How we covered it: Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most beautiful and least travelled states in India. We had the fortune of getting to travel across the state on our motorbike and I would suggest you to do the same if wish to cover the state fully. The state’s public transport does not get you to every corner, nor is it possible for you to take your car to some of the narrow roads in the remote areas of India’s eastern-most state. A road trip across Arunachal Pradesh can leave you spell-bound as you will see plenty of rivers, valleys, rugged mountains, snow, green pastures, picturesque villages and wonderful people.

On the map of India, Arunachal Pradesh looks tiny. But trust us, the state is big. Barring Assam, Arunachal is the largest among the states termed as the seven sisters. Despite using the most nimble form of transport, i.e. our motorbike, we could not cover the entire state. This is because, the distances between towns are really high. Arunachal Pradesh occupies more than 300 km on the northern bank of Brahmaputra river. There are days you will need to cover 150 – 200 km on a single day on winding mountain roads which are in a state of disrepair, thus taking you 6 – 8 hours to cover what seems like a fleeting distance on roads like Mumbai – Pune expressway, Delhi – Agra Yamuna expressway or Tamil Nadu’s Grand Southern Trunk (GST) highway. We had to take hard decisions about having to drop certain plans simply because the roads were not ready for us yet. Hopefully, the current government has considered the matter and they are supporting BRO (Border Roads Organisation) to prioritise the completion of important roads in the state.

In this post, we will replay the road route we took to cover as much of the state as we could and the places that are interesting along the way. This should hopefully help you plan an exciting, jaw-dropping trip to the state named the ‘the province of the crimson veil’, a name that arises out of the fact that the state is the first to see sunrise in India.

Our route plan

Our Arunachal Pradesh route plan

We covered the following 4 routes in Arunachal Pradesh

  1. Tezpur – Tawang
  2. Itanagar – Ziro – Daporijo – Aalo – Mechuka – Aalo
  3. Aalo – Yingkiong – Tuting – Yingkiong
  4. Yingkiong – Pasighat – Tezu – Parshuram Kund – Namsai

Inner Line Permits

Please note that you need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to visit Arunachal Pradesh. On the permit, you need to mark all the districts that you wish to visit. At all the checkposts between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and at intermediate checkposts between districts, your inner line permits will be checked. An inner line permit can be obtained online from Arunachal ILP website.

Tezpur – Tawang

This is the only route in the state that will take you through snow all year round. The route follows the Kameng river and then the Tawang river to take you to Tawang district that borders China. You can see upto two high altitude Himalayan passes on this route. One of them is the Se la pass that needs to be crossed to reach Tawang. The other pass, Bum La, borders China and can be seen if the weather conditions and diplomatic relations are favourable and you are lucky.

Tezpur: is a city in Assam to the north of Brahmaputra river. It is the second biggest city on the northern bank after New Bongaigaon. All other major cities such as Guwahati, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia are on the southern bank of the river. Tezpur is at the confluence of Brahmaputra and Kameng rivers. It is the road head for a trip to Arunachal’s Tawang district. There is a road bridge across Brahmaputra from Tezpur, that takes you to the south bank town of Kaliabor. From Kaliabor, the Kaziranga national park, famous for its one-horned rhinos, is less than 50 km away.

Brahmaputra river at Tezpur

Bhalukpong: is a town at the border of Assam and Arunachal on the Tezpur – Tawang route. The town is on the western bank of Kameng river. Your ILP will be checked at a checkpost in this town. The highway from Tezpur to Bhalukpong is flat. Beyond Bhalukpong, the highway starts ascending into the Arunachal Himalayas.

Bomdila: is the headquarters of West Kameng district. Bomdila is the biggest town on the way to Tawang. It has a monastery and a district-level playground. On the way back from Tawang, we used Bomdila as our halt for the two day motorbike ride from Tawang to Tezpur.

Dirang: is a town midway between Tezpur and Tawang. Dirang has a hill top monastery worth exploring. There is also a hot water spring near the Kameng river, which flows in a valley slightly lower than the town. We used Dirang as a halt for our two day ride from Tezpur to Tawang.

