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Best Hill Stations in South India
South India is known for many things; backwaters and beaches, palms and coconut trees, idlis and dosa, silk weaves and cotton lungis. What it is not famous for in the popular culture, but should rightfully be, is its charming set of hill stations. Yes, South Indian hill stations are a real thing, and quite different from their North Indian counterparts. Due to the geography of the area, these hill stations are mostly all evergreens and tropicals, with nilgiris and waterfalls and coffee and spice plantations. You may not find snowy mountain tops, but there are misty green mountains that are enchanted. Here we have compiled some of the best South Indian hill stations that we swear by, be it summer, winter or monsoon.
If you thought Kerala was all backwaters and beaches, then you probably never heard about Munnar. It is one of the most beautiful hill stations of South India, with a classic balance of tea-garden-greenery and colonial-inspired summer homes. Its beauty rivals that of Swiss villages and you can also find many a waterfalls, spice plantations, lakes, elusive mist-covered peaks and national parks. The summer months that spell intense heat and humidity down in the lowlands of Kerala become a high touristy time up in Munnar. It is not far from Kochi, so most people can make their way easily.
A hill station that is known for its elephant parks, mighty waterfalls and pine forests, Ooty is not called the queen of hill stations for nothing! With its towering Nilgiri hills and resorts that welcome you with yoga, spa and massage sessions, Ooty is the best place in South India to escape for a leisurely pampering holiday. There is the Nilgiri Toy Train here, a UNESCO World Heritage Site to be precise, which must not be missed. Other than the usual view points and hiking routes, you will also find some great tea plantations around that smell divine. Ooty is also one of the most visited hill stations in South India and hence has a number of hotels, resorts, guest houses and bungalows spanning different grades.
Coorg is a hill station in the district of Karnataka. It also goes by the name Kodagu. Situated in the lap of the Western Ghats, Coorg is the best in summer, with its hills and valleys all lush green, the coffee plantations in full bloom with their heady fragrance, and the water bodies stunning in their fullness. Coorg is so pretty and verdant that it is honoured with the title of ‘Scotland of South India’ and makes for a fairly large producer of coffee in the country. If you are in search of some peace, loads of brilliant scenery and a slow leisurely pace to your holiday then Coorg is it.
A small hill station near Kozhikode, Wayanad is known for the nearby bird and wildlife sanctuary that it hosts. It is perched on a beautiful little plateau and straddles the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The elephant rescue camps and slow pace of life around makes Wayanad an ideal semi-hill station-ish getaway. You could go trekking up peaks and untrodden paths, visit lakes, waterfalls and massive dams fringed by soft nature, or take a tour of the nearby tribal villages to see their culture, hear them sing their folk songs and dance to their tunes. February to May is the time these tribes host tourists in their midst.
The literal meaning of Kodaikanal is ‘the gift of the forests.’ That in itself should clue you on the verdant green nature of this hill station. Some believe it is mandatory to visit Kodaikanal if you are in the state of Tamil Nadu for a holiday. With its hills and romantic backdrop of meadows, Kodaikanal traces its history back to the Christian Missionaries of the yore, where the British and other European officers sought refuge from the tropical heat, insects and summer diseases. The best part of Kodaikanal? It is not overly commercialised and also has lesser tourist traffic than its counterparts like Ooty. Summers and monsoons are great here.
A surprising landscape in the midst of Andhra Pradesh, Araku Valley is Vishakhapatnam’s pride. It graces the Eastern Ghats and is home to some ancient tribals that live in communities. The hill station has a green verdant landscape that carpets the hills in and around it, while the waterfalls and streams meandering past add to its picture book effect. The cost of holidaying here in Araku is also relatively quite low so it makes the cut for some of the cheapest hill destinations in the country. You get to stroll through coffee plantations and enjoy a number of tribal performances, while gorging on fresh fruits and local recipes. Monsoon is the best time for a visit, and summer is good too.
Perched in the district of Salem, Yercaud is a hill station that adds to Tamil Nadu’s charm. Not as famous as Ooty, even in its relative conspicuous state the place is awesome. With the Yercaud lake it is centred around and the many little viewpoints and temples, you will find yourself in the midst of a beautiful summer getaway. What’s more is, this quaint little hill station celebrates a unique Summer Festival where the locals hold open exhibitions of crafts, flowers, chocolates and more, parade their dogs and organise fairs and boat races. The hill resorts here are to die for too, and some are housed in the old colonial mansion buildings that belonged to the British.
