Almora, the Cultural Capital of Kumaon
Perched on a hillock at an elevation of 1646 m, Almora appears like a large horse shoe, Sitoli forming the front arm and the bazaar the other. To the north stands out the wonderful line of snowy peaks, towering up the sharp wedge of Nanda Devi, Trisul, the trident of Lord Shiva, Panchchuli, or the fire stalls of the gods, as they are called; and on the western extremity the square mass of Badrinath.
Almoda or Almora or Alampur, according to popular tradition is derived from the name Almora or wild sorrel, which grew in abundance there in the past. The earliest reference to the name Almoda is found in the copper plate inscription of King Trimalla Chand of the local Chand dynasty of the year 1528 A.D. The capital of the Chand Kings was transferred from Champawat to Almora in the 16th century. It is the district headquarters and national scientific institutes the Vivekanand Hill Agricultural Laboratory, as well as the Defence Agricultural Research Laboratory are housed there. Scientists from all over the country and tourists visit the Vivekanand Hill Agricultural Laboratory because it was started by a great agricultural scientist Bosi Sen.
Almora Bazar and its Heritage Buildings
Almora is a beautiful blend of the rural past and the urban present and a walk through the main market (Paltan to Lala Bazaar) is a march through history. It is a tourists’ delight and negotiating the distance, which is a mesmerizing walk of almost 4 km is a unique experience. The bazaar is full of lanes and by lanes. At cantonment one can see the Tagore House, where Rabindra Nath Tagore lived in 1937 and in Paltan Bazaar, Diggi Bungalow, where Yashpal the noted Hindi writer wrote Jhoota Sach. Above the Mohan Joshi Chowk on the road leading the courts is the house belonging to Badri Sah Thulgharia, where Swami Vivekanand stayed in 1890 and 1897. Walking beyond one comes across a very famous heritage building the Ramsay Intermediate College. It was established in Almora on 9th Augus 1851 by the Kumaon Mission In 1871 the school was relocated to the present site and in 1886 the school was named after Ramsay the great administrator.
Budden Memorial Church
Beyond Lala Bazaar on the road to the Almora Jail is the famous Budden Memorial Church which attracts a large number of tourists owing to its architectural beauty and the scenic grandeur. The Budden Memorial Church is popular as the gem of Almora and an important landmark of the city. It was constructed in 1896 in the memory of John Henry Budden a great educationist, philanthropist and Methodist missionary. The site on which it has been erected is of great historical significance. On the ridge on which the Church stands, the British troops delivered their last volleys of shot and shell on the night of 26th April, 1815 against the Gurkhas and the next day they surrendered and Uttarakhand came under the sway of the British. In 1897 it was named as the Budden Memorial Church and is one of the best manifestations of the Gothic architecture in Kumaon. The structure is very imposing. It projects the universe in microcosm and the loftiness conveys the theological message of the great glory of God.
Bright End Corner, 2 km. from the bus station is extremely famous for the Himalayan view, both at sunset and sunrise.
Simtola and Deer Park, both 3 km away offer lush green environs and beautiful picnic spots. Simtola was selected by the legendary Uday Shankar for his cultural centre and studio where artists like sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, theatre and film artist Zohra Sehgal and film star and director of movies Guru Dutt were trained. From Almora Uday Shankar created a new dance style, imbued with the elements of Indian classical, folk and tribal dances. He was also fascinated and inspired with the techniques of Kumaoni folk dances, their rhythm, sonorous and soulful manifestations. Interestingly the Ghasiyari Dance (dance of the grass cutters) of Kumaon influenced extremely and this dance form was later used in a beautiful manner in the film Kalpana, the first film directed by him in 1948. The eminent poet Sumitra Nandan Pant from Kumaon wrote the lyrics of this art movie.
Kalimath, 5 km. from Almora is famous for its scenic grandeur and the view of Almora town.
Temple of Nanda Devi, Tripura Sundari temple, Swami Vivekanand Ashram and the Public Museum near the bus station are also added attractions that the town can boast of. The Public Museum provides a deep insight of the history and culture of Kumaon and has a rich collection of statues and numismatic evidences.
Sai Devi Temple.
