Beautiful Monsoon Destinations In India

I’m busy packing for a trip as I type today’s post. (Keep an eye on my social media updates to know where I’m headed! 😉 ) The weather in my city is unpredictable this time of the year – it pours heavily a few minutes, then it’s sunny as if it never rained. However, I’ll have to leave Mumbai alone in this game of hide-n-seek as I go to a part of India I’ve never explored before. Meanwhile, I have collaborated with three of my travel writer friends to tell you about four places from four different parts of this country that you can holiday in while the rains are on:-

East: Cooch Behar – West Bengal

Cooch Behar Palace

Cooch Behar Palace

The state of West Bengal has so much more to offer than the oft-hyped hill station of Darjeeling. If you are looking to beat the clutter of Kolkata and the tourist-traps of the Eastern Himalayas, catch a train to Cooch Behar. Before the independence of India, the region was a princely state under the reign of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan. This district in North Bengal looks ravishing in the monsoon! Enjoy the idyllic backyard ponds of old brick-houses where Bengali men gather to talk about politics and education while they indulge in fishing – a favourite pastime.

If you appreciate history and architecture, take a tour of the majestic Cooch Behar Palace which was built in the late 19th century. Boasting of Italian Rennaissance design, this mansion draws its inspiration from London’s Buckingham Palace. There is a museum inside that displays photographs of the royal family and records the history of the province. The palace neighbourhood has a sprawling garden with manicured bushes and carefully chosen flowers, some the size of my head. There is also a lake and benches to enjoy the tranquil surroundings.

North: Jibhi – Himachal Pradesh

Jibhi (Courtesy: Natalia Shipkova)

Jibhi (Courtesy: Natalia Shipkova)

Recommendation by Natalia Shipkova – My Trip Hack

“If you want to experience the power of monsoons, Himalaya is the place to be. Since it becomes a popular destination during summers due to the favourable climate, I recommend looking for offbeat destinations there. One of them is Jibhi – a hidden village in Banjar valley. Jibhi is a very calm place with just a few vehicles passing daily. Though it’s a slow travel destination, there are a few interesting activities, especially for adventure seekers. Being situated close to Jalori Pass, it is possible to trek to a lake from there. You can explore authentic Himalayan architecture in the neighbouring villages or hike to a waterfall.

You will find accommodation in Jibhi within 8-15 USD (500-1000 INR) per night. Most of the houses are converted into homestays, though there are also a few camping sites. I recommend staying with a family to experience the Himalayan cuisine, local traditions and get a feel of the village. Note, if you are looking to work remotely, you can get internet connectivity outside of the homes (so seek stays with cute balconies overlooking river 😉 )”

South: Karimnagar – Telangana

Karimnagar (Courtesy: Neeharika Satyavada)

Karimnagar (Courtesy: Neeharika Satyavada)

Recommendation by Neeharika Satyavada – Map In My Pocket

“If you love photography and it is dramatic clouds that you seek, then Karimnagar in Telangana is the place to be. And, even if it isn’t photos you are after, Karimnagar, with its ancient Buddhist ruins, forgotten Hindu temples and striking Islamic forts makes for a beautiful monsoon destination. For instance, the Elgandal Fort whose beautiful Teen Minar – which oscillate when shaken – seemingly piercing the rain clouds, herald your entry to the fort. Even before you can cross the ancient moat and begin your hike up the hill.

Also in Karimnagar are two ancient Hindu stone temples whose ruins, now overrun by nature, make for a setting straight out of Jungle Book. The precariously balanced pillars, the lush green trees everywhere – inside, outside, through the fissures in the walls, make for delightful vistas and the rain clouds only set the scene. Karimnagar is a two and half hours drive from Hyderabad and you can read everything to need to plan your trip to Karimnagar, here.”

West: Mumbai – Maharashtra

Western Ghats (Courtesy: Rashmi & Chalukya)

Western Ghats (Courtesy: Rashmi & Chalukya)

Recommendation by Rashmi & Chalukya – Go Beyond Bounds

“Mumbai is a bustling city, popular for a plenitude of street shopping and street food. It is also the place if you love exploring heritage sites. But very few know that there are ample trekking places in and around Mumbai which are a great respite from the busy life of the capital of Maharashtra. Monsoons are the best time to visit these places when they turn lush green, the mountains peaks are shrouded in mist and covered with innumerable waterfalls by the rainwater – a wonderful sight to behold!