Se La pass: is a Himalayan mountain pass at an altitude of 13700 feet (4170 metres) at the border of West Kameng and Tawang districts. It has a lake that is frozen for half the year and has clear water reflecting the surrounding mountains in the other half. Se La has an army post. During bad weather, Se La becomes a bottleneck due to heavy snow or rain, either blocking or damaging the road, thus cutting off Tawang from the rest of India.

Frozen lake at Se La pass

Taxi drivers from Tezpur to Tawang and back usually ensure that they are at Se La pass before or by mid-day. No one wants to drive there during fading sunlight. When you are planning a trip to or from Tawang, you should also ensure a pre-noon pass through at Se La pass. So the best thing is to leave your source (either Tezpur or Tawang) very close to sunrise. In fact if you are using a motorbike, we suggest that you break your trip into two days: Tezpur – Dirang and Dirang – Tawang.

Jaswant Garh: is a war memorial in Tawang district. It is a memorial built for Garhwal rifles marksman Jaswant Singh Rawat, who singlehandedly kept the Chinese army at bay during the 1962 Indo-Chinese war. It is said that the spirit of Jaswant Singh still lives there.

Jang: is the first municipality on the way from Tezpur to Tawang. Near Jang town is a waterfall named Nuranang formed by the Tawang river.

Nuranang waterfall at Jang

Tawang: is a town and the headquarters of the district of the same name. It is inhabited by the Buddhism-practising Monpa tribe, who speak the language of the same name. Tawang has a famous and ancient monastery. Other attractions around Tawang are Tawang war memorial, Panga Teng Tso lake, Sitting Buddha statue, Sangetsar lake, Takt Sang monastery (not the one in Bhutan) and Bum La pass.

Tawang monastery

Here’s a video of our motorbike ride between Tezpur and Tawang.

Itanagar – Ziro – Daporijo – Aalo – Mechuka – Aalo

While Tawang is the most popular circuit among tourists, the Itanagar – Ziro circuit is gaining popularity as the roadways and transport are developing. This circuit starts from Assam’s Gohpur town and crosses the state border at Dhipu, where you need to show your permits at a checkpost. While most tourists head upto Ziro and return to Assam, we extended our route to cover Daporijo and proceeded to Aalo, from where one can visit Mechuka village. Aalo – Mechuka is a popular circuit among motorcycle groups and there is very little public transport in these areas. You cannot cover these places in a planned way through backpacking alone and public transport alone. You may get lucky enough to tag along with a group of motorcyclists or private village vehicles that happen to be going that side. I suggest that you take control of your itinerary by taking your own vehicle or a hired self-driven vehicle.

Itanagar: is the capital of Arunachal state. It does not belong to any district and comes directly under the rule of the state government. Interesting things to see at Itanagar are the hill top Ita fort and state museum that tells us about the culture of the various tribes of Arunachal. Itanagar is often combined as an urban conglomeration with nearby city Naharlagun, which is 5 km away in the district of Papum Pare. Similar to the way that New Delhi combines with Gurgaon, Faridabad and Noida to form NCR and Mumbai is often combined with Thane district to form MMRDA, Itanagar and Naharlagun are referred to as the Itanagar urban area. Due to space constraints, many of the state administrative offices are actually inside Naharlagun instead of Itanagar. Both Itanagar and Naharlagun have railway stations, the only major ones in Arunachal so far. There are frequent trains to Guwahati, New Bongaigaon and Siliguri. There is also an Arunachal Rajdhani that runs from New Delhi to Naharlagun twice a week.

Clock tower at Itanagar

Ziro: is the headquarters of Lower Subansiri district. The town is the most populated and the most commercially active town in the district that is named after the Subansiri river that flows through. Ziro is divided into Ziro town and old Ziro, with the old one having an air strip. Between the two is an ancient Shiva Linga. The Ziro music festival happens here every September.

Ziro town

Daporijo: is a town in Upper Subansiri district. It has fantastic views of the Subansiri river valley. If you are travelling from Ziro to Aalo, then it may be necessary to break your journey at Daporijo for a night. You can also look at Daporijo to fill up your petrol reserves, since there are no petrol pumps upto Aalo on one side and Ziro on the other.