Almora, since time immemorial has been recognized as the sanctuary for ascetics, philosophers, writers and painters. It is a home to many ancient temples and shrines. Nature plays an important role here both in mythology and everyday worship. This harmony is most evident in the temple of goddess Sai Devi and a venture into this area on a beautiful ridge is more than a pious resolve, a celebration of faith and a participation in tradition.
is one of the most important pilgrimages of Goddess Durga. In Skanda Purana it has been mentioned that Goddess Durga reincarnated as Kaushiki here to kill the demons Shumba and Nishumb. Painted rock shelters were found in and around Kasar Devi. When Swami Vivekand visited Almora in the 19th century, he found this place ideal for meditation and was in a high state of mind here. Those were the days of travelling and training for him and to make closer contact with his countrymen. When the British came to Kumaon, they named the ridge as the Crank’s Ridge. It was a favourite haunt for bohemian writers and artists like D.H.Lawrence, Earl Brewester, Alfred Sorensen, Cat Stevens and Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary, the father of the Hippie Movement..
Banari Devi is
the third famous temple of the mountain goddess, which encompasses the glory of the divine. Mind and words are powerless to express the divinity of the temple and the Goddess. The temple is regarded as one of the Shakti Peeths, the place where the power of Goddess is centered. According to tradition Banari Devi is also known as Bindra Devi. She is beautiful, benevolent, compassionate, righteous and terrifying and is mostly invoked to eliminate the evil forces as she has been created by the combined effulgence of the three Gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. In Banari Devi the Shakti form of the Goddess is revered. Shakti has its origin deeply rooted in the agricultural history of Kumaon. She is the centre of cultic images and has arisen from the general understanding that women are the creators of all human life.
though in Naini Tal district is about 40 km from Naini Tal on the Almora road. It is very popular with tourists going to Almora and beyond. Swami Vivekanand sojourned here for some time while going to Almora in 1890. He told his companion, “This place is charming. What a wonderful spot for meditation.” After bathing in the river, the Swami sat under the peepul tree absorbed in deep meditation for a long period. Later returning to normal consciousness, he said “I have just passed through one of the greatest moments of my life. Here under this peepul tree one of the greatest problems of my life has been solved. I have found the oneness of the macrocosm with the microcosm and I have seen the whole universe within an atom.” This realization was reflected in the lectures he later delivered in the West under the title, “Cosmos, the macrocosm and the microcosm.” And it also inspired him in the Worl Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The peepul tree where Swamiji meditated during his sojourn in Kakrighat still exists.
8 km. from Almora on the Pithoragarh-Almora route, is noted for its temple of Lord Golla, a demi god for the hill people, who is famous for dispensing justice People appeal to him on a letter for meting out justice and when their wish is fulfilled they offer a brass bell. The hundreds of brass bells outside and the letters of appeal accumulated on one corner bear testimony to the faith of the people.
Katarmal (1800m).17 km from Almora is renowned for an ancient Sun Temple. Many subsidiary shrines, late 7th to early 8th century A.D. cluster around the main temple.
32 km. from Almora was the summer capital of the Chand Kings. The whole region is now under the Binsar Sanctuary. It is very rich in biodiversity and a centre par excellence for Himalayan views as well as for a holiday in uninterrupted solitude. Here in the unsurpassable grandeur of forests one is bound to experience oneness with Nature. On moonlit nights the view of the sparkling snow clad peaks is an exhilarating experience
is 3 km south of Deena Pani on the route to Binsar where pre-historic rock paintings are sited. It projects a little of mystery each day and leaves a holy curiosity for mankind. Existence of these rock paintings takes the history of the region to the pre-historic days throwing considerable light on the living conditions and cultural activities of the primitive people.
Situated on the confluence of the rivers Shakuni and Kumiya is the ancient temple of Kapileshwar Mahdev or Lord Shiva. The great sage Kapil who annihilated the 60,000 sons of the great king Sagar undertook penance here and this is why the place and the temple are known as Kapileshwar. Later King Bhagirath through severe penance pleased Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva and brought the river Ganga on this earth to liberate his ancestors. As the legend goes, Lord Shiva contained the turbulent and all devouring Ganga in his tresses.
