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5 Lesser known hill stations for this Summer

It’s that time of year, when the scorching sun and humidity start to unleash a yearning for the cool environs of hill stations. But if the thought of hordes of people converging with the same intention is off-putting, then this should help. There are still places that are serene, beautiful and relatively offbeat, especially if timed perfectly to beat the crowds.

Discover five such summer getaways across the country.

Araku valley (Andhra Pradesh)

Located just a couple of hours from Visakhapatnam (soon to be Andhra Pradesh’s capital) Araku is a thickly forested valley interspersed with rolling grasslands, which together make it stunningly beautiful. It can be approached by road but the train journey is both magnificent and comfortable, especially for travelling with families across age groups. The journey offers fabulous sweeping views of jungles, valleys, hill slopes, orchards and plantations. For those lucky, there could be a rare animal sighting too. The highlight of the ride is the series of 46 tunnels; each one keeps you guessing about the beautiful sight that waits on the other side. At Araku village is an interesting tribal museum, near which local tribals also perform Dhimsa, the local tribal dance. Araku offers a leisurely stay amidst serene surroundings, and visitors can choose to kick back and lounge or go on long walks at dawn and dusk to soak up the tranquillity.

Stay: Accommodation options are limited; some are rustic and charming but might be tricky for older people. Prakruthi Resorts and Mountain View Resorts are decent choices.

Eat: There are several restaurants offering regular North and South Indian food, but the adventurous should try bongulo (bamboo) chicken, a tribal speciality.

Know: Visakhapatnam is connected by both flights and trains, and has easy connections.

Optional: Nearby are the Borra caves, a series of underground caverns with stunning stalagmite and stalactite formations. However, getting down a set of steep steps and wandering through the uneven cave floor might be challenging for some.

Yelagiri (Tamil Nadu)

Rising from flat plains, Yelagiri, located in Northern Tamil Nadu doesn’t look like much from a distance. But the drive to the hill top, via a series of hairpin bends that provide spectacular views, is an experience in itself. The peak is more like a table-top and almost everything revolves around a sprawling artificial lake in the centre on which kitschy row and pedal boats offer short trips on the water; there are horse rides along the perimeter. Both these as well as a park adjacent to the lake are a hit with children. But outside the immediate vicinity of the lake are long winding roads with thick forests that are ideal for long walks, slow cycling or just leisurely drives. There isn’t much to do on the plateau except to enjoy the tranquility, or visit the nature park which has walking paths and a musical fountain.

Stay: Much of the accommodation on Yelagiri is pretty basic, but Sterling Yelagiri, Kumararaja Palace and The Aura are slightly better options.

Eat: A variety of food is available at hotels and several restaurants, but it is advisable to stick to South Indian or local food.

Know: Yelagiri is about 150 km from Bangalore and 250 km from Chennai, so the best option is to drive.

Optional: For the adventurous at heart, Yelagiri has several trekking routes to nearby peaks and a waterfall; check difficulty level before embarking, and be sure to carry food and water. At certain times of the year, there is also paragliding.

Tip: There are very few autos and taxis on the hilltop, so having your own transport might be a good idea.

Kalimpong (Bengal)

Situated at over 1250 mts, Kalimpong is at the Northern tip of Bengal on the border with Sikkim. While neighbouring Darjeeling gets all the attention, it is Kalimpong that is much more worthy of a visit. Laid back, relaxed and overlooking the gushing Teesta river, it has the picturesque Himalayas as its backdrop. A typical hill town with narrow winding roads, it makes for the perfect and idyllic summer destination. It has a number of parks including one dedicated to orchids and another to cacti. If lounging around and watching the snow-capped peaks gets staid, then heading out for a picnic to Deolo Hill with its stunning panoramic views or stopping by at one of the numerