To begin with let us talk of the geography of India. With Himalayas in the North, the Great desert in the west, the Bay of Bengal in the east and the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula- Kanyakumari, the confluence of three water bodies, such is the topography of India. Where else can one find such diversity even in the topography of a land, which is not just a home to diverse cultures but also a country with a diverse geographical distribution. Millions years ago, occurred the great tectonic movements, giving rise to the great Himalayan ranges in the north and nestled among these ranges is the state of Uttarakhand.
The sole purpose of this article is not to acknowledge my roots, but to acknowledge the knowledge of my roots. Being the daughter of a man who has devoted nearly 40 years of his life in the tourism industry of Uttarakhand (the prime source of income of majority of the population here), I acknowledge his reservoir of information to be my legacy. It is not an article to assert our identity on any one, but just a piece of information for those who seek the culture and the common man of Uttarakhand!
The state of Uttarakhand, formerly known as Uttaranchal was listed among the 29 states of India, in the year 2000. This land of gods is the abode of two major inhabitants – Garhwalis and Kumaunis. The word Garhwalis refer to those people who inhabit the garhwal region of Uttarakhand, deriving the name garhwal from (“garh” or “gadh”) which means a “fort”. Garhwal was formed by fifty two such forts, which the kings built to guard against enemies during wars, while every fort had a “badh” (an inhabitant of garhwal) meaning a warrior, who guarded the forts, and this bears a testimony to the fact that “bravery is inherent in pahari life.” [Source- Trepan Singh Chauhan, book titled- “Glimpses of Garhwali Literature”]
But this bravery is not only the outcome of being a warrior in the kings army, but also a subsequent result of being able to endure the harsh climatic conditions of the Himalayan ranges. Our geography reckons it so that the range that marks the boundary between the Garhwal in the west and the Kumaon in the east is Nanda devi peak. But this divide was not only in terms of geography rather it soon turned into petty rivalries between the two sides. This rivalry arose mainly due to issues on land, wars and the fierce opposition between ambitious chiefs, which lasted for nearly 700 years. But apart from the rivalry which is nearly non- existent at present, given the migration of many of us to the townships, like Dehradun (the Capital of the state) and Rishikesh, for their access to quality education and a good living, things like rivalry is a bygone word.
Home to majority of hill stations like Mussoorie, Nainital, Almora, Kausani, etc. Uttarakhand is also called “the land of gods”, for the innumerable temples, the Char Dhams – “Yamunotri, Gangotri, Sri Kedarnath and Sri Badrinath”, various Gurudwaras namely, Hemkund Sahib, Nanak Mattha Sahib, etc. Uttarakhand is also the abode of several devi temples namely – Surkhanda devi, Manasa devi, Vaishno devi, Nanda devi and many more. Uttarakhand is not only a tourist destination for thousands of pilgrims and foreign tourists, but it is also a life source to majority of the northern India, as the river Ganga originates here, from the Gangotri glacier’s mouth – Gaumukh. The river Ganges is thus considered a holy river, which is not only worshipped by the mortals but is believed to be the gateway to heaven. The ashes of the dead are floated away in the Ganges flowing through Haridwar, a holy town.
A hub of activities is what Uttarakhand is known for. Ganga being a source of adventure sports, like white water rafting and water skiing. The skiing pastures at Auli, at 10,500 ft in Garhwal is a winter resort for the skiing lovers on the high end pastures of Himalayas, which are also inhabited by many sherpas. The state is also the home to the only academy in India for training cadets for the Indian army – Indian Military Academy (IMA, ESTABLISHED IN 1932) , and also to F.R.I (Forest Research Institute , Established in 1906), with its six museums and Botanical Gardens which is located in its capital , Dehradun. Uttarakhand is known for its wildlife sanctuaries- The Corbet National Park, Binsar Sanctuary, etc. making it the abode of several extinct and rare species of flora and fauna. Valley of Flowers in Garhwal region, as the name indicates is home to innumerable species of flowers. The state has great associations with the greatest Hindu epic, Mahabharata, as it is believed that the hill – outpost of Jaunsar village, Viraatkhai, was the place where the Pandavas lived in 13 years exile, anonymously.
Culturally Uttarakhand has reasons to celebrate all year round, with the International Yoga festival in the month of February, followed by winter games at Auli in March, The Jhanda fair, commemorating the birth anniversary of the founder of Dehradun, Shri Guru Ram Rai. In the month of July is celebrated the festival of Harela in Kumaon, celebrating the arrival of rains, farming being the second highest occupation of the inhabitant’s wheat, barley and several pulses are grown on the terraced farms of Uttarakhand. The Jhanda Fair is followed by Neelkanth Mahadev mela, at the Neelkanth temple, which is associated with the legend of Lord Shiva, drinking of the vish (venom) created by the mythological churning of the ocean. In the month of October is the Viraasat festival organized at O.N.G.C, in Dehradun, which serves as a 15 days festival of music and dance by the most celebrated artists all over India. In the month of November is the Mussoorie Writer’s Festival, curated by writer Stephen Alter which sees exhibitions, documentary film screenings, lecture by famous authors and mountaineers, including the world celebrated author, Ruskin Bond, who lives in Mussoorie itself. The month of December ends with the occasional Winter carnival at Mussoorie, attracting a number of tourists and visitors to the snow clad hills of Uttarakhand.
Apart from the name, ‘Simply Heaven ‘which is synonymous to Uttarakhand, this state is celebrated for its scenic beauty and tourism activities; it is that land of gods which paves way for each visitor to immerse themselves in the “Simplicity”; which is precisely what Uttrakhand is known for! It can truly leave the visitors spellbound, making one crave to return to the LAND OF GODS.