Most of the trekking spots are located close to quaint villages where the villagers have a part of their homes turned into small eateries and homestays, providing an unusual experience. Many other trekking spots are at the ruins of ancient forts and temples. So when you visit them, you get to explore and learn a bit about the history of the state of Maharashtra. These places can be easily reached by the local trains (the suburban railway network of Mumbai). From the station, you have plenty of options, such as autorickshaws and buses to reach the spot. Alternatively, hire a cab all the way to the destination.”

Are you a fan of the rains?

Which is your favourite monsoon destination in India?

Let me know through your comments below! 🙂

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Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains

I can open your eyes

Take you wonder by wonder

Over, sideways and under

On a magic carpet ride 

The carpet of smooth road welcomes us to Lavasa

The carpet of smooth road welcomes us to Lavasa

These lines from my favourite song in the Aladdin movie rang in my ears as we zipped through the mountain trail on our first monsoon roadtrip for the year. The road almost sang for me as it curved and split and sloped with alarming swiftness beneath us, almost taking us on a magic carpet ride over the Western Ghats!  I slid the car window down to feel the winds getting stronger as we gained altitude on the road to Lavasa. And after about five hours of playing hide and seek with the rains all along the path, we reached our destination. Hidden somewhere between the hills of the mighty Sahyadri range, a charming little city gleamed in the afternoon sun. I could not believe I was still in Maharashtra!

Just before the thunder split the sky

Just before the thunder split the sky

As the car eased into the driveway of our hotel – Mercure Lavasa, I made a mental note to find out why this city looked so Mediterranean. Weary as I was from the long drive, I almost flopped on my bouncy bed, but I realized I hadn’t had lunch. So, off we scurried to Mercure’s Celebration restaurant, and got hold of a table by one of the French windows. A view like that could only be enjoyed with Italian mains! After the appetizing meal of spaghetti and mushroom, we gathered our camera lenses and tightened our shoelaces – it was time for action!

Spaghetti with olives and grilled bread

Spaghetti with olives and grilled bread

As we walked through Lavasa, I learned that this planned hill station is modeled on the Italian fishing village of Portofino. Orange, yellow and brick red coloured buildings dazzled from afar. This was the Waterfront Shaw which framed the shimmering blue waters of the Wasargaon Lake. These waters are boundless in the scenes they reflect, yet restrained by the Wasargaon Dam. The mountains that guard Lavasa have an appeal of their own – they are gentle in their incline but strong when it comes to carrying entire villages on their backs.

The waterfront at Lavasa

The waterfront at Lavasa

My train of thoughts was broken by a little kid calling out to her father. She insisted on getting on the trackless toy train that chugged along Portofino Street. It was only then that I took my eyes off the mountains and looked around me. The lakefront promenade was lined with a host of counters that let one try everything – from miniature golf to adventure sports. Instantaneously, I broke into a smile as I knew just how I would spend the rest of my evening!

The toy train is coming!

The toy train is coming!

“Burma bridge crossing” was first on my list. This adventure sport can actually mislead people into thinking all bridges in Burma are made of ropes and only luck can help you go across. The operator from XThrill Adventure Sports warned me cheekily not to ask for help if I got stuck on the bridge. He hurriedly plonked a yellow helmet on my ashen face, straightened the harness around my waist and told me he’d see me on the other side. I held on to the rope railings for dear life as I wobbled across the rope bridge, stepping on one knot at a time. Zip lining, the next thing on my list, was a breeze after the Burma bridge ordeal. Zip line is also called Flying Fox, though you don’t quite feel foxy as you fly from one point to another, suspended only by two ropes. We tried our hand at archery and shooting before heading back to our hotel.

I tight-rope-walked across the Burma bridge

I tight-rope-walked across the Burma bridge

This hill city has a handful of business hotels and resorts, but not much for the budget traveler. In Lavasa, be prepared to loosen your purse strings! There are some cafes that dot the waterfront. If you love people-watching, you can sit and sip a different coffee under a different awning every time you pass a café by. For visitors who like to “feel” a place as opposed to tick things off a checklist, I recommend alfresco dining. No music is more melodious than the whistle of the wind, and no décor as enchanting as the mood of the sky.

The soothing sounds of water against rocks

The soothing sounds of water against rocks

Back at Mercure, we realized we still had some light before dusk would swallow the place. So, we decided to walk on the other part of Lavasa. Right outside our hotel, we heard a stream gurgling loudly with no other sound adulterating it. We walked past rows of single storey and double story houses which had no occupants but a guard to keep an eye on them. I guessed that many real estate investors have second homes here, but choose to stay in bigger cities. I cannot fathom why one would prefer noisier cities to the tranquil tunes of nature. In some time, the sky darkened with clouds and we strolled back to our hotel. I was a little upset that water-sports was closed in the rains. I just could not get the image of that expanse of hypnotizing blue out of my head.

