituated at a height of 1250 metres above sea level, it has dense pine and deodar forests, numerous streams, cool healthy air, and a spectacular backdrop. The charming church of St. John in the Wilderness, the final resting place of Lord Elgin, a British Viceroy, is situated here, as are numerous ancient temples. Mcleod Ganj, a bustling Tibetan settlement, now a major centre of Tibetan culture, is near by. The snow line is perhaps more easily accessible at Dharamsala than at any other hill resort – it is possible to trek to snow point after an early morning’s start.
Originally conceived as a sanatorium rather than fashionable summer retreat, the sprawling hill resort of Dalhousie was founded by Lord Dalhousie and is named after him. S pread over five hills – Kathlog, Portreyn, Moti Tibba (formerly known as Tehra), Bakrota and Balun – i t has some superb trekking routes. Dalhousie retains a Raj-era ambience and is is an excellent place to shop for woollen shawls and Tibetan carpets.
Pull up your laces, adorn your sunglasses and set on foot to discover the myriad vistas of Dalhousie. This hill station spreads over five low-level hills at the western edge of the Dhauladhar range. The picturesque town is interspersed with the colonial-era buildings, low roofed stalls and hotels. The pine-covered slopes around it are intersected with paths and treks, which are ideal for short undemanding walks.
Uttaranchal is both the new and traditional name of the state that was formed from the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh, India.
Uttarakhand was also the ancient Puranic term for the central stretch of the Indian Himalayas. Its peaks and valleys were well known in ancient times as the abode of gods and goddesses and source of the Ganga River. Today, it is often called “the Land of the Gods” (Dev Bhoomi) because of the presence of a multitude of Hindu pilgrimage spots.
Uttarakhand is a region of outstanding natural beauty. Most of the northern parts of the state are part of Greater Himalaya ranges, covered by the high Himalayan peaks and glaciers, while the lower foothills were densely forested.
Nestled in the Himalayan foothills, Dehradun lies in the fertile Doon Valley, with the river Ganga in the east and river Yamuna in the west. It is home to some of the country’s best public schools, including Doon School and Welhams. The Indian Military Academy , The Forest Research Institute, ONGC and many more offices of the Central and State Governments are also situated here. Close to Dehradun is the hill resort of Mussoorie.
It is located at a height of 2,500 meters in the green Himalayan range. Due to its location and beauty Mussoorie is considered as the best hill station in the northern region. In 1820 Captain Young from the British army was influenced by the beauty of this place and made this place as his residence. The name, Mussoorie, is derived from plants of ‘Mussoorie’ which were found in abundance here. The modern bungalows, malls and well-laid gardens, which are located on the small hills around the area, are enough to attract any tourist.
A small town in the hills of Kumaon, Nainital is a lovely hill station surrounded by mountains on three sides. Once this area had many lakes and it was called the City of 60 lakes or ‘Chakta’. Most of the lakes in the region have disappeared and whatever remains is just a glimpse of what they might have been in the past. Today the life of Nainital revolves around the lake of Naini . But there are few other lakes around Nainital, which are equally beautiful and attractive as the Naini Lake.
This pretty Hill Resort in the Kumaon Hills is named after the emerald green eyes of Parvati, Shiva’s consort. Dotted with lakes (Naini Tal, Bhim Tal, Naukuchiya Tal, Sat Tal), Nainital has earned the sobriquet of ‘ Lake District ‘ of India .
Almora is one of the most beautiful places in Kumaon region in Uttaranchal. Almora is very virgin hill-station and is full of scenic beauty. It appears that Mother Nature has spread and blessed this place with her pure love. Nestled in the lap of nature this region has small houses built on the slopes and splendour of this place are added colourful attire of the natives. Just besides city flows the Koshi (Kaushaki) and Suyal (Salmali) rivers .
This scenic hill district is in the central Kumaon region. It has a cave where Swami Vivekananda is said to have meditated and found enlightenment. Almora was captured by the British from the Gorkhas, who have left their mark on this town.
Sikkim, a state lying in the northeastern part of India, is one of the more physically accessible sections of the Himalaya. Within four days from Calcutta in the Indian state of West Bengal, the traveler can be among some of the loftiest mountains in the world. In the olden days, this region was known as Basyul — the hidden land. Sikkim forms part of the Eastern Himalayas which, among other features, is known for the heavy rain it receives compared with the western Himalayas.
Until the 18 th century, the little hill resort of Kalimpong belonged to the Rajas of Sikkim. Located at an altitude of 1,250 metres above sea level, Kalimpong is best known for its Buddhist monasteries, flowers (especially orchids), exotic plants, colourful bazaars, and superb views of the Kanchenjunga . The mountains in the region have several interesting treks and adventure sports enthusiasts can even go river rafting on the Teesta river.