Whenever the ‘mountain getaway’ topic comes up during my conversations with pals from outside India, the term “Hill Station” pops out of my mouth inevitably. Most of them would look back at me with a question mark written all over their face – what is a hill station? Is it some sort of a railway or bus station on the top of a hill? My answer would take them back to the Colonial Era, the times of the British Raj, when these little towns in India’s towering mountains were developed as a refuge from the blistering long summer.
Hill Stations of India are popular tourist hotspots with excellent roads and railway connectivity. They can get really clogged during the summers when hordes of heat-detesters run there for cover. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything interesting or offbeat to do in them. In fact, there are plenty.
1. TawangThe land of Monpas, Tawang still remains a hidden gem among all the gorgeous hill stations of India. Perched at 10,000 feet on the Eastern Himalayas, it boasts of stunning unspoiled sceneries and a flurry of pristine lakes all around.
Interesting/Offbeat things to see/do in Tawang :
The Tawang Monastery:The 400-year-old structure with white walls and yellow roof is one of the most important Buddhist learning centres in India. It is where the 6th Dalai Lama was born. The intricate murals and thangkas (Tibetan paintings in cloth) inside the monastery are worth having a look at. In case you are a nature lover, the commanding views of the splendid valleys surrounding the monastery will take your breath away.
The Lake made out of an earthquake (Shonga-Tser Lake):The lake, formed by a massive earthquake in 1950, still has dead trees emerging out of the water. The scenic water body being one of the filming locations for a popular Bollywood movie (Koyla) was named “Madhuri Lake” on the lead actress.
If you have time, head to the Pangang Teng Tso Lake ( PT Tso ) to get amazed by its enchanting beauty.
Trek to the Gorichen Base Camp:At 22,500 feet, Gorichen is the highest peak of the region and one of the most difficult to climb. You can still trek to its base camp without any technical climbing knowledge. The trek offers rare views of peaks from the Panchakshiri range of the eastern Himalaya, rolling meadows covered with wildflowers and remote villages of yak-herding monpas, the Tibetan tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. This is also arguably the best trekking route of Arunachal Pradesh.
MountainParadiseTour and North East Indian Center organizes treks to the Gorichen Base Camp with departures from Guwahati
How to reach Tawang:Tawang is about 500 km from Guwahati, the nearest major airport of the region. It is advisable to take a break at Tezpur or Bomdilla en-route Tawang from Guwahati. The road deteriorates after Tezpur and can be a real test for your spine. Public transport isn’t too frequent on this route, the only ones plying are Tata Sumos or similar vehicles (8 seater cars)
Permits:International travellers will need a Protected Area Permit ( PAP) and Indian travellers from other states need an Inner Line Permit to visit Tawang. They can be easily procured from the Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh offices in Delhi, Kolkata or Guwahati. Spare at least a day, for getting these permits.
Check the website of the Dept of IPR, Govt of Arunachal Pradesh for more information :
Where to Stay in Tawang:If you are looking for luxury, Tawang might disappoint you. Most of the hotels offer basic amenities and are a value for your money. Hotel Gakyi Khang Zhang is the best of the lot. Their presidential suite offering commanding views of the surrounding valleys and the Tawang monastery, priced at a decent INR 4000 a night is the closest to luxury you can get in this unexplored, charming Himalayan town.
For the budget traveller, there is no dearth of decent lodges and guesthouses in Tawang, expect to pay anything around INR 300 to 500 a night.
2. OotyThe “Queen of Hills” needs no introduction. Verdant slopes, blue hazed valleys and eucalyptus-studded pathways have made Ooty the cynosure of all eyes since a century. The tallest hill station of South India might apparently look touristy but has a lot to offer to the traveller in search of the road less taken.
