Uttarakhand is a region of outstanding natural beauty. Nestled between Nepal and China in north, Himachal in the west and Uttar Pradesh in the south, most of the northern parts of the state are part of Greater Himalaya ranges, covered by the high Himalayan peaks and glaciers, while the lower foothills were densely forested till denuded by the British log merchants and forest contractors after independence. Recent efforts in forestation, however, have been successful in restoring the situation to some extent. The unique Himalayan ecosystem plays host to a large number of animals (including bharal, snow leopards, leopards and tigers), plants and rare herbs. Two of India's mightiest rivers, the Ganga and the Yamuna take birth in the glaciers of Uttarakhand, and are fed by myriad lakes, glacial melts and streams in the region. The unsurpassed beauty of Uttarakhand hills make it the most sought after destination for thousands of tourists from all across the country and abroad.
Uttarakhand region is traditionally referred to as Uttarakhand in old literature and scriptures, which derives from the Sanskrit for Northern Country. The earliest historical references to the region are found in the Vedas. Specific mention of the mountains exists in the Mahabharata, dated to about 1000 BC, when the protagonists of the epic, the Pandavas, are said to have ended their life on earth by ascending the slopes of a peak in western Garhwal called Swargarohini- literally, the 'Ascent to heaven'.
The present state of Uttarakhand was earlier as part of the United Province of Agra and Awadh, which came into existence in 1902. In 1935, the name of the state was shortened to the United Province. In January 1950, the United Province was renamed, as Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand remained a part of Uttar Pradesh before it came into being on 9 November 2000, the 27th state of India.
The climate and vegetation vary greatly with elevation. The highest elevations are covered by ice and bare rock. The Western Himalayan Alpine Shrub and Meadows ecoregion lies between 3000-3500 and 5000 meters elevation; tundra and alpine meadows cover the highest elevations, transitioning to Rhododendron-dominated shrublands below. The Western Himalayan sub - alpine conifer forests lie just below the tree line; at 3000-2600 meters elevation they transition to the Western Himalayan broadleaf forests, which lie in a belt from 2600-1500 meters elevation. Below 1500 meters elevation lie western end of the drier Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands belt, and the Upper Gangetic Plains moist deciduous forests known as Bhabhar. The lowland forests have mostly been cleared for agriculture, but a few pockets remain.
There are a number of national parks in Uttarakhand including the Jim Corbett National Park (the oldest national park of India), Valley of Flowers National Park and Nanda Devi National Park being the main ones.
The state comprises of two regions, the western half known as Garhwal and the eastern region going by the name of Kumaon, the two having different chieftains in history and different lingual and cultural influences due to proximity and neighbourhood of different cultures. The inseparable and complementary nature of their geography, economy, culture, language and traditions, however, has created strong bondages between the two regions.
Garhwal has been described in the ancient text of Kedarkhand to extend from Gangadwar (modern day Haridwar) in the South to the high mountains in the North, and from the Tamsa (Tons) river in the West to Buddhachal (probably the Nanda Devi group of peaks between Garhwal and Kumaon) in the East. Scriptural texts mention a number of tribes that inhabited the region, such as the Sakas, the Nagas, Khasas, Hunas and Kiratas. The Nagas were a mysterious race whose traces are still to be found in the Hills. The Khasas were the dominant race in the Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas till the coming of the Rajputs and Brahmins from the plains.
Garhwal today remains a land of temples, myth and legend, where every stone tells a story. Saint Adi Shankaracharya, a Namboodri Brahmin from Malabar in South India was almost entirely responsible for the revival of Hinduism in the early ninth century. At the time that he set out on his reformist mission, Uttarakhand was a medley of mystic cults, naga worship, tantric rites and animistic faith. He established a series of dhams and maths - seats of Hindu religion - at elevated sites in the midst of the Himalayas.
Kumaon which lies almost south to the great Himalayan range, is moderate in its constitution. The lie of its land is gentler in its undulations, its lore more lyrical. What permeates the open valleys is a simpler, singular faith in the presiding deity of Kumaon- Nanda Devi, the goddess of Bliss. In the last 3-4000 years Kumaon has given shelter to and is, consequently, an amalgamation of various people who have come from all sides. Archaeologists have also discovered many rock printings, rock shelters, palaeoliths megaliths, cup marks etc. in the region. The native people call themselves Garhwali/Kumaoni and more than 90% of them are Hindus, ethnically belonging to the Indo-Aryan group. Most of them identify themselves in the upper castes. Other ethnic communities in the region include Nepali who have arrived over the past century from the neighbouring country of Nepal, and the Tibetan migrants settled called as the Jadh, Marcha and Shauka on the Indo-Tibetan frontier, collectively known as the Bhotiya, and nomadic cattle herders known as Gujjar in the southern Terai region. Many Punjabis after the partition of India, Bengalis, and Tibetans of Eastern Tibet region (KHAMPA) have also settled in the southern plains part of the state. Kumaoni and Garhwali dialects are spoken is Kumaon and Garhwal region respectively. Jaunsari and Bhotia are also spoken in the region by some Tribal Communities. In various regions a mixture of both Kumaoni and Garhwali is also spoken. The city population however converse mostly in Hindi. The majority of people in this state are Rajputs.