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The idea of snuggling up before a crackling fire, steaming cocoa in one hand and a book in the other as the snow piles up outside your window, is what gives winter holidays its special charm. Holidays are always fun regardless the season, but the dimension and cosiness of holidays in winter can be experienced when you are exploring a country as climatically diverse as India. The Tropic of Cancer passing through its centre might give it a largely tropical climate, but when the Thar Desert to the northwest and the Himalayas, the planet’s highest and most extensive mountain range, to the north come together, among others you have some cold to chilly winters. What with the northern regions witnessing fair bit of snow between December and January. By and large the Indian winter season commences from mid-November and lasts till February opening up some fantastic winter holiday destinations that turn into a white wonderland under a blanket of snow.
But the country’s topography makes even winter a widely different experience across regions. For instance, the winter in the Western Ghats is much milder than the ones in Punjab, Haryana or New Delhi. But just as the capital of the country enjoys a chilly weather, its northern neighbours like Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Uttarakhand freeze over. By the same token the coastal region of the country like the Konkan coast or the region skirting the Bay of Bengal receive gentle winter with ample sunshine in the days and a nippy breeze in the evenings. Depending on your love and your tolerance of the cold weather, you can choose from an array of winter tour packages in India. A bulk of your choice depends on the kind of activity you wish to pursue on your winter holiday and weather or not the climate is conducive for it.
Winter holidays in India range from hardcore skiing destinations such as a Auli, scrambling up a tea estate in Darjeeling or Munnar, motorbiking over a frozen Pangong Lake in Leh-Ladakh, doing a train tide through the pleasantly cool Konkan coast, enjoying a cruise from Port Blair to the Havelock Island in the Andamans or simply driving past fields of snow in Gulmarg. Not many places in the world have such a diverse winter climate as India each with its unique offering and atmospherics.
Here we suggest some ideas for a perfect winter vacation in India.
India’s snowy north : Kashmir, Himachal, Uttarakhand, and Leh-Ladakh are a significant part of winter tour packages. If your idea of a winter holiday comprises tracts of snow, stiff peaks of ice and cosy gabled construction tucked away in an equally white landscape, your have ample choices among North India’s winter getaways. Shimla, Manali, Kullu, Nainital, Dhanaulti, Chakrata, Chamba, Kasauli, Auli, Gulmarg, Sonamarg are the destinations you can experience snow in winter. The ideal time to visit these destinations is between Mid-December and January when the cover of white is thick as a blanket and the outdoorsy kind can indulge in activities like skiing, snow boarding, trekking or even boating. A Shikara ride on a misty Dal Lake in Srinagar can numb you to the bones but it also exposes you to a stunning winter scenery you will remember for time to come. Aside from riding a cable car in Gulmarg, you can sign up for hot-air ballooning, heli-skiing, and skating in Kashmir. Another extreme adventure of sorts is walking on the frozen Zanskar River in Leh, popularly known as the Chadar trek. Else enjoy trotting down the snowy slopes of Pahalgam on the back of a pony and experience the beauty of a Kashmiri winter.
India’s lush south : South India wears a mystical green cover in the winter months. It is largely because the monsoon rains have ebbed and the trees are back in full bloom, carpeting the hills and the valleys with their lively green vines and blossoms in every imaginable hue. Little wonder, there are ample winter holiday packages to the southern region of the country especially to its hills and backwaters. In Kerala, backwater getaways such as Alleppey, Kollam, Kumarakom are perfect to drift down in a kettuvalom or houseboat and take in a keen breeze. The backwater life leaps back to life post the rains and in the colder months starting from late November to February offer rewarding scenery nudging you to stay outdoors for the better part of your stay. Beach getaways down south like Kovalam, Kanyakumari, Varkala are a flurry of activities with some crisp sunshine in the day. Head out to Munnar, Coorg, Ooty, Wayanad if you seek to be among the Western Ghats and enjoy the misty tea, coffee and spice estates and some beautiful flowering valleys. The Eravikulum Wildlife Sanctuary is open at this time of the year and offers a good chance to spot the endemic Nilgiri Tahr. Round up your South India stay with a quick break in India’s answer to the French Riviera, Pondicherry. Pondi’s open courtyard cafes, its long and leafy seaside promenade and its general aura at this time of year holds a special appeal.
India’s vibrant west : Tackle the Konkan coast either by train or fly straight into Goa and experience its carnival-like atmosphere come December. Goa’s beaches receive a breather with the setting of the winter months, besides it also heralds the holiday season bringing in busloads of European travellers to its beaches and shacks. Aside from tucking into some of the freshest seafood and the fiery Goan Vindaloo, there is joy is zipping down its narrow by-lanes in a bike and soaking up the street life. North Goa hosts a range of Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties at its popular party venues like Tito’s in Baga and the many clubs and bars on Anjuna. The hills stations close to Mumbai and Pune are also great to visit in this season. Whether it is Lavasa near Pune or Mahabaleshwar near Mumbai, the hills offer a pleasant respite to a city starved for some pleasant and cool, and not to mention, a dash of greenery. Kutch in Gujarat, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Mount Abu, Ranakpur, Jaisalmer and Ranthambhore are perfect winter getaways in Rajasthan. From boating on Lake Pichola, fort-hopping in Jodhpur, visiting the Jain temples of Ranakpur and Mount Abu and desert safari in Jaisalmer, a winter holiday with your family here will be apt when the weather is between pleasant to cold.
India’s glittering east and north-east : Either you arrive in Bagdogra and plan a nice winter vacay in Darjeeling and explore places like Ghum, Mirik, Kalimpong, the rolling tea estates, frost-covered hills and some truly breathtaking sunrise over the snow-covered Tiger Hills. Or arrive in Kolkata and after paying your tributes at its customary eat and drink landmarks and the epic coffee houses, proceed to explore its cultural roots in places like Shantiniketan, Bakura, Mednipur among others. Look up the terracotta temples, the trademark terracotta horses of Bakura that are home to a host of delicately handcrafted pieces. You can then ride a ferry to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Islands. December to February is the best time to visit this archipelago and browse its white beaches and azure waters. After a stay of a day or two in Port Blair and exploring its beaches like Chidiya Tapu and Corbyn Cove, set off for the sun-and-sand paradise of Havelock. Elephant’s Beach, Radhanagar Beach, Neil’s Cove are some of its gems. The waters of these beaches are popular with snorkellers and divers for their vivid marine life and colourful reefs. With a weather increasingly favourable and the skies clear of storms, there is no better time to be at Andaman and enjoy its bountiful deep sea delights than the winter season.
Choose the kind of holiday you have in mind, and quickly plan your winter break to one of India’s gorgeous cold destinations.
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