Chikmagalur lies at the foothills of Mulliyangiri Mountains, quietly witnessing the mighty ranges give birth to the Yagachi River. It is a vista of centuries as you can see the Western Ghats originate on one end of this hill station while green forests extend on the other end. Since this land was given as dowry to Sakrepatna’s younger daughter Rukmangada on her marriage, it is named as ‘Chikmagalur’ or the land of the younger daughter. Karnataka is quite popular for this place, replete with its coffee plantations (brought here by a Yemeni saint Baba Budan back in late 1600s) and the clear blue skies to complement them.
One of the rare South Indian hill stations that is made base camp for serious trekking expeditions, Coonoor is breathtaking in its beauty too. It is home to the usual tea and coffee gardens, surrounded by the tall fragrant Nilgiris, rife with the swiftly flowing streams, waterfalls and calmly sitting lakes. You will often find elephants walking past your car or taking a stroll to snack in tea plantations. Since Ooty’s commercialised tourism has dissuaded many travellers and leisure-seekers from venturing there, Coonoor has emerged as a quieter, prettier, unblemished alternative.
A Kerala hill station, home to wildlife sanctuaries and spice plantations, Idukki is a breath of fresh air. It is best visited for the huge dam it holds that is named after it, and the Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary. It also becomes a very coveted base camp for those who wish to explore the famous Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary located in Thekkady not too far from here. Surprisingly, Idukki is a winter hill station and blooms the best from October to May for travellers coming in.
Perched between the two small Tamil towns of Jolarpettai and Vaniyambadi, Yelagiri Hills make for a brilliant getaway near Bangalore. With its cute hamlets and winding roads that turn from mountain to mountain, Yelagiri is wildly famous for trekking groups. Swamimalai Hill is one of the most coveted peaks largely conquered by seasoned trekkers. There are thick jungles and manmade lakes along with gentler hills for strolling in Yelagiri. So you can also enjoy some tranquil time here. Temples, paragliding sites and waterfalls make Yelagiri all the more tempting.
A little charming hill station where legends say Goddess Sita bathed in an ancient lake, Devikulam is the perfect place for a quaint weekend off. There are waterfalls and untouched forests, the sacred lake of Sita as well as tea plantations that are not as commercialised as those of Ooty or Munnar. Devikulam is a winter destination through and through and the months from September onwards, until May, are the best for a nice holiday.
For nature lovers, Vythiri is a gaunt little place where you find cottages and treehouses peeping from canopies, resorts that are luxury personified, and long houses by tribals that sit cosily in thick jungles. The place is close to Kozhikode and rarely visited by the usual crowd. It is also an all year destination so do not worry when the mood strikes to chill in Vythiri. Just pack your bags and drive up from Bangalore or Mysore or even Calicut. Wayanad is also quite close to Vythiri so if you are fond of wildlife and birds then head there to the bird sanctuary.
Kudremukh literally means the horse’s mouth. The place gets its name from the hill that looks like a horse’s face, and though it was once a mining town, today things have changed. It is THE place to be in for adventure junkies. A hill station with the usual backdrop of beautiful rivers-hill-lakes, Kudrekmukh offers many outdoorsy adventures like camping, trekking, bike riding etc. The evergreen lush forests around only add to the charm of all the outdoorsy fun, leaving you in a replete state at the end of whatever adrenaline-pumping chore you are after.
Nandi Hills, as the name suggests, is a sacred place. This South Indian hill station is named after the favoured holy animal of Lord Shiva - the ox Nandi. There is a grand old temple here dedicated solely to Nandi, with some intricate carvings and designs about Shiv-Parvati. Other than these, the place is known for its verdant forests and Tipu Sultan’s summer home. You can explore his summer house, go paragliding and chill at a viewpoint overlooking the hills. Nandi Hills may not have the usual hill station fare to offer travellers but is sure a unique place to spend a short holiday in.
Nestled in the meadows of Western Ghats, Ponmudi is a quick easy getaway in Kerala that boasts of some lush swelling waterfalls and swift brooks. Mountain life is what thrives here in all its glory, and beckons weary travellers to soak in the slow, easy life. You will get yourself to relax in the lap of nature, enjoy cool breezes of Kerala blowing up into the hills, and also get some safari rides in the nearby jungle. Ponmudi can be visited throughout the year, and each season brings its own magic. So choose whichever season pleases you best.