Beat the Chill: Top Winter Destinations in India
It's not too late to start planning for that awesome, winter holiday and part of the preparation should include looking at some of these destinations which are best to be visited in winter months. Here are some of our suggestions for the top Winter Destinations in India an affordable, 'less crowded' - winter holiday:
1) Ruins of Hampi in Karnataka
Winter is the best time to visit Hampi. During this time temperature won’t lift up mercury too much and it won’t get too chilli either. Roam around this ancient lost kingdom and gaze up at those magnificent structures as long as you want without fearing the scorching heat and fiery sun. But if you want to spend some alone time with the history of the Vijayanagara Empire then this won’t be the best time, comfortable climate attracts travellers of all kind to soak in the beauty of Hampi.
The term "Ruins of Hampi" can be slightly misleading; Hampi is bewitching and captivating, despite its age. Spread over miles of rocky terrain interspersed by boulders, banana plantations and palm groves, the backdrop, aided by fluffy clouds and low-lying hills, makes for an unusual one. This imperial capital, of the 14th century Vijayanagara dynasty now lies over 26 sq. kms.
Apart from the main sites of interest, like the Virupaksha Temple, Hampi Bazaar, Vitthala Temple, Monolith bull, Elephant Stables and Hazara Rama Temple, a walk (or ride) around the city exposes many facets of royal life to its visitor. Since this was the primary establishment of Krishnadevaraya, undoubtedly Vijayanagara’s most popular ruler, it has a multitude of palaces, big and small, as well as special enclosures like the Mahanavami Dibba, that were constructed keeping state rituals in mind.
A nine-day ritual (that coincided with Mahanavami) was an important celebration, that saw animal sacrifices, processions of caparisoned horses, mass worshipping and dances and wrestling matches, among others, and probably inspired the construction of Mahanavami Dibba.
It’s great to walk around, but for lazy tourists, cars, bicycles, bikes and even boats can carry you around the complex of monuments.
Early November is a great time to visit, if you want to witness the Hampi Utsav, a cultural celebration of the former empire. Monuments are lit up at night and dances and cultural performances are held, making the whole atmosphere one of celebration and mystique. Hampi is great relief for those who aren’t big fans of winter, apart from the arid climate, the miles of undiscovered monuments of the "Forgotten Empire" keep one glued for days, if not weeks. A great winter holiday destination.
2) The Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat
A salt marsh located in Kutch region of Gujarat may just be a formal description, but the Little Rann of Kutch is so much more. Though it seems drab and lifeless at first, a second glance exposes one to the implicit biodiversity of the stretch, which is home to the last of the Asiatic wild ass. It has even been declared the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary for this reason.
Winters is the best time to plan a holiday here as this time is especially entertaining in this salt marsh, as a number of migratory birds like pelicans, cranes, flamingos, wheatear, desert lark and the like.
Cross-desert jeep safaris are promising, and expose you to other species like nilgai, blue bull, chinkara and blackbuck, hare, hyenas, Indian fox and reptiles like monitor lizards. Accommodation can be diverse-from tents to huts and resorts, leaving you with a number of options.
3) Wildlife in Assam - Kaziranga National Park
There are myriad ways in which Assam can give you experiences that last a lifetime- tea that’s light and musty and packs bursts of flavor in every sip, clusters of shrines that host regular congregations, and a plethora of flora and fauna native to the Indian northeast.
The dwindling numbers of rhinos observed in 1904 led the British government in India to designate Kaziranga National Park a “Reserve Forest”, followed by measures to curtail poaching of elephants and rhinos in the park. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, as a measure taken to protect and preserve wildlife in the region.
Kaziranga is known for its significant breeding species, though the Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros takes the cake for being the most exotic attraction, and their numbers, thankfully, are not diminishing at an alarming rate anymore. The 2012 census recorded a decent 2329 rhinos, so the chances of you spotting one on your safari are actually quite good.
Apart from the above said, tigers and leopards are significant denizens, owing to which the park was also designated as a Tiger Reserve in 2006. It has the highest density of tigers anywhere in the world, approximated at one tiger per 5 km. square! Elephants, wild buffalos, swamp deer, wild boar, sambhar, otters, Ganges dolphins, hog bears, rose-ringed parakeets, jungle fowls, Pallas's fish eagle and sloth bears are other species known to inhabit the vast expanse of 430 square kilometers of lush grasslands, tropical wet evergreen forests and tropical semi-evergreen forest that the Park covers. It also packs a diversity of flora in its premises- elephant apple, kumbhi and spear grass, to name a few. Whether you take the jeep safari or the elephant safari, you’re in for a treat, a thrilling experience that makes for great memories and makes you want to come back for more. Definitely a top winter destination for wildlife lovers.
4) Off the beaten path in Assam - Haflong
The second Assamese destination on the list, and there’s a reason why. Haflong is a quiet hill station located in the Dima Hasao district of Assam, and is one of the most visited places in the state. A week’s vacation can provide many with the much needed solitude and quiet they seek, thanks to the plush hills, azure sky and occasional streams, but what’s best perhaps is the comfortable sub-tropical wet climate, a natural refuge from teeth-clattering cold in the capital. Lakeside resorts are famous for the hospitality they provide, in the midst of nature, with all its pristinity intact.
