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About Indian Himalayas

From one end to the other of the great Himalayan chain, we fashion trips that have been conceived to let you discover hidden and unknown facets that make India a fascinating country.

From the unreal lights of the high plateaus of the Chang Tang to the depthless gorges of Zanskar; from the fertile oasis of Ladakh to the exuberant jungles surrounding Darjeeling; from the prestigious peaks of Uttarakhand to those of Sikkim; you will return bowled over by such a range of diversity and beauty.

From one end to the other of the great Himalayan chain, we fashion trips that have been conceived to let you discover hidden and unknown facets that make India a fascinating country.

From the unreal lights of the high plateaus of the Chang Tang to the depthless gorges of Zanskar; from the fertile oasis of Ladakh to the exuberant jungles surrounding Darjeeling; from the prestigious peaks of Uttarakhand to those of Sikkim; you will return bowled over by such a range of diversity and beauty.

Population

Population

People

Ladakh is sparsely populated with a meagre 236,000 inhabitants. Just like the land itself, the people of Ladakh are unlike anywhere else in the country. The original denizens are believed to have been the Dards, an Indo-Aryan race from the Indus and the Gilgit area. Continuous immigration from Tibet over centuries supplanted the Dards’ racial aspects, making Ladakhis’ countenance today more akin to Tibetans and Central Asians. The principal language is Ladakhi, a Tibetan vernacular. Educated Ladakhis generally know Hindi, Urdu and often English.

With around 607,000 inhabitants, Sikkim is the least populated state of India. Although roughened by mountain life, Sikkimese people are considered to be one of the friendliest in the country. Simple pleasures and bucolic living bode well for them. Most of the state’s denizens are of Nepali ethnicity. The traditional natives comprise the Bhutias and Lepchas, both migrants from the east. Nepali is the lingua franca of Sikkim, while Bhutia and Lepcha are spoken in certain areas. English and Hindi are known among urbanites.

Uttarakhand is home to more than 10 million people. Natives of this state are called either Kumaoni or Garhwali, depending on whether they hail from the regions of Kumaon or Garhwal. Each clan has its own namesake dialect. Himachal Pradesh is inhabited by more than 6 million people, with the Kangra district housing the highest proportion. Both Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have a strong Brahmin presence, cohabiting with other communities including Rajputs, Rathis, Sainis, etc. Himachal Pradesh has one of the highest literacy rates in India, after Kerela.

Gastronomy

Gastronomy

Food in Ladakh is akin to Tibetan cuisine, both inspired by indigenous climate, topography and culture. Nourishing and mildly flavoured, Ladakhi fare includes favourites like Thukpa (thick noodle soup fortified with vegetables or meat), momos (Tibetan inspired stuffed dumplings), and tsampa, known in Ladakhi as ngampe (roasted barley flour). Longevity and easy preparation characterise cookery in this region. While you’re there, try the local barley beer called Chang, an especially common feature during festivals.

Sikkimese cuisine also finds its genesis in Tibetan cooking. The most common fare served from ramshackle shops to fancy restaurants is the Momo, typically stuffed with vegetables, buffalo meat or pork and served with a soup. Noodle-based dishes such as thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, fakthu, gyathuk and wonton are omnipresent. Sikkimese have a soft spot for alcohol, so beer, whiskey, rum and brandy are widely consumed. A visit to Sikkim will not be complete without a sip of its local brew Chaang from a customary bamboo pipe.

The cuisines of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are classically north Indian. Modest and subtle, day to day foods of these states comprise rice, lentils, vegetables and bread. Pious towns such as Haridwar and Rishikesh have illegalised sale of non vegetarian food and alcohol, although its common to see them being consumed in homes.

Festivals

Festivals

The lean and idle season of Ladakhi winter experiences most of the festivals. The Ladakh Festival, celebrated every year from September 1 to 15, is a kaleidoscope of colour, sport, music and dance. Performers and monks don gentle silk robes and colourful masks and take to the streets to the lilt of flutes and cymbals. Horse polo, weddings, archery and handicrafts inject more vigour into the carnival. Other monastic occasions in Ladakh include the Hemis festival (June) and Dosmoche Festival (February).

The Nepalese in Sikkim commemorate all the major Hindu festivals including Tihar (Diwali) and Dasain (Dussera), as well as Buddhist festivals such as Losar, Loosong, Saga Dawa, Lhabab Duechen, Drupka Teshi and Bhumchu. The Muslims in Sikkim celebrate Eid ul-Fitr and Muharram, the most prominent festivals in Islam. Christmas in Gangtok is especially festive and attracts many tourists during the off-season. During the Tibetan New Year, most offices and educational institutions are closed for a week.

Being predominantly Hindu states, both Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh celebrate all the Hindu festivals with fervour, especially given their religious eminence. Apart from sacred occasions, both states host numerous seasonal fairs and festivals, revolving around culture, tourism and sports. Shimla hosts the International Shimla Summer Festival in June, a major tourist attraction and cultural overload. The Ardh Kumbh and Maha Kumbh Melas at Haridwar attract millions of devotees from all across the world. The International Yoga Week is hosted in Rishikesh every February, when scores of aspirants and renowned gurus descend upon the bucolic town to practise this ancient art.

History

History

Ladakh’s earliest inhabitants were Indo-Aryan nomadic yak herders. Buddhist pilgrims travelling from India to Tibet settled down, laying the foundation for Buddhism in Ladakh. By the 9th century, the Buddhist kings of Ladakh had fortified a kingdom extending all the way from Kashmir to Tibet. For nearly two centuries till about 1600, Ladakh was invaded and raided by Muslims, thus instilling Islam in the region. The resurgence of Buddhism eventually transpired and Ladakh was finally annexed into the kingdom of Jammu in 1846.