Interesting/Offbeat things to see/do in Ooty:
Offroading to Upper Bhavani Lake:
Upper Bhavani Lake is only 30 km from Ooty, but feels like a different world altogether. The azure waters of the lake and the surrounding undulating curves swathed in greenish-brown vegetation make a breath-taking sight. The best way to visit the lake from Ooty is via Avalanche lake on a 4x4 vehicle. The road or rather the “no road” is a motorable forest trail with spectacular views of the Nilgiri and no soul for your company.
You will need to take permission from the District Forest Officer (DFO) at Ooty if you want to drive on this road. There are also a couple of forest rest houses at Upper Bhavani, which are very basic in amenities but promise a wonderful stay inside the forest in the lap of the Nilgiris.
The contact for the DFO office in Ooty for the road permit and stay at the forest rest house at Upper Bhavani can be found here : http://www.forests.tn.nic.in/ContactUs_dist/cu_ngs.html
Hang Gliding in Ooty:
Hang gliding is an adventure sport similar to paragliding but involves hanging from a harness attached to large type of kite called a hang-glider. Kalahatty, about 20 km away from Ooty is a world-class hang gliding spot. The route passes above the Mukurthi National Park and might offer glimpses of wild animals from the top, apart from spectacular views of the Nilgiris.
Contact the tourist officer of Ooty for more details:
Toy Train Ride:
A trip to Ooty is never complete without a ride on the century-old Nilgiri Mountain Railway. When the blue and cream-colored coaches chug up the Blue Mountains, even the crudest of all hearts will skip a beat. The steam engine covers the 46 km to Ooty in four and a half hours, twisting and turning through the rocky terrain, before slowly meandering into the sprawling tea estates. The familiar chuffing sound of the steam locomotive casts an old world charm and reminds of the legacies of the British Raj.
How to reach Ooty:Ooty is well connected to the big cities of South India by excellent roads. The nearest airport is at Coimbatore (90 kms away). If you fly to Coimbatore, take a cab to Mettupalayam, then the toy train to Ooty. It’s one of the best train journeys of India
Where to stay in Ooty:Visit to Ooty is never complete without a stay at a chalet from the colonial times. Your best option can be Taj Savoy or Sherlock Hotel for a better value for money. If you are on a budget, try Kluney Manor, one of my favourites in Ooty.
Pachmarhi shot to fame in 2009, when it was added to the list of Biosphere Reserves around the world by UNESCO. This hill resort on the Satpura mountains boasts of the highest point in Central India (Dhoopgarh) and is a botanist’s paradise.
Interesting/Offbeat things to see/do in Pachmarhi:
Trekking in the Satpura National Park :
9 km from Pachmarhi town is the Mahadeo Temple, the starting point of the 3.6 km trek to Chauragarh. The trek is steep at the end transforming into a series of 1400 stairs chiselled on the rock face leading to a famous temple of the region. After the ardous climb, the thin air and the views of the verdant Satpura cliffs from the top will make your climb worth every bit of the pain.
Another short trek in Pachmarhi is the trek to the Dutchess Fall. 2 kms of steep downhill trek will take you to the deluge from the perennial cascade that is Dutchess Fall
Parasailing in Pachmarhi:Ever wished you could fly like a bird? Parasailing in Pachmarhi will give you wings to fly sans the flying training. Strapped on to a canopy wing resembling a parachute, you will be towed by a jeep darting forward in top speed. As air fills the parasail wing, you will have the swift breeze kissing your toes and the lush green slopes of the Satpura hills soothing your eyes.
Most parasailers in Pachmari are beginners with no previous experience, so don’t panic if you have never done it before.
Satpura Adventure Club, based at Hotel Saketh, arranges parasailing at the airstrip near Pachmarhi. Contact at 09424377866/ firstname.lastname@example.org
How to reach Pachmarhi:
The nearest airport to Pachmarhi is at Bhopal (200 km away). The nearest rail station is Piparia, which has decent connections to Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore an Chennai. By road, Pachmarhi can be reached via Hoshangabad, Narsinghpur or Chhindwara.
