Historic Hill Stations in India for a Cool Escape from the Plains

Introduction

After months of scorching summer heat on the plains of India, nothing beats escaping to the cool, refreshing mountain air of an historic hill station. Hill stations were developed by the British in colonial India as refuges from the summer heat of the plains and many retain their original colonial-era charm today. India has many picturesque and scenic hill stations nestled in the mountains that offer a relaxing break from the crowds and pollution of city life. 

Shimla

Once the former summer capital of British India, Shimla is perhaps the most famous hill station in northern India. Located in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 2,200 metres, Shimla offers lovely views of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks and a pleasant climate even during peak summer months. The colonial architecture, charming cottages and pleasant walks make Shimla feel like a town straight out of the British era. Some of the top things to do and see in Shimla include:

The Ridge: This is the main promenade road running through Shimla dotted with statues, benches and lovely flower gardens. It is always bustling with locals and tourists taking evening strolls.

The Mall: Shimla’s main shopping area lined with restaurants, cafes and shops selling shawls, souvenirs and British-era memorabilia.

The Christ Church: Built in 1844, this Gothic-style church is one of Shimla’s most recognizable landmarks situated right on The Ridge.

Jakhu Hill: For panoramic views of the town and Himalayas, pay a visit to the Jakhu Temple at the top of Jakhu Hill (2,455m). It’s about a 30-45 minute hike from the main bus stand but worth it for the photo opportunities.

Kufri: About 16km from Shimla is Kufri, a small hill resort known for itsscenic Meadows, horse riding facilities and picturesque landscapes during winters when the entire area is covered in snow.

Summer Hill: Located a few kilometers from Shimla is the delightful Summer Hill residential area with its charming colonial bungalows and manicured gardens nestled amidst thick oak and deodar forests.

Shimla truly has old-world grandeur and charm and is one of the best hill stations in India to visit in May-June when the summer heat has started rising but the monsoon rains have not arrived. Plan for about 3-4 days to comfortably explore the town and surrounding areas.

Mussoorie

Just 285km from Delhi, the hill station of Mussoorie in Uttarkhand is a popular weekend break destination that can be visited year-round. Situated at an altitude of 2,000m, Mussoorie receives a fair share of tourists all summer for its scenic beauty and more moderate climate compared to the plains below. The eclectic mix of Raj-era buildings, Himalayan views and pleasant climate make it one of the most alluring hill stations in India. Some top things to see and do in Mussoorie include:

Gun Hill: For a panoramic 360-degree view of the Himalayan range unfolding before you, head to the summit of Gun Hill, the highest point in Landour cantonment.

Kempty Falls: A scenic 15km drive from Mussoorie town takes you to these charming falls located amidst dense deodar forests.

Camel’s Back Road: A popular spot for capturing the picturesque Sunset point and far-off views of the distant peaks.

Benog Wildlife Sanctuary: Home to a variety of exotic Himalayan fauna such as the leopard, Himalayan black bear and hundreds of bird species. Excellent for nature trails and bird watching opportunities.

Mussoorie Lake: Located near Library Bazaar, this artificial lake surrounded by manicured gardens offers boating and is beautifully lit up after dark.

Plan at least 3 nights in Mussoorie to relax and explore without rushing. Visit between May to July when the weather is the most pleasant with average temperatures around 20-25 degrees Celsius during the day.

Darjeeling

Nestled in the foothills of the Kanchenjunga massif of the Eastern Himalayas lies the picturesque hill town of Darjeeling. Famous globally for its production of fine tea, Darjeeling is also renowned as the “Queen of Hill Stations” for its scenic vistas, colonial charm and near Alpine climate even in peak summer months. Some must-visit attractions in Darjeeling include:

Tiger Hill: Catching the spectacular dawn views of Kanchenjunga and the eastern Himalayan peaks from Tiger Hill at 2451m is a breathtaking experience. Reach by 4am to secure a prime viewing spot.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the greatest rail journeys in the world with breathtaking mountain vistas during the 88km journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: Learn about Himalayan culture, flora-fauna and mountaineering from this renowned institute. Their museum exhibits memorabilia from early expeditions.

Batasia Loop: A fascinating railway loop constructed in 1919 letting passengers enjoy panoramic views while trains switch back twice.

Tea Estate Tours: Understand Darjeeling’s claim to fame on fascinating guided tours of working tea estates where you learn about cultivation and pluck some leaves yourself.

The ideal time to visit Darjeeling is during summer from March to early June when the weather is warm and sunny without summer showers. Plan at least 3-4 days to experience Darjeeling at a relaxed pace.

