As the sun makes way for thunderous clouds, India too lugs out of lazy summers to surprise its visitors with ethereal landscapes. Follow our top 10 offbeat destinations to experience the charm of travelling in the monsoons. By Bindu Gopal Rao
Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh
A quiet hill station that has earned the moniker ‘mini Switzerland of India’, Khajjiar in Himachal Pradesh resembles a picture postcard. Surrounded by the snow-clad Himalayas and set amidst Deodar forests, the meadows of Khajjiar are as charming as they are romantic, especially during the monsoons. Start your escapade with a tour of Khajjiar Lake, which offers stunning views of Mount Kailash, and is the epicentre of native activities, such as paragliding and zorbing. The Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary, surrounded by blue pine, green oak, and rhododendron trees, and home to Himalayan black marten, leopard, jackal, bear, and barking goral, is good for a daytime visit. The Panch Pandav Tree with six shoots, which apparently represents the five Pandavas and Draupadi from the Hindu epic, Mahabharata, is a curious spot of attraction among visitors. However, the best way to spend a romantic holiday in Khajjar is to take long walks in the meadows or enjoy a refreshing chai as it rains.
Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu
The lesser known cousin of popular hill stations Ooty and Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, Kotagiri sits pretty in the Nilgiri biosphere at 6,000 feet above sea level. The place was a popular summer getaway among the British, and has retained its distinct colonial undertones amidst the verdant green tea estates. Among the top attractions here is the double cascade Catherine Falls, which can be reached after a short trek through tea plantations. The sacred Rangaswamy Pillar is where you’d like to head with your partner to witness ethereal views of the Nilgiris during sunset. Stop over at Kotagiri Women’s Co-Operative Cottage Industrial Society to shop for gifts. The place sells unique creations by Tada (an indigenous group) women, including saris and shawls, which make for interesting souvenirs to take back home.
A quaint hill station in the northern state of Uttarakhand, Lansdowne is emerging as a preferred destination for weekend getaways among travellers from around the world. A birdwatcher’s paradise, the town is home to over 600 species of birds. Go on nature walks to hear birdsongs or take a boat ride at the lake Bhulla Tal. For a bird’s eye view of the hill station, head to the Tip-In-Top or Tiffin Top point that is both, a picnic spot and a vantage view point for stunning sunrises. Park yourself here for a couple of hours, and enjoy panoramic views of the Shivalik Hills and Chaukhamba and Trishul peaks of the Garhwal Himalaya. If you love history and architecture, the St. Mary’s Church is a must-visit to admire the Victorian architecture, replete with stained-glass windows and doors.
If whiling away time at a balmy beach destination is your idea of spending quality time while you’re travelling across India, head to Gokarna in southern Karnataka state. A relatively offbeat destination, Gokarna is blessed with a string of beaches—Om Beach, Kudle Beach, Gokarna Beach, Paradise Beach, and Belekan Beach. Beach trekking is among the popular activities here. Don’t be surprised if you’ve the beach to yourself since holidaying crowd seldom visit the coast during monsoons. Walk around the markets and shop for silver jewellery, brass lamps, prayer beads, wall decor made of seashell as gifts for friends back home. The place also has several restaurants serving world cuisine—from Mexican, to Israeli, and Iranian. Chez Christophe offers authentic French dishes and desserts, along with live music on some nights.
The misty little town of Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra boasts pleasant weather through the year and is a great detour from Mumbai if you’re looking for some quiet time after the chaos of the metropolis. However, arrive here right before the end of monsoon to enjoy the best views. The ancient Pratapgarh Fort perched atop a spur, drenched in rain and glory alike; a pregnant Venna Lake, which gives way to the Lingmala Waterfalls; strawberry fields carpeting the landscape in bright candy red; and the mighty Sahyadri mountain range awash with different shades of green—there’s no better place to experience monsoons in the Western Ghats. While the Venna Lake calls for a romantic boat ride in its vibrant shikaras, lush strawberry farms invite guests for an immersive berrypicking experience. Spend some time breathing in the tranquillity at Lingmala Falls, or choose from Arthur’s Seat and Elephant’s Head Point to catch a rainbow peeping from behind the Sahyadri hills.
Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh
If your idea of an ideal vacation is digital detox, Araku Valley in southern state of Andhra Pradesh should be on top of the list for its remote location and virgin landscapes. Start your day with a visit to the beautiful Chaparai or Dumbriguda Falls. Surrounded by thick forest cover, the place is a popular camping and swimming site. Spend the night here and watch a zillion stars take over the clear skies. In the morning, visit one of the coffee plantations in the Ananthagiri Hills and get insights into the entire process of brewing the famed Araku Coffee, which is grown by tribal groups and known for its bittersweet scent. If tribal culture entices you, visit the Araku Tribal Museum to know more about the lifestyle of the 19 tribes that call the valley home. Or, stop by at the Padmapuram Botanical Garden to take a toy train ride around the garden and learn about its origin that dates back to the World War II. For couples who are adventurous foodies, bongulo chicken is one of the prime highlights of the trip. Prepared using almost no oil and spices and merely with bamboo and coal, the local delicacy can be savoured at small stalls set up by tribal women at popular tourist attractions.
Ditch the more popular islands of India and plan a vacation to the Minicoy Island in Lakshadweep for an idyllic beach getaway. Take long walks on languid white-sand beaches, sunbathe under swaying palm trees, or go sailing with your partner—plenty of opportunities await at this ‘last Indian island’. Located in the southernmost tip of the archipelago, Minicoy is a crescent-shaped island, which lies closer to the Maldives than the Indian sub-continent. One of the popular attractions here includes, a British lighthouse (built in 1885) that offers astounding views of the Arabian Sea and its palm-fringed coastline. Stay put to watch an ethereal sunset or explore water sports activities, such as pedal boating and kayaking. The local tourism board offers village tours to give an insight into the locals’ lives, which mainly revolves around boating and fishing. The more adventurous couples can go diving to explore the three ship wrecks within eight metres depth.
Imagine gliding through the picturesque backwaters in a houseboat as the pitter-patter of rains lend the perfect melody to your monsoon dream. At Kumarakom in Kerala, the most romantic dreams come true against the backdrop of the languid Lake Vembanad. Among the largest lakes in India, Lake Vembanad gently caresses the coastline of Kumarakom, creating a serene landscape featuring virgin backwaters, swaying palm trees, and iconic houseboats. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Prince Charles chose to celebrate his 65th birthday here with wife, Camilla. While a houseboat ride is the most recommended activity for couples, the more outdoorsy guests can explore the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary either through a walking trail or a boat ride. During monsoon, the place welcomes special species, such as egrets, darters, bulbuls, herons, and teals. It is recommended to go on birdwatching tours just after sun rise when the sightings are the best. The best way to make the most of a destination like Kumarakom is to check into a luxury houseboat and spend the night watching the stars.
The ruins of Hampi are as poignant as they are romantic, and witness a heavy footfall of historians and international travellers who seek to trace the last remains of the erstwhile Vijayanagara kingdom. Post the arid summer, the rains are a welcome relief in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Start exploring the place at the Vittala Temple Complex that houses the famed stone chariot—a testament to the Vijayanagara style of art and architecture. This sprawling complex with its many temples, pavilions, halls, and pillars (some of which produce musical notes) is best explored with a guide. Stop by at the Archaeological Museum of Hampi to get an insight into the might of the Vijayanagara dynasty through an impressive collection of sculptures and antiques. Monsoons are the best time to explore Hampi since this is when the villages come to life, and the breezy weather makes it easy for travellers to explore an otherwise arid landscape.
At 6,250 feet above sea level, the small town of Pelling in Sikkim is where travel enthusiasts go to enjoy unparalleled views of the Kanchenjunga mountains. Plan a trip during the monsoon when rains breathe life into the breathtaking landscape. This is also a good time to avoid the mainstream crowd of tourists. Start your trip with a visit to the Pemayangtse Monastery, an old Buddhist monastery from the 17th century and a popular spiritual attraction. Spend a day in Darap Village, 8 km away, to experience bucolic life. Or, explore the Kanchenjunga Waterfalls, which originates high up in the Kanchenjunga mountains. If it’s history and culture that interests you, trace back the lives of the Sikkim royalty at the Rabdentse Ruins, an erstwhile palace that offers panoramic views of the valley as well as the majestic Kanchenjunga range. While you’re in this part of the country, indulge in local delicacies like thukpa, thenthuk, momos, and gundruk.