Raining Glory

R Pallavi        Print Edition: Aug 19, 2012

The mercury has risen and the landscape which till recently exulted in springtime glory is being baked by a fiery glaze; a daily battle with sweat and grime is on but hope hovers on the horizon. It is a tropical truth that summer is nothing but a restive yearning for monsoon.

So, when the sun skirts the season's first cluster of grey, there's relief in the air. The cool drizzle leaves the parched plains enriched, the year's yield is fostered and the sacred rivers and lakes begin to rejoice in abundance.

The slashing of rain across the Western Ghats has inspired a rich history of renditions, sometimes in classical and folk music and sometimes in kaleidoscopic art. The spell of showers that evokes poets and painters alike is best experienced in the midst of nature.

So let's walk into some of India's best-known destinations which come alive during the rains and celebrate the season called life.

SHILLONG, MEGHALAYA

Like Scotland, only better. Shillong is a quaint amalgam of nature and culture. Snuggled between pine forests and cascading waterfalls, Meghalaya's capital is a story of sloped flower beds and aromatic tea gardens. During the rains the town breaks into festive rhythms which sound like folk-tunes from the warrior tribes or just good ol' Bob Dylan.

The Elephant Falls are in full gusto during the rains and are a must visit. A hit with tourists, the area around the falls bustles with local picnickers.

For a quieter experience, head to the Wir Phang and Wir Iaplam at the canton's outskirts. For an equally uplifting experience, take a walk across the pine groves of Lady Hydari Park. In the shadow of colonial-era structures, the Wards Lake looks inviting with an ornamental arch bridge.

A leisurely boat ride on its still waters is calming. A swig of gin or local beer to begin the day and you're all set for monsoon in this romantic hill town.

GETTING THERE:
Take a direct flight to Shillong's Umroi International airport or fly to Guwahati's Gopinath Bordolai airport. It's a five-hour road trip from here.

WHERE TO STAY:
Ri Kynjai Resort Rate Rs 6,500 to Rs 11,000 per night

CONTACT:
rikynjai.com


GIRA FALLS, GUJARAT

Gira Falls, Gujarat
Gira Falls, Gujarat
There is nothing as refreshing as the sound and sight of water falling from a great height. This is why the Gira Falls on the Saputara-Waghai road in Gujarat are such a pleasure to watch.

Emerging from the Kapri tributary and sashaying down 30m into the Ambica River, the seasonal falls burst into a dreamy mist. Wind down with a hot beverage at one of the snack stalls dispersed around the foot of the falls and enjoy the occasional cool spray that caresses your face.

In the spirit of developing the destination, the forest authorities have set up camping sites all around. So, instead of driving out the same day, linger on and experience the falls as they get illuminated in moonlight. There's also a botanical garden in the vicinity which stocks up to 1,400 varieties of bamboo.

Here, one can enjoy the unique experience of picnicking amidst rare bamboos like the beer bottle bamboo and gold bamboo. The all around enables you to hear clearly the sound of water, which is magical.

GETTING THERE:
A threehour drive from Surat Airport to Saputara. From here you can do a day trip to the falls.

WHERE TO STAY:
Aakar Lords Inn, Saputara Rate Approximately Rs 6,500 per night

CONTACT:
lordshotels.com


KHAJJIAR, HIMACHAL PRADESH

Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh
Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh
Ever imagined frolicking about a large green playground cordoned off by alpine meadows and dense mountains? Nestled in the Chamba valley, Khajjiar seems to have emerged from an artist's imagination.

Smitten by its scenic setting, Swiss Ambassador Willy Blazer christened it a 'mini Switzerland' in 1992. Interestingly, he also erected a signboard that said, 'Switzerland 6194 km on the hiking path, in the direction of the Alps.'

At first glance, the plateau will compel you to pick up a putter and aim for hours. Fortunately, the Himachal Pradhesh Tourism Board holds the same view and set up a nine hole golf course smack in the centre. India's answer to the Alps is best enjoyed right after the rains, when the grassland blooms in a fluorescent-tinted effervescence.

Just as the rain ceases, Dhauladhar's pine and cedar laden peaks come into view. A 15-minute ride to the closest viewing point, Mani Mahesh, is recommended for clear views of the sacred Mount Kailash. There are a bunch of smalltime resorts and houses are strewn about the plateau.

Their sloped roofs and iron girdlers bring to mind a colonial Shimla. One could either take in the fresh air while parasailing or get strapped up inside a zook ball and spin around the plateau merrily. In Khajjiar, even a mindless task like lazing on a wooden bench feels fantastic.

GETTING THERE:
A seven-hour drive from Dharamshala's Gaggal airport; just over an hour from Dalhousie station.

WHERE TO STAY:
The Devdar Rate Rs 2,000 per night

CONTACT:
dalhousie@hptdc.in


MANDU,MADHYA PRADESH

Mandu,Madhya Pradesh
Mandu,Madhya Pradesh
Amuddy pathway is sheltered by giant baobab trees and punctuated by crumbled mosques at every other seam. Resting on the crest of the Vindhya Range, this is Mandu, a rocky outcrop planted amidst a bed of green.

The architectural ruins attract discerning day-trippers from Ujjain and Indore throughout the year. But it is during the monsoon that the rustic facades of the city's mahals and darwazas attain a rich red tint. Mandu also houses the country's first ever marble monument, the tomb of Malwa's second king Hoshang Shah.

When its dusty cover is washed off, the structure that inspired the Taj acquires an ashen glow. The fortified city is also home to the love story of Rajput princess Roopmati and the last sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur.

During the monsoon, the courtyard of Roopmati's pavilion reverberates with romance and its front lawns are aflutter with peacocks and kharmours. The many minarets and domes of Mandu may be lost in time, but find themselves gracefully whenever it rains.

GETTING THERE:
An hour's drive from Indore airport

WHERE TO STAY:
Jhira Bagh Palace Rate Rs 5,500 to Rs 6,000 per night

CONTACT:
jhirapalace.co.in


ARAKU VALLEY, ANDHRA PRADESH

Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh
Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh
From a humid and muggy Vizag, board the train on the Kottavasala-Kirandul line and make your way into the unspoilt interiors of Andhra. An hour into the journey and the view goes from busy townships to quiet valleys swathed in green and dotted with frothy waterfalls.

Then, 58 tunnels and 84 bridges later you find yourself in Araku, the unsung paradise of India. Perched at 997m above sea level, this hill station is the perfect definition of monsoon on the Eastern Ghats. After the first showers, a walk alongside long savannah grasses is refreshing.

A short drive to the Anantagiri hills allows you take in the heady smell of beans rising from the coffee plantations all around. Araku's beauty runs parallel to its well preserved tribal culture. This comes across in the Dhimsa and Mayur dances performed by local women for the tourist lot every other evening.

One can also sense tribal beliefs in the greatly revered Borra caves, whose details are defined by thematic lighting.

GETTING THERE:
Fly to Vishakhapatnam and then take a two-hour train to Araku.

WHERE TO STAY:
Tyda Bamboo Cottages Rate Rs 4,500 for two nights.

CONTACT:
aptourism.in


COURTALLAM, TAMIL NADU

1Courtallam, Tamil Nadu
Courtallam, Tamil Nadu
Also known as 'the spa of the south', Courtallam is is a source of medicinal water. To ensure this wasn't a folktale, the East India Company deputed a team of experts to investigate its properties.

They concluded that the water acquired herbal properties as it seeped through the forests before descending into town. During the monsoon, Courtallam's nine falls flow with full gusto and set off a string of narrow streams. Don your raincoat, carry a sturdy walking stick and trek across the rocky steps, halting at one waterfall after another.

The most stunning of these is the Shenbagdevi, which is broken up by the rock formations into three beautiful tiers that are full in the rains. An hourlong hike leads you to Then Aruvi or, the honey falls. These are at a sheer 170m drop with bee hives full of honey on both sides; these are said to lend sweetness to the water.

Also visit temples from the Chola and Pandya kingdom. With its sacred chants, rain winds and verdant greens, Courtallam is just short of heaven.

GETTING THERE:
Fly into Trivandrum and then travel by road for an hour. If you take the train to Tamil Nadu's Tensaki junction, it is approximately 15 minutes by car from here.

WHERE TO STAY:
Srishty Garden Resorts Rate Approximately Rs 2,500 per night

CONTACT:
srishtygardenresorts.com

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