Where to go when in India

Image courtesy: ©Anup Deodhar/ Shutterstock.com

From the mighty mountains to the vast oceans, the surreal backwaters and the pretty hamlets, India spoils you for choice when it comes to choosing a holiday spot. Read our ultimate trip planner for every month of the year and plan ahead for your next vacation.

Migratory Birds, Gujarat – October to March  

Arid salt flats sprinkled with colourful craft hubs, the Rann of Kutch is a massive expanse of cracked earth, inland from the sea that takes your breath away. The nothingness for miles is eerily stunning, with small havens of water bodies and scrublands attracting pink flamingoes. Tribal hamlets are the epicentre for Kutchi embroidery, tie and dye, leather work, pottery, bell metal craft and the famous Rogan painting. Approximately 200km east of the Rann, is the Little Rann of Kutch, a 4953sq m Wild Ass Sanctuary. It’s home to the only remaining population of the Indian wild ass (khur), as well as bluebulls, blackbuck and chinkara.

Why Now? To watch the winter migrants join the resident birds

Also Read: Where to go for a holiday in March

Also Read: The best of Kochi in 3 days

Festival of Colours, Uttar Pradesh – March

 

Image courtesy: ©AJP / Shutterstock.com

Perhaps the world’s most colourful festival – you’ve probably seen pictures of people covered in all shades of fluorescent powder – this nationwide party celebrates the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. The action is particularly intense around Mathura and Vrindavan, the birthplace and spiritual home of Krishna.

Why Now? To experience Holi in its full glory

Misty Mountains, Jammu & Kashmir – April to October

Image courtesy: ©khlongwangchao/shutterstock.com

Kashmir is India’s Switzerland, attracting hordes of local tourists seeking cool summer air, alpine scenery and Srinagar’s romantic houseboat accommodation. Jammu abounds in temples and shrines; Kashmir puts picture postcards to shame with its lakes and gardens. India’s ‘crown’ is bedecked in some of the most stunning natural finery in the country. Kashmir’s sheer beauty is one of those rare instances when the hype doesn’t do justice to the real thing. The chinar-lined vales, the alpine meadows and turquoise lakes are even prettier than they appear in countless Bollywood films.

Why Now? To witness the beginning of spring

Tip: If going in the peak season, book your air tickets and accommodation as early as possible

Nature’s bounty in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra – May (Best Time: Oct to June)

Image courtesy: ©Kevin Standage/ Shutterstock.com

Its green mountains and red earth, tree-lined lake and pleasant weather have made this hill station a hit with families and honeymooning couples. The place abounds with honey and strawberry farms, making it a sweet spot for anyone seeking respite urban frenzy. Mahabaleshwar’s sprawling vista of lakes, hills, waterfalls, fragrant red soil and pleasant weather make it ideal for a tranquil getaway. Take a quiet walk along one of the many winding roads and enjoy the lovely misty weather.

Why Now? For enjoying outdoor activities in the lap of nature

Tip: Take a flight to Mumbai from any major city and drive down to Mahabaleshwar (240km away) via the NH17.

Track Tigers, Madhya Pradesh – June

Image courtesy: ©Paul Cameron Allen/ Shutterstock.com

Spotting India’s national animal in the wild takes perseverance and a bit of luck, but if you do spy a tiger burning bright in the Indian jungle, the experience will stay with you for a lifetime. Even if you don’t encounter one of Shere Khan’s cousins, look out for leopards, bears, monkeys, rhinos, elephants and a host of other wildlife in national parks such as Bandhavgarh, Pench and Kanha Tiger Reserve. There’s hardly a corner of India that doesn’t have some kind of natural reserve where you can join a safari in search of adventure.

Why now? Though hot, the tail end of the dry season offers the most likely tiger sightings

Tip: If going in the peak season, book your air tickets and accommodation as early as possible.

Motorbike the Himalayas – Leh & around – July (Best Time: Till Sep)

Image courtesy: ©ImagesofIndia / Shutterstock.com

You haven’t quite earned your stripes as a serious mountain lover without a visit to Ladakh. Winding into the Himalaya from the Ladakhi city of Leh, the road to Kardung La is the highest motorable road in the world. The pass itself is nondescript, occupies by a grubby military camp. But none of this detracts from the distant vistas and the thrill of biking there. Nor will it influence altitude dizziness. It’s worth braving the breathlessness to ride here, though. This is the ‘roof of the world’, a land of awesome scenery, secluded monasteries and a rich diversity of people.

Why now? Make the most of the short snow-free season to motorbike at 5600m

Tip: Roads can be poor and weather changeable so make sure that you can handle a motorbike well.

Hike the Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand – August (Best Time: Aug- Oct)

Image courtesy: ©yakthai/ Shutterstock.com

The bugyals (high-altitude meadows) of tall wildflowers are glorious on a sunny day, rippling in the breeze, and framed by mighty 6000m mountains that have glaciers and snow decorating their peaks all year. The 300 species of flowers make this World Heritage Site a unique and valuable pharmaceutical resource. From August, it’s also a palette of kaleidoscope of colours.

Why now? To see and smell the valley’s full floral display

Tip: Camping is not allowed, but accommodation is available in Ghangaria, which is only about 7km away.