Subansiri river at Daporijo

Aalo: is a major town in West Siang district, with the name of the district coming from the river Siang, a major tributary of Brahmaputra river. Another name for Aalo is Along. Aalo is a three-way junction with one highway leading to Ziro and Itanagar, another one to Mechuka village and yet another one going to Yingkiong. Aalo is also a good place to fill up your petrol reserves if you are planning a trip to Mechuka, where there are NO petrol pumps yet.

Siko Dido waterfall: is a tall waterfall on the road between Aalo and Mechuka. The visible plunge of the waterfall from the road is 200 feet (60 metres). It is near the village of Tato.

Siko Dido waterfall. Notice Priya standing near the waterfall. That’s how tall the waterfall is.

Mechuka: is a remote village close to the Chinese border. The name of the village means the ‘place with healing water’. The Siang river flows through Mechuka, while snow clad mountains stand tall far away. There are several green pastures with cows and horses grazing, making the village look straight out of Switzerland. Combine it with the colourful wooden houses and the cleanliness. The effect is complete. Mechuka has a history with close ties to Sikhism. It is said that Guru Nanak travelled to Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet to teach the virtues of compassion and sacrifice. Curiously, there is a monastery dedicated to ‘Nanak Lama’.

Mechuka village

Mechuka village

An Sikh regiment army major posted at Mechuka after independence noted that the locals heal ailments with medicinal water from the Siang river and prayers to Nanak Lama. Intrigued, he dug out history and found that this very land was graced by the man that Sikhs hold in highest reverence. Thus a Gurudwara was built in the army camp. This Gurudwara can be visited today, along with a river side temple where Guru Nanak is said to have parted stone to clear a path. Various regiments are posted to this army camp in rotation.

Please note that Mechuka is a dead-end. One must return to Aalo to be able to explore further circuits.

Aalo – Yingkiong – Tuting – Yingkiong

While Aalo – Mechuka road is beautiful and Mechuka village is hypnotising, the natural beauty on the Aalo – Yingkiong – Tuting circuit was at a different level, leaving both of us gaping our mouths and parking our bike for photos far too many times. The areas are so remote and so pristine that you will see hardly see anyone, locals or travellers. It also meant for us that the roads were in a terrible state of neglect. While the Aalo – Yingkiong road is in a fairly good condition, the road from Yingkiong to Tuting puts you under a level of test you’ll not often experience. But the stunning sight of the Siang river carving its way through the Himalayas bordering India and Tibet is so refreshing that the adverse effects of the driving test are soon forgotten.

While we want you to certainly take a trip to Yingkiong and Tuting, we would ask you to wait 2 or 3 years to wait for the roads to be repaired. If you haven’t ever ridden on low quality mountain roads before, then this trip is not for you. We do not recommend an SUV yet because the roads are too narrow to allow two SUVs to pass each other, should such an occasion arise. There are several large army trucks that use this route and your SUV will be found wanting for space to squeeze. Hatchbacks and sedans are definitely out of question due to their low ground clearance on such atrocious roads.

Jengging: A board outside Jengging claims that this is the most pollution free village of the country. We cannot confirm that. But certainly the village has excellent views to the Siang river flowing in the valley deep below the road.

Zero pollution board at Jengging

Yingkiong: While the highway from Aalo to Tuting runs parallel to the west of Siang river, Yingkiong town is to the east of the river. It is the headquarters of Upper Siang district. The distance from Aalo to Tuting is way too much to cover in one stretch, due to time and fuel requirements. it makes sense to cross the river for the evening to rest and refuel at Yingkiong and then cross back to the highway in the morning. This was not possible before 2017. But then the government provided two brand new, sturdy road bridges with good quality roads on both sides, north and south, of Yingkiong town to access the highway on the west of the river. But even before these bridges made it possible for Yingkiong people to commute to Aalo, the town has always had a south-east bound highway to the town of Pasighat, that we will see in another circuit.

State Bank of India branch and BSNL phone towers at Yingkiong

There is nothing to see inside Yingkiong, but one thing stands out. The reassuring brand boards of Indian Oil, BSNL and State Bank of India stand tall in a town so remote from the creature comforts we are so used to, thus bringing fuel, connectivity and banking to remote corners of India. It puts the Shells, Vodafones and Standard Chartered Banks to shame.

