India has a varied landscape dotted with snow-covered mountains, lush forests, rolling green hills and scenic lakes. Nestled among these are a host of beautiful hill stations that are a perfect respite from the scorching heat. Here’s our pick of the best hill stations in India worth visiting.
Nestled among snow-capped mountains and oak, pine and rhododendron forests is the picturesque hill station of Shimla, where colonial-era structures and the historic toy train charm architecture lovers and history buffs alike. Founded in the 18th century, Shimla served as the ‘Summer Capital of British’ when they ruled over India. Its legacy is evident with sights like the Viceregal Lodge, a beautifully preserved Jacobethan-style building that houses ancient photographs and artifacts dating back to the British times in India. Other must-visit places include the Neo-Gothic style Christ Church, the Ridge (the hub of cultural and social activities), the Jakhoo Temple dedicated to Hindu deity, Lord Hanuman and the bustling Mall Road, which is dotted with vibrant cafes, restaurants, shopping centres, handlooms and more. Plus, the beautiful landscape also makes it a perfect spot for adventure seekers, who can indulge in recreational activities, like camping, mountain biking, skiing, ice-skating, camping, paragliding and short hikes.
In the outer Himalayas amid the Kumaon hills sit the scenic town of Nainital, which is a paradise for nature and outdoor lovers. From lush forests and the snow-covered peaks of Naina, Ayarpatta and Deopatha, to the picturesque pear-shaped Naini Lake and local wildlife, the town is not only ideal for adventure activities, like trekking, river rafting, camping, kayaking, hill climbing, boating, horseback riding and paragliding, but it’s also a great place for photographers wanting to capture its ethereal beauty. Highlights for tourists include the Tiffin Top, the Mall Road, Snow View Point, Nainital Zoo, Raj Bhavan (Governor’s House), the Naina Devi temple, the Eco Cave Gardens, Bhimtal Lake, Naini Lake and Naina Peak, and a wildlife safari trip in Jim Corbett National Park.
A retreat for those who love to be amid nature, Darjeeling is nestled at an altitude of 2,042 metres in the lesser Himalayas region. Its endless slopes of lush tea plantations and snow-covered Himalayan peaks in the backdrop add to its picture-perfect postcard feel. Visitors can explore one of the many tea estates, trek to Tiger Hill and take in the spectacular vistas of the mountain of Kanchenjunga (world’s third highest peak) and Khangchendzonga, visit Buddhist monasteries and meander through the botanical gardens. Make sure to take the UNESCO World Heritage Toy Train ride traversing through the war memorial and Batasia Loop.
Dubbed the Summer Capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar is nestled in the Kashmir Valley on the banks of Jhelum River. This ‘Venice of the East’ is not only a delight for the camera, but it’s also brimming with fascinating cultural, historical and recreational sights that make it an ideal spot for travellers and photographers alike. There are historic Mughal gardens, palaces, temples and mosques and an abundance of natural beauty. And, the beating heart of this beautiful hill station is Dal Lake, which is known for its houseboats, floating gardens and floating vegetable market. Visitors can take a shikara ride on the lake and soak in the beauty of the area while watching the everyday life of the locals that are settled along its bank. If visiting during April, be sure to attend the famous Tulip Festival that features over a million blooms and cultural programs, like Kashmiri folk song and dance, traditional Kashmiri cuisine and local handicraft displays.
Surrounded by the Himalayas and lush greenery, and nestled on the banks of the Beas River, its location makes it a prime destination for backpackers and adventurers as there are recreational activities waiting to be had – from trekking to rafting and paragliding to skiing. As for history buffs and culture lovers, the pagoda-shaped Hadimba temple, the Museum of Himachal Culture and Folk Art, Manu Temple and Tibetan monasteries are a must. For visitors who simply want to relax their mind and body, the Vashisht Hot Water Springs is the perfect spot to rejuvenate. Although the town itself has lots to keep visitors busy, wander a few miles out to be engulfed in nature and adventure. The must-visit nearby villages include Naggar, Kothi, Gulaba and Solang.
Kerala’s crown jewel, Munnar is a charming hill station, typified by its sprawling tea plantations, misty hills, winding lanes and gorgeous views of the mountain peaks. Visit the tea plantations and the Tata Tea Museum for an insight on tea processing and sample fresh tea picked straight out of the garden, or wander through the Eravikulam National Park to witness the beauty of lush valleys and rolling hills. For those wanting a bit of adventure, trek to Anamudi, South India’s highest peak, or go paragliding and rock climbing. A short drive from the town is a treat for nature and adventure lovers alike: discover the rose garden near Mattupetty Lake, soak up the beauty of Pallivasal Falls in Pallivasal, trek to the Chinnakanal Waterfalls, explore the spiritual town of Devikulam, and take a stroll along the lush green dunes of spice and tea plantations in Chithirapuram.
Nestled in the Nilgiri Hills, Ooty is one of the most popular hill stations in South India. The town is surrounded by a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, including lakes, mountains and tea plantations, which provide hours of fun for nature and adventure enthusiasts. You can go trekking along the plantations, or indulge in activities, like hand gliding, angling or boating Ooty Lake. Nature lovers can explore the Botanical Garden that house exotic and indigenous plants and a rose garden that features over 3, 600 varieties of roses. Architecture enthusiasts will love wandering through the area, which is populated with numerous colonial-style cottages. As for culture lovers, the Wax World Museum, the Tea Museum and St. Stephen’s Church are a must-visit.
Just a half an hour drive away from Dehradun lies the gorgeous hill station of Mussoorie. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, this hill station has been a popular destination for tourists since colonial times due to its picturesque setting and natural beauty. With everything from snow-covered mountains to lakes, waterfalls and lush forests, adventure activities are plentiful and include trekking, boating, zip lining and rappelling. Attractions sure to interest tourists include the Jharipani and Kempty Waterfalls, Mussoorie Lake (where you can go boating), the Camel’s Back Road (known for its rock formation in the form of a camel’s hunched back) and the Lal Tibba (highest peak of Mussoorie). A trip to Mussoorie is incomplete without taking the cable car ride to Gun Hill. From 400-feet high, you can enjoy the mesmerizing vistas of the Doon Valley and the surrounding area.
An erstwhile summer capital of Bombay during the British rule in India, Mahabaleshwar is one of the most popular hill stations in west India, set amidst the Sahyadri mountain ranges. Its lush gardens, historic forts, scenic waterfalls, lakes and salubrious weather year-round, all make for an idyllic and visually appealing atmosphere. Also, outdoor adventures include kayaking, water scooting rides, trekking, paragliding and horseback riding.
Known as the ‘Scotland of the East’, Shillong is located in northeast India and boasts natural beauty in every nook. The surroundings are idyllic, with scenic lakes, cascading waterfalls, enchanting caves and rolling green hills. For outdoor enthusiasts, adventure activities are abundant, including trekking, angling, river rafting, kayaking, water rappelling, rock climbing and spelunking. For culture seekers, explore the local villages, gain an insight into the culture and history of local tribes inhabiting the area and experience colonial hospitality. Must-visit points of interest include Umiam lake, Shillong Peak, Lady Hydari Park, Sweet Falls and Elephant Falls. Make sure to visit the 18-hole golf course, which is said to be the best in India.
Rajasthan’s only hill station, Mount Abu is a perfect place to get away from the sweltering heat, the noise of the modern world and to get closer to nature. It’s an oasis in the desert land of Rajasthan, characterized by its pristine trekking trails, hilltop temples, ancient forts, picturesque lakes and lush greenery, which makes it a haven for nature lovers, history buffs and outdoor adventurers.