Another year of travel is nearly over… but not quite because the rewards for braving the cold are many. December is the month when pleasant weather and chill in the air combine creating a fantastic time to discover a completely new side of some of India’s popular travel destinations. We pick the ones you should definitely head to.
Rising above Joshimath, 14km by road – and only 4km by the gondola-style cable car – Auli is India’s premier ski resort. Visit in winter to enjoy the awesome views of Nanda Devi (India’s second-highest peak) from the top of the cable-car station. As a ski resort, Auli is spectacular, with gentle 5km-long slopes, one 500m rope tow that runs beside the main slope, and an 800m chairlift that connects the upper and lower slopes. The snow is consistently good and the setting is superb.
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Goa’s biggest draw is undoubtedly its virtually uninterrupted string of golden-sand beaches. This shimmering strand stretches along the Arabian Sea from the tip to the toe of the state, and each of the various beaches have developed their own personalities and reputations since the hippie days of the sixties. But the pint-sized state is more than beaches and trance parties. A kaleidoscopic blend of Indian and Portuguese cultures, sweetened with sun, sea, sand, seafood and spirituality, there’s nowhere in India quite like it.
Spectacularly jagged, arid mountains enfold this magical Buddhist ex-kingdom. Picture-perfect gompas dramatically crown rocky outcrops amid whitewashed stupas and mani walls. Colourful fluttering prayer flags share their spiritual messages metaphorically with the mountain breeze. Prayer wheels spun clockwise release more merit-making mantras. Gompa interiors are colourfully awash with the murals and statuary of countless bodhisattvas.
Alappuzha or Alleppey- is the hub of Kerala’s backwaters, home to a vast network of waterways and more than a thousand houseboats. Wandering around the small but chaotic city centre and bus-stand area, with its modest grid of canals, you’d be hard-pressed to agree with the ‘Venice of the East’ tag. Float along and gaze over paddy fields of succulent green, curvaceous rice barges and village life along the banks. This is one of Kerala’s most mesmerizingly beautiful and relaxing experiences.
Beside shimmering Lake Pichola, with the ochre and purple ridges of the wooded Aravalli Hills stretching away in every direction, Udaipur has a romance of setting unmatched in Rajasthan and arguably in all India. Fantastical palaces, temples, havelis and countless narrow, crooked, timeless streets add the human counterpoint to the city’s natural charms.
A mighty gash in the earth fringed by hulking mountains, Tawang Valley works a special magic on the minds of travellers. The valley is a gorgeous patchwork of mountain ridges, vast fields and clusters of Buddhist monasteries and Monpa villages. The setting is more beautiful than the town itself, but murals of auspicious Buddhist emblems and colourful prayer wheels add interest to the central Old Market area.
Dawki is a magical place with shimmering waters and a friendly air. The jewelled emerald waters of Umngot river, popularly called Dawki river owing to its location, look as if belonging to another world. As the clear waters of Umngot don’t run deep, hardly 12-15 ft, the pebbled bed of the river with stones in myriad shapes and colours, and the fish aimlessly swimming around add to the overall enchantment factor. A boat ride in the river is a must.
If you’re looking for extreme skiing in high-altitude powder, Gulmarg might be the dream winter sports destination you’ve been looking for. The town is encircled by snow-capped peaks, the most impressive of which is Mt Affarwat, accessible via the precipitous Gulmarg Gondola – the second highest cable car ride in the world. Adventurous folks can take a detour and trek another hour from the summit to the spectacular frozen Alpather Lake.
This famous national park is the best place to spot wild tigers in Rajasthan. Comprising 1334 sq km of wild jungle scrub hemmed in by rocky ridges, at its centre is the 10th-century Ranthambhore Fort. Scattered around the fort are ancient temples and mosques, hunting pavilions, crocodile-filled lakes and vine-covered chhatris (burial tombs). The park was a maharajas’ hunting ground until 1970, a curious 15 years after it had become a sanctuary.
Mighty Mehrangarh, the muscular fort that towers over the Blue City of Jodhpur, is a magnificent spectacle and an architectural masterpiece. The Blue City really is blue! Inside is a tangle of winding, glittering, medieval streets, which never seem to lead where you expect them to, scented by incense, roses and sewers, with shops and bazaars selling everything from trumpets and temple decorations to snuff and saris.