The monsoon may have cooled the southern states but northern India is still reeling under the heat wave. Most conversations still start with weather reports. The hot topic: Where are you headed while there's still a bit of summer to weather? The mountains, where else? From the cool springtime of the Himalayas to the moist, temperate Western Ghats, here is our list of the coolest destinations. Text and photos: LAKSHMI SHARATH
Located at the confluence of the three rivers on the Western Ghats in Kerala is Munnar. Wrapped in a fabric of tea plantations, Munnar is a biodiversity hot spot surrounded by wildlife sanctuaries, although its habitat is now fragmented. If you are a wildlife enthusiast or a birder or just a pantheist, Munnar is the place for you.
They don't call it the Scotland of the East for nothing. The fabric of green is only interrupted by waterfalls, rivers and streams. The mist comes calling – be it at Talacauvery where the River Cauvery has its origins or at Raja's Seat in Madikeri, which offers some spectacular views. The Western Ghats are covered with forests, while coffee and spice plantations fill their slopes. If you haven't been to Coorg, then you surely have no idea what bliss is.
Call it the Gift of the Forests or the Princess of the Hill Stations, Kodaikanal is nestled high up in the Western Ghats. Dense shola forests, grasslands, tall eucalyptus groves – Kodaikanal is drenched in fog and mist most of the time. Caves, hidden waterfalls, lakes tucked away inside lush forests – Kodaikanal is indeed nature's own destination.
Imagine sitting outside your little homestay , sipping chai and losing yourself in a misty sky and then all of a sudden, the mist parts ways just to give you that little glimpse , for a few seconds of the mighty Kanchenjunga. That is Sikkim for you. You will be walking up a knoll and suddenly you see an old monastery. I prefer Pelling to Gangtok as it is quieter and offers better views of the mountain. And while you are there, visit Yuksom, the old capital of the state. Tsango Lake and Nathu La can be visited from Gangtok but if you want to visit Gurudogmor Lake, give yourself a few more days to travel up north.
Barely a few kilometres away from Shimla, Mashobra is an escape from the touristy capital. Wake up to a Himalayan sunrise, do a bit of birding, admire the contours of the mountains, drive up to Chail to see the palace or just lose yourself in the verdant forests around – Mashobra is an ideal getaway to beat the heat.
It may be crowded and filled with loud tourists but my vote goes for Nainital. The Himalayas circle you and, on a clear day, you can see the peaks of Nanda Devi and Trishul if you take the cable car up to the Snow View. The colonial atmosphere takes you to the days of the Raj, but Nainital also has its bit of mythical influences. Be it the grace of the Goddess Naini Devi who gives the town its name or the eye-shaped lake, Nainital is both mystical and magical.
An obscure little hill station, Dirang is located in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India. Quiet and sleepy, the town is my favourite stopover en route to Tawang. Walk around and you will find houses huddled along the banks of a small stream. You could drive up to see ancient monasteries or visit the ruins of the 17th century fort.
I cannot think of any place on earth that can be more breathtaking, challenging and fascinating than Ladakh. There is beauty in its barrenness. The colours are stark. The Indus River beckons you, curving along the path, taking you to lands forgotten. Clothed in snow, the mountains encircle you as you climb the steps to monasteries perched precariously on cliffs. Watch the lakes change colour every minute as you drive through the land of high passes, and feel humbled in the barren landscape. My favourite is Pangong Tso, although Tso Moriri comes a close second. If you are up to it, cycle or hike up to Khardung La or lose yourself in the colours of the Nubra Valley.
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