Winters are a wonderful time in India. The Himalayas transform into white wonderlands. The dusty summer heat retreats from the northern plains, giving way to a thick blanket of fog that smugly settles down. The southern peninsula and coastal areas are more pleasant, experiencing sub 20-degree Celsius temperatures.
What makes the shift in the season more pronounced is the onset of Indian festivals. India truly celebrates its diversity, soaking in the cheer of festivities across the country – Durga Puja & Dussehra, Diwali, Guru Nanak Jayanti, Christmas et al.
Hampi: For its history and ancient architecture
Up next on my itinerary was the Hazara Rama temple with its intricate carvings of scenes from the epic Ramayana (the only parallel I can think of is the Angkor Wat in Cambodia).
Before the dusk set in, I spent an hour admiring the architecture of the Vijaya Vitthala temple. The silence was only interrupted by the gleeful shrieks of local children, running around the stone chariot.
View from Matanga Hill
Vijaya Vitthala temple
Nathula Pass in Sikkim : For its natural beauty
On the way back to Gangtok, we made a pit stop at Changu Lake. On being offered a yak ride, I was tempted and mounted a yak for a few minutes. It was therapeutic running my fingers through the white furry crop on the yak’s head.
Nathula can be visited as a day trip from Gangtok. Special permits are required for Indian nationals while foreign nationals are only allowed until Changu Lake. Gangtok is also an ideal base to explore Rumtek, the largest monastery in Sikkim.
The Indo – China border at Nathula
Konark & Bhubaneshwar: For its culture and food
The Odia cuisine is fabulous, to say the least. I spent two years as a student in Bhubaneshwar and discovered mouth watering delicacies – Pakhala (fermented rice), Santula (mixed vegetable curry), Dalma (lentil with vegetables), Badi Chura (dried lentil dumpling crumble), Mansa Tarkari (mutton curry) and Chhenapoda (cheese desert). Dalma restaurant at Bhubaneshwar is a good spot to sample the delicacies.
A top choice among the Indian tourist places is the 13th century Sun Temple at Konark. Built by King Narasimhadeva I, the main structure in the compound is a large chariot carved out of stone. The outer walls of this structure are embellished with exquisite carvings (many of them are erotic; erotica was considered spiritual in India before Victorian values set in) and stone wheels that function as sundials.
Sun Temple, Konark
Pushkar : For Insta-worthy travel photography
While the serious business of livestock trade survives, there are enough diversions to keep one entertained – camel cart rides, longest moustache competitions, kids performing acrobatics on a tightrope. It is a heady and well-orchestrated spectacle.
On the last day of the fair which falls on Kartik Purnima – an Indian festival, I decided to visit the Pushkar Lake, a sacred spot. I walked past old houses, temples, kitschy cafes and reached the steps leading to the Lake. It was a sight to behold, the whites of the buildings along the lake offset by the vibrant blobs of locals taking a dip in the holy waters.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Coonoor: For some leisure downtime
After a seven-hour long drive from Bengaluru, we reached Coonoor at dusk. Next morning, I decided to explore the town on foot. Sim’s Park, a botanical garden developed in the late 19th century, contains many unusual species of plants. Walking down the town’s narrow roads, I came across an old church, roadside shrines, undulating tea gardens and quaint houses with stone chimneys – it had all the makings of a peaceful Christmas holiday!
The drive to the Highland tea factory & estate is scenic and offers great views of the Wellington golf course. I found the guided tour on the tea making process pretty interesting!
The Pony craft store at Bicketty (about 10 km away from Coonoor) will appeal to any handicrafts enthusiast. The Culinarium, located next to the store, is a cozy bakery and dining spot with great views of the Ketti valley.
Tea gardens at Upper Coonoor