The temple, which is 37 feet high is an architectural marvel and was constructed during the rule of the Katyuri dynasty in Kumaon. The Katyuris were at the helm of affairs in Kumaon during the 5th century A.D. to the 12th century A.D. On the outer wall of the temple are engraved the Goddess Mahisasur Mardini with her four arms, the three armed Lakulesh (Lord Shiva) and the four armed Lord Ganesh. The Durga aspect of Mahisasur Mardini is the earliest and most important representation of the Goddess according to literary texts. Images pertaining to this aspect have been reported from all over Kumaon and all the sculptures depict the Goddess in a fierce mood and in the action of killing the demon Mahisasur. Almost all the Kumaon sculptures of Devi are with four to twelve arms. The Lakulesh is the 28th incarnation of Lord Shiva as mentioned in the Vayu and Linga Purana. Kumaon abounds in Lakulisa sculpture as this sect had attained stronghold during the first phase of the Katyuri period. The cult of Ganesha started in India during the 5th century A.D. but in Kumaon, he frequently appears after the 7th century A.D. In Kumaon Ganesh sculptures are of three types, those represented on the doorway lintels, niches and walls, those found in stray icons ad those as cult images in the temples. On the entrance of the temple is depicted the exquisitely decorated Shoor Sen, an artistic architectural manifestation, and above it the Trimurti Shiva is engraved on a panel. In the panel the rivers Ganga and Yamuna are symbolized and shown propitiating him. Several ancient statues have been excavated here in the recent past. The temple is serenely beautiful and one is inspired to perform austerities and reject all transitory pleasures of life here in this shrine
Nestling snugly at a distance of 20km from Almora along the banks of the river Suyal are rock paintings in a rock shelter. This rock shelter known as Lakhudiar (meaning hundred thousand caves) belongs to the Bronze Stone Age and has been a silent sentinel to the march of History. In Uttarakhand as many as a dozen cave shelters have been found but Lakhudiyar has been acknowledged as the richest and the most attractive cave shelter. The main themes of rock paintings in Kumaon are the successful depiction of cultural activities. In Lakhudiyar the main motifs are anthropomorphic figures, animals, plants, symbols and various designs.
Jageshwar (1870 m).
Jageshwar 34 km. from Almora is a cluster of ancient temples from 8th to 12th century A.D. The complex consisting of 124 temples and hundreds of statues is not merely famous for its exquisite craftsmanship but also for its Swayambhu Lingum named Naagesh. The main temples are dedicated to Maha Mrityunjaya. Mahisasur Mardini, Kedarnath, Bageshwar, Surya, Navagraha, Mahakali, Navdurga etc. A medieval centre of Shavism, Jageshwar is one of the most sacred pilgrimages of Uttarakhand. According to tradition, Jagat Guru Shankaracharya sojourned here and undertook penance. In Kumaon ‘Parthiv Puja’ the worship of Lord Shiva is very popular and is celebrated on a large scale in Jageshwar during the rainy season. Thousands of pilgrims from North India visit the place to offer ‘puja’ during the rainy season and many more tourist come to witness the great event.
12 km from here by motor road is the source of the river Jata Ganga. The view of the surrounding country side is very imposing and 1.5 km beyond from Hiriya Shikhar, the view of the towering Himalayas is awe inspiring.
popularly known as the Mirtola Ashram was established together by Manika Devi and her disciple Ronald Henry Nixon. It is a divine retreat for devotees from all over the world. Manika Devi was the spouse of Dr. Gyanendar Nath Chakravarti the founder Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University while Ronald Nixon was a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the First World War. He later took a degree in English from Cambridge University and driven by his inner urge joined as lecturer in Lucknow University in 1921. It was during his stint in the newly opened Lucknow University that he became very close to the Chakravarti family. Mr. Chakravarti was a well known Theophist and his wife was a devotee of Lord Krishna. This is the reason that the temple of Lord Krishna has been established in Mirtola Ashram. Ronald had a strong inkling towards Indian culture and soon Manika Devi became his divine mentor. In 1927, when Manika Devi moved to the hills on medical advice, which had been pre-ordained, Ronald also followed his spiritual teacher and they sojourned in Almora for sometime
In 1928 Manika Devi took the vows of a ‘sanyasani’, renunciation from the mundane world and became famous as Yashoda Ma. Soon Nixon also renounced the world under the name Sri Krishna Prem and was known as Gopal Da in the Ashram, which they established together in Mirtola in1930. Here one perceives that individual emancipation is much lower an aspiration than working for the deliverance of all human beings.