The sky darkens

The sky darkens

To get my spirits up, we ordered Italian again. We had ravioli with some wine for dinner and then went out one more time to look at the diamonds that had scattered all over the night sky. The best thing about a weekend getaway to the hills is the crisp air and the clear skies. Stargazing is a luxury one cannot afford in big cities where light pollution is rampant. Over a bottle of Bordeaux and under a sheet of stars, we exchanged stories of our past and toasted to a brighter tomorrow.

Washed by the rains, the city gleams again

Washed by the rains, the town gleams again

We were greeted next morning by an intermittent drizzle that kept most of the tourists indoors and left all of Lavasa to us. With no group to trek with, we explored the place further on our own and spotted many a rare blossom and insects crawl out in the rain. Monsoon, I have observed, is more beautiful when you get out there and explore. A warm mug of coffee can only soothe your throat, not your soul. Rains are not for us to sit and watch from the confines of our glass walled homes. Rains are the Earth’s way to communicate with us. And we must reciprocate – by walking, running, driving and dancing in the downpour.

The hill station from the top

The hill station from the top

From where I stood, I saw at a distance, all the touristy cottages perched precariously on the hills. I knew then that I had escaped the tourist trap and wandered where only travellers could! I could then hear the true song of Lavasa.

Blessed by the heavens, Lavasa is crowned by a tiara of hills

Blessed by the heavens, Lavasa is crowned by a tiara of hills

Useful Information:-

  • Arrange your hotel bookings in advance, especially if you plan to visit over a weekend. Tourists start trickling in mostly in the monsoon.
  • Lavasa does not have an airport. The closest international airports are in Pune and Mumbai. There are also no trains or buses that connect Pune / Mumbai to Lavasa. Travelling by car is recommended. Besides, the enthralling views along the route are best enjoyed on a long drive!
  • If you are travelling in a bigger group, do not miss the morning tour conducted by Nature Trails.
  • For running enthusiasts, the Lavasa Hill Run is the cherry on the pie! Even if you are training for another marathon (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad), the hills of Lavasa could be your practice pit!
  • If you have more time on your hands, squeeze in a visit to Bamboosa – the bamboo factory. You can also request for a tour of the entire area, interact with the workers and see how a bamboo product is made – start to finish.

White Water Rafting in Kolad

“Rain, Rain, go away! Come again another day!” This is what most of us mutter under our breath when we are caught in a bad weather on a vacation. There are occasions though when rains bring out the best in the world around us. It is during monsoon earlier this year that my gang of girls and I decided to do something that is best done in the rains – river rafting!

The white waters of Kundalika

The white waters of Kundalika

Few places in Maharashtra have river rafting options, and Kolad happens to be the most popular. After many days of coordinating and searching for rafting-packages, we came across a perfect one offered by Mask Group. For as little as Rs.1700, they would take care of the commute from Mumbai to Kolad, arrange for the rafting activity and provide lunch and snacks.

What to Wear

For water-based activities, you must pick fabrics that don’t get soaked easily. Lycra and nylon are the best. Try to avoid cotton and denim as they tend to become very heavy once they soak up water, and don’t dry easily. You’ll have a higher chance of catching cold if you pick the wrong fabric. Wetsuits are probably the best outfits for white water rafting. You can wear either floaters or sneakers (without socks), but ensure that you wear something which cannot easily slip off your feet (flip flops, for instance). Most of us, however, showed up in whatever we liked. 😛

Our rafting guide briefs us before the adventure

Our rafting guide briefs us before the adventure

Before the Adventure

We started from Mumbai in the wee hours of the morning so we could reach Kolad by 9. It takes about 3-4 hours by road. We were 9 girls, but part of a larger group of 50 odd people in the bus which picked us up. We had our packed tiffins for breakfast in the bus itself and reached hungry for adventure! At the holding area, we saw dozens of air-filled rafts stacked atop one another, and safety-jackets, helmets and paddles arranged about a sheet of tarpaulin.

We pose with our paddles while we're still dry

We pose with our paddles while we’re still dry

Safety First!

The main rafting instructor told us that we were going to float over the Kundalika river. Its water is actually controlled by a dam, and the government allows for some water to be released everyday for rafters.

