Think of snow and the first few places that flash across your mind are Switzerland, Canada and the United States of America. Well, it leaves you wondering why snow is ‘so expensive’. How about an affordable desi winter vacation in our own country? Presenting the seven best winter vacations for families in pursuit of snow this season, right here in India.
Manali, Himachal Pradesh
The valley of Manali, situated 2,050 metres above sea level, and nestled in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, is among the eternal favourites for many Indian adventure enthusiasts. With its snow-clad high mountains, majestic deodars, sparkling River Beas and snow-sport options like skiing, this place has something for everyone.
History: According to Indian mythology, Manali is supposed to be the home of Manu, the first man and a Hindu lawmaker. The name Manali is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Manu-Alaya', meaning 'the abode of Manu'. Legend has it that sage Manu stepped off his ark in Manali to recreate human life after a great flood had deluged the world. The valley is therefore referred to as the 'Valley of the Gods'.
Adventure: Go for a thrilling 16 km rafting in the river Beas. Also check out trekking, camping and paragliding in the snow-clad peaks of Solang Valley. Manali never leaves you short for choices.
Shopping: Head to the great mall area, where innumerable handicrafts are available. Pick some traditional handwoven shawls, Kullu caps and slippers.
Travel Info: Nearest airport: Bhuntar, 50 km away
Nearest railway station: Jogindernagar, 163 km away
Distance from major cities: Delhi (550 km), Chandigarh (310 km) and Shimla (280 km)
Accommodation: From luxurious resorts to quaint homestays, Manali has accommodations for every budget. Just remember to book in advance.
Clothing: Heavy woollen. Snow dresses, snow shoes and ski dresses are important. In case you do not have them, don’t fret. You can get them on rent for a nominal charge of Rs 300 per day.
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
‘The Queen of Hills’ sits majestically around 2,200 metres above sea level, and is located on the lower ranges of the Himalayas. During peak winters, the temperatures can drop to sub-zero conditions thereby resulting in heavy snowfall, which makes it an ideal setting for adventure sports’ enthusiasts.
History: Shimla is named after 'Shyamala', the goddess Kali, whose temple existed in the dense forest that covered Jakhu Hill in the early 19th century. The British named it Shimla.
Adventure: You’ll be spoilt for choice here. Shimla has almost everything for adventure enthusiasts. Jumaring, rock climbing, rappelling, tire walking, trampoline, valley crossing, river rafting, paragliding, mountain biking, skiing and ice skating are some of the options you can expect at this beautiful location.
Shopping: Shopaholics can head to Lakkar Bazaar, Lower Bazaar, Himachal Emporium and the Tibetan Market.
Nearest Airport: Jubarhati, located 23 km away.
Nearest Railway Station: Kalka, 96 km away.
Distance from major cities: Chandigarh (117 km) and Delhi (343 km)
Accommodation: With many well-known hotels popping up around its hills, Shimla is no short of luxury accommodations. Choose to stay in the centre of the town, or escape to the resorts with glorious views of the Himalayas.
Clothing: Woollen jackets and shawls. Pack winter gears like sweaters, jackets, caps and socks. And don’t forget a strong pair of shoes.
Did you know? The famous Kalka-Shimla toy train covers 96 km in 7 hours. To manoeuvre the tricky terrain and mountains, the train runs on a narrow-gauge track. The design of the train is also small and narrow, making it look like a giant toy. If you wish to travel in the toy train, remember to book your tickets much in advance.
Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh
Khajjiar is a hill station in Chamba district, Himachal Pradesh. Located approximately 24 km from Dalhousie, it sits at a height of 1,920 metres above sea level. This place is located between Dalhousie and Chamba Town. Snow lovers and travel enthusiasts will love this destination, which is popularly known as ‘Mini Switzerland of India’. Snow-capped mountains, dense green deodars, rich wildlife of the Kalatope Khajjiar Sanctuary and fascinating flora make this destination even more alluring.
History: Khajjiar derives its name from the ancient idol, Khajji Naag. The history of Khajjiar dates back to the 6th century when the Rajputs ruled the region. It eventually came under British territory during the rule of East India Company. British influence is still prevalent in the lifestyle of people and architecture of the town.
Activities: Apple orchard visit, paragliding, picnic by the lakeside and a visit to the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary to spot animals like deer, serow, jackal, leopard, black bear and wild cats are some activities you can indulge in.
Shopping: Khajjiar is the ideal place to buy Tibetan and local state handicrafts.
Nearest Airport: Gaggal, Dharamsala located 122 km away
Nearest Railway Station: Pathankot, 118 km away
Distance from major city: Chandigarh (325 km)
Accommodation: Pretty cottages and budget hotels are aplenty in Khajjiar.
Clothing: If you’re thinking grey woollens, think again because Khajjiar is known for its vibrant clothing. You can buy some bright-coloured, hand-knit shawls and ‘Kullu topi’, a traditional fur cap of that region, in Khajjiar.
Gulmarg is the most popular skiing destination in India. Situated in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, it is located at an altitude of 2,650 metres above sea level. The slopes of Apharwat peak at a height of 4,267 metres make for a perfect setting for a great skiing experience.
