Best Hill Stations in North India
North India is characterised by breathtaking landscapes – the spectacular Himalayan ranges, the plateaus and hills in the northeast, the Aravallis in the north-west and the Great Northern Plains. In the summer, the hill stations in this region offer refuge from the stifling heat. In the winters, most of them transform into magical white wonderlands. Here is a list of the best hill stations in North India.
The Best Hill Stations in North India
Nainital & Mukteshwar: Himalayan Sunrise, Coniferous Forests and Fruit Orchards
Nainital gets its name from the emerald-hued Naini Lake located in the heart of the town. The hill station was established in 1841 by the British in the hills of Kumaon. You can go boating on the Naini Lake and visit the Naina Devi Hindu Temple on its shore. For panoramic views of the town as well as the distant Himalayan peaks, take a cable car ride to the Snow View observation point. The bustling old market area – Bara Bazar – is ideal for gallivanting and picking up local specialities.
To get away from the crowds, go further uphill to the town of Mukteshwar. Depending on the season, you can spot many fruit orchards including apples, apricots and peaches. Wake up early to catch the sunrise over the extensive Himalayan range. You can also go trekking along forests, streams and waterfalls, a local guide is recommended. Do visit the PWD guesthouse for stunning views.
[tab title=”Where to Stay” icon=”entypo-suitcase”]The Manu Maharani in Nainital comes well recommended. Himalayan Village Sonapani near Mukteshwar offers an idyllic stay with 12 independent cottages.
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[tab title=”Getting There” icon=”entypo-address”] Fly to Delhi! You can take the Shatabdi Express train to Kathgodam and then drive down to Nainital (41 kilometres) or Mukteshwar (64 kilometres). You can drive down from Delhi as well.
Dharamsala and Bir Billing Hill Stations: Home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
State: Himachal Pradesh
Dharamsala is the largest Tibetan settlement in India. Visit Tsuglagkhang, the Buddhist temple with gilded statues of the Sakyamuni Buddha, Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava, and a wooden statue representing a starving Buddha.
The captivating sunrise in the Himalayas
Dharamsala is famous for volunteering tourism. Most programs are based in Bir, two hours away from Dharamshala. If sustainability interests you, register for a ten-day long volunteer work period at Dharmalaya Institute to learn and practise sustainable living methods. Bir Billing attracts adventure junkies as it offers excellent paragliding spots. It even hosted the Paragliding World Cup in 2015.
[tab title=”Where to Stay” icon=”entypo-suitcase”] Stay at WelcomHeritage Grace Hotel, a 200 year old country manor house property.
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[tab title=”Getting There” icon=”entypo-address”] You can take a flight to Dharamsala. Another option is to fly to Chandigarh and drive down for about 275 kilometres. [/tab]
Srinagar and Gulmarg Hill Stations: Paradise on Earth
State: Jammu and Kashmir
A list of best hill stations in North India is incomplete without Srinagar. The Kashmir valley still receives tourist crowds through the year, albeit fewer due to the occasional security problems. Popular places include the Dal Lake, flanked by the Pir Panjal mountains and dotted with houseboats & shikaras (wooden boats). At dawn, floating markets gather at the centre of the lake, selling fresh flowers and vegetable produce.
Snow clad peaks in Gulmarg
Emperor Jehangir of the Mughal dynasty, captivated by the beauty of Kashmir, had said, ‘If there is Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.’ Over 700 gardens were laid out during the Mughal Period, including Nishat, Shalimar, Achabal, Chashma Shahi, Pari Mahal and Verinag. They are the testimony to the royal flamboyance and supreme engineering skills. In April each year, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden hosts Asia’s largest Tulip Flower Show.
Gulmarg is a top skiing destination in India. You can go skiing on slopes of different gradients depending on your skill and expertise. The slopes are laden with soft and fluffy snow.
[tab title=”Where to Stay” icon=”entypo-suitcase”] For a unique experience, rent a houseboat on the Dal Lake. If you prefer hotels, stay at Vivanta by Taj. The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa is a fabulous luxury stay in Gulmarg with stunning views of the snow clad mountains. Another option is The Vintage Gulmarg.
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[tab title=”Getting There” icon=”entypo-address”] Srinagar is well connected with direct flights from Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh. Gulmarg is about 50 kilometres away from Srinagar. [/tab]
Manali and Spiti: Backpacking and trekking destinations
State: Himachal Pradesh
While the main town is congested, Manali serves as an ideal base for trekking or heading further north to Ladakh, Lahaul or Spiti. You can trek down to Khenpri Tebba, Patalsu Peak, Hampta Pass or Chandratal Lake. The Beas Kund trek is immensely popular with incredible views of Pir Pinjal range. GIO is as established trek operator in this region.
Spiti river bed panorama / CC by 2.0 / Dinudey Baidya
From Manali, take an epic Himalayan road journey to Spiti, a cold desert mountain valley. The landscapes here are stark and rugged, arguably among the top sights of incredible India. You must visit Key Gompa, an 11th century Tibetan Buddhist monastery built on a cliff.