Knock on Heaven’s Door – Spiti, Himachal Pradesh – September (Best Time: June – Oct)

Image courtesy: ©Amit kg/ Shutterstock.com

Visually splendid and spiritually inspiring, this land of Buddhism is also dotted with chortens (Buddhist shrines) and is home to one of the world’s oldest monasteries. Separated from fertile Lahaul by the soaring 4551m Kunzum Pass, the trans-Himalayan region of Spiti is a kind of ‘mini-Ladakh’ with fewer tourists. The scattered villages in this serrated moonscape arrive like mirages while the turquoise-grey ribbon of the Spiti River is your near-constant companion, albeit sometimes way below in precipitous gorges.

Why now? September is considered to be a favourable month when the stunning swathes of brown, barren stretches kiss vast skies, interrupted by soaring mountains and an incredibly blue river.

Tip: The closest airport is at Bhuntar in Kullu, about 250km from Kaza. A 12-hour drive from Manali will take you to Kaza (212km) over Rohtang and Kunzum passes on the Manali-Leh highway

For Painting-like views – Madikeri, Karnataka – October (Best Time: Oct—Mar)

Image courtesy: ©DivyaN/ Shutterstock.com

Busy Madikeri, the chief town of Coorg (Kodagu), is spread out along a series of ridges. An imposing fort, lush coffee estates and stunning views are amongst the many reasons to visit this old-world hill station surrounded by dense rainforests. This hill station has pleasant weather all year round (only interrupted by heavy monsoon downpours from July to September). You can pack much into your trip to Madikeri. A good plan is to stay at one of the many cosy homestays, which are growing in number. From here, visit the town and the scattered sights around it. Whether it’s the Abbi Falls, the Buddhist Golden Temple at Bylakuppe, the Igguthappa Temple in Kakkabe, or the Dubare elephant camp, you are never more than 1½ hours away from any attraction, at any point.

Why now? The coolest months, and therefore ideal for outdoor activities such as trekking and cycling, with moderate temperatures that stay in the vicinity of 20—28°C

Tip: Nights can get chilly, especially in the hills.

Experience India’s first ‘organic’ state – Gangtok & Rumtek – November (Best Time: Oct – Dec/ April-May)

Image courtesy: ©Jim W Kasom/ Shutterstock.com

Sikkim’s capital isn’t brimming with attractions, but it does offer excellent Khangchendzonga views and a chilled-out vibe, making it an introduction to the state. It is also the most convenient hub to plan treks and tours to other parts of Sikkim. Linger for a while to soak in local culture and Gangtok’s laidback style and top it up with day trips to the nearby Rumtek monastery and the high pass of Nathu La. To top it all off, the resident population is gracious, happy and hospitable, and your trip through the state is bound to leave you richer by a few friends.

Why now? Plunging green valleys that remain beautiful even when partly shrouded in mist

Tip: Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri railway station in West Bengal are the main departure points for Gangtok.

Experience Cultural Fests – Chennai, Tamil Nadu – December

Image courtesy: ©Dmitry Rukhlenko / Shutterstock.com

Carnatic musicians, classical dancers and connoisseurs gather to partake in these cultural festivities, seminars and debates. Be prepared to listen to the saxophone or the guitar set to Carnatic rhythms too. The festivals annually bring contemporary, avant-garde work in dance, music, theatre, poetry and more. This is contemporary culture with a twist. The capital city is a modern metropolis with spanking malls and swish restaurants, but it has not lost its grip on its heritage and culture.

Why now? The annual December Season (December–January) is the largest congregation of over 600 South Indian classical music and dance performances in one city, held over a period of two months.

Tip: Chennai, Coimbatore, Tiruchirappalli and Madurai are Tamil Nadu’s four most important airports connected via daily flights to all metros and major cities

Experience an Oasis amidst the Desert – Mt. Abu, Rajasthan – January (Best Time: Oct – March)

Image courtesy: ©Shutterstock/ Neel Hathi

Being the only hill station of a desert state is a unique distinction. Perched on a forested mountain and with a beautiful lake as its centrepiece, Mt Abu’s additional drawcards include ancient temples and a wildlife sanctuary. The natural beauty of Mt Abu, with Nakki Lake at its centre, that remains the main draw. Nature enthusiasts can hope for some adventure in Mt Abu Wildlife Sanctuary, which stays open even during the monsoons. The mountain is of great spiritual importance to both Hindus and
Jains, and has over 80 temples at Dilwara, built between 400 and 1000 years ago.

Why Now? The heat lessens all over the state. There are relatively fewer crowds. Mt Abu becomes very cold, making this the low season there.

Tip: There are direct flights to Udaipur from Delhi and Mumbai. From Udaipur, Mt Abu is 173km by road.

Cruise the Sundarbans – West Bengal – February (Best Time: Oct – Feb)

Image courtesy: ©Emdadul Hoque Topu / Shutterstock.com

Sundarbans Tiger Reserve is India’s share of the world’s largest mangrove forest – a network of channels and semi-submerged mangroves straddling the India–Bangladesh border at the mouth of the Ganges Delta. Parts of this strange, even unearthly, land- and water-scape in both countries are Unesco World Heritage Sites. Tigers lurk in the impenetrable depths of the mangrove forests, and also swim the delta’s innumerable channels. Cruising the waterways of the Sundarbans (also spelt Sundarbans) between the mangrove forests and spotting wildlife, whether it be Gangetic dolphins, water monitors, 5m-long saltwater crocodiles or luminescent kingfishers, is a world away from urban chaos.

Why Now? The tiger sightings are most likely, and the weather is cooler and drier