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Best Hill Stations in North India
India is a land of varied landscapes, from rivers to seas, oceans to lakes, plains and evergreens, mangroves and ice-capped hills. While these landscapes find a major divide with the tropic of cancer cutting the country almost into half, the North Indian belt is populated mostly with the Himalayan-Influenced hill stations. From Srinagar to Manali to Mussoorie to Simla, from Spiti to Dalhousie to Binsar and Auli, North India is ripe with stunning hill stations that beckon you into their wild. Here’s our list for you to ponder for your next trip when the mountains call.
One of the topmost hill stations in India and North India’s pride; Manali is simply stunning to look at. Embraced by the thick Pir Panjal ranges and alpine forests, Manali is all lush jungles and hilly hiking trails, snow-covered town markets and pine forests. The fairytalish landscape of this place, coupled with its upscale hotels, resorts, cafes and shops make Manali a very coveted North Indian destination. Many come here to make base camp for trekking up mountains, while others just throng the scenic places to chill.
Chamba is a year-round destination. Sitting at the confluence of Chal and Ravi rivers, Chamba is also surrounded by Pir Panjal, Dhauladhar and Pangi ranges. The hill station is renowned for its many temples and the village township which looks just like an Italian village. The hill station is also home to local Gaddi shepherds. So if you are into sacred ancient temples on high hills, local culture of shepherds singing folk and shopkeepers telling tales; then Chamba is your go-to hill station in North India.
Srinagar or the ‘City of the Prosperous’ is the capital of Kashmir. With its stunning heaven like beauty, lakes that are dotted with shikara and houseboats, gardens that are literally the abode of fairies and palaces that look lit up from within, Srinagar is a beauty. The climate here is best through summer (April - October) and tourism rises exponentially. It is a paradise for lovers, honeymooners, families and solo travellers alike. With Kashmir and its politic what it is today, just make sure to inquire in advance regarding the tourist prospectives before you plan a trip.
Meadows, skiing schools, iced slopes and the world’s 2nd highest gondola ride all grace the town of Gulmarg. A feather in Kashmir’s hat, Gulmarg is thronged by tourists to enjoy its snowcapped hills, trekking trails, adventure and mountaineering schools as well as skiing routes in winter. During summer, the town blooms with never-ending rolls of flowers, the ravines come to life and the rivers flow freely; bringing a Forest of Enchantment kind of feel to the surroundings. Winters are almost like wonderland here, what with the roofs sheathed in snow and wooded homes looking like a Christmas fantasy. Gulmarg is also widely used by Bollywood to shoot romantic songs, so there’s that to enjoy as well!
Pahalgam, also a Kashmiri town with cute little houses and lush meadows, is the best place to go for relaxing. Fishing is a highlight here, as are the fragrant farms of saffron, a spice that is widely harvested in the area. Pahalgam also acts as a base for the holy Amarnath Yatra and most pilgrims enjoy the streams, waterfalls, wildlife sanctuaries and lakes of Pahalgam on their way to Amarnath Cave. If you are into some good eye candy nature and are itching for a heavenly few days away when in Kashmir, Pahalgam is your answer.
The hill station of many lakes, Nainital literally means the ‘eye-like lake.’ The place is dedicated to Lord Shiva and boasts of many temples, gardens, snow-capped mountains and of corse, the lakes. It is a paradise for families, with picnicking, boating and sightseeing opportunities a dime a dozen. Situated amidst the Kumaon Hills, Nainital attracts tourism through summers as well as winters, making it an all-year destination for North Indians who want to escape the lowland heat.
Leh & Ladakh
Leh is the capital of Ladakh and houses some of the most serene and stunning Buddhist monasteries, white deserts, trekking trails and the most crystal-clear pristine lakes. The people are so sweet and their culture a unique blend of Himalayan, North Indian and Tibetan. There is a lot of tourism that throngs Leh-Ladakh for its trekking trails, mountains, frozen rivers and monasteries. While summers are best for bike rides and road trips and the Hemis Festival, the start and end of winter makes for a good time to see the area in all its white glory. Ladakh remains inaccessible during the peak of winter.
The Queen of all Hills, Mussoorie is perfect if you want to experience virgin nature, Himalayan might, colonial homes and luxury resorts. The Garhwal region of Himalayan foothills makes Mussoorie amazing through the summer months, especially as the snow melts in the valleys and the pine forests bloom dark green. Trekking, rock-climbing, adventure sports and paragliding are some of the many fun things to do in here. But of course there are also relaxing viewpoints and picnic spots for those who come here seeking leisure.
