The onset of winter is marked by poetic misty mornings, a crisp breeze, and nights when all you want to do is snuggle into a quilt and read a book. But the winter months are also a fantastic time to discover a completely new side of some of India’s popular travel destinations. Immerse in the snow-laden beauty of Gulmarg, set up a tent amidst sand dunes of Jaisalmer, or warm up to a steaming cup of tea in Munnar’s expansive tea plantations—there are many wintry experiences to choose from, once you don the layers and buttress yourself against the cold. From the Himalayan peaks blanketed in glistening snow to verdant hill towns down south, here are some of the best escapes in India that are ideal for your winter vacation.
Manali gets its first snowfall around mid December, when it transforms into a winter wonderland replete with snow-covered peaks, and a blanket of pristine white draped all across the hill station. With the stunning backdrop of the Himalayas, it offers the perfect balance between tranquility and adventure, making it one of the most popular hill destinations in northern India. Fringed by thick pine trees and the Beas river gurgling along, you can decide to spend your holiday doing nothing at all or pack in your itinerary with interesting activities.
Approached by road from Chandigarh, which is about 300 kilometres away, there are a number of Himachal Tourism buses that run from Delhi and Chandigarh at frequent intervals, though the distance from Delhi is best undertaken in one of the comfortable overnight buses. For those who wish to partake in adventurous activities, there’s fishing, white water rafting, paragliding, skiing, mountaineering, and hiking in and around Manali. If you’re looking to go off the beaten path, try one of the packages organised by Trans Himalayan Adventures, which focus on healing and rejuvenation. Solang Valley is a good option for the kids, offering a bunch of fun winter sports including skiing.
One of the preferred winter destinations in the country, mostly for its proximity to the larger cities and its good mix of entertainment, Shimla in Himachal Pradesh is another great place to get snowed in. Plan your trip some time after the third week of December for guaranteed snowfall. Getting there is easy, take a flight, train or bus from any of the neighbouring cities of Delhi and Chandigarh, or then just hire a taxi and do the seven-hour-long drive at your convenience. In accommodation, there are options aplenty.
If you’re looking to pamper yourself, stay at the Oberoi Cecil or the heritage Woodville Palace, or downsize your budget with umpteen number of mid-range and budget hotels dotting the town. There’s lots to do here. Some of the major tourist spots include the Viceregal Lodge & Botanical Gardens, the Ridge which offers beautiful views of the hills, the Mall for a spot of shopping, cafes and restaurants, Chadwick Falls, Elysium Hill, the Dorje Drag Monastery, Christ Church & St. Michael’s Cathedral, Jakhoo Temple, Sankat Mochan and Tara Devi. A perfect white getaway which is enchantingly beautiful and entertaining too.
If you’re looking for a destination which is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is adventurous, then look no further than Kashmir. The Kashmir valley is considered heaven on earth, and when it’s blanketed in snow, it exudes a charm few other places do. The tiny and isolated hill village of Gulmarg is situated at the western extremity of the Himalayas in a subsidiary range called the Pir Panjals. Lying about 50 kilometres from Srinagar, it can be easily accessed by tourist buses, taxis and even by air.
Owing to its location, Gulmarg gets some of the heaviest snowfalls in the Himalayas and has earned the distinction of being the best ski resort in the country. So once you’ve feasted your eyes on all the beauty, immerse yourself in some activity by hitting the slopes. Catering to both beginners and pros, skiing here can be one of the most powerful experiences. For the more mild adventure enthusiasts, there’s the option of sledging, cable-car rides and snow boarding. Ski season starts mid December and lasts till the beginning of April. As for accommodation, there are various options. From state-owned huts and cottages, and beautifully appointed midrange hotels like Nedous Hotel, to luxury accommodation at Hotel Highlands Park, there’s something to suit every budget. In addition, Gulmarg offers several other sites of interest for tourists. It has the highest golf course in the world, the frozen Alpine lake of Alpather, the Baba Reshi shrine and the Gulmarg Biosphere Reserves.
A magnificent fort looming over the city, picture-postcard vistas of sand dunes and an array of illuminated sandstone buildings—Jaisalmer is nothing short of a scene straight out of Arabian Nights. Once a sleepy desert city, Jaisalmer now attracts many couples, honeymooners and families by dint of its erstwhile royal splendour. The Jaisalmer Fort (also known as the Golden Fort of Rajasthan) is the most splendid attraction of the city, perched on an elevated patch looking over the city. Surrounded by numerous golden-hued shrines, the Gadsisar Lake is ideal for an evening picnic or a short paddleboat ride.
The city’s most popular activity is taking a camel ride over the desert sands; best enjoyed at sunrise and sunset, the ride gives an insight into Rajasthan’s rural life and stunning vistas of the horizon. Jaisalmer’s winding alleys are home to vibrant markets from where you can pick up quintessential Rajasthani souvenirs. Rajasthani cuisine, famous for its spicy veg curries, mouth-watering meat dishes and delectable sweets is the icing on the cake.
Located between the Kannur and Kozhikode districts in Kerala, Wayanad is a sparkling green emerald sprawled across the slopes of the Western Ghats. The monsoons persevere here—the rainy season starts in June and lasts all the way till mid November—during which the already lush landscape takes on an even more vibrant shade of green, and everything is washed squeaky clean. The most enjoyable way to experience it is by checking into a jungle resort—even better if it has a treehouse. During the occasional dry spells in between, venture out and enjoy everything else the region has to offer. Wayanad ploughs tourists with some interesting prehistoric archaeological sites, tea plantations and thick forests, and is home to some of the oldest (and most insulated) tribes in India.