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Best Places to Visit in Winter in India
Winter in the subcontinental landmass of India is a pleasant time. Mostly. Unlike the European or Nordic or even most of the North American countries, India sees a very beautiful winter, without the harshness of the cold gods. From around November to February-March, winter locks India in its loving embrace. While the Himalayan and northern regions of the country experience more chill, snow and hail, the Deccan and southern regions are given a mellowed treatment because of the maritime influence of the sea. These regions especially are the star highlights of winter holidaying in India as they are too wet in the monsoons and too hot during summers; but perfect during winters.
So for mild sweet sunshine and cool breezes, head to places like Kerala, Mumbai, Goa, Rajasthan etc. While for a proper white winter, turn north towards Auli, Manali, Gulmarg or Sonmarg. There are quite a few others to try out, so here’s a list compiled for you to spend your winter holidays in India.
A winter wonderland, Auli is also ski-lovers’ paradise. Perched high up in the hills of Uttarakhand, this hill station is the best ski resort town in the country, graded top notch by international agencies. Even though Auli is an all-year round skiing destination due to the artificially harvested and powdered snow that they maintain on its slopes, the months from December to February bring out the natural charm and the best snow routes of the town. You can visit the nearby Gurson Bugyal meadow, go for cable car rides, soak your eyes in the gorgeous views of Mana Parvat or just grab your gear and go skiing! January is the month of National Championship of Skiing here.
Nainital is the hill station of lakes, another feather in Uttarakhand’s hat. During winters, the cold of Himalayas envelops Nainital and the lakes are plunged into ice cold chill. But the good part about this place is that it does not see too much of that chill. So even on the coldest day you are easily able to venture out, walk in the snow, do all the usual activities without fear of freezing or catching frostbite. The lakes are not fit for boating, so most tourists prefer chilling at the cafes, shopping down the Mall Road, visiting the Snow Viewpoint and enjoying their resorts.
Manali is a summer as well as winter destination, depending on what activities you want to pursue and what type of sceneries you want to see. Winter is still considered better than summer by some tourists, because of the adventure activities like zorbing, skiing, tobogganing, paragliding and more enjoyed in crisp white snow. Mountain treks are also more picturesque during winter season as the slopes are nicely powdered with snow and the peaks of mountains ice-capped. Do visit the Chandertal lake, Hampta Pass and the sulphur baths at Manikaran.
Great Rann of Kutch
The Rann of Kutch stretches over 7000 sq. miles into the Thar’s desert wilderness. However, these are not your usual sand deserts but almost mystical white salt deserts. They glint like silver. Especially under the full moon night. During the winter months from November to February, the state of Gujarat celebrates the ‘Rann Mahotsav’ here, where visitors come from every corner of the world. There is cattle trading, local folk performances, camping under the stars in the plains, handicraft workshops, desert safaris, desert biking, dances and loads of traditional Gujarati, Kathiyawadi, Saurashtra and Kutchhi food. You can book one of the many luxury tents at the seams of Dhordo Village and travel to the festival from there with ease.
Goa is India’s party hub, the place where everybody goes when it’s time to celebrate; be it weddings or bachelor parties or graduations or babymoons. The most hip beach destination around, Goa is preferred in winter, even though it can be enjoyed in almost all seasons. From October onwards the high season picks up and by December there are festivals, beach parties, tattoo studios, special clubs and water sports packages everyday at every beach. Travellers enjoy the warm afternoons and cool evenings, with the temperatures nice and pleasant, and virtually no rain. The Goa Film Festival, the Goa Carnival, Sunburn Music Fest; all fall in winter. The place receives special love during Christmas and New Year because of its extensive Catholic communities.
Kerala is the land of Kathakali dances and palm tree beaches, backwaters and Ayurvedic massages, the land of yoga and spas, and teas and spices. With a ton of undulating nature embracing it, Kerala is a winter destination through and through. Summers here are very hot and humid while rains don’t give you much to do. But come winter, you are free to explore and enjoy every drop of Kerala’s essence; from its beaches to backwater rides, overnight houseboat stays to kayaking, mountains fragrant with spices and tea gardens blooming green and verdant. Some of the most prominent destinations to visit here are Alleppey (backwaters), Munnar (hill station), Kovalam (beaches), Wayanad and the Silent Valley National Park.
The desert state, Rajasthan is best experienced in all its glory in the Indian winter. Between the months of October to March, the land of royals comes to life like no other. The desert sun is milder and merciful, the winds are cooler and still from time to time, and numerous festivals grace the occasions every now and then. You can go exploring the lakes and palaces of Udaipur, check out the royal pink city of Jaipur, go to Jodhpur for the blue houses, or choose to rent a tent in one of the sand dunes of Jaisalmer. Every bit of activity is perfectly balanced with the weather.
Meghalaya’s hilly little capital, Shillong is an almost year-round destination. Although great in summer, it just blooms with waterfalls and lakes and megaliths and mists during winter months. People come here for the cool weather, clouds in the mountains, the many root-bridge forests, clean villages, tribes and other adventure activities like trekking and angling. The caves and canyons are also best explored during winter because the physical exertion is not as bad in cold as when it is in heat.
Named after the king who settled this city in the middle of the desert, Jaisalmer is very close to the Indo-Pak border. A jewel shining in the mirage of Thar, Jaisalmer is the most famous for winter holidays as it is scorching hot the rest of the year. You can go on camel rides into the sunset, setup camp in a chill-out place, watch folk dances and singers perform or even choose to celebrate New Year under the stars in the desert. The city itself is home to many forts and palaces to give your holiday the much needed royal-touch, along with markets that are vivid with local handicrafts, clothing, accessories and the famous 'name-on-rice.'