47 km, from Almora is famous for its natural landscape, caves and the Siva Temple. The place symbolizes reverence and love for the supernatural.
which is ensconced at a distance of 32 km from Almora on the Kausani road is a paradise for nature lovers. This vast valley on the banks of the river Kosi provides ample opportunities for adventure sports. The Eco-Adventure Camp Simkholi and the High Adventure, the Mall Almora organizes mountain biking, rock climbing, bird watching, mountain trekking and river side trekking for lovers of adventure sports.
It is 49 km. from Almora. Quietly ensconced amidst pine trees with a charming background of the snow clad Himalaya, Ranikhet has a breath taking scenic beauty. Blessed with a healthy climate, its magnetic charm attracts tourists all the year round. It is a haven for bird watchers and visitors who want to spend their holidays in solitude.
According to chronicled history, Ranikhet or the Queen’s Field was initiated as a cantonment in 1869 by the British. In 1872 Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India stayed here; he was so enchanted with the tranquility and magnetic charm of the place that he once thought of shifting the Army Head Quarter from Shimla to Ranikhet. In 1879 the post office was opened and the Royal Military Hospital was completed in 1892. After the conclusion of the First World War, motor vehicles were introduced in Ranikhet. In 1931 the first motor workshop was started and the first petrol pump was installed in 1932.
After 1947, the year 1948 is very significant in the History of Ranikhet as it was made the Regimental Centre of the Kumaon Regiment. Today the Regimental Centre, its museum and its memorials are the most prominent landmarks of the town.
Environs of Ranikhet
Churches of Ranikhet.
A visit to these shrines where calmness, tranquility and quietude prevail is an enthralling experience and the tourists yearn to come here. In 1873 St. Peter,s Church was built, in 1882 St. Michael’s Church was constructed in Chaubatia and the St. Martin’s Church at Deolikhet came into existence in 1901
Kumaon Regimental Widows Welfare Association sited on the Mall Road is a great attraction for tourists owing to its shawl weaving centre and other woolen items they are manufacturing
Mankameshwar is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. This beautiful temple adjacent to Narsingh Ground has been rebuilt and beautified by the ‘Jawans’ of Kumaon Regiment.
Chaubatia. It is situated at a distance of 10 km. from Ranikhet. Chaubatia is acclaimed for its apple orchard, Fruit Research Centre and the fascinating view of the Himalaya. It was established in 1869 with the inspiration of the then Commissioner of Kumaon, Sir Henry Ramsay.
Beyond Chaubatia, there is an artificial lake, Bhalu Dam. It is situated at a distance of 3 km. through vibrant forests on a bridle path. This lake supplies water to Ranikhet and the lake and its sylvan surroundings provide a unique experience in perfect tranquility.
Jhoola Devi Mandir is located on the road leading to Chaubatia. It is a beautiful temple and tourists and pilgrims from all over the world visit this temple. Jhula Devi is a divine retreat for tourists and a protector of the people in Ranikhet. The temple is older than the town itself and according to tradition came into existence about 700 years ago. The temple was re-constructed in 1935 and the countless bells that hang around the temple are a testimony to the infinite faith in her devotees
Upat and Kalika. 6 km. away on the Ranikhet-Almora road, Upat has also one of the best mountain golf links (nine holes) in the country while in the neighbouring Kalika, the temple of goddess Kali and the forest nursery are worth visiting.
Hairakhan Temple. 2 km. from Ranikhet, this temple is dedicated to the great saint, Hairkhan Baba. He was an epitome, a symbol of the different facets of cultural and spiritual dynamics of Kumaon. The temple is very popular with foreign tourists and foreign devotees
Cooperative Drugs Factory. This factory known for the production and research of Ayurvedic medicines is situated at a distance of 3 km. on the Ranikhet-Ramnagar road. It has a nursery of medicinal herbs and shrubs. One can buy Ayurvedic medicines, especially high quality Chyawanprash from here.
