There's a nip in the air but also a sharp sun that could burn your skin in half a day. On some days, the sky would be overcast leaving you longing for summer. Yet, so many of us levitate towards the Himalayan mountains during winter, which sets in November and extends its wintry spell till February. We feast our eyes on snowfall, which settles like dewdrops on the leaves. The tall conifer trees are clothed in pristine white snow. The otherwise shimmering lakes are covered with a sheet of snow. The trees are lulled into a snowy slumber. Somewhere in the horizon, a flickering light hints at some activity in a quaint cottage. The occasional snow leopard may be spotted. Moving beyond a visually compelling scene, the Himalayan winter would mean a lazy morning, followed by a skiing session to whet one's appetite, some adventure tourism and mountaineering challenges. The silence of the winter becomes a stress buster. With very little activity to look forward to, tourists can use the opportunity to mingle with the locals and perhaps partake in a wedding conducted in the Himalayan valley. These highlights are packaged as winter attractions for an emerging market. Summer is considered the peak season and winter, the not-so-desirable off-season. Nevertheless, since it is less crowded, many tourists prefer off-season tours. Hotel bookings happen easily and offer a discount. So where should you head this winter? Here are a few options.
Shimla It's easy to understand why the British described Shimla as the Queen of Hills. It's not just the Tudor-Bethan and Neo-Gothic architecture or the Kalka-Shimla railway, but its winter sports capital Kufri, which is a crowd puller. Kufri, a ski paradise, is at a height of 8,600 ft. Located 16 km from Shimla, its skiing season peaks from January-February. As families engage in skiing sessions, children can enjoy a Pony or Yak ride. For that sense of excitement, individuals can try their hand at ice-skating, popularized as a winter sports festival, conducted by the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. It covers the skating carnival organized by the Ice-skating Club during mid December-January. Shimla can be singled out in Asia for having a natural ice-skating rink and offers a popular pastime to participants and onlookers.
Nainital Lord Barron, a Briton, is credited for discovering Nainital in 1841. Today, it is identified as the jewel of Kumaon in Uttaranchal, and unfolds as a placid lake protected by lofty peaks. In Indian mythology, it is deemed as one of the 64 Shakti Peeths. A winter holiday in Nainital leaves you spellbound. It becomes an unforgettable romantic interlude. It springs to life as Tourism Department of Uttar Pradesh organizes a Winter Festival around now. The Kumaon Festival which is part of it, offers a cultural bonanza. During winter, you can take a horse ride through this picture postcard town, most of whose activities revolve round the lake. The adventurous lot can set up winter camps, as the temperature remains between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius from December-March. Wildlife lovers can see winter aquatic fauna at the Corbett National Park, situated in Ramnagar in Nainital.
Manali Manali is surrounded by fruit orchards, deodar and pine forests and hot water springs. It is characterized by towering peaks, which give it a proximity to the snowline. This along with a breathtaking landscape, becomes a perfect backdrop for adventure sports like skiing, hiking, mountaineering, paragliding, rafting, trekking, kayaking and mountain biking. Manali's annual winter sports carnival, held in January, has acquired the status of a state level festival. Sports lovers across nationalities participate in Heli Skiing. A high altitude sport, it gives you the much-required adrenalin rush. After the helicopter lowers you on a snow-capped peak, you can criss-cross your way downward through excellent natural slopes. Nevertheless, you would have to negotiate the unknown routes and ridges that fall in the area abound by the Hanuman Tibba, Rohtang Pass, Deo Tibba and Chanderkhani Pass near Manali. Once you land and soak in the picturesque snowline, you can also try your hand at mountaineering organized by the Mountaineering Institute at Manali. It offers training facilities for basic and advance climbing for aspirants. This institute also conducts adventurous sports activities like high altitude trekking, minor mountaineering, rock-climbing, skiing, and high altitude rescue and relief courses.
Darjeeling Darjeeling, framed in several Bollywood films, was founded by the British in the late 1830s and it has evolved into a fashionable hill station. Come Diwali and tourists can get a glimpse of how Darjeeling ushers the festival of lights, called Tihar. Youngsters dress in traditional costumes, and go from door to door expressing themselves through song and dance before sunset. Besides Diwali, Darjeeling brings to mind well-manicured tea estates and that is precisely what you can experience in December through a Tea and Tourism Festival. Tourists can taste the first flush tea served in manicured tea gardens. Besides a guided tour of the tea factories, tourists will also sample local cuisine at the carnival. The festival also packs in adrenalin pumping sessions like para-gliding and zorbing balls. With a temperature that ranges from 2 to 10 degrees, Darjeeling is perfect for a 'White Christmas.'
Mussourie Located 34 km from Dehradun, Mussourie is situated at an altitude of 6000 ft in the Garhwal hills. Mussourie is a unique winter escapade, as the winter line forms here. Besides Switzerland, Mussoorie is the only other place in the world, which experiences the winter line. This natural formation is visible during November and December. Tourists can see a horizon illuminating the sky in brilliant tones of reds, orange, purples and mauves, when the sun begins to set. As winter advances, the shade deepens and the line becomes more pronounced, giving it a spectacular hue, unknown to other hill stations in India. This amazing sight is accompanied by chill and strong winds. Winter, which starts in late October and stretches till mid-February, transforms Mussourie into a fairyland. A specially recommended activity in Mussourie during winters is to go in seach of that perfect cup of hot chocolate to sip in front of a fireplace. With quaint restaurants all along the Mall Road, it ensures that you stay warm while explore the town as well.