The area of the Himalayas most easily accessible from Delhi lies in the state of Uttaranchal. Buttressed by Tibet in the north, Nepal to the east and Himachal Pradesh to the west, the region comprises the erstwhile kingdoms of Garhwal and Kumaon, which were ceded to the East India Company after the Anglo-Gurkha War of 1816. Some of the world’s loftiest summits bound its northern horizon, including Nanda Devi (7,816m / 25,643ft) – the highest mountain entirely in India – Kamet (7,756m / 25,446ft) and Trisul (7,120m / 23,360ft), the latter overlooking the source of the sacred River Ganges.
For centuries, Hindu pilgrims and sadhus from across India followed ancient footpaths through the conifer forests, alpine meadows (bugyal) and glaciers of this spectacular region to reach the temples and other holy places nestled in the lap of its snow peaks. Paved roads have more recently been built to the four greatest of these pilgrimage sites – the ‘Char Dams’ of Yumunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – and these provide relatively easy access to valleys that formerly required weeks of hard walking to reach.