Trekking and paragliding are good options for adventure junkies, while those bit by the shopping bug can indulge in silk textiles and wooden handicrafts, both of which are specialties of the region. The Haflong Lake is frequented by tourists often, as is the Jatinga Bird Observatory.
5) Hills of West Bengal - Darjeeling
If you’ve seen the movie ‘Polar Express’ and dreamed of such a ride where you can see snow falling outside through the windows, then there is something similar in West Bengal!In the winter Darjeeling puts on the white gown and a train ride along its valley will give you a breathtaking view of the villages draping the blanket of snow underneath. This is a ride which gave Mark Twain one of the best days in his life when he travelled in Darjeeling at the year of 1896.He remarked, "It is the most enjoyable day I have spent on earth." January is the ideal time for this train through the snow.
6) Snow covered Shimla
The Ridge road is a large open space, located in the heart of Shimla, the capital city of Himachal Pradesh. The Ridge is the hub of all cultural activities of Shimla. A major shopping centre with some neo-gothic structures especially a Church from 1844 and a Tudorbethan styled library building built in 1910. There are three statues on the ridge; that of Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and Dr Y.S. Parmar, the first chief minister of Himachal Pradesh.
When it snows the ridge adorns a level of beauty which is beyond the grasp of words.
7) Munnar the Hill Station of Kerala
Cuddle inside your blanket, sip in one of the finest tea in the world, gaze at those mist clouds lurking between the lush green hills, The beauty of this place is unparalleled. If you are not a couch potato then go on a cycle ride through the twisting roads alongside the tea plantations or a jeep ride into the woods of Munnar. Whatever you choose Munnar will take your breath away at each turn.
There are several reasons Munnar should be on your next travel itinerary- the weather is great all year round, the air is pure, the peace and tranquility that surrounds you is like nothing you’ve ever experienced, the surroundings leave you speechless, and you have the option of staying in a treehouse (yes, really). This hill station located in Kerala was a favorite with the British, and it’s clear why. Miles of neatly trimmed, bright green hills and unending expanse of tea plantations are just impossible to dislike.
Chilly bhaji with hot tea is a roadside specialty. Also you can visit the Eravikulam National Park, known for its Nilgiri Tahr and spend a day trekking around the Park.
Top station is a great place to visit, if panoramic views of thousand shades of green enthrall you. Located on the Munnar-Kodaikanal road, this is the highest point in the area and gives you a bird’s eye view of the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. Munnar is great for the solitude and greenery, a good break from dusty, polluted cities.
8) Mount Abu in Rajasthan
Mount Abu is a small hill station located in Sirohi district of Rajasthan. It is home to a lot of temples, with engravings and paintings on them, reflective of the state’s culture and tradition. Overlooking the Aravalli Ranges, it has lush green forests that attract naturalists and botanists for their diversities of flora.
The hill station is also known for the Dilwara Jain Temple, an important Jain pilgrimage destination in the country, also known for its stunning use of marble. The temple, known for its architectural perfection, has five independent temples enclosed within its compound. Another attraction is the Nakki Lake, the word “nakki” meaning nails, since the lake is believed to have been dug with fingernails. Its deep blue color and serenity are worth a day’s visit, which you can spend picnicking and boating.
There is also a Mount Abu Wildlife Sanctuary, housing hundreds of plant species. The weather is a nice relief-hot and dry at the base, and pleasant and cool as you go higher.
9) Valleys of Manali, Himachal
Snow takes over Manali in the coming months and the snow fairies will rule the valleys without mercy. Every inch of soil and every sprout of grass will be made to salute the white flag!
The winter trek in Manali is the best choice for you to enjoy the snow and winter in India. The rooftops of huts in the villages will put on a white cap so will the trees. The green meadows will become glaciers, small streams will freeze over with only a blue streak of water flowing, Pack your bag and tea to venture out into the land of Snow fairies.
10) Islands of Andaman & Nicobar
Amidst the severity and harshness of winters an escape to this tropical heaven is a dream come true. As if lazing on the beautiful beaches is not enough, the island offers various adventure activities for the so inclined. Snorkeling, Scuba diving, game fishing and treks like the elephant lumber trek are fun. The dense rain-forests are varied- from epiphytic like orchids and ferns in the south, to deciduous in the middle.
The tropical climate in the Andaman can’t get any better than the winter making it a perfect winter destination. The temperature is moderate and the sun won’t be that mad as it is in the summer. With its stunning beaches and exciting water sports Andaman is the honeymooner’s paradise. The beaches of Andaman are considered as one of the best places in the world for scuba diving. The corals under the water are spellbinding and the water is clear as it could be.
