For a respite from the heated plains, these hill stations serve well as a short summer escape.
Irreverent, cheerful and pleasantly boisterous, Sikkim’s modern capital is layered along a precipitous mountain ridge, descending the hillside in steep tiers. Viewpoints survey plunging green valleys that remain beautiful even when partly shrouded in mist. If the weather plays ball, look for glimpses of snow-topped Kangchenjunga on the distant skyline.
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Chail, Himachal Pradesh
Another cute and quiet hill town, quite apart from the busier Himachali resorts, Chail has an air of exclusivity. Thick deodar forests, panoramic views, the highest cricket ground in the world, and a sprawling palace hotel, are the offerings of this alpine haven. Long rambling walks, picnics on the hillside and easily available solitude all add to its charm.
Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
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.
Keylong, Himachal Pradesh
For many travellers Keylong is just an overnight stop along the Manali-Leh route, seen only briefly and in the dark. However, a longer stay reveals grand mountain views rising above the green Bhaga Valley. There’s a laid-back, small-town lifestyle, some scenic walks and a few historic Buddhist monasteries to seek out.
Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
Ringed by an arc of green mountains, Srinagar’s greatest drawcard is the mesmerizingly placid Dal Lake, on which a bright array of stationary houseboats form a colourful scene and a unique opportunity for romantic chill-outs. Famous Mughal gardens are strung out over several kilometres around the lake’s less urbanised eastern shore.
The cool, green hills of Thekkady are home to not just various tea and spice plantations, but also, the tigers and elephants of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Witness the traditional Kathakali dance and the war art of Kalaripayttu at the art centre in Thekkady. Remember to buy those fresh spices for yourselves to take back home.
Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu
Kodai rambles up and down hillsides with patches of shola (virgin forest), unique to South India’s Western Ghats, and evergreen broadleaf trees like magnolia, mahogany, myrtle and rhododendron. Kodai is popular with honeymooners and groups, who flock to its spectacular viewpoints and waterfalls. Visit midweek for peace and quiet.
Mount Abu, Rajasthan
Rajasthan’s only hill station nestles among green forests on the state’s highest mountain at the southwestern end of the Aravalli Hills and close to the Gujarat border. Quite unlike anywhere else in Rajasthan, Mt Abu provides Rajasthanis, Gujaratis and a small number of foreign tourists with respite from scorching temperatures and arid terrain elsewhere.
Ooty, Tamil Nadu
Ooty’s reputation as ‘Queen of the Hills’ is hard to beat. With many ‘tick off the list’ things to do, it’s an engaging destination with the toy train, Botanical Gardens, Boat House, and refurbished colonial bungalows.
Horsley Hills, Andhra Pradesh
Known as the Ooty of Andhra Pradesh, this quaint hill station will charm you from the moment you drive through its yellow blossom lined roads. It was named after a British officer W.D Horsley, who set up an abode here to escape the heat. You can still visit his home and explore the amazing views of the valley around it. Take your kids to the small animal park here or indulge in some adventure sports like zip lines, rope activities, trekking or ATV rides.
Tottering at an elevation of 7250ft, Chakrata is a little cantonment town on the way to Yamunotri. A strong scent of pine cones hangs in the air. This small sleepy town has no busy bazaars or noisy restaurants to distract from the breath-taking views of the Garhwal Himalayas. Its spectacular cloud cover, even in summers, will charm the most jaded traveller.
Yercaud, Tamil Nadu
Rested at 4,500 ft in the Shevaroy Hills of the Eastern Ghats, Yercaud’s unhurried pace is perfect to curl up with a book, go for walks, admire nature or do nothing. But the small and quiet hill station has enough to keep one occupied including boating, off-roading, plantation trails, stunning viewpoints, old colonial structures, gardens, parks and more.
Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh
Through pine trees north and east of McLeod Ganj lies the village of Dharamkot, more rural and laid-back. Here you can take classes in tarot, Reiki, numerology, crystal healing and varieties of yoga you’ve never heard of, do sitar, tabla or flute lessons, get or learn to give a dozen types of massage, have your hair dreadlocked, dyed or extended, or just lounge in cafes and practise your juggling.
Offering the much needed seclusion, nature’s bounty and a peaceful landscape, Chikmagalur becomes a perfect getaway. The places in and around Chikmagalur are quite off the beaten track. Go on a temple trail to Angadi and Belavadi or explore the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary that has a wide range of flora and fauna.
Valparai, Tamil Nadu
Valparai is quiet and non-commercialised. If you’re driving from Kochi, it is a treat in itself, passing through the famous Athirappilly Falls. You get to see some amazing wildlife too. For stay, some of the tea bungalows are just awesome.
Coorg has earned itself the rightful title of ‘adventure capital of Karnataka’. Located on the eastern edge of the Western Ghats, it has a diverse topography, with mountains, coffee plantations, thick forests, paddy fields and rivers. These form a suitable backdrop to a number of activities like rafting, kayaking, canoeing, trekking, camping and microlight flying.
If a commercial hill station is what you’re looking for, try Saputara in the south of Gujarat. This well planned and maintained holiday destination has an abundance of pretty gardens, lakes, waterfalls, and a national park, making it a wonderful nature escape.
Coonoor, Tamil Nadu
Tranquil Coonoor, off the beaten tourist track, offers memorable experiences. This tea country is an olfactory paradise for lovers of the cup that cheers. For views of the Coimbatore plains, tea terraces and nearby mountains, choose from a number of superb vantage points around.
Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh
Pachmarhi is Madhya Pradesh’s only hill station, surrounded by waterfalls, canyons, natural pools, cave temples and the forested ranges of the Satpura Tiger Reserve, and offers a refreshing escape from steamy central India. The most popular tourist activity is touring a selection of places of interest, beauty spots and natural pools by jeep.
Lonavla is a raucous resort town about 106km southeast of Mumbai. Its main drag consists almost exclusively of garishly lit shops flogging chikki, the rock-hard, brittle sweet made in the area, and you get fun-for-the-whole-family kind of stuff like wax museums, go-karts and India’s largest water park. There are some pleasant side streets, serene residential areas and destination yoga places along with the pastoral surrounding countryside that means you can choose your own path here.
Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh
One of the prettiest landscapes in all of India, the fertile Ziro valley nestles within Arunachal’s formidable mountains like a mythical kingdom. A layered landscape of rice fields, rivers and picture-postcard villages of the Apatani tribe, it is an undisputed high point of any trip to Arunachal. It’s vital to have a local guide to take you to these villages; otherwise you won’t see much and might even be made to feel quite unwelcome.