Pithoragarh – India’s Paragliding Paradise
Little Kashmir – That is the name conferred upon Pithoragarh – the easternmost district of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. As the name suggests, this region is breathtakingly beautiful. But what makes Pithoragarh better than many parts of Kashmir is its pristine and untouched beauty, unsullied by hoards of tourists. Among its greatest attractions is the majestic Nanda Devi, India’s second highest peak. Pilgrims on the sacred Kailash Mansarovar yatra need to go through Pithoragarh to make it to their destination. The town of Pithoragarh, the district headquarters, is a quaint and charming town – a veritable paradise for those who answer the call of the mountains and dare venture beyond Almora.
Not far from Tibet and Nepal, the cultural influences of these two regions on the people of Pithoragarh are evident. The recorded history of Pithoragarh goes back many centuries but this hilly region rose to prominence only when the Pals annexed it and ruled over it in the 14th century. Through the mid 15th century, however, the Pithoragarh region became a significant part of the kingdom of the Chands (lost to and regained from the Brahm kings). The Chand kings commissioned the famous Pithoragarh fort here. The Chand rulers were kind and great patrons of art. They left an indelible impression on the cultural legacy of this region.
How to Get There
By Air – The airport nearest to Pithoragarh is the one at Pantnagar (Nainital district), approximately 220 kilometres away. This is a very small terminal and handles only an Air India flight from Delhi. The other major airports that connect Pithoragarh with the rest of the country are the Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport at Lucknow (approximately 460 kilometres away) and the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun (approximately 450 kilometres away). From Lucknow and Dehradun, regular bus services to Pithoragarh are available. A new airport has come up at Pithoragarh but is yet to commence operations.
By Train – The nearest railway station that connects Pithoragarh is the station at Tanakpur in Champawat district. Tanakpur is approximately 145 kilometres away and both bus and taxi services to Pithoragarh are available close to the station. The preferred rail connectivity, though, is through Haldwani railway station, about 180 kilometres away. Haldwani is better connected with major cities in northern India.
By Road – Pithoragarh town is only accessible by road. This means that at some point in your trip you will need to board a bus or taxi. Connecting buses are available at New Delhi, Lucknow, Haldwani, Dehradun, Almora, Nainital, and Chandigarh. Private taxis and car rentals are also available in all these towns. Hiring a local driver is highly recommended since the hilly roads may be difficult to navigate.
Places to See
Kamakhya Devi Temple – If you thought that the only Kamakhya Temple in India is in Guwahati, head straight to this beautiful and serene temple in Pithoragarh. The Goddess deity is believed to be incredibly powerful.
Thamari Kund, Munsiyari – This is a beautiful viewpoint and picnic spot but the trek is likely to test your stamina.
Nag Mandir - Among the hundreds of shrines in the region, the Nag Mandir is a unique one. There are a number of legends attached to the temple but many believe that it may simply be the presence of a number of snakes in the region that led to the construction of this temple.
Askot - Askot was a center of historic importance during the Pal and Chand reigns. At 54 kilometres from Pithoragarh is the Askot Sanctuary – a great attraction for wildlife enthusiasts. Look out for snow leopards, deer, bears, and a number of birds.
Thal Kedar - The Shiva idol of this temple is believed to be thousands of years old. It is one of the most revered pilgrimage spots in the region.
Patal Bhuneshwar Caves – If you grew up on stories of Patal (underworld), this is how you must have imagined it – full of limestone caves and primitive shrines dedicated to Lord Bhuvneshwar (Shiva) and all the 33 crore Hindu deities.
Pithoragarh Fort – Ideally this should have been the top spot to visit but unfortunately the epic fort built here by the Chand kings was destroyed during the Indo-Chinese conflict of 1962. There are some remains of this fort which is a favorite with history enthusiasts.
Pithoragarh may not yet be very popular with tourists who prefer famous destinations such as Nainital and Almora but this place is the dream destination of most adventure enthusiasts in the country. The region offers a number of adventure opportunities including white water rafting, mountain climbing, mountain biking, and trekking. The one activity that Pithoragarh has made a name for itself is paragliding. In 2016, an international paragliding event was held here between 14 and 19 March. More than 100 paragliders from across the country and various nations took part in the event. It now seems that such events shall be a regular affair in Pithoragarh.
Best Time to Visit
Like most places along the Himalayan belt, Pithoragarh tends to become extremely cold during winters (November to February). Unless you enjoy freezing temperatures, this is not an ideal time to visit the region. Spring and early summer months are very pleasant. March through early May are ideal for all adventure sports and about perfect for paragliding activities. June, July, and August are rainy months and prone to landslides. September and October again are perfect for fall visitors and tourists. Due to growing tourist interest, there are a number of new hotels coming up in Pithoragarh.