Tibet and Nepal, the long-standing darlings of the Himalayan tourist trade, have not been the most welcoming countries for visitors over the past few months. Foreign tourists have been barred from Tibet since March's anti-Chinese protests. Political troubles in Nepal, where recent elections were marred by bombings, have deterred many holidaymakers. Understandably, some travelers are now beginning to look across these borders to the Indian Himalayas, where the state of Uttarakhand until recently known as Uttaranchal has quietly been building its own tourist trade. It offers drop-dead gorgeous trekking the same as you would find in Nepal and Tibet, but in a less restive and less discovered environment than that of its neighbors.
For Hindus, the area has been a travel destination since pre-Vedic times, and pilgrimage trails still crisscross the mountains. The northern district of Garhwal, bordering Tibet, is the largest region and is the most popular with visitors due to its many holy places. One such site, Gangotri, is dedicated to the goddess Ganga, whose temple is located just below the Gaumukh glacier, the source of the sacred river Ganges. Garhwal also boasts two World Heritage sites: the Valley of Flowers, which erupts every spring into a carpet of colorful blooms, and Nanda Devi, the second highest peak in the Indian Himalayas. For environmental reasons, the peak has been off limits to climbers since the early 1980s, but day treks can be made to lower regions of the sanctuary.
The community-owned and -operated Mountain Shepherds tour company, mountainshepherds.prayaga.org, organizes excursions in Garhwal. These trips use locally hired staff and cost around $50 a day, which includes guides, cooks, equipment and transportation. Mountain Shepherds also plans to start longer excursions to local villages in the summer. Two visitors at a time will be able to travel with shepherds herding their flocks in the Himalayan meadows, with village homes available for rent.
Aquaterra Adventures, www.treknraft.com, offers slightly more upscale trekking. At around $70 a day per person, for a minimum of four people, the company tailors itineraries to your liking. These excursions range from easy hikes to demanding climbs to rafting trips, and accommodation includes separate dining, bathing and "living room" tents.
Aquaterra Adventures can also organize a quick tiger-spotting safari at the end of the trip. Besides the Himalayas, Uttarakhand's other famous attraction is Corbett National Park, in the Shivalik foothills. This 201-square-mile (520 sq km) reserve offers some of the country's best chances to catch a glimpse of the elusive and endangered Bengal tiger. But if you would rather make your own arrangements, simply book one of the 10 cottages at the Hideaway River Lodge, www.corbetthideaway.com, right in the middle of the jungle. Rates start from $375 a night, which includes meals, safaris, fishing, park fees and a naturalist on call.
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