Tarikhet. It is situated at a distance of 8 km. from Ranikhet. Mahatma Gandhi stayed here for some time. Tarikhet is famous for Gandhi Ashram and the highly venerated temple of Golla Devta. Bhagirath Pandey and his associates had started the Non-Cooperation movement in this region by establishing the Prem Vidyalaya, which was visited by Mahatma Gandhi in 1929.
Sitlakhet (1828m). At a distance of 26 km. by motor road from Ranikhet, Sitlakhet is serenely beautiful and the Himalayan view from here weaves an instant spell on the visitors. Scouting camps are often held here. Shyahi Devi peak and the temple is 3 km. beyond. Bharat Ratna. Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant’s birth place, Khoont is also in close proximity.
Dwarahat (1650m).This archaeologically and historically important town is sited at a distance of 38 km. on the Karna Prayag road. It was once the capital of the Katyuri kings and is famous for its 8 groups of ancient temples, particularly those dedicated to Mrityunjay, Dhawj, Badrinath, Durga, Gujar Dev, Kutcherry and the Maniyan group of temples etc. Besides these there are many exquisitely carved statues and naulas (covered water springs). On the basis of stylistic consideration, it is certain that temples at Dwarahat, which are a splendid example of the grandeur of Katyuri architecture, range from 10th to 11th century A.D.
Dunagiri (2658 m). 52 km. from Ranikhet and 14 km. from Dwarahat is Dunagiri Mountain and the famous temple of Durga. It is believed that the bronze plate in the temple dates back to 1181 AD. Standing majestically on a hill top, the temple attracts a large number of pilgrims every year. Some of the places around Dunagiri have been referred to in the famous book Autobiography of a Yogi. The mysticism of this spot is evoked by its natural beauty and the views of the majestic Himalaya in their towering glory. One can feel the presence of the divine in the solitude and wilderness of this beautiful spot. Beyond Dunagiri is Pandukholi, famous for its mesmerizing Himalayan view.
Manila, which means enchanting, is 75 km. from Ranikhet. It is the seat of Manila Devi the family goddess of the Katyuri royal clan. Amongst sylvan surroundings the most elevating sight in Manila is its proximity to the high mountains ranges and the magnificent background of the snow clad mountains. It is a unique creation of Mother Nature, a refuge where people can attain their peace of mind. About 25 km. from Manila is the memorial of Quit India Movement martyrs of the region at Khumar.
Three new destinations
The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) has identified three new destinations in Almora district, which have been incorporated to the tourist destinations this year. They are:
Bhikiasen is sited on the bank of the river Ramganga West on the road to the famous shrine of Badrinath. It has been developed as a new tourist destination by the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) and a beautiful bungalow on the most scenic spot has been constructed here to facilitate tourism with lodging and boarding facilities round the year. Bhikiasen has tremendous scope for river rafting as the river Ram Ganga has enough water even during summers. Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam has already initiated the sport and within a short span Bhikiasen will come in the international circuit.
Excursions. In close proximity to Bhikiasen is Nileshwar, the ancient temple of Lord Shiva, which is famous as pilgrims’ paradise. Another scenic spot in the region is the ancient temple of Vridh Kedar on the Dwarahat motor road. Lord Shiva is propitiated here as the Supreme Reality; he symbolizes the cycle of birth and rebirth and the eternal consciousness within us. His staunch devotees smear ash on the forehead and the upper body. The ash reminds us that in the end we get reduced to ash and this helps the devotee to cultivate the sense of detachment.
Iku Khet is another tourist spot identified and established by KMVN. It is flanked by three districts Almora,, Chamoli and Pauri and is a serene and idyllic resort amidst thick temperate forests. It is very rich in biodiversity and famous for its panoramic Himalayan view especially Chaukhamba and Nanda Devi. The only place to stay is the tourist bungalow constructed by KMVN, which provides lodging and boarding throughout the year.
Dudholi on the Ranikhet-Dwarahat-Droonagiri road is the latest tourist destination developed by KMVN to promote religious tourism in wilderness. The whole ridge is famous as the abode of Gods, and for its scenic grandeur and mesmerizing views of the Himalayan valleys. Needless to say the tourist bungalow sited in the most scenic spot, which ensures absolute peace of mind and soul is the only place for lodging and boarding.