Do you have plans for your holidays? If not, we suggest you pack your bags and head to the hills. The beauty, serenity and sights across India’s hill stations will leave you completely awestruck! RobinAge presents nine favourite haunts!
MANALI, HIMACHAL PRADESH
At an altitude of 6,398ft, Manali is believed to be the home of the Saptarshi (seven sages). Its pleasant climate makes it a perfect destination for the summer. Manali has been named after the Hindu lawgiver Manu and the word ‘Manali’ literally translated means the ‘abode of Manu’. In ancient times, the valley was sparsely populated by nomadic hunters known as rakshas. Some of the earliest inhabitants of the region were the naur or nar, which is a caste unique to the Kullu valley. Only a few naur families now exist. Manali is famous for its skiing slopes, apple trees and trout fish. These fish are not native to Manali but were brought there by the British. Manali is also known for its shiny gompas or Buddhist monasteries. The Gadhan Thekchhokling Gompa, built in 1969, is one the better known monasteries. The monastery is maintained by donations from the local community and through the sale of handwoven carpets made in the temple workshop.
How to reach there: The hill station is not easily accessible by rail. The nearest railway stations are in Chandigarh, Pathankot and Kalka whereas the nearest airport is at Bhuntar. One can easily get to Manali by road.
A hill station, Mahableshwar is situated on the Western Ghats at an altitude of 4,439ft. In Sanskrit, the word 'Mahabaleshwar' means 'god of great power'. This tiny city was the summer capital of the Bombay Presidency during the British Raj. Today it is better known for its mountain ranges, breathtaking valleys and strawberries (read our cover story to learn more about strawberries). Mahabaleshwar has a mix of old-world charm, natural beauty and modernity. A tour of the city centre and the surrounding countryside takes you through various lovely sites. Monkeys roam freely in the streets of this city. You are sure to encounter some in the town bazaar, better known as Malcolm Peth.
How to reach there: Hop onto a train or take a private luxury bus out of Mumbai, Pune, Sangli or Satara.
Nainital is located at the foothills of Kumaon in the state of Uttarakhand at an altitude of 6,358ft. Nainital was rediscovered by the British in 1814 after the Anglo-Nepalese war in Kumaon. It was the summer seat of the Britishers and the architecture here reminds one of the British era. Nainital is famous for its residential schools, Bhimtal Lake, Hanumangarhi, the Nainital Zoo, Eco Cave Gardens and a place called Ranikhet.
How to reach there: Kathgodam is the closest railway station and it is connected by rail to Delhi, Agra, Bareilly and Lucknow.
Shillong is located at an altitude of 4,908ft. Shillong remained the capital of undivided Assam until the creation of the new state of Meghalaya on January 21, 1972. Shillong has the rare distinction of housing one of the few natural golf courses in Asia. Shillong is also known as the music capital of East India and has produced many rock bands. It is also famous for its ancient churches. Shillong has beautiful lakes and waterfalls and is set in pine forests and green mountains. It is a popular hill station which the British used to call the 'Scotland of the East'.
How to reach there: Shillong is conveniently connected by road. The nearest railway station is in Guwahati and the nearest airport is in Umroi.
OOTY, TAMIL NADU
Officially called Udhagamandalam, Ooty is a famous hill station situated in the Nilgiri Hills (also called the Blue Mountains) at an altitude of 7,500ft. Though the place rose to fame only after the British descended upon it, Ooty has been home to a tribe called Todas for many years. It is famous for its chai baggans (tea gardens) and for its annual Tea and Tourism Festival. It is believed that the term 'Nilgiri' came from the blue haze which the hills seem to be constantly enveloped in. Ooty is well known for the oil extraction industry, primarily from eucalyptus trees as well as from lemon grass, geranium, clove and camphor. One of the most charming ways to get to Ooty is by the mountain railway.
How to reach there: Ooty is well connected by road and rail. The closest airport is in Coimbatore.
DARJEELING, WEST BENGAL
Darjeeling is well-known for its tea estates as well as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. The town is situated in the Mahabharat Range at an altitude of 6,710ft. Darjeeling derives its name from the Tibetan word 'Doreje-ling' meaning 'place of the thunderbolt'. The city is famous for its lush green valleys covered with tea plantations, small cottages, tall oak trees, lakes and orange orchards. The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling is the only centre in India that breeds the rare snow leopard.
How to reach there: Bagdogra Airport is the closest airport to Darjeeling. You can also drive there from Kolkata.
SRINAGAR, JAMMU AND KASHMIR
Srinagar is located in the Kashmir Valley. The word 'Srinagar' is composed of two Sanskrit words, 'sri' meaning 'abundance and wealth' and 'nagar' meaning ‘city’. Srinagar is also popularly known as the 'Venice of the East'. Historically, the city was once a part of the Maurya Empire. Later, Ashoka introduced Buddhism to the Kashmir valley and the adjoining regions around the city became a centre of Buddhism. Srinagar is famous for its lakes as well as its houseboats. Incidentally, houseboats were accidentally introduced to Kashmir. It's said that members of the Indian Civil Service who serviced the plains and vacationed in Kashmir were not permitted to build permanent homes in Srinagar. Thus they chose to live in houseboats. The first houseboat was named Victory.
How to reach there: You can reach Srinagar by road, rail as well as plane. Srinagar has its own airport which is connected to major cities. The closest railway station is in Jammu.
Nelliyampathy is located on the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is around 75kms away from Palakkad district and located at an altitude of 5,172ft at the highest point. The Nelliyampathy hills consist of a chain of ridges cut off from one another by dense evergreen forests and valleys. Nelliyampathy offers great views of the mountains and enchanting valleys interspersed with sprawling tea, coffee, cardamom and orange plantations. It is also known for the bio-farms located in its midst.
How to reach there: The closest airport to Nelliyampathy is in Coimbatore. The nearest railway station is Palakkad junction.
Majuli is the largest riverine island in the world and the largest freshwater island in South Asia. 'Majuli' itself means 'land in the middle of two parallel rivers'. It has a total area of 650sq kms and is formed by the Brahmaputra river in the south and the Kherkutia Xuti, an anabranch of the Brahmaputra, joined by the Subansiri river in the north. The island was formed due to frequent earthquakes and a catastrophic flood in 1750. As a result of this, the Brahmaputra split into two anabranches – one flowing along the original channel and the other flowing along the Burhi Dihing channel – thus forming the Majuli island. The island is accessible by ferries.
How to reach there: Majuli is 20kms away from Jorhat, the cultural capital of Assam.