Perched on a saddle shaped ridge, at an altitude of 1646 mtr above sea-level is the ancient town of Almora. The natural beauty of Almora is greatly enhanced by the surrounding hills, which are covered with dense forests of fragrant pine and other conifers, each crowned by a temple. It is different from other hill resorts in Uttarakhand, as it has not been deserted by its senior citizens who made some mark in life. It has retained the aura of being a hub of educational and cultural activities, and because it was patronised by the Chand rulers and Britishers alike. Nature has made Almora a trekkers’ town and from here one can venture forth on to exhilarating treks past soaring pines and glades of ferns, rhododendrons and wild flowers to the dramatic spectacle of snow and stark mountains.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Chand dynasty ruled Kumaon from Champawat. As they annexed larger areas in the west, they found it difficult to administer their kingdom from Champawat and looked for a more central place. In 1560, Bhishma Chand selected the Khagmara Hills as his new Capital and gave it the name Almora, but before he could move there, he was slain.
His successor, Balo Kalyan Chand established the new capital. Legend has it that the capital was moved to this site because, when Balo Kalyan Chand was hunting in the dense forests of Khagmara, he chased a hare which to his surprise changed into a tiger in the thicket. It was considered an auspicious event and so the site where the tiger appeared, was selected for the palace.
Almora remained the capital of the Chand rulers, until the whole of Kumaon was annexed by the British in 1815. They made Almora their Headquarters and a good number of schools, hospitals, churches and other institutions sprang up. The town has a teeming population of nearly 60000 and the district boasts of the highest literacy rate in the country, next only to Kerala. Befittingly this town became the centre of Kumaoni culture and great Indian traditions. The doyen of Indian philosophy Swami Vivekanand (1863 – 1902) visited Almora three times. First time in 1890 when he along with his companion Akhandanand came as seekers of knowledge and meditated at Kakri ghat under a peepul tree. It is here that he had a deep spiritual awakening which he mentioned in his diary that macrocosm and microcosm are built on the same plan. In other words all that exists in the universe also exists in the body, and further that the whole universe exists in the atom. This was the beginning of his theory of Zero and birth of the cosmic system out of Zero. This became the theme of his lecture in Chicago that raised him to the status of international thinker on cosmic system and humanities. Interestingly Swami ji and his brother desciples had walked from Nainital and were to go on foot to Sri Badrinath. They could not complete the yatra as the roads to Sri Badrinath had been closed by the Government on account of famine. They returned to Rishikesh. This was followed by two more visits to Almora when he initiated propogation of the basics of Indian philosophy.
In 1898 Swamy ji came to Almora for third time and stayed in the Thompson House. Unfortunately this building today is in a dilapidated condition. During his stays in Almora Swami ji used to meditate in a cave near Kasar Devi temple. Other places he liked were Syahi Devi and Deval Dhar. In 1971 one Lady Imerson Sen founded the Vivekanand memorial guest house at a place where after enlightenment Swami once fainted and a muslim saint saved his life. Unfortunately this building also is a victim of negligence. It is unfortunate that a town which has been so closely associated with the life of this great thinker, has nothing in good condition to remember him today. The Ram Krishna Mission, an Ashram located near the Bright End Corner has also nothing much to say about this great scholar saint.
Another building associated with India’s cultural past is the Tagore Bhawan in the cantonment area, where Ravindra Nath Tagore spent some time composing poems that will always rule the Indian hearts. For many years, Almora was the headquarter of Udai Shankar, the renowned exponent of Indian dances. Udai Shankar and his troupe became very popular among youngesters so much so that many a parents started discouraging their children from going for classical dancing.
It also has the distinction of being the home town of the great freedom fighter Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant. Govind Ballabh Pant was born in a nearby village called Khoont, and had his preliminary education in Almora. The Govind Ballabh Pant Public Museum on Mall houses important historical letters from Sardar Ballabh Bhai Patel and others to Pant and is an institute of national importance which needs a little more care. More important is that Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru served a term in Almora jail during the independence movement. History did not repeat here as the Uttarakhandi agitators were not jailed here and were sent else where.
Almora, 65 km. from Nainital is an important tourists resort with several places of interest and adequate number of guest houses and hotels to suit all pockets..
Places of Interest in & around Almora
Nanda Devi Temple Nanda Devi is the presiding deity of whole of Uttarakhand. Like many other places, being in the heart of old Lala Bazar is the Nanda Devi temple built around thousand years back by the Chand rulers.
Bright End Corner 2 km on the main motor road. Famous for its snow views, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Simtola 4 km by bridle path. Along this trail, the ridges are covered with orchards and pine forests.
Kalimati 5 km beyond Simtola (on foot). View of the Himalayas and Almora town. The soil is black, hence the name Kalimati.
Chital 6 Km. Noted for its famous temple of Gollu Devta and beautiful landscape around.
Katarmal 18 km (14 km motorable and 4 km on foot). Altitude 1454 mtr Above sea level. It is famous for an old Sun Temple.
Panuwanaulla 31 km. away this place is set at an altitude of 1981 mtr above sea-level, and is the starting point for visit to Dandeshwar Temple. Close to this place is an old ashram called Mirtola.
Kasar Devi Temple On way towards Ranikhet at about 6km is the Kasar Devi temple at a height of 1740 mtr, where Swami Vivekanand is said to have come to meditate.
Sitlakhet Nearly 39 km away at an altitude of 1829 mtr above sea-level, this is a famous place for superb view of the Himalayas and a quiet holiday in case accommodation is made available.
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