In November 2000, the government of India officially recognized the region of Uttaranchal as a distinct political and social entity. After Indian independence, the region of Uttar Pradesh was created out of the British administrative area called the Northwestern Provinces, but this division did not fully reflect the diversity and separate culture of the northern part of Uttar Pradesh, comprised of the districts Kumaon and Garhwal. In 1979, the Uttaranchal Kranti Dal political party formed, with the intention of representing the interests of the region and pushing for independence from Uttar Pradesh. The separation movement started to take off in a big way in 1994, and on 9th November 2000 the Indian government passed a bill that made it an independent state with its own legislature.

With a population of roughly 6 million people and an area of over 50,000 square kilometres, Uttaranchal is sparsely populated compared to Uttar Pradesh. 63% of the state is covered by forest, and 92% of it is hilly or mountainous, with only a small tropical plain. In fact, bordering on Nepal and Tibet, Uttaranchal contains some of the most spectacular scenery in India, including the Himalayan source of the Ganges river, and many locations famous from the Vedas and Upanishads. For this reason, another name for the state is Devbhoomi, or home of the gods. Tourism is one of the state's main industries - in fact, its only viable one, due to the scarcity of arable land for agriculture, and the lack of significant modern urban development - and there are many wildlife parks, lakes, glaciers, rain forests and temples which already attract millions of visitors every year. The highest point in Uttaranchal is the sacred peak Nanda Devi, at over 7000 metres.

The two districts have quite distinct character and history, and the regional languages of Garhwali and Kumaoni are spoken alongside Hindi. Garhwal was traditionally known as Uttarkhand, and is famous as the center of operations of Adi Shankaracharya, one of India's greatest sages, and for the temples he began there, Badrinath and Kedarnath. In the 15th century the 52 separate principalities in Uttarkhand were unified by king Ajaj Pal, and for the next 300 years, until the arrival of the British, it remained one kingdom, ruled from its capital, Srinagar (not the same city as the capital of Kashmir). In modern-day Garhwal, most people make a living from farming the hilly land, and there is an extremely diverse mix of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims from many different ethnic backgrounds.

Kumaon contains many stone age settlements, including a famous cave shelter with paintings at Lakhu Udyar dating back to the Mesolithic period. From the 7th to the 11th centuries A.D. Kumaon was ruled by the Katyuri dynasty, who at the height of their power also ruled large parts of Garhwal and even Nepal. The capital of their kingdom was Baijnath. Towards the end of the Katyuri dynasty the sun temple of Katarmal was built, representing the culmination of their art and industry. The priceless carved doors of this temple are now kept in Delhi for safety, after the idol of the deity, dating back to the 10th century, was stolen. About 200 years after the reign of the Katyuris, the Chand dynasty took control of Kumaon, and they are responsible for the temple complex at Jageshwar, which contains 164 temples in the middle of a cedar forest. Modern-day Kumaon is more unified culturally than Garhwal, dominated by traditional patriarchal Hindu extended family and caste system in which the eldest male controls the family and women play a mostly subservient role.

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