Top 10 experiences on a family holiday in the hills

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From the mighty Himalayas to the pretty Nilgiris, India spoils you for choice when it comes to a holiday in the hills. Let your eyes feast on the scenery as you explore villages and gompas, sample delicious local food, and go on long walks and treks. Here are the top 10 experiences you shouldn’t miss when on a family holiday.

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Mughal Gardens in Srinagar

 

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If there is paradise on earth, this it is. Emperor Jehangir was the first to describe Kashmir in such glowing terms. And he didn’t stop at just singing paeans to Kashmir’s ethereal beauty. The three most stunning gardens in Srinagar were built during his reign. Strung out around Dal Lake, these have terraced lawns, fountain pools and manicured flowerbeds punctuated with chinar trees and pavilions. Nishat Bagh, with a 12-level terracing split down the middle by a cascading water channel, is the best. The two other gems are Shalimar Bagh and Chashme Shahi, the latter known for its natural spring.

Little Tibet in McLeod Ganj

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Named after David McLeod, a lieutenant-governor of Punjab, McLeod Ganj was established in the 1850s as a British garrison. It made headlines in 1960, when the Dalai Lama claimed asylum here. And with him came thousands of exiles, turning this Himachali town into Little Tibet. A centre for the study of Buddhism and Tibetan culture, McLeodGanj is a mix of both the serene and the lively. The revered Tsuglha- khang Complex, equivalent of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, houses a wooden pulpit for the Dalai Lama’s discourses, His Holiness’s private office, residence, a monastery and the Kalachakra Temple. The town, teeming with tourists, pilgrims and monks in maroon robes, is a foodie and a shopper’s haven. You will find many cuisines here, but the meaty momos and soft Tibetan breads rule the chart.

Toy train ride from Kalka to Shimla

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We have always loved a train ride, especially one on a toy train. The narrow-gauge railway track from Kalka to Shimla is a feat of engineering accomplished over 150 years ago. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, this is the same route that has enjoyed a Bollywood moment – in Jab We Met (2005) starring Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor. The Kalka–Shimla route covers over a distance of 96km, passing through more than 100 tunnels. The ride is fun any time of the year, though chugging through a snow-covered landscape is what we like best. The Himalayan Queen is a popular train on this route.

Mountain views in Mukteshwar

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Perched on the sloping hills of Kumaon, Mukteshwar has fabulous views of the Himalayas that stretch across the horizon. On a clear day, you can see as far as the snow-capped peaks of Nanda Devi, Trishul and Panchachuli in the deep blue sky. On the way here, you’ll pass some charming colonial cottages – complete with stone walls and tiled red roofs. It’s not difficult to guess why writers and poets love Mukteshwar.

Wildlife in Binsar

A slice of heaven in Kumaon, Binsar invites you to its pristine forests of pine, oak and cedar, which are a paradise for birdwatchers. More than 200 feathered species are found here. An hour’s drive from Almora, the sanctuary in Binsar is home to leopards, barking deer, ghorals (mountain goats), wild boars, porcupines, foxes, jungle cats and langur. And Binsar is one of the rare sanctuaries where you can go safely for walks. Though small, spread over less than 50 sq km, the sanctuary’s undulating landscape gives it a sense of vastness.

Tea tourism in Darjeeling Hills

Fancy sipping teas, nibbling cucumber sandwiches and hiking through tea estates? There isn’t a place better than the Darjeeling Hills to unleash the tea lover in you. The easiest places to learn about tea production are Makaibari Estate in Kurseong and Happy Valley outside Darjeeling. March to May is the busiest time, but occasional plucking also occurs from June to November. Stay overnight with a tea pickers’ family at a homestay at Makaibari Estate and you’ll get to join your hosts for a morning’s work in the tea bushes. Pick your own leaves, watch them being processed and then return home with a batch of your very own hand-plucked Darjeeling tea.

Apatani tribal villages in Ziro Valley

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Numbering around 25,000 and native to the Ziro Valley of Arunachal, the Apatanis are one of India’s most intriguing tribes. Most people are adherents of the animistic Donyi-Polo religion, and continue to live in traditional houses fabricated out of bamboo and wood (the interiors are considerably modern though). Apatani villages are immensely photogenic, with T-shaped totem poles towering over rows of huts. Farmers by occupation, the tribe practises a unique system of agriculture, where terraced rice fields are flooded with water to double as shallow fish farms.

Strawberry fields in Mahabaleshwar

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If any place in India conjures up images of the Beatles song, Strawberry Fields Forever, it is Mahabaleshwar. Just a couple of hours from the hustle-bustle of Mumbai, this calm beauty offers, among other attractions such as hills and lakes, a good number of strawberry farms. This is your chance to go berry-picking, to work up a healthy appetite before you relish your collection with fresh cream.

Coffee plantations in Chikmagalur

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Chikmagalur’s significance as one of India’s key coffee destinations has a lot more to it than the presence of coffee conglomerates, or recent largescale productions. For travellers, it’s more about history. This is the place where coffee first arrived in India. Enjoy astounding views of the coffee- and cloud-covered valley below from Baba Budangiri and Mullayangiri peaks. To complete the experience, stay on one of the many beautiful plantations scattered across the hill district.

Nature trail in Kodaikanal

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Old favourite Kodaikanal, lovingly known as Kodi, gives you the luxury of being as active or lazy. If you like to hike, Pillar Rocks is the place to head for some stunning views. There are also some wonderful trails through pockets of forest. For less strenuous activity, enjoy the superb valley views along Coaker’s Walk. There’s a small observatory with a telescope for you to zoom in on the valley below.