Where to stay in Pachmarhi:
Stay at the Golf View (http://www.nivalink.com/golfview/index.html) for its old world charm, sprawling lawns, excellent food and courteous service.
4. Nainital:Nainital is Kumaon’s largest town built on a wooded valley around the green, volcanic Naini Lake. It receives hordes of package tourists and honeymooners from all over India during the summers, but it doesn’t disappoint the traveller in search of something interesting and offbeat.
Photo Credit : sabamonin
Interesting/Offbeat things to see/do in Nainital:
Visit Jim Corbett’s Gurney House:The residence of the renowned hunter-conservationist and writer, Jim Corbett, is an interesting place to visit. With its old-world charm intact, it houses many of Corbett’s antiques. If you are a Corbett lover, you won’t mind going back in time to see his stories come alive at his beautiful house.
For directions and other details have a look at: http://gurneyhouse.com/
Rock Climbing in Nainital:There are quite a few clubs that offer rock-climbing sessions in Nainital. Get ready to loose your fear of climbing with professionals at your help. There are shorter and longer sessions ranging from 5 hours to 7 days. Abseiling, Bouldering and Rappelling are the popular forms.
Mountain Rovers offer courses in Rock Climbing in Nainital.
Nature Walks in Nainital:Skip the worn-out boating or the crowded ropeway; Nainital’s beauty is best appreciated by taking a nature walk along the less-touristy trails. A solitary walk through the pines and oaks at Thandi Sadak can be your best bet!
How to reach Nainital:The most convinient way to reach Nainital is via Delhi (274 km). Fly to Delhi and take a cab or a bus for a 5-6 hour journey. The nearest railway station is at Kathgodam (34 km)
Where to stay in Nainital:
There are no dearth of hotels in Nainital but weekends in the summer months can get really crowded, so it is a good idea to have a booking in advance. If you want an offbeat and special stay in the lap of nature head to Ayar Jungle Camp, else you always have the hotels in mall road of Nainital.
5. Pelling :Pelling might be underestimated as Gangtok’s smaller cousin, but the astounding views of Mount Kanchenjunga justifies a visit to this quaint little hill station of Sikkim, draped in alpine vegetation.
Mt Kanchenjunga from Pelling
Interesting/Offbeat things to see/do in Pelling:
Monastery Trek to Yuksom :Trek to the pristine and peaceful Kecheopalri Lake on the first day. The lake is one of the most sacred in the region and legend has it that a guardian bird swoops and picks up even a single leaf that falls on the lake, to main its sanctity. Kecheopalri village has amazing views of Mt Pandim. Head to Yuksom the next day on steep trails through virgin forests dotted with lepcha settlements and sprinkled with rhododendrons (Sikkim’s endemic flower). Go further up to find ancient tibetan manuscripts housed in a humble monastery – the Dubdi Monastery
Organic Farming in Darap Village:Darap is home to the Limboo tribe, the indigenous people of the region. The high altitude village sits on a valley exposed to extreme temperature variations, ranging from -6 degrees to 27 degrees. There are a few homestays in the village that offer activities that will take you up-close and personal with the daily life of the limboo people. Do organic farming, go fishing or milk the cows, the experience at Darap will stay with you for a lifetime.
The Gurung Homestay is a good place to stay at Darap.
How to Reach Pelling:If you are driving up from Siliguri, Pelling can be reached via Jorethang. There are a few jeeps plying on this route as well. Buses are infrequent, but available. Check at Siliguri’s Tenzing Norgay Bus Station for availability. From Gangtok, there are frequent buses and jeeps going to Pelling daily.
Where to Stay in Pelling:
Upper Pelling offers the best views, and Lower Pelling is less expensive. Decide on your own after you are there. Pelling has enough hotels to accommodate you even in the peak season. My favourite is The Elgin Mount Pandim Hotel. Its advisable to have a prior booking as they are one of the most sought after in Pelling.
Share your thoughts on these Hill Stations and if you are planning to visit any of them this summer.
Image Credits : Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise mentioned.