MUSSOORIE has been a winner all the way, what with its proximity to the plains, the beautiful walks and views and picnic spots, the range of hotel accommodation and shopping opportunities galore. What does, however, take away from the appeal of Mussoorie is the denuding of the hills around it and the construction mania that has hit it like a malady. The place is packed during the holiday season, often outstripping civic amenities. And yet the crowds only tend to grow. The moral of the story is ó visit Mussoorie only during the off-season.
But Garhwal has a lot more to offer you beside a peek at cities. Take a trek across this region and youíll find that the trekking routes ribbon through rich green forests and meadows. A 20 kilometre trek from Govindghat (beyond Joshimath) will bring you to the famed VALLEY OF FLOWERS. In July/ August the Valley of Flowers is covered with a bewildering variety of alpine blooms, the queen among them being the Blue Poppy. The valley, nearly 10 kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide, is watered by the aptly named Pushpavati Ganga (River of flowers), a stream with several sparkling tributaries.
Garhwal has a majestic network of rivers. Top of the roll of honour are the all-time greats like the Ganga, Yamuna, Alaknanda and Mandakini. River runs to meet river, forming a confluence (prayag) held sacred since the dawn of time. Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karanoravan- Nanrinravan and Vishnuprayag are holy names. But the holiest of the holy are the shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath, which mark the confluence of infinite beauty and faith with long hallowed tradition.
Other natural treasures lie between the Dodital, the Khatling and Pindari glaciers and the lake known as Roopkund, which has eluded all of manís efforts to solve the mystery behind the hundreds of human and animal skeletons found on its shores. Thereís an array of awesome glittering peaks ó Trishul, Shivling, Meru and Nanda Devi. And shrines like the one dedicated to Goddess Nanda Devi and Hemkund Sahib, sacred to the Sikhs.
But it is impossible even to name all the beautiful spots in Kumaon and Garhwal, much less do justice to them in words or savour their delights in person. Visions of these hills linger in the mind as do memories of the simple country folk who inhabit them. The people of Kumaon and Garhwal are essentially trusting and hospitable. Their meager land holdings yield nothing but bare sustenance, so most able bodied men migrate to the plains in search of employment. Others join the defence services. Over the years they have shed a proud lustre on the lands of Kumaon and Garhwal.
At a little over 9000 ft above sea level, on the slopes of Nanda Devi stands AULI, Indiaís newest ski resort. From December through April, Auli is alive with speed buffs and these are not young men alone. Skiing was once an expensive sport, within reach of none but a privileged few. But Auli has changed all that and more and more people are waking up to the fact that nothing in the world can rival the thrill of zipping down a mountainside on skis.
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