The Indian summer is hot, dusty and difficult to bear. In Rajasthan, Delhi and the southern states, temperatures of over 45 degrees Celsius(113 F) are not uncommon. Those who can therefore flee to the mountains. Especially the so-called Hill Stations – mountain resorts at mostly 1500 – 2000 meters – are a very popular destination. Hill Station is a term from the British colonial period, but is still used in the common language in India.
These are the most beautiful Hill Stations in India:
Shimla – An English Town in the Himalayas
Shimla is the capital of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh (“snow-covered province”). In former times, during the British Raj, this place situated at 2100 (6890 ft) meters was even the capital of India – or actually the summer capital. The British, who were used to very different temperatures back at homr, moved here during the hottest months, where the air is fresh and the temperatures are moderate. Every year, thousands of books and documents, administrators, diplomats and politicians, including family and servants, traveled the 350 kilometers from Delhi to Shimla. In 1903, the Kalka-Shimla-Railway was opened in order to cope with this huge move. The narrow-gauge railroad is known as Toy Train and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is still used by local commuters and tourists alike.
Shimla’s Mall Road is the central meeting point of the city: Indian tourists and the few foreigners who come to Shimla walk past cafés, stores and restaurants. The British influence can be felt everywhere, not least in the neo-Gothic architecture. Sometimes you think you are in a small village in England – only the Himalayan slopes in the background remind you that you are in India. The Christ Chruch is one of the most beautiful churches and the second oldest in India, the post office building of Shimla the oldest on the subcontinent. The Viceregal Lodge was built at the end of the 19th century, and now hosts a very interesting museum.
Around Shimla there are numerous places of excursions. Kufri is a small village where tourists like to have picnics and go hiking. Solan (accessible by the Toy Train) is a good place to get to know the life in a typical small town of the Himalayas. The Jakhu Temple can be reached by cable car and offers a magnificent view of Shimla and the surrounding area. Also, the huge Hanuman statue which stands there is one of the most famous sights of Shimla. To defend yourself from the many actual monkeys that live there, you can rent a stick for 10 Rupees for defense.
Last but not least, the Central Research Center for Potatoes is a good reason to visit Shimla…
Manali – The Most Popular Hill Station in India
There are mainly two groups of people who come to Manali: Indian couples on honeymoon, and foreign hippies. They both get their money’s worth here: The newly married Indians enjoy the good air and the beautiful nature, they go shopping in the many stores and boutiques, sip their coffee in one of the city’s many trendy cafés. The foreign backpackers, on the other hand, come here for another reason: the area around Manali is one of the largest cultivation areas for cannabis in all of India. For thousands of years, the flowers of the Indica plant have been processed here into the traditional charas (hashish). For several decades cannabis has been illegal in India (except in holy places like Varanasi), but the plant plays a very important role in Indian tradition and religion. The Hindu god Shiva is considered a great lover of cannabis.
Many tourists unfortunately means a lot of change. Only a few of Manali’s old farmhouses are still standing. Everywhere new and often ugly hotels are built, the stores sell cheap souvenirs and expensive clothes – the traditional life of Manali has mainly disappeared.
Nevertheless Manali is one of the most beautiful hill stations in India: the majestic mountains impress in every season, the people are friendly and open. By car or bus you can reach some spectacular places, for example the Rohtang Pass at 4000 meters (13100 ft) above sea level. The Parvati Valley – another meeting point of the backpacker scene in India – is located 80 kilometers southeast of Manali. In winter it snows in Manali, and many tourists from Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore see snow for the first time in their lives – their childlike delight in fascination is contagious.
Kausani – The “Switzerland of India”
Mahatma Gandhi called Kausani the “Switzerland of India”. The small village is located at 1900 meters (6230 ft) above sea level in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. Close to Kausani lie Almora, Mussoorie, Lansdowne and other famous Indian Hill Stations. But one thing makes Kausani different from all the other mountain resorts in India: the spectacular view of the highest peaks of the Himalayas! The Nanda Devi and Trisul are both over 7,000 meters (23000 ft) high and can be seen from almost any location in Kausani.
Watching sunsets and sunrises, taking short walks in the surrounding area, warming up with a cup of Chai – there is not much more to do in Kausani. But it is precisely this tranquility, this (by Indian standards) unspoiled nature that gives Kausani its very own charm. Whoever comes here not only escapes the heat, but also the noise and chaos of the big cities. Just outside Kausani there lie the famous Shiva temples of Baijnath, which are at least 800 years old. Bageshwar, another important temple complex, lies 40 kilometers east of Kausani.
Recommended reading for the relaxed days in Kausani: the autobiography of Gandhi, who spent a few days here.
You can find more book recommendations here: The Best Books on India.
Munnar – The Most Beautiful Hill Station in South India
When you think of mountains in India, the Himalayas are the first association. But also in South India there are beautiful Hill Stations. Perhaps the most famous one is Munnar. It is also called the “Kashmir of South India” and is located in the Western Ghats in Kerala. There are tea plantations for miles around, and in the surrounding forests elephants, horse deer and other rare animal species live.