Mingging: is a army outpost town on the way from Yingkiong to Tuting. We were lucky to be served food from army ration at the Mingging army camp, eating lunch with the soldiers. While we took photos, they politely asked us not to put photos on Internet, so we heed.

Tuting: is a remote village at one end of the state. It has beautiful views of the snow mountains bordering India and Tibet. Tourism has not caught upto this village and there are virtually no places to stay. There are no petrol pumps either and you need to buy petrol at higher than market rates from grocery shops. Tuting has a beautiful monastery with monk quarters. We wrote about our experience at Tuting in another post.

Yingkiong – Pasighat – Tezu – Parshuram Kund – Namsai

While most of Arunachal Pradesh is on the north of Brahmaputra river, a small region, namely Lohit, Namsai, Changlang and Tirap districts are to the south of the river. In Lohit district, the Lohit river joins the Siang river to form the Brahmaputra. This region of Arunachal is on the plains rather than the mountains.

Pasighat: is a bustling town by Siang river. It is the headquarters of East Siang district. To the south of Pasighat, the Siang river is joined by the Lohit river to form Brahmaputra.

Bhismaknagar: is the site of the ancient ruins of the Sutiya kingdom, who ruled the region around Brahmaputra between the 12th and 17th centuries.

Roing: is the headquarters of Lower Dibang district. It is home to Adi and Mishmi tribes.

Tezu: is the headquarters of Lohit district and is on the northern bank of the Lohit river. Tezu is home to Mishmi tribe.

Parshuram Kund: is a religious site that worships the site where Lord Parshuram bathed in Lohit river. Near Parshuram Kund, the highway crosses the river from the north bank to the south bank. At India 360, we used this fact as a logical seperation between exploring regions to the north of Brahmaputra (Arunachal, Tezpur, Bongaigaon, etc) and regions to the south (Guwahati, Majuli, Dibragarh, Digboi, Nagaland, etc).

Lohit river at Parshuram Kund

Namsai: is a town at the border of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Near Namsai are a few Buddhist temples, such as Solungtoo Buddist temple of Lathao and a hill top Golden Pagoda. Namsai district has a Buddhism practising population as many are descendents of Burmese kingdoms such as Tai and Shan.

Golden Pagoda near Namsai

Places we did not cover

We did not cover the highway between Roing to Anini, a town near the international border with Tibet. We think that Anini would have been a pristine village similar to Mechuka and Tuting. But the thought of 300 km and back over the poor roads of Arunachal over 4 days discouraged us. We will return when the roads have been repaired.

We also skipped the road from Tezu to Walong for similar reasons. Walong is the first village in India over which the sun rises in the morning. The summer sunrise is as early as 3:45 am, whereas the winter sunrise is around 4:45 am. But the distance between Tezu and Walong is 200 km and the roads are bad. It would have taken 3 – 4 days too and fro. A future trip on good roads is eagerly awaited.

Conclusion

While a lot of states in India have multiple highways with several combinations of itineraries, the fact that the roads in Arunachal follow the rivers and wind around mountains, thus keeping the total number of roads inside the state to very few, it is very easy to plan a well-rounded itinerary to the state, especially if using your own transport. Use our route and plan your next trip to India’s land of rising sun.

 

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City Focus: Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

Ganga river has a lot of cities on its banks. The first city that Ganga flows through after descending the HImalayas is Rishikesh. Rishikesh is in Tehri Garhwal district and is surrounded by the mountains of the Garhwal range of Himalayas. The city is quite unique in the sense that there is something here for everyone. Whether you want to visit temples and watch Ganga Ghat Aarti, or if you want to learn yoga, or if you want to get your adrenaline pumping with white water rafting and bungee jumping. Continue reading

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Travel Tips: Preparing for a Himalayan trek

Everyone dreams of being in the Himalayas, among the green meadow, snow caps, fir trees and the clean air. While several people get the wish granted in the form of road trips through the highways of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir, Sikkim or Arunachal Pradesh, many of them are not satisfied with experiencing Himalayas through a windshield and the windows of a vehicle or with the limited time in which they get to play in the lap of nature. Thousands of people enroll for treks over the trails of Himalayas every year. While the list of treks is countless, only between 50 – 100 trails are trekked on every year, the majority of them conducted by organisations like YHAI or IndiaHikes. There are independent trekkers who plan their own routes and do not depend on trekking organisations. Regardless of the method you follow, the checklist for what to wear for such treks, what to carry and how to maintain fitness and hygiene do not change.

