Gone is the time when one looked forward to school and college holidays. Back then it meant visits to weather-friendly locations replete with picnics, long strolls, and aimless cycling in relative solitude. In other words, it was the mountains in summers, the plains in winters for northerners. This longstanding travel tradition continues unaffected, with one major difference–an exponential swell in number of footfalls at all tourist destinations. The resultant eye on optimising benefits by commercial establishments during these periods–aka peak season–has regrettably led to a general deficit in quietude and surplus burden on infrastructure. I have no doubt it’s still great amounts of fun for kids; not so much for those no longer.
Consequently, I find myself joining an increasing number of travellers for whom off-season is fast becoming the new season. For starters, it is pocket-friendlier. The airfares and hotel tariffs are way lower. Transportation and accommodation come instantly available. Alluring deals are aplenty. Food tastes better. Traffic jams and selfie sticks disappear. Local residents are visibly relaxed. Destinations breathe easy, as do fauna and flora. Generally speaking, the all-pervading vacation excitement, the crowds and their clamour are remarkably diminished. Discomfiture, in face of extreme temperatures, can be surmounted by travelling in the intervening spring and autumnal months.
Better still, when the monsoon is just beginning to get a hold and nature is gloriously resplendent in countless shades of green. This luxuriant transformation is experienced across India and without question has an undeniable charm about it everywhere. Yet, none hold my affection quite like the rain-washed avatar of the Himalayas. I’m not alone either as monsoon tourism in these parts has begun appealing to–and gratifying–more and more nature-lovers. Not least, those with a sense of adventure, much patience, as well as, seekers of the experiential. My own forays have unfailingly brought in their wake enduring people memories and a renewed, more heightened respect for Mother Nature.
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Sharing here a few memories I suspect I may not have made in high season. My visit to the Himalayan Orchard farm stay in Rukhla (Himachal Pradesh), just as the rains were setting in, found the owners catching their breath, and unhurriedly going about household chores set aside during the peak season. Baking, pickling, and jam-making was done and dusted; it was time for their artisanal cheese. This led to a 45 minute drive to Shararu Pass to source pails of buffalo milk from a Gujjar camp. Straight from the udders even as the bovines grazed amidst mist-kissed deodars. What a sight! A sudden shower got us an invite to wait inside their make-shift home, meet the extended family–goats included–and a hot glass of milk each. This warm hospitality is hardly experienced in peak seasons when tourists flock everywhere.
While it remains a complete no-no for non-experts and first-time visitors, with a degree of preparation and some precautions, mountain travel during the rainy season could well become a hard-to-break habit. Listed here are a few helpful pointers.
- Ensure roadworthiness of self-driven vehicles
- Hire experienced cab drivers habitual of mountain driving
- Check up on road conditions before setting out, potential hosts will have latest updates
- Never ignore local wisdom and advice
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast; avoid travel during heavy rains
- Leave early to reach your destination with daylight on your side
- Be prepared for uncertainty and delays due to landslides and other eventualities
- Pack long sleeved and warm clothes, temperatures drop with the rain
- Carry quick-dry towels, raingear, and water-proof shoes
- Keep handy reusable water bottles, prescribed medicines, and insect/leech repellents