Lesser Known Kumaon, Uttarakhand

Hike to Sattal Lake
Hike to Sattal Lake

Have you already visited Nainital and Mukteshwar but want to delve deeper in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand? If your answer is Yes, then here are some places to keep in mind for your next visit. Most of the places I recommend below are un-crowded, surrounded by lush green forests, mostly for nature lovers and for those seriously considering escaping concrete city life for a few days.

Padampuri

Sunset in Padampuri Uttarakhand
Sunset from Padampuri

An hour drive from Nainital is the quiet and off-the-tourist map village of Padampuri. Unlike the neighbouring towns of Bhimtal and Nainital, Padampuri (1,800 meters ASL) is a sleepy town in the Himalayan foothills. On one side of the mountain ridge you can see the bustling town of Haldwani in the Indian plains while on the other, stretch the snow capped peaks of the Nanda Devi range. The resorts I partner with require one to walk up-hill (a palki or palanquin for the senior citizens and mobility challenged guests) like it used to be before automobiles took over our highways. 

oldest trees of kumaon
Hiking in ancient Oak groves

Porters carry your luggage while you get whisked away in to the wilderness for some much needed overdose of greenery, birds and outstanding hospitality. Go on walks, spot local wildlife, sip on your favorite beverage with a view of snow capped mountains, watch the sunset (and sunrise) and meet fellow travelers. 

Pangot

Pangot Sunset
Pangot Sunset

I think I have stressed enough already that Pangot is one of my favorite destinations in the Nainital region. Read more here (day 5 onwards) on what I have to say about this largely undisturbed expanse of green just 45 minutes drive from Nainital.

Ramgarh

Stay in Ramgarh
Ramgarh

About 35km from Nainital is the village of Ramgarh. Known for it's fruit orchards and quiet living, Ramgarh is the preferred place to stay for those of you looking for solitude. It is a great place to unwind, go bird watching, nature walks in and around the village or simply do nothing at the hotel you stay in.

Ghorakhal tea gardens
Ghorakhal tea gardens

Around Ramgarh is Ghorakhal which is a government owned tea garden. Not as glamorous as the tea gardens of Assam it is still worth visiting when in the area. If the counter is open, pick up some of their organically grown green tea. 

Marchula

Ramganga River in Marchula
Ramganga River, Marchula

If you're heading towards Corbett National Park, go past Ramnagar and head towards Marchula by the Ramganga River. Most tourists stop at Ramnagar if they are planning to visit the National Park and few venture to Marchula making it a hidden gem for nature and animal enthusiasts. Expect to see several species of birds and larger mammals such as elephants, deer and if you're lucky ever a leopard or a tiger. 

Sitlakhet 

Himalaya View from Sitlakhet
Nanda Devi from Sitlakhet

A three hour drive from Nainital and a one hour drive from Ranikhet is Sitlakhet. Sitlakhet has recently become popular for it's rich diversity in birds making it one of the top places to visit in the state for birdwatchers. Clear views of the snow-clad Himalayan peaks such as the Trishul and Nanda Devi and just a handful or shops and houses makes this village a perfect place for a weekend getaway. 

Munsiyari

Panchachuli (5 peaks) from Munsiyari
View of Panchachuli (5 peaks) from Munsiyari

A once rather longish non-stop drive from Nainital (took 10 hours in one stretch) was the remote town of Munsiyari in Pithoragarh district. Till the 90s Munsiyari was considered off limits by most as the roads were very bad and dangerous, there were no decent hotels and restaurants en-route (or in Munsiyari itself) and electricity and phone network was non-existent back then. All these reasons prevented many tourists from visiting Munsiyari. 

Panchachuli Peaks from Munsiyari
Panchachuli Peaks from Munsiyari

Much has changed now, visitors to Munsiyari can stop in several places en-route as there are good quality hotels in Binsar, Patal Bhuvaneshwar, Chaukori etc. There are petrol pumps in Munsiyari and you don't need to stock up canisters and the region has pretty good phone and data connectivity.

Khaliya Top, Munsiyari
Khaliya Top, Munsiyari

Munsiyari does at times get cut off from the rest of the state due to heavy rainfall (July - September) and / or snowfall (January - February). The surrounding region is fast coming up as a birdwatchers paradise and has been well known in the trekking circuit as it is from Munsiyari that several glacier treks begin. Munsiyari is also well known for its rajma (kidney beans) and if you're there when the beans make it to the market make sure to buy some. 

Bearded Vulture or Lammergeir in Khaliya Top, Munsiyari
Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier, Khaliya Top, Munsiyari

Tourists visiting Munsiyari have options to do several day hikes, the most popular one being the one to Khaliya Top. It is a day long hike and requires a decent level of physical fitness. Once at Khaliya top (3,300 meters where as the town of Munsiyari is at 2,200 meters ASL) you're bound to be speechless when you see the stunning 180 degree views of the Panchachuli peaks as if you're standing right in front of them. Keep a watchful eye while hiking up and down Khaliya top as you may bump in to a colorful Monal pheasant and several other species of birds and mammals.

These are some of my favourite destinations in Kumaon, Uttarakhand. If you would like to visit any of these, please contact me on +91 9717148483 or email info@travelwith.in.

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