Spiti Valley is an off-the-beaten track destination. A hill station that is all cold white desert, snow-capped mountains, rocky village and small quaint homes. Perched 12,500 ft above mean sea level, Spiti sees a grand summer but very grim winter. Lying between India and Tibet, Spiti literally means the ‘middle land.’ Mostly a paradise for solo travellers, backpackers and friend groups out on an adventure trip, Spiti is a hill station that is all shades of ‘road not taken.’ Even though there are no luxury resorts, plush restaurants or markets, the place is truly the epitome of peace.
Shimla is the first name that pops anywhere, be it an average human mind or google, when thinking ‘Hill Station.’ This Himachal Pradesh capital is paradise, with its town markets, toy train rides, museums, colonial mansions and craft shops. Summer months from June onwards are truly beautiful here, with the mist of white clouds that linger after winter adding a dreamy effect. Honeymooners, lovers, families and backpackers all find something to do here. There are also many a beautiful colonial churches, ancient architecture to buildings and cute cafes to enjoy.
The residence of the holy Dalai Lama, Dharamsala also houses many Tibetan refugees in exile. A hill station in the Kangra district, Dharamsala is one of the most offbeat hill stations and offers tourists a peak into Tibetan culture and life. With cedar forests and Tibetan art workshops, libraries and museums with ancient texts and such untouched beauty, Dharamsala exudes charisma that has a lingering hangover from the British rule. Summer is a great time to visit, and Buddhists throng here during peak festivals.
Kufri is a very small hill station, very close to the bigger, more popular Shimla. Famous for its treks and hiking routes, Kufri makes for a great adventure-junkie’s paradise. Most tourism around here is a reverse of the rest of the North Indian hill stations, in that, Kufri is best visited during winter. Skiing and tobogganing, thick forests and snow-capped hills, all of these make Kufri amazing in winters. There is the Himalayan Nature Park that houses many Himalayan animal and bird species nearby, and skiing is the best way to go along exploring.
A colonial-charm-influenced hill station, Dalhousie makes for a great escapade for people who want a nice holiday in the mountains without the trimmings. The town was named for a Scottish Lord and has a strong Victorian and Scottish flavour to its architecture, buildings and even mother nature. There are tall peaks waiting to be conquered, lakes and waterfalls, untouched nature and beautiful air that lights up your lungs. What’s more is, Dalhousie is an all year round destination.
Another little hill station near Shimla, Chail is another place where you won’t find the usual crowd of tourists. It is rather a lush green paradise that is known for its polo grounds, paragliding excursions and of course the world's highest cricket ground. The three significant hills around Chail each house a luxurious resort and travellers visit here to relax without any noise or the usual tourist crowd bickering around.
Binsar is a small town really, a very secluded hill station that is covered by pines and tall deodars and oaks. Its highlight factors are the mountainous wild animals, ancient hill temples and some lush colourful meadows that it encompasses. The place is scented with flowers and you can see rhododendrons as far as the meadows roll in summer. Since it is located pretty close to the more famous Almora, Binsar has started seeing some good tourist traffic in the recent years.
Auli in Uttarakhand is a wolrd class skiing resort town, that serves ski lovers all year round. With its naturally inclined slopes and the perfect powdered snow through winters and the artificially maintained snow in summers, Auli becomes a rare combination of adrenaline and scenery. It is believed that this resort town dates back to the 8th Century and today has a couple of very luxurious resorts and skiing schools. You can go on cable car rides, visit the nearby temples and small towns, go on a pilgrimage to Badrinath (only in summer), and enjoy the wildlife that thrives in the Garhwal Himalayan area.
Not in the exact north but north-east India, Darjeeling is a hill station that was favoured by the British back in the day when the officers and the militia of East India Company worked out of Bengal. The fragrant tea gardens, the colonial buildings, the cute steam-engine toy trains and quaint monasteries; all make Darjeeling a very coveted holiday. It is engulfed in floating mist most of the year and when it is not, you can enjoy the clear views of the Himalayas from amongst rolling tea gardens. How mesmerising is that!
Another North-Eastern hill station, Tawang is a popular hill station getaway in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. A town that houses monasteries and snowcapped hills, prayer-flag stringed lakes and soft cottony clouds that hang down from the sky. Tawang stuns you with its unique brand of natural beauty. You will definitely not get enough of it. Be it with your eyes or your cameras. The nearby villages and hamlets of Arunachal Pradesh also stun you and should be on your itinerary when in Tawang.