Here are the broad categories that you should take care of in a Himalayan trek. Consider this to be a checklist of things essential to enjoy a trek safely and in good health.

Continue reading

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When, Where and What of the Indian Travel – Indian Winter

India is a tropical country, with half of the country lying between the equator and the tropic of Cancer. Summers are harsh, whereas the winters can get cold, but milder than what North America or Europe faces. But then, to the northern end of India are the Himalayas, where it snows heavily. Depending on where you are in India, the winter is as diverse as the country itself. India has places like Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, where winter merely means that the night time temperature may drop to less than 27 degrees celsius with a pleasant breeze. At the other end of the spectrum, there is Dras in Jammu & Kashmir, which ranks as the second coldest inhabited place on earth, averaging -20 degrees celsius in winter, with the record low being -45 degrees celsius. Depending on whether you just want pleasant weather or an adventure in head-popping cold, holiday destinations may vary.

Snow

Priya tries to walk on a foot of snow in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

Priya tries to walk on a foot of snow in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

With India being a tropical country, snow is confined to the higher altitude of Himalayas. It snows moderately in the lower Himalayas, while the Greater Himalayas receive heavy snow, to the point that they are covered in some snow even during summers. Countries like Canada, North America, New Zealand and Germany dread snow, since they know the real dangers of getting stuck in a blizzard and the tremendous effort required to just have a normal life when it snows all around you. But most Indians travel long and far to see snow. Snow for most of them is a novelty. Indians aspire to see and play with snow. We can see their eyes glow with excitement even when they spot a small patch of snow by the kerb of the road in Himachal or Sikkim.

In winter, several Himalayan mountain passes shut down and remain closed after facing a week of snow. Anticipating such snow, the locals who inhabit higher altitudes relocate to their winter residences on lower ground and sometimes to cities outside their native state. Heck, they even bring the deities of important temples down with them. E.g. Kedarnath’s idol is brought down to Okhimath, whereas Gangotri Devi is brought to Harshil.

That said, Himalayan winters have their own specialities which are not available during rest of the year.

Vistas of snow everywhere: Looking at towns covered in snow can indeed be a fairy tale experience, with great photo opportunities. Winter is the time when the British-built Himalayan hill stations in India, such as Shimla, Manali and Mussoorie look like European cities, with their wooden houses, town squares and slated roofs all covered in snow.

Train trips: If you are lucky and the trains are operational, then winter is a great time to hop on a ride from Kalka to Shimla (Himachal) or from Banihal to Srinagar (J & K). You will see pine and fir trees covered in snow and several vast open meadows in sheets of white.

Skiing: India has various levels of ski slopes. Ski resorts above those slopes offer skiing courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiiers. Good ski resorts are at Auli (near Badrinath, Uttrakhand), Gulmarg (near Srinagar, J & K), Pahalgham (J & K), Kufri (near Shimla, Himachal Pradesh) and Solang Valley (near Manali, Himachal Pradesh). If you are new to skiing, you can try a very basic level at one of these places.

Chadar Trek, where you walk on a frozen river: This will probably be your only opportunity to do what Jesus was supposed to have done, which is to walk on water. The trek goes along the bed of the Zanskar river, with accommodation in the form of camping in caves along the way. The Chadar trek is one of the costliest treks in India. This is because it is very remote, in the district of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir. The opportunity is very exclusive. The third reason is because you cannot go solo. You’d never tell the difference between hard walkable ice and fragile thin ice. A system of guides and porters is required to safely navigate on the frozen water, which is extremely slippery with zero grip. The roads that lead to Ladakh from Srinagar and Manali are closed during winter. So the only way to reach the base of the Chadar trek is by taking a plane to Leh airport from New Delhi and then subsequently using local transport provided by the adventure company which will take care of your walk. Flights are few and premium during this time of the year. So the whole activity is extremely expensive. You might get lucky with off-season discounts if seats don’t fill up.

