April, May and June are the hot and sticky months that lead up to monsoon season in India – but don’t let the soaring temperatures put you off visiting. Hill stations were established by the British Raj so that in summer the entire government – and fashionable society with them – would retreat to the cool mountains to continue the business of managing the Indian subcontinent.
Today these colonial retreats have burgeoned into towns and regions that are at their liveliest in summer, packed with honeymooning couples and Indian families enjoying the vistas of misty hills and lush green tea plantations. Read on for our take on the best hill stations in India – if you fancy making the trip yourself, check out Wego.in's latest prices for flights and hotel deals.
1. To follow in colonial footsteps: Shimla
Many of India’s hill stations were established by the colonial British as retreats from the summer heat of the plains. Shimla “Queen of the Hills” was the summer capital of the Raj and its architecture is a love-letter to England – particularly iconic are the pale-yellow Christ Church and the imposing Viceregal Lodge where India’s Independence was planned. In the early evening, everyone promenades with ice-cream and balloons on the pedestrianised Mall.
Shimla © OctoberSonata/Shutterstock
2. To ride on a toy train: Darjeeling
Darjeeling is in West Bengal, in the Himalayan foothills of far northeast India. It’s reached by the not entirely reliable, but very charming, nineteenth-century narrow-gauge Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (or toy train). Darjeeling is close to the Nepalese and Tibetan borders, so in the evening you should wrap up warm and head to the market for some of the best momos (dumplings) and thukpa (noodle soup) around.
Darjeeling © ImagesofIndia/Shutterstock
3. To embrace your inner hippy: Rishikesh
The icy waters of the sacred Ganges River flows through Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills. Brought to the attention of the West in the 1960s when the Beatles came to stay at an ashram here, today the place has a serious spiritual bent. Self-styled as the “yoga capital of the world” there are more meditation and yoga classes – and silent retreats – than you can shake a stick at. Plus the sunsets are phenomenal.
Rishikesh © Dan Baciu/Shutterstock
4. To sip tea: Munnar
A lush green paradise in the Western Ghats of Kerala (a state otherwise known as God’s Own Country), Munnar is the tea growing capital of South India. Visiting one of the vast tea estates high up in the rolling hills gives an insider perspective to the process of tea cultivation – not to mention stunning views for miles around. Just outside of Munnar, the Tata Tea Museum exhibits historic machinery (tea has been growing on these slopes since the 1880s) and the shop sells every variety of tea to take home.
Green tea plantations in Munnar © Alexander Mazurkevich/Shutterstock
5. To spot wildlife: Wayanad
Not a typical hill station, Wayanad is a remote district spread out over thickly forested slopes. While it has towns to stay in (Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Sultan Bathery are the main centres), it’s far better to choose accommodation deep in the mountains surrounded by rice paddies and spice gardens. At dawn and dusk, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary – part of the UNESCO Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve – is alive with wildlife and you’re bound to spot elephants, deer and gaur. Tigers are more elusive.
Wayanad © Kunal Kishore/Shutterstock
6. To meet the Dalai Lama: Dharamsala
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and established the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile) on the pine-clad mountain slopes of northern India’s Dharamsala. Attending a public teaching held by the Nobel Peace Prize holder and Buddhist leader of Tibet is a spine-tingling experience – but if you don’t get the chance to meet him, the Dalai Lama Temple Complex is an atmospheric place to learn more about Tibet.
Dharamsala © hrui/Shutterstock
7. To seek out adventure: Manali
The resort town of Manali with its jaw-dropping Himalayan backdrop has been the setting of many a Bollywood blockbuster. Scenery aside, thrill-seekers head here in the summer months for adventure. Specifically trekking, white-water rafting, paragliding, rock-climbing, rappelling and zorbing (small print: always seek out qualified and long-standing tour operators and chat to fellow travellers about their experiences).
Manali © Shailpik Biswas/Shutterstock
8. To stroll in landscaped gardens: Ooty
You need to look closely in over-developed Ooty (also known as Udhagamandalam) to see any hint of its glory days, but that doesn’t make it any less popular in the summer months. Strolling the landscaped Botanical Gardens on a sunny day inevitably means you’ll be sharing space with every holiday-maker in India (more fun than it sounds). The Rose Gardens slightly further out of town are another gorgeous and colourful spot with a bewildering variety of roses (nearly 20,000).
Ooty © Akash Routh/Shutterstock
This feature is in collaboration with Wego.co.in, a leading travel search engine and app for accommodation and flights in India. All recommendations remain editorially independent. Top image: Dharamsala © hrui/Shutterstock