Sikkim was first inhabited by the Lepchas in the 13th century, who migrated here from Assam and Myanmar, followed by the Bhutias from troubled Tibet. Phuntsog Namgyal was ordained the first chogyal (monarch) of Sikkim in 1642. During the 1700s, Sikkim faced assaults first from the Bhutanese and then the Nepalese, and in 1791 China sent troops to support Sikkim, culminating in Nepal’s defeat. After India’s independence, Sikkim remained a monarchy until 1975, when it became the 22nd state of the Indian Union.

Various dynasties ruled the region of Uttarakhand for centuries including the Guptas, Kuturyi and Chand rajas. In 1817, the British took over the reins from Nepalese Gurkhas. After India’s independence, the region was part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, however was made a separate state in 2000. It was officially renamed Uttarakhand in 2007. The northern part of Himachal Pradesh was dominated by Tibetans during the 10th century, while the southern regions were divided into small states by various kings and rulers. The British made Shimla their summer capital under their rule and bequeathed the city with imperial architecture. The state came to its present form in 1971.

Climate

Climate

Climate

Known as the “snow desert”, the Himalayas create a rain shadow over Ladakh, making it impervious to monsoon clouds. However, global warming and climatic changes have led to cloud bursts and flooding in the recent years. Ponderous snowfall cuts Ladakh off from the rest of the country from November till April. Summer is the best time to visit, when it’s dry and balmy. The high altitude’s thin air intensifies the sun’s heat, making Ladakh one of those places where you can get a sunburn and frostbite at the same time!

With the fastest rising altitude over the shortest distance, the dwarf state of Sikkim packs a climatic punch. It encompasses a sub-tropical to temperate to alpine climate within its diminutive body. Sikkim witnesses frequent snowfall with the northern region and mountains being blanketed in white during winter. The inhabited regions have a moderate climate, with it not getting terribly hot or chilly. Post-summer monsoon rains casts a cloudy blanket over the soaring peaks, so the best time to visit Sikkim is early summer and early winter.

The north Indian states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have warm to hot summers in low altitude regions. Post summer monsoon is not the best to travel, owing to landslides and river flooding. Winters are very chilly in the hill stations and mountains, although the daytime can be pleasant if the sun is out. Skiing vacations in Auli and the Kullu valley are great options for winter vacations!

Geography

Geography

Geography

Ladakh is among the highest of the world’s inhabited plateaus, with much of it being over 3,000m in altitude. Straddling the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges and the upper Indus River valley, Ladakh is an untouched mosaic of lofty snow peaks and enormous glaciers, high valleys and engulfing gorges, intense rivers and otherworldly lakes, surreal deserts and sand dunes. Ladakh is the Shangri La of superlatives and its almost bizarre landscape will spellbind you.

Nestled in the Himalayas, Sikkim is characterised by a hilly and mountainous terrain. Unfit for major agriculture, you will spot terrace farms tucked into the hills from time to time. The crowning glory of Sikkim is Mount Kanchenjunga, India’s highest and the world’s third highest peak at 8,586m. With about 30 mountain peaks, more than 80 glaciers, hundreds of streams, rivers and lakes, lush forests with exotic vegetation, and thumping waterfalls, Sikkim is panoramic perfection.

The foothills of Uttarakhand are densely forested and encompass some of India’s most sensational and bountiful national parks (Jim Corbett, Valley of Flowers, Rajaji National Park). The two largest rivers of India, the Ganges and Yamuna, stem from the glaciers of Uttarakhand. Situated in the western Himalayas, Himachal Pradesh is a mountainous expanse. A montage of hills, snow peaks, diverse forests, rivers, meadows and pastures – Himachal has some of the most beautiful locations in India. Known as the fruit bowl of the country, copious orchards are scattered across the state.

Religion

Religion

Religion

Buddhism and Islam are the most dominant religions in Ladakh. Almost similarly split between the two main districts, the Ladakhis in Leh District and Zangskar are mostly Tibetan Buddhists, while Shia Muslims occupy most of the Kargil District. Ancient Buddhist inscriptions and rock engravings are ubiquitous, even in Muslim dominated areas like Dras and the Suru Valley. The Kargil areas are sprinkled with diminutive and unassuming mosques, or Imambaras - striking structures with a quaint blend of Islamic and Tibetan styles.

Hinduism is the dominant religion in Sikkim, with more than 60% of the population adhering to the faith. Buddhism has the second largest following, manifested in the large number of Buddhist monasteries adding a dash of colour to the landscape. Other religions include Christians, Muslims, Jains and traditional native Sikkimese. Owing to the state’s multi-ethnicity, Hindu temples coexist in harmony with monasteries, churches, mosques and gurudwaras.

Hindus form the overwhelming majority in both Uttarakhand (85%) and Himachal Pradesh (95%). Buddhism and Sikhism are also prevalent in the Himachal regions of Lahaul-Spiti and Shimla, respectively. Himachal Pradesh is well known for mythological sites and ancient temples. Uttarakhand is known as the religious and spiritual haven of India, drawing thousands of devotees and spiritual seekers to its holy towns of Haridwar, Rishikesh and most importantly, the epitome of Hindu devotion – the Char Dham pilgrimage. An enchanting sight in Haridwar is the daily evening “aarti” (prayer) where the river and sky are lit up with swirling oil lamps, prayer-bell chimes and fragrant incense sticks.

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