Ooty

Away from the hustle of larger Indian cities lies the peaceful hill town of Ooty (Udhagamandalam) nestled amidst rolling hills, eucalyptus and pine plantations in Tamil Nadu. At an altitude of 2,240m, Ooty provides a very pleasant climate even during the peak summer months making it a favorite South Indian hill station retreat. Some highlights of Ooty include:

The Botanical Garden: Explore this expansive 150-acre garden housing a impressive collection of exotic tropical and sub-tropical flora.

Doddabetta Peak: At 2,637m, this is the highest point in South India offering picturesque views extending well into Kerala and Karnataka states on clear days.

Ooty Lake: A quaint 3km boating trip around this scenic artificial lake surrounded by lawns and tree-lined paths. Romantic at dusk.

Stone House: A colonial-era bungalow now housing a geological museum showcasing the region’s geological history, amber collection and more.

Mudumalai National Park: Approximately 90 minutes from Ooty, this park is home to a variety of wildlife including elephants, tigers, sloth bears and over 250 bird species.

The ideal months to visit Ooty are from May onwards during summer when temperatures are moderate at around 20 degrees Celsius making for pleasant sightseeing conditions.

Coorg

Nicknamed “Scotland of India”, Coorg is renowned for its scenic hillsides covered with lush green coffee, cardamom andorange plantations amidst the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. Located about 250km from Bangalore, Coorg has maintained its pristine natural beauty and offers a refreshing break from the city. Top experiences here include:

Abbey Falls: One of the tallest waterfalls in Karnataka plummeting over 300 feet, best seen after the monsoons.

Dubare Elephant Camp: Get up close to rescued Asian elephants as they are fed, interact and even take one for a short ride.

Talakaveri: Considered the source of the Cauvery River, this scenic spot located deep inside the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary is a pilgrimage site.

Madikeri Fort: Offering mesmerizing views of the surrounding countryside from the 17th century fort built by Tipu Sultan which now houses a museum.

Omkareshwara Temple: Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this historically significant 12th century temple has exquisite carvings and is located amidst scenic environs.

Visit Coorg from March to May to experience summers here when temperatures are pleasant at around 20-25 degrees Celsius and scenery is at its lush green best. Allow 3-4 days to leisurely uncover Coorg’s natural beauty and get a taste of Kodava culture.

Dalhousie

Nested in the mighty Dhauladhar mountain range of Himachal Pradesh lies the tranquil British-era hill town of Dalhousie established in 1854 as a summer retreat for British officials. Even today, Dalhousie retains its colonial heritage with many vintage buildings dotted along its hills and valleys. Some top attractions here include:

Khajjiar: Often called the “Mini Switzerland of India”, this idyllic valley surrounded by dense coniferous forest is a delight with its rolling green meadows and picturesque lake.

Panjpulla Waterfalls: An easy 1km hike leads to these three scenic waterfall tiers set against dense forest backrop, especially stunning after the monsoons.

Subhash Baoli: An appealing Mughal-style hexagonal structure built in the 19th century now serving as a playground with terrific valley views.

St. Francis Church: Built in 1880, this quaint church with its cut-glass windows offers serenity amidst natural beauty.

Gandhi Chowk: The main township area surrounded by shops, restaurants and historic structures like the Town Hall make for pleasant ambling.

Visit Dalhousie from June to September when the climate is pleasant and monsoons have just arrived, transforming the area into a verdant landscape. Allow 3 days to soak in the British-era charm.

Manali

Nestled amidst the majestic Pir Panjal ranges in Himachal Pradesh, Manali has long attracted tourists with its cool climes and scenic environs. Serving as the gateway to the rugged Lahaul and Spiti Valley, Manali thrills adventure seekers with its zest for mountain sports. Some top highlights include:

Solang Valley: An idyllic glacial valley offering a plethora of adventure options from paragliding, zorbing to skiing during winters.

Rohtang Pass: At an altitude of 3,978m, this is the high mountain pass connecting Manali to the Lahaul valley, best crossed during summermonths for scenic vistas of snow clad peaks.

Hadimba Temple: Dedicated to the demon queen Hadimba, this 15th century wooden temple with intricate carvings is located deep inside a forest glade.

Vashisht Hot Water Springs: A relaxing complex offering natural mineral hot water pools with hydrotherapy facilities amidst scenic woods.

Old Manali: Escape the summer crowds in this quaint village up the hill from Manali town, with charming heritage homes, cafes and monasteries. https://www.easemytrip.com/blog/top-hill-stations-in-india

The best time to visit Manali and beat the heat is from June till late September when day temperatures average 20-25°C. Allocate 3-4 days minimum to unwind in the stunning natural environs.

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