A word of warning

However, be warned that high altitude, snow and extreme cold can cause a lot of adverse effects in your body, leading to altitude sickness, breathlessness, frost bites, snow blindness and hypothermia. The best advice we can give you is that the scenes from Hollywood and Bollywood movies are fake. Don’t imitate those scenes at all. Here are some do’s and don’ts for high altitude and snow.

  1. Never get to high altitude rapidly. Take your time, at least 24 – 48 hours, to go from a altitude below 5000 feet to something above 10,000 feet (this altitude and above are called high altitude). Your first day at a high altitude location should be spent in mild exercise such as walking or very light jogging. The idea is to get your lungs used to the lower levels of oxygen. While there are flights from New Delhi and Mumbai to Leh, personally we at India 360 think that those flights are not a good idea for your health since they take you from low to high altitude in a matter of a couple of hours. The flights can have really adverse effects if your daily lifestyle doesn’t include aerobic exercise.
  2. Always do exactly what the locals tell you. Do not let anyone from the metro cities of India give you advice about how to eat, sleep, drink or behave at higher altitudes. Locals have been there for several years, living through the difficulties of winter. Only they know best. You may have read this post from us Mumbaikars, but when you reach the Himalayas, please consult a local for better advice 😉
  3. Always have your layered clothes on. One layer of underwear should be covered by a layer of high quality woollen thermals, followed by your regular clothing, i.e. a full-sleeve top and full trousers and finally a padded fleece jacket. You should wear one layer of cotton socks, with woollen socks above it. The shoes must cover your leg above the ankles, preferably upto the shins. Your palms and fingers should be covered in woollen gloves. A woollen monkey cap stays on your head all the time. The cap should also go over your ears. This is how locals will be. They keep their sweaters on all day. At first, it will seem strange, but within two days, it will all make sense.
  4. Winter clothing is where movies show you lousily misleading scenes with heroines wearing mini-skirts, heel shoes and sleeveless tops on snow. They let their hair open with an uncovered head. You may wear such attire when you visit the Himalayas in summer and are roaming on grass meadows or town promenades during day time before 5 pm. Avoid such summer-themed dresses and wear all your layers if:
    1. it is winter
    2. it is soon to be or past sunset in ANY season, including summer.
    3. you are standing on a field of snow during ANY season.
  5. Always remember. Snow looks extremely gorgeous. But it is an evil in a beautiful disguise, a witch in the attire of a fairy. Movies are to blame for the hundreds of silly things that tourists from cities do on snow. Here are some terrible ideas.
    1. Holding snow in ungloved hands. You can try this at home. Trying holding an ice cube from your freezer. You will start feeling numbness. Holding snow directly over the skin of your hands without being aware of how long you are holding it can cause numbness and subsequently frostbite.
    2. Throwing snow at each other. Snow is soft, but compact balls of snow can be quite hard. A mis-aimed, misdirected hit can go straight for the throat or for the eyes. There is no telling how much damage will be done if that happens.
    3. Licking / sucking on snow. Point one, snow is made of water, but it causes dehydration. Sucking on snow will actually dehydrate you. Second, it can cause frostbite to your tongue. Third, a really hard suck can shoot some particles of snow into your throat and cause serious damage.
  6. Driving on snow is very tricky. Road trips will be longer due to slippery snow. It also needs special equipment like snow tyres and chains wrapped over tyres. If you have driven less than 5000 km in your life or if you have never driven even on gentle mountain roads (e.g. Nandi Hills or Sahyadris), then give up the idea of driving on your own in the Himalayan winter and hire a local vehicle with its own driver. He / she knows better. And definitely do not use a motorbike. India 360 found out the hard way while driving through Sela pass in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

Sea

India is blessed with a long coastline and many beaches. Seen here is Kappad beach near Kozhikode in Kerala, where Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama landed, thus finding a sea route between Europe and India.

India is blessed with a long coastline and many beaches. Seen here is Kappad beach near Kozhikode in Kerala, where Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama landed, thus finding a sea route between Europe and India.