For an immersive experience in Spiti, sign up for a volunteer program with Spiti Ecosphere. Over 14 days, live and work with the local communities as you build mud solar cookers or construct greenhouses.
[tab title=”Where to Stay” icon=”entypo-suitcase”] Zostel is a great budget option at Manali if you are travelling without children. Span Resort and Spa offers luxury stay. Apple Country Resorts – Manali is a good option as well, though it serves only vegetarian fare.
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[tab title=”Getting There” icon=”entypo-address”] Fly to Chandigarh and take the road to Manali. It is 317 kilometres away from Chandigarh. The Kunzum Pass connects Manali and Spiti, and it’s generally open from mid-June to mid-September. Be prepared for heavy duty offroading. You will gain altitude rapidly, so take required precautions for acute mountain sickness. [/tab]
Mount Abu Hill Station: Beauty of the Dilwara temples
Mount Abu is located on a high rocky plateau in the Aravalli Range and is one of the best hill stations in North India. While planning your travel, include a visit to the ancient Dilwara Temples! These Jain temples, dedicated to the five Tirthankaras (saints), are a pilgrimage site. Soak in the beauty of the white marble architecture with decorated ceilings, ornamental pillars, doorways and intricate carvings.
The Dilwara Temples / CC by 2.0 / bombman
Stroll on the periphery of the Nakki Lake, the town’s centrepiece. There are interesting rock formations around the lake, including the Toad Rock that resembles a toad just about to jump into the lake.
You can also visit the Brahma Kumari World Spiritual University at Mount Abu, the headquarters of the spiritual organisation – the Brahma Kumaris. If interested in meditation, you can register for courses at the peaceful campus.
[tab title=”Where to Stay” icon=”entypo-suitcase”] WelcomHeritage Connaught House is a heritage hotel located close to Nakki Lake and Dilwara Temples.
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[tab title=”Getting There” icon=”entypo-address”] Fly to Udaipur (180 kilometres away) or Ahmedabad (230 kilometers away) and drive down to Mount Abu. [/tab]
Gangtok and Pelling: An Ode to Kanchenjunga
Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim and an ideal base for visiting Rumtek monastery and Nathula Pass. The monastery at Rumtek is the seat of the Gyalwa Karmapa of the Kargyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Embark on a stunning road trip from Gangtok to Nathula mountain pass. Go for a yak ride at the Changu Lake that lies en route. Do note that a permit is needed to visit the Indo China border at Nathula.
The Rumtek monastery near Gangtok
From Gangtok, head to Pelling and drive through the tea gardens of Temi, Sikkim’s only tea estate. The Pemayangtse monastery, located in Pelling, is among the oldest monasteries in India with breathtaking views of the Kanchenjunga, world’s third highest peak. In August or September, join the Pang Lhabsol festivities at Pemayangtse in honour of the majestic mountain. Colorful warrior dances replete with masks, costumes and weapons are performed.
[tab title=”Where to Stay” icon=”entypo-suitcase”] Mayfair Spa Resort at Gangtok is a good option.
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[tab title=”Getting There” icon=”entypo-address”] Fly to Bagdogra and drive down to Gangtok, the distance is about 125 kilometres.You can also take a train to New Jalpaiguri, and drive down 120 kilometres to Gangtok. [/tab]
Shillong and Mawlynnong: The Rock Music Capital
Our last pick for the best hill stations in India comes with a lot of edge. Shillong, capital of Meghalaya, is known for its love of fashion and rock music. Bob Dylan’s birthday is celebrated on May 24th each year (a tradition since 1972), with various music events and performances in the town.
Mawlynnong. / CC by 2.0 / Travelling Slacker
Popular places to visit on this hill station include the scenic and tranquil Umiam Lake, that lies en route from Guwahati to Shillong. Visit the Don Bosco Centre to know more about the region’s indigenous cultures and artefacts. For shopping, head to Bara Bazar during the day and pick up interesting souvenirs including handcrafted knives and betel nut cutters. Next, go to Police bazaar, a lively market area where you can shop for locally made bamboo and cane handicrafts. Cafe Shillong is a beautiful place to unwind over great cups of coffee and live music gigs.
From Shillong, drive to Mawlynnong early morning to avoid the rush. Hike to the single decker living roots bridge — a spectacular testimony to the marvels of nature. The living root bridges have been built over many years by entwining the aerial roots of Ficus Elastica trees. The Mawlynnong village is regarded as Asia’s cleanest village, with cleanliness and waste segregation deeply ingrained among the people. You can spot bamboo baskets positioned outside each house to ensure there is no littering.
[tab title=”Where to Stay” icon=”entypo-suitcase”] For a royal experience, stay at the Heritage Tripura Castle built in the 1920s by Maharaja Bir Bikram.
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[tab title=”Getting There” icon=”entypo-address”] Fly to Guwahati. Shillong is about 117 kilometres away but the journey can take up to 4 hours due to traffic congestion.
With such amazing destinations, it is time to tick places off your checklist. Head to the North!
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