Where should you head off to holiday in this wonderful weather? Harnoor Channi-Tiwary shares her favourite monsoon getaways from across India.
In a country that offers terrains that are as diverse as its culture, the number of options to head out of town in the rains are endless. Beaches and hill stations, tea plantations and waterfalls, India has much to offer for the discerning monsoon traveller.
Pleasurable stays at plantations
The perfect monsoon vacation starts with good weather and ends with greenery all around. What could be better than a plantation? Relaxation, splendour and a brand new experience all rolled into one! Here are some options for you:
Tea gardens: Your mind may turn to the tea gardens in Assam and the North East, but if those are too out of the way for you, Palampur in Himachal Pradesh is a great option. It's a tiny hill station above Pathankot with acres and acres of lush green tea gardens to walk through. Palampur also boasts of tea-making factories and a tea wine factory, which can be a great place to spend your day.
In the south, Ooty and Kodaikanal make for spectacular rainy destinations. Perfect weather, a lovely lake and undulating tea estates!
Coffee plantations: In South India, one also has the option of visiting a coffee plantation. Coorg and Munnar each have a distinct character of their own. The best way to enjoy the plantations is to stay on them, either at a bed-and-breakfast or a resort like the Orange County in Coorg. Travel advisors can help recommend great B&Bs in idyllic settings. Another place to head out to is Nisargadhama in the Coorg district, not too far at 280 kilometres from Bangalore. Abundant with lush forests of rosewood and teak and a variety of butterflies, woodpeckers, crocodiles, elephants and sambars, add it to your must-visit list.
Spice plantations: This is a new concept. We bet you haven't discovered the joys of staying in the midst of a spice garden. Imagine waking up to the smell of fresh cardamom, having breakfast being surrounded by green hills! Kerala offers some fantastic options for spice gardens including the absolutely stunning Shalimar Spice Garden near the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thekkady, Kerala.
Harnoor Channi-Tiwary is the founder of Journey My Way, a personalised travel advisory firm (www.journeymyway.com)
Romantic rains by the sea
Whoever told you that beaches should be given a miss during the monsoons should be respectfully ignored. Some of India's beach destinations are best visited during the monsoons.
Goa: Goa is off-season in the monsoon months and you will get fabulous discounts. But that is not the only reason to visit. The place turns a new leaf in the rains, one that only the locals are witness to. The shacks are shut and the sea is rough, so give the beach a miss and book yourself into a sea-facing property like Taj Fort Aguada. The views are stunning from the French windows and everywhere you look it's green, almost like there's magic at work. Don't listen to the cynics. Give this one a shot!
Pondicherry: Spending monsoons in Pondi is like visiting the French Riviera. Eat in the French cafes, visit Auroville and if you have the time, go explore local art being created by the expats settled there. Accommodations include the 18th century Neemrana property, called Hotel De L'Orient. You can also visit Mahabalipuram on your way to Pondicherry.
Head for the hills
The only hitch of visiting hill stations in the rains is that getting to one and back can be a little treacherous. Hills often are prone to landslides in this season and one has to be careful. But once you can get there, they can be a great place to spend your monsoon vacation. Pick a destination that has plenty of indoor places to see, like monuments for when the rain is beating down.
Mcleodganj: Set a little above Dharamshala, this is a great option for a weekend break. The town is like mini Tibet and is steeped in culture. One can visit the monasteries, explore the architecture or just sip hot tea in one of the many cafes. Options to stay are plenty, but do explore Chonor House (where Richard Gere stays when he visits) and Pema Thang.
Give Lonavala and Mahabaleshwar a miss this season and head out to one of the lesser-known hill stations in Maharashtra. Matheran is accessible and beautiful with its canopies in the forest. Or just get in your car and drive off along the Mumbai-Bangalore highway to one of the many options like Panchgani, Sinhagad and Rajgad among others.
Lounge around lakes and waterfalls
Surprisingly, some of the best monsoon destinations are those that boast of lakes or waterfalls. The abundance of water brings these places alive and there is nothing more refreshing than standing under a waterfall sipping on a chilled can of cola.
Meenal Falls and Chambal: Each around 200 kilometres away from Jaipur, they're great destinations. Meenal Falls is a visual delight and a rocky trek up can lead you to a stream flowing next to the temple complex. Chambal is famous for its crocodile sanctuary and has plenty of lakes and rivers to enjoy. Give the overrated Kempty Falls in Mussourie a miss and visit these instead!
Mandu: Set in the heart of Madhya Pradesh, Mandu is an idyllic locale with 6 lakes, 10 palaces and 12 gates waiting to spill its tales of romance and history.
Shimoga: Located 277 kilometres from Bangalore, Shimoga is the place to go if you like to explore and discover raw beauty. Saint Thomas Church (2nd largest in India), Jog Falls, Vanake-Abbey Falls, Achakanya Falls, Tyarekoppa Lion Safari and Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp are some of the things that would keep you busy here.
The best of 'filmi' destinations
Want to dance in the rain at the exact same spot where your favourite actor/ actress twirled? Here are some of the famous locations where monsoon films were shot:
Raavan: Tumkur Forests of Karnataka, Kerala (Athirappilly Falls), Ooty, Jhansi, Orchha, Kolkata, Mahabaleshwar and the Malshej Ghats in Maharashtra.
Kidnap, Plan, Musafir, Ajab Prem ki Gazab Kahani, Kuch Na Kaho, and Dil Maange More: All had shots of the Konkan Railway between Mumbai and Goa during monsoons.
Wake Up Sid: Mumbai City
Roja and multiple Tamil and Malayalam films: Sundarapandyapuram in Tamil Nadu