India’s coastline covers huge ground (7500 km). It starts at the Arabian Sea at Mandvi in the Kutch district of Gujarat, continues through Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. At Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari, the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet. The coastline ends in a tip, changes direction and becomes east-facing in Tamil Nadu, continuing through Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, upto Diamond Harbour near Kolkata in West Bengal. That’s not all. India is blessed with two island union territories in the form of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar. Just imagine the wealth of beaches, sea shells, marine life, rock formations, sea forts and coastal cities than India enjoys. It’s staggering even to think about it. Don’t think, just act. It is during the milder weather of winter that India’s coast can be best enjoyed.

India's coastline supports a plethora of marine life

India’s coastline supports a plethora of marine life

Gujarat & Diu

The clean beaches of Kutch and Diu are yet to attract hordes of tourists. Gujarat is usually seen as a destination for temples and palaces or as a hub for business and industry. But there are some beautiful beaches tucked away in coastal Gujarat. Dwarka, Madhopur, Veraval and Porbandar are some beautiful beaches. And who can forget Dandi beach, graced by the Father of our Nation in a bid to defy the salt act?

Maharashtra

You will fall in love with Maharashtra’s coastline the same way you do with the mountains and snow of Himalayas. Among all the states, the 600 km of Maharashtrian coastline offers you so much variety and such a wide experience that it is hard to pack an end-to-end trip even if you give it a week. You may have better heard of Maharashtra’s coastline by the name of Konkan. There are 6 districts in Konkan, starting from Palghar adjoining Gujarat and continuing upto Sindhudurg which borders Goa. The mega-city of Mumbai is along the way. Here are some activities to enjoy in Konkan winter.

  1. Beaches: Maharashtra has a plethora of beaches, some of them crowded and touristy, but some tucked away in quiet corners.
  2. Sea forts: Engineering marvels such as Vasai fort, Alibag’s Kulaba fort, the genius of Murud Janjira, and then Vijaydurg and Sindhudurg, two forts commanded by the Great Maratha admiral Kanhoji Angre.
  3. Cities: Mumbai, Ratnagiri and Malvan are some cities on the Konkan coast. Each city has its vibrant culture and history.
  4. Vantage views: Adjoining the beaches of Korlai, Velneshwar, Harnai and Velas are small hills you can trek to or drive to and see entire stretches of beaches and villages from a vantage point. The beautiful coastal highway runs parallel to the sea at all times in the Ratnagiri district.
  5. Bird life: Winter is the time when birds from as far as the Arctic migrate to India’s coastline, Maharashtra being one of them. It is great time to spot exotic species.
  6. Olive Ridley turtles: On the beaches of Velas and Kelshi, both in Ratnagiri district, the month of February is when the endangered species of Olive Ridley turtles crawl out of the eggs laid on the beach and into the sea. Hundreds of tiny turtles can be seen tottering at a slow pace from the beach to the waves of the sea.
  7. Beach resorts: Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (or MTDC) operates several cosy resorts by the beach at several locations in the state. All of them have fantastic views of the sea. The best resorts are at Harihareshwar, Velneshwar and Tarkarli. In addition, several homestays accredited by MTDC are run by locals. These can be great places to spend your beach-side vacations.
  8. Temples: Several temples are located right on the beach shore in Maharashtra. These are: Harihareshwar, Velneshwar, Ganpatipule, Kunkeshwar and Redy to name a few.
  9. Water activities: Several beaches have water sports such as motorboating and parasailing. The Tarkarli beach in Sindhudurg has operators offering scuba diving.

Goa

Beaches of Goa from Anjuna in north Goa to Palolem in south Goa are extremely happening during winter, especially in the week from Christmas to New Year, when carnivals happen. Each of Goa’s beaches is unique in its own way and you will never get tired of spending time there. Anjuna, Calangute and Palolem are shoppers’ paradises where you can pick good quality western clothes and beachwear for a bargain. Anjuna, Arambol and Morjim also has several budget friendly backpackers’ hostels with zero restrictions, making it a paradise for solo travellers and backpackers looking to let their hair down.

If you consume alcohol, then look no further than Goa. All drinks are available at cheaper rates than the rest of the country. And then there are happy hours, which drives the costs even lower. Neither members of India 360 drinks alcohol, so we cannot tell you which bars are the best. But a lot is spoken about Tito’s between Baga and Calangute beaches, the two most happening beaches in Goa. Tito’s also has an attached discotheque.