The north Andamans with the wet evergreen forest like woody climbers is in total contrast to the north. The animal life includes about 50 species of mammals, 270 of birds and 225 species of butterflies and moths. The water life includes giant clams, green mussels and oysters besides every other imaginable seafood. The sojourn can be well planned to include a visit to the infamous Cellular Jail (which housed many Indian freedom fighters), Marine National Park, Water Sports complex, Fisheries and Anthropological museum, Viper Island etc. About 139 KMs (by sea) from the capital city of Port Blair lies the Barren Island which boasts of the only active volcano in India. The Island has been home to 4 Negrito and 2 Mongoloid tribes. The Sentinelese of the Negrito tribe is known to be the last of the Stone Age tribes. This tribe still remains isolated from the island and its people, maintaining an air of mystery around them.
All in all the over 572 islands of Andaman and Nicobar in the south-east of Indian Mainland offer enough excitement for to please everyone. If not you just can’t have enough of sun, sea and sand.
11) The real Off-beat Destination - Lakshadweep
The island of 10 sub-divisions lies about 200 to 440 KMs to the southwest coastline of India. With Kavaratti as the capital the island forms the smallest Union Territory of India - Lakshadweep. The main islands are Kavaratti, Agatti, Minicoy and Amini. The Amindivi and Minicoy group of islands collectively form the Coral Islands. There are 10 inhabited and 17 uninhabited islands to choose from. Any number of activities can be planned out - scuba diving, wind surfing, water skiing, sport fishing, besides of course kayaking and canoeing. There are many choices of cruise available, varying from a single day to few days. Lakshadweep offers a visionary delight of ecology and culture. The 36 islands spread over 12 sq km area offer adventure, sport, treks and if nothing else then the beautiful sands and heavenly skies- the ideal scenes from a midsummer dream.
12) Daman and Diu
The second biggest Union Territory in India, Daman and Diu offers a quiet escape from the cold. Daman is a small port off the coast of Surat and is quite easily accessible. The culture and people are a mix of Parsis, Muslims, Hindus and Christians and are warm and welcoming. That it was a former colony of the Portuguese for four and a half centuries is quite evident in the presence of forts and buildings with typical colonial architecture. Apart from frolicking all day at beaches, you can consider visiting some of the more frequented places of worship- Church of Our Lady of Rosary, Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Jama Masjid and Gangeshwar Temple.
13) Beaches of Goa
No introduction is needed for Goa. Winter is when Goa becomes most popular. The cool temperate climate during the winter is a call for partying souls across the world and beaches of Goa will be dotted with in-bounds and out-bound travelers who enjoy every bit of the sin city in India. The New Year eve will be the pinnacle of the winter holiday season in Goa. During the last night of the year fireworks will light up the sky and disco lights will light up the shores.
14) Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
The sandcastles and havelis of this desert- town, Jaisalmer are a welcoming sight. Most buildings are reminiscent of a bygone era, complete with a view of the Jaisalmer Fort at night, all lit up and beckoning you to explore beyond the frontiers. Also known as “Sona Qila”, a tour of the fort is a must, especially of the terrace which completes the tour.
But the best part is yet to be unraveled. The Desert Festival of Jaisalmer, a three day event held in January or February, is an experience you don’t want to miss. Apart from traditional folk dances and musical performances, there are camel races, mustache competitions and turban tying competitions, among others. Performances by snake charmers, puppeteers, magicians and acrobats complete the picture. For those looking for a few days’ relief from the unrelenting cold in the capital, this is the place to be.
The pink city of Jaipur, The blue city of Jodhpur, Udaipur the city of lakes, Mount Abu the only hill station in Rajasthan and finally The golden sands of Jaisalmer. This wonderland spotted with forts and some fierce history will give you the best experience during the cold time of the year. Sun won’t be much hard on you and you can also cuddle under a thick blanket during the chilly nights. Rajasthan has a short peak season in winters and which makes it a unique destination for Winters.
Other places to visit are Gadisar Lake, Suryagarh, Jain Temple. Jaisalmer, despite being in the midst of an arid desert, maintains its colorful traditions. Shopping here is also fun- bazaars blanket you in colors you probably didn't know existed!
15) Kashmir Valley
Alpine mountains and meadows adorn this heaven on earth. Sonamarg, Srinagar, this place is loaded with breathtaking views and cozy climate. During the winter Gulmarg in Kashmir will on top of snow spoiled soul’s list for a truly winter holiday!
Stay in a house boat in the Dal Lake overlooking the snow capped valleys and mountains while enjoying the hot Kashmiri Wazwaan (Kashmiri cuisine) celebration of flavors in six courses!
After you are done with all this set out for Ladakh and the frozen Pangong Lake. In winter the Pangong Lake will be covered with a thick sheet of ice and if it is thick enough you can even ride over it!
-Meghana & Sachu Meghana is an avid reader, metalhead and foodie who spends her time following politics, working at animal shelters, advocating feminism and atheism and watching Anime, among other things. She has too many aspirations to list in one go.
This post was originally published on Trodly travel blog.
Featured image by Sergio Morchon