We were shown how to fasten the life-jackets which have a double-locking system for extra safety. There is an additional pillow-like padding on the jacket to keep your head above the water level when you lie flat on your back on the river. The helmets too are lightweight and help keep your head afloat, besides protecting you from getting hit by boulders. The water’s depth here is no more than 5 to 6 feet. But what makes it dangerous is the presence of rocks. Even though you won’t drown, you will injure yourself if you don’t heed your raft-captain’s commands.

All set to board the raft!

All set to board the raft!

Paddle Talk

One of the most important tools in rafting are the paddles. Made of ultra lightweight material, these not only help you row your way across the river but also come handy in rescuing fellow rafters who might fall off the raft. The paddle has three parts – a flat blade which pushes water, a shaft so light that it pops back up if you push it down the river, and a handle with a “T”-grip.

If you ever fall into the river, never leave your paddle. Hold it by the shaft towards the blade end and point the T away from you. Your rescuer will offer her/his T and lock it with yours. Once you get the locking right, the grip is impossible to break. You will be pulled swiftly to safety! 🙂

We rejoice after crossing our first rapid

We rejoice after crossing our first rapid

All Aboard the Raft

The world can be a little sexist at times. Our group of 9 girls was split into two and some guys were thrown in  for “strength”. Rowing really works up your biceps and triceps, and it is assumed men will be better at that sort of stuff. Anyway, we hauled our raft to the river and got aboard! Our guide sat at the back from where he could see us all and shout his steering commands. The front two rowers have to be the strongest and good rowers, and unsurprisingly two guys were made to sit there. We got in our positions and locked our feet under the air tubes in the front and back.

You might feel a little nervous on your first rafting trip, especially if you don’t know to swim. You are supposed to sit on the edge of the raft with your bum almost hanging out. Only your feet which stay locked under the tubes will keep you balanced. But don’t worry so much. You will enjoy the ride as you keep crossing one rapid after another! 🙂

The rafters jump off their rafts!

The rafters jump off their rafts!

Going Downriver

Along the 13km stretch of Kundalika, we negotiated about 10 rapids, mostly of grades 1 and 2. This is what makes Kolad a good place for beginners. You learn to test the waters before you aim for higher grades of rapids. Rapids are places where the smooth run of the river is broken by some turbulence, usually due to the presence of rocks or when there is a sudden decline in the water level. It is thrilling to cross a rapid as the water splashes aboard and bathes everyone on the raft. Depending on the sort of rapid it is, you will be asked to either row swiftly with a lot of force or “go down”. Going down does not mean jumping into the water, though. 😛 You must duck and crouch on the floor of the raft, holding the safety handle on the outside.

The water is cold! But good enough for frolicking! ;-)

The water is cold! But good enough for frolicking! 😉

Let’s Get Wet!

After about an hour of following our guide’s instructions to “row forward”, “row backward”, “left forward, right back” (to change the direction of the raft) and “stop”, we were treated with some time to gambol in the river! 🙂 Each of us was asked to jump into the water, and we sloshed about, dunking one another and posing for pictures. Note that there will only be one “dry-bag” on your raft for you to store your cameras and phones.

The rafts are taken back upriver on jeeps

The rafts are taken back upriver on jeeps

Hunger Strikes

After some more minutes of rafting on a relatively smooth stretch, we came to the end of our adventure. There were more than a hundred of us that day who rafted at Kolad! We carried our rafts back up the bank to the holding area and watched them being restacked and fastened to jeeps which would take them to the starting point for the next day’s rafters.

With all the fun behind us, we suddenly realized how hungry we were. We gobbled up some vada pavs at the snack shacks on the bank before our trek back to the bus. We were cold, wet and impatient to get out of our soaked clothes. The rafting areas have no changing rooms nearby, so you will have to drive to a resort to freshen up. After a 30 minute ride, we stopped at a farm.

We check into a rustic farm for a quick change of clothes and some warm food

We check into a rustic farm for a quick change of clothes and some warm food

Some Reflections

Glad to finally be able to change into warm and dry clothes, we settled to relish some freshly cooked Maharashtrian food. As we chatted about the day, we all agreed that we had made many new friends. That may not have been the case if all the nine of us had been on the same raft.

After lunch, we explored the farm and clicked away at everything that caught our fancy. I don’t think I have taken so many selfies and groupfies in one day. Only a bunch of girls can make that happen! 😀

After the rafting experience, we relax on a shack by the catchment area of our village

We relax on a shack by the catchment area of our village, planning our next getaway together!

Kolad is a great monsoon weekend getaway from Mumbai. Which is your favourite escape-zone from your city? Have you ever been rafting? Send in your replies! 🙂