Most of the hill stations in India were developed by the British, around a central mall, to get respite from the oppressive summer heat. Many have picturesque lakes as their focal point, making them excellent places for boating activities. One thing is for sure, you won't be short of things to do at any of the hill stations in India. And to add to the adventure, it's possible to take a toy train ride up to some of the hill stations. You'll find hill stations all over India. This guide lists 10 of the most popular ones.
Shimla used to be the summer capital of the British Raj when they ruled India. Now it's the state capital of Himachal Pradesh. This wonderfully cool and charming town sprawls along a mountain ridge, enveloped in oak, pine and rhododendron forests. It's quite famous for its colonial style buildings and historic railway.
The old Christ Church, with its beautiful stained glass windows, is one of Shimla's most prominent landmarks. Also to be enjoyed are the mesmerizing views from Scandal Point, and the Viceregal Lodge (try to be there for the sunrise or sunset) on Observatory Hill. There are plenty of adventure sports and short hikes on offer in the vicinity as well.
Manali, with its soothing backdrop of the Himalayas, offers a blend of tranquility and adventure that makes it one of northern India's most popular destinations. You can do as little or as much as you want there. Located in the Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh, it's a magical place bordered by cool pine forest and the raging Beas River, which give it a special energy.
If you like tea, a visit to Munnar, in Kerala, is a must! The surrounding region is renowned for its sprawling tea plantations. The Kundale Tea Plantations, which surrounds a picturesque lake, offers the best opportunity to see the tea being picked and processed, and to try fresh tea straight from the gardens. The area is blessed with the natural beauty of winding lanes, misty hills, and forests full of exotic plants and wildlife. Adventure enthusiasts can trek to Anamudi, the highest peak in south India, explore Eravikulam National Park, or go rock climbing and para gliding. If you want to relax away from it all, try a homestay at one of the many plantation bungalows. Mahindra Homestays have a couple of excellent homestays in Munnar.
Darjeeling, in West Bengal, is also famous for its lush tea gardens. In addition, it's blessed with a stunning view of Mount Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak. Some of Darjeeling's most popular attractions include monasteries, botanical gardens, a zoo, and the Darjeeling-Rangeet Valley Passenger Ropeway cable car (the longest cable car in Asia). Darjeeling is a wonderful place to walk around, and explore the tea estates, villages, and markets. Don't visit during the monsoon season though -- the region is one of the wettest places in India!
Established in the early 19th century by the British as the summer headquarters of the Chennai government, Ooty is now a soothing place to escape the summer heat in Tamil Nadu. If you travel there during the peak season in April and May, do be prepared for it to be crowded though!
Ooty's most popular attractions include the 22 hectare Government Botanical Gardens (a flower show is held there every May as part of the Summer Festival), boating on Ooty Lake, and climbing Dodabetta Peak for an excellent view of the Nilgiri hills. To get to Ooty, take the scenic toy train from Metupalaiyam.
The hill station of Nainital, in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, was a popular summer retreat for the British during the time they ruled India. It features the serene, emerald colored Naini Lake and action filled strip called The Mall, lined with restaurants, shops, hotels, and markets. Enjoy one of the many forest walks, explore the surrounding area on horse back, or relax on a boat in the lake.
Secluded Kodaikanal is nestled 120 kilometers from Madurai in the Palani Hills of Tamil Nadu. Its name means "Gift of the Forest", and you'll find many varieties of flora and fauna there. Orchards of pear trees, and charming buildings with gabled roofs, will greet you as you enter the town. There's an annual horticultural show at the landscaped botanical Bryant Park in May, waterfalls where you can enjoy a picnic beside, boating on the lake, and plenty of walking trails. Herbs and aromatherapy oils are some of the more interesting things to buy in Kodaikanal, with the eucalyptus oils being particularly popular.
The closest hill station to Mumbai in Maharastra, Matheran offers plenty of walking trails and lookouts. The most unique thing about it and what makes it so special, is that all vehicles are banned there -- even bicycles. It's a soothing place to relax away from any noise and pollution. Get there by taking the scenic toy train and then ride a horse around.
Mussoorie, located around an hour from Derahdun in Uttarakhand, is a popular weekend destination for north Indians, as well as honeymooners. One of the reasons for Mussoorie's popularity is that it has a lot of facilities developed especially for tourists. Take a cable car to Gun Hill, enjoy a beautiful nature walk along Camel's Back Road, have a picnic at Kempty Falls, or ride a horse up to Lal Tibba (the highest peak in Mussoorie). Mussoorie also offers a superb view of the Himalayas.
Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, delights visitors with its lovely lakes and relaxing houseboats. In fact, lakes and gardens are in such abundance there that Srinagar is often referred to as the "Land of Lakes and Gardens". The gardens have a distinctly Mughal influence, as many of them were cultivated by Mughal emperors. You'll find Asia's largest tulip garden in Srinagar, with a tulip festival held every April. Srinagar is a great place to come if you're a golf enthusiast, as there are a number of courses there. In the winter, adventure lovers flock to Srinagar for snow skiing.