Ranthambore National Park
Located next to the town of Sawai Madhopur, the Ranthambore National Park is one of the top wildlife safaris in the country. Renowned for its population of Royal Bengal Tigers, Ranthambore is a thick forest that is best visited through winters. With the nip in the air and the sun not so brightly beating down, you will enjoy exploring and discovering the flora and fauna of the forest, and also get a higher probability of sighting animals like tigers, foxes, hyenas, jackals, chitals, jungle cates and black bucks. There are luxury resort tents at the outskirts in case you want to spend a night in the wild, or you can also book your stay at Jaipur or Sawai Madhopur.
Admittedly the Pink City, Jaipur is known for its charm, its colourful markets, its blue pottery, and of course - the Hawa Mahal. Winters in Jaipur are the most welcoming. Otherwise scorched and parched city of pink sandstone palaces is now light and airy, cooled down by winter breezes. You can explore the city to your heart’s content, visit Jantar Mantar, tour the massive Hawa Mahal, shop for handicrafts, pottery, mojris and precious/ semi precious stones from the bazaars.
The Indian capital is a city as old as time probably. It even finds mention in the epic 5000 year old Mahabharata, when it was popular by the name of Hastinapur. Today Delhi is two different cities - the walled ancient part that has the likes of Qutub Minar and Lal Qilla and Chandi Chowk, and then there is the Lutyens Delhi, the newer, colonial part. Winter is the best time, and in fact the only time you can enjoy Delhi and its sights and its foods. The temperature is down, the land is cold and everything is slower. Other seasons don’t really do you well here in Delhi. So tour the monuments, hop from market to market, and don’t forget to get the best of chole bhature, gol-gappe, kebabs, paranthas and other local street-food.
One of the oldest cities of the world, Varanasi or Benaras defines the holiest of ghats of River Ganga. The place everybody goes to before dying, and most believe is the gateway to heaven. Varanasi is visited by wanderers and travellers, pilgrims and saints alike. Tourists come here in search of peace, some perspective, and if they are lucky, then moksha too. Summers here are too hot to bear and monsoons too wet; which leaves winter. So make sure to crank up your itinerary and visit the temples, forts and ghats here, attend the evening Ganga aarti, gorge on street food, and see the sights and customs that make this place so unique. Not only in India but in all of the world. December also marks the Ganga Festival, so check the yearly dates before planning.
The capital of Sikkim, Gangtok is beautiful during summer, but it is something else altogether during winter. With its steep ridges of mountains and mist clouds hanging over green lush forests, Gangtok is all shades of romance as the cold of the climate settles in. That is why it is coveted even when the weather is chilly and days are short. The temperature does dip to minus values but the afternoons are amazing to enjoy some sun, and catch some elusive views of the distant mountains. Some higher altitude villages are frozen and snowed in and lakes are frozen too. So enjoy a white-green winter holiday in Gangtok!
The financial capital of the country and one of the topmost cities of the world, Mumbai is counted in the same breath as London, New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo. It is a city of making money as well as making movies, a city that is a paradise by the Arabian Sea just as much as it is a slice of slums by the Dharavi creek. Mumbai is a paradox through and through, and should be avoided through the summer (very hot) and monsoon (flood, flood everywhere) seasons. But winter; now winter is a different ballgame altogether. This season is pleasant, not too hot but neither too cold. You can still mostly move around in T-shirts and shorts, and not sweat or shiver. You can go sightseeing to South Bombay and its colonial era buildings, enjoy the Taj Hotel or take a ferry ride from Gateway of India. Nearby are Elephanta Caves, Madh Island, Ajanta-Ellora and Sanjay Gandhi National Park for exertions.
The Zanskar Valley in Ladakh is the ultimate winter destination for adventure junkies. Why, you ask? Because of its coveted ‘Chadar Trek.’ Literally meaning ‘bedsheet,’ Chadar Trek is nothing but trekking over glaciers and mountains in order to be able to walk across a frozen river - the frozen Zanskar River. The river stops flowing by early winter and freezes to a smooth solid surface of ice by winter. The nearby monastery also celebrates this phenomenon and trekkers usually rest there before finding their way back. On your way, who knows, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard too?
Corbett National Park
A popular fact is that the best time to spot wild animals in their natural habitats is summer, as they come out in search of water very easily. But winter in India is also a great time to do that. Among the many wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, the Corbett National Park is a great place to go spot the Royal Bengal Tiger, deer, Asiatic elephants and more. With a misty cool atmosphere and the temperature hovering in the single digit range, Corbett National park is heavenly at this time of the year. This is also the mating season, hence the sightings of tigers become almost sure shot. The safaris are cool and pleasing, the sun mild, and weather merciful.
Etymologically meaning ‘the beautiful forests,’ Sundarbans makes for the mangrove and marsh land extending from West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight and a National Park, housing the Royal Bengal Tiger, Ganges river dolphins, crocodiles and other exotic marshland species. The heat of summer here is excruciating and humid, while monsoons are pretty wet. Which leaves winter. The temperature here is nice and pleasant, while the lack of rains lure out tigers and other mammals to the watering holes. Visit Sudhanyakhali for tiger-spotting and Sajnekhali for birds, and enjoy the boat rides through backwaters and marshlands to see Sundarbans in all its winter glory.