Karnataka

The 123-feet tall Shiva statue on Murudeshwara beach

With the exception of Karwar, Udupi and Mangalore, beaches in Karnataka are less talked about. There are several in number, but not much tourism. Beaches like Gokarna are just starting to pick up tourism on scale. Right now, the most visited beach in Karnataka is perhaps Murudeshwara, but not for the beach. Right on the beach is a temple with a 123-feet statue of Lord Shiva in a sitting posture.

Kerala

Beaches in Kannur in north Kerala are spotlessly clean and were some of the most pristine ones we saw in all of India. We would personally prefer a beach holiday in Kerala over Goa. In south Kerala, Varkala and Kovalam on either sides of Thiruvananthapuram are worth a visit and a stay. Near the shores of Alappuzha are the lakes of Vaikom, Kumarakom and Punnamada, where you can stay on houseboats for a night and enjoy a cruise.

Tamil Nadu

The best sea-side destinations in and around Tamil Nadu are Kanyakumari, Thiruchendur, Rameswaram, Dhanushkodi, Pondicherry and Chennai itself. For Dhanushkodi, you can ride all the way to the end of India with your car. It has an abandoned ghost town which was destroyed in cyclone of 1964. Meter gauge tracks, railway station with water tanks to feed the steam engine are all relics worth seeing. The floating stones unique to this city could be found in a few places including temples where people worship them and consider it as a proof of the Ram Sethu built by the army of Ram to cross over to Lanka.

The French-built Pondicherry has a sea-side promenade enhanced by a stay at the Aurobindo Ashram. The uniquely coloured buildings and the straight roads resembling those of Paris are a sight to see. At Chennai, we have the world’s second-widest beach. The Marina beach is an excellent place to watch the sun rise and also to take a stroll in the evening.

Orissa

A visit to Orissa in the winter can cover Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, Konark temple, Puri and Chilika lake.

Conclusion

As you can see, diversity is the main trump card played by India when it comes to tourism. Winter shows up in different colours and moods throughout the country. But we have shown you two choices in our post, one following the mountains and another, the sea. The choice is yours to pick. So just pack your bags and leave home when the leaves start to dry and fall from the trees.

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Anecdotes: Altitude woes

Kedarnath is one of the four char dhams, or the four biggest abodes of Lord Shiva. Kedarnath is also the origin of river Mandakini and is the toughest of the four dhams to reach.

Trekking to Kedarnath involves an ascent from Gaurikund (6200 ft) to Kedarnath (11100 ft). It a part of the greater Himalayas. The path is full of snow and needs to be constantly cleared. The trek is challenging enough for the initiated. The uninitiated often give up soon after they start and use the services of a doli , porter or a horse to carry them to the top.

Duing summer, the entire trek is without any settlements except at the summit, 16 kms from the base. Most of Kedarnath village moves downhill before the onset of winter. When the trekking route is opened in the summer, the village doesn’t shift back overnight. the process is gradual. During the first week of the trek, only a few transits are created along the 16 km route. Some are army camps and some are convenience stores set up by the villagers, who are among the first to relocate. It is at one of these convenience stores that we heard this amusing conversation.

Guy 1: Oh my God1 That was tough, man!

Guy 2: This local says the trek hasn’t even started yet !!

Guy 1: What !! We have covered quite a bit. More than 5 of the 11 km in the trek and have been walking forever…At least 50% must be done, right? (sounding half dreaded and half  hopeful)

Local: But sir, so far the walk has mostly been flat. The ascent will start shortly.

Guy 1 and 2 (in chorus) : Was that flat ??

Guy 1 (exasperated): Forget it. Let’s drink something..

Guy 2 ( Looks at the over crowded counter): They’ve got Lassi.

Guy 1: It’s freezing! Why would you drink Lassi now?

Guy 2 (pondering and agreeing): Hmm.. true. So what should I get?

Guy 1 (without hesitation): Let’s get a COOL DRINK.

We (giggling and whispering between ourselves) : Altitude certainly messes with the brain !!!