Munnar was “discovered” by British adventurers in the 19th century. In the following decades they built a few streets and bungalows as well as a small church. Later tea was also grown here. Unlike Manali and Shimla, Munnar has remained a more or less small village. There is little to see in Munnar except the impressive natural landscape. But if you feel like doing some sightseeing, you can visit Marayoor, which is 40 kilometers away. This place is known for its megaliths and rock paintings. It is assumed that the area around Marayoor was already inhabited 10,000 years ago.
But back to Munnar: When the sun rises over the tea plantations, when you listen to the singing of the birds, breathe in the fresh, pure air and welcome the morning with a cup of excellent tea, then you understand why Munnar is considered one of the most beautiful hill stations in India!
Darjeeling – Tea, Toy Train and Tiger Hill
A name that every tea lover knows: Darjeeling. In the 19th century, the British first came to Darjeeling, which used to be an important trading point between India and Tibet. It is located at an altitude of 2,000 meters (6560 ft), about 700 kilometers from Calcutta. Tea production began in 1856 and thanks to new fermentation techniques and Darjeeling’s unique climate, the tea produced here has become one of the most famous in the world. Today more than nine million kilos of tea are produced every year in Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is also known for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Like the one in Shimla, the Toy Train of Darjeeling is an old narrow-gauge railroad that is still used by locals and tourists alike. Part of the line runs through the middle of the city, only a few centimeters away from the grocery stores.
The third and perhaps most important reason why Darjeeling is such a popular Hill Station: Tiger Hill. This viewpoint is located only a few kilometers outside of Darjeeling and is at an altitude of almost 2600 meters (8530 ft). It can be reached by jeep or on foot after a walk through several tea plantations. From Tiger Hill, the Himalayas reveal themselves in all their breathtaking majesty: the Kangchendzonga massif (the third highest mountain in the world) seems to be only a stone’s throw away. Mount Everest is also visible on cloudless days. Especially the sunrises are spectacular: the peaks of the highest mountains in the world appear in an orange shimmer. For this view alone, it is worth coming to Darjeeling. If the trip there is on the legendary Toy Train and you are welcomed with a steaming cup of Darjeeling tea – then you understand why Darjeeling is called the Queen of the Hills!
Mussoorie – Beautuful Hill Station Near Delhi
Especially India’s capital Delhi can be very exhausting in summer. The crowds and traffic make the heat even more unbearable. No wonder that many people flee to the mountains. One of the most popular places of refuge for the inhabitants of Delhi is Mussoorie. This hill station is only a few kilometers away from Dehradun (the capital of the state of Uttarakhand), and is therefore very easy to reach: those who can afford it can fly from Delhi to Dehradun by plane. By bus it is seven hours – which by Indian standards is absolutely fine!
Mussoorie shares with Darjeeling the nickname “Queen of the Hills” – and this appreciation is justified! Mussoorie offers breathtaking views of the Himalayas, is quiet and more or less free of traffic. Some architectural remnants from the British colonial period are lined up with new but tasteful hotels, cheap tea rooms and temples. It is a great pleasure to stroll along the mall – the Mussoories promenade – and breathe in the fresh mountain air, buy traditional wool clothes, drink a chai or simply enjoy the view of the mountains.
In the surroundings of Mussoorie there are many places to visit, for example several waterfalls and lakes as well as the untouched Hill Station Dhanaulti (about 20 kilometers from Mussoorie).
While Dehradun is not very worth seeing (but has chic cafés and restaurants), a visit to Haridwar is highly recommended. Haridwar is one of the holiest places in India. Here the holy Ganges flows into the Indian plains for the first time. In addition, every twelve years the Kumbh Mela, a religious festival that attracts several million people, takes place in Haridwar (“Gateway to God”).
McLeoad Ganj – Buddhists, Backpackers and Farmers
When Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, had to flee from Tibet in 1959, he chose McLeod Ganj as his exile. He was followed by more than 80,000 Tibetan refugees, and even today there are still 4,000 to 5,000 more every year who join him in his Indian exile. Therefore McLeod Ganj is also called “Little Lhasa” (Lhasa is the capital of Tibet and the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism). The Tsuglagkhang Monastery is the residence of the Dalai Lama. Several times a year he gives public lectures here, which are attended by Buddhists from all over the world.
When you walk through McLeod Ganj, you will not only see Tibetan monks dressed in red – numerous old hippies and young backpackers also populate the chaotic streets of McLeod Ganj.
Officially, McLeod Ganj is a district of Dharamsala, a city of 50,000 inhabitants located a little further down the valley. If you continue uphill from McLeod Ganj, you will reach Bhagus Nag and Dharamkot. In the past, these two villages were the scene of normal farm life in the Himalayas – today they are among the most popular destinations for all India backpackers. Dharamkot attracts especially many Israelis, which is why the locals call it “Little Israel”. Instead of samosas, falafels and hummus are sold here, and there are cafés, hostels and yoga studios. It is an interesting mixture of people that can be found in Dharamsala. This is one of the reasons why the place is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern India.
More reasons why McLeod Ganj is one of the most beautiful hill stations in India:
- The very worth seeing Tibet Museum
- The Triund Trek, which leads up to 2900 meters (9515 ft)
- The big waterfall of Bhagsu Nag
- St. John in the Wilderness, a neo-gothic church located in the middle of a fairy tale forest
Summary – The Most Beautiful Hill Stations in India
- McLeod Ganj
Other Hill Stations in North and South India