Uttarakhand is a land steeped in many layers of history, culture, ethnicity, and religion. Ancient rock paintings, rock shelters, Paleolithic stone tools (hundreds of thousands of years old), and megaliths indicate that the mountains of the region have been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Archaeological remains also support the existence of early Vedic (c. 1500 BCE) practices in the area.
Aside from what has been learned from such archaeological evidence, very little is known about the early history of Uttarakhand. Early scriptures mention a number of tribes that inhabited the Garhwal and Kumaun regions of what is now Uttarakhand. Among these early residents were the Akas, Kol-Munds, Nagas, Paharis (Khasas), Hephthalites (Hunas), Kiratas, Gujjars, and Aryans. The Paharis were the dominant group in both the Garhwal and the Kumaun areas until the coming of the Rajputs and high-caste Brahmans from the plains around the 13th century.
It was only in postindependence India that the Uttarakhand region began to receive significant attention in the regional literature, when the autonomous princely state of Tehri-Garhwal was incorporated into the United Provinces of India in 1949. With the adoption of a new Indian constitution in 1950, the United Provinces was renamed Uttar Pradesh and became a constituent state of India. Grappling with a large population and a vast land area, the government of the new state—seated at the southeastern city of Lucknow—found it difficult to address the interests of the people in the far-northern region. Unemployment, poverty, lack of adequate infrastructure, and general underdevelopment ultimately led the people of Uttarakhand to call for a separate state shortly after the creation of Uttar Pradesh. Initially, protests were weak, but they gathered strength and momentum in the 1990s. The tension reached a climax on Oct. 2, 1994, when police fired on a crowd of demonstrators in the northwestern town of Muzaffarnagar, killing a number of people.
The separatists continued their agitation for the next several years. Finally, in November 2000 the new state of Uttaranchal was created. In 2007 Uttaranchal became Uttarakhand, reclaiming the name by which the region had been known prior to statehood.
Sports & nature
The climate of Uttarakhand is temperate, marked by seasonal variations in temperature but also affected by tropical monsoons. January is the coldest month, with daily high temperatures averaging below freezing in the north and near 70 °F (21 °C) in the southeast. In the north, July is the hottest month, with temperatures typically rising from the mid-40s F (about 7 °C) to about 70 °F daily. In the southeast, May is the warmest month, with daily temperatures normally reaching the low 100s F (about 38 °C) from a low around 80 °F (27 °C). Most of the state’s roughly 60 inches (1,500 mm) of annual precipitation is brought by the southwest monsoon, which blows from July through September. Floods and landslides are problems during the rainy season in the lower stretches of the valleys. In the northern parts of the state, 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 metres) of snowfall is common between December and March.
Plant and animal life
Four major forest types are found in the Uttarakhand, including alpine meadows in the extreme north, temperate forests in the Great Himalayas, tropical deciduous forests in the Lesser Himalayas, and thorn forests in the Siwalik Range and in parts of the Tarai. According to official statistics, more than 60 percent of Uttarakhand is under forest cover; in actuality, however, the coverage is much less. The forests provide not only timber and fuel wood but also extensive grazing land for livestock. Only a small portion of the state’s total land area has permanent pastures.
Common tree species of the temperate forests include Himalayan cedar (Deodar cedar), Himalayan (blue) pine, oak, silver fir, spruce, chestnut, elm, poplar, birch, yew, cypress, and rhododendron. Tropical deciduous forests of sal, teak, and shisham—all hardwoods—occur in the submontane tract. Thorn forests of dhak (a type of flowering tree), babul (a type of acacia), and various bushes occur in the south.
Uttarakhand has a rich array of animal life. Tigers, leopards, elephants, wild boars, and sloth bears are among the state’s large mammals. Common birds include pigeons, doves, ducks, partridges, peacocks, jays, quail, and woodpeckers. Crocodiles are found in some areas. Lions and rhinoceroses have become extinct in the region. A number of national parks and sanctuaries have been established to preserve Uttarakhand’s wildlife.