History: It was originally named Gaurimarg in honour of the Hindu goddess Parvati, before it was renamed Gulmarg (‘meadow of flowers’) by Sultan Yusuf Shah of the Chak Dynasty who frequented the place with his queen Habba Khatoon in the 16th century.
Adventure: Skiing, tobogganing, snowboarding and heli-skiing are some of the snow activities you can do on the slopes of Mount Apharwat.
Shopping: You can shop for beautiful specialty items that are handmade and local in origin. Check out jewellery, pashminas, ornaments, intricately carved furniture and handmade clothing.
Did you know? CNN rated Gulmarg as Asia's seventh best ski destination.
Nearest Airport: Srinagar, 56 km away
Nearest Railway Station: Jammu, 290 km away
Distance from major cities: Srinagar (53 km), Sonmarg (125 km)
Accommodation: Whether you’re looking for the material comforts of a luxury hotel or the personal touch of homestays, Gulmarg has it all.
Clothing: Along with woollen jackets and warm shawls, pack snowsuits and waterproof boots.
Auli, known as a skier’s paradise, lies hidden in the snow-capped mountains of Uttarakhand. From the slopes of Auli, you get a glimpse of many majestic Himalayan peaks like Nanda Devi, Kamet, Mana Parvat and Dunagiri.
History: In the 8th century AD, the great Guru Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have graced these fields. The temple built by him at Joshimath still exists. For hundreds of years, the colourful semi-nomadic tribes of the Bhotiyas, of Mongolian stock, traversed the trails at Auli, locally called Thatauli. Legend has it that their long-haired yaks, laden with an assortment of goods, assisted them in conducting a flourishing trade with nearby Tibet.
Adventure: With stretches of 10-20 km of snow-covered mountain slopes, Auli is perfect for ski lovers. Besides, there is a descent of 500 m from the ridge over a stretch of 3 km. Auli is also the regular venue for the National Winter Games, which takes place in February and March every year.
Shopping: You need to head to the nearest town of Joshimath, which is 13 km away from Auli where one can find all kinds of souvenirs like woollen caps, blankets, shawls and other gift items.
Did you know? Auli’s artificial lake is one of the world's highest man-made lakes.
Nearest Airport: Dehradun, 149 km away
Nearest Railway Station: 273 km away
Distance from major cities: Dehradun (300 km), Rishikesh (262 km), and Haridwar (281 km)
Accommodation: Swiss Cottages or the log huts are a must-do in Auli.
Clothing: Warm clothes like thermals, jackets, gloves and thick socks.
A picturesque riverside village is best known for its breath-taking Himalayan views. This hidden beauty is a perfect destination to witness snow-capped mountains and heavy snowfall. It is located about 118 km from Gangtok.
History: Long ago, Lachung was a popular place for spiritual practices. The Samten Choling in Lachung dates back to 1850. Many sculptures and manuscripts including Buddha, Guru, a Chenrezig, Kangyur and Tengyur texts were brought from Tibet in 1950 to the monastery. In 1983, the Lamas renovated the monastery, which now hosts major ceremonies in the region.
Adventure: Zero Point, also known as Yumesamdong, is ideal for trekking. Mt Katao is a perfect setting for snow-boarding, skiing and snow-tubing.
Warmth in the cold: Near the Chumtang valley in Lachung, there is a natural hot spring on the right side of the road hidden away on the top of a mountain. A dip here is perfect to give you the much-needed warmth in the near freezing surrounding as you are on your way to the Chumtang valley or zero point.
Nearest Airport: Bagdogra airport, 128 km away
Nearest Railway Station: Darjeeling, 167 km away and Siliguri, 185 km away
Distance from major cities: Gangtok (118 km)
Accommodation: Many small hotels in the moderate budget are available.
Clothing: Heavy winter clothing is a must. Remember to dress in layers as the weather is unpredictable. If you are planning to rent snow wear, they are available at a reasonable rate.
Lava, West Bengal
Lava is a serene hill-top town located 2,138 metres above sea level, and is one of the few places in West Bengal to receive snow during winters. It has diverse flora and fauna, and is a great place for bird-watching enthusiasts. Other attractions include Buddhist monasteries and a panoramic view of Mt Kanchenjunga.
History: Lava was under the reign of the Sikkimese, the Bhutanese and the British for centuries before it became a part of West Bengal post India’s Independence in 1947.
Adventure: It is popular as the starting point for treks into the Neora National Park. Bird-watching enthusiasts can spot birds like Blue Robins, Fulvetta, Finch, Wren Babblers and more.
Shopping: Experience the local goods and opt for souvenirs to take back home.
Nearest Airport: Bagdogra Airport, 110 km away
Nearest Railway Station: New Jalpaiguri, 109 km away
Distance from major cities: Siliguri (105 km)
Accommodation: There is a small government-run guesthouse at Lava. You can also stay in Kalimpong, 90 minutes away.
Clothing: Warm waterproof clothing and sturdy shoes. Lava is an offbeat destination, so pack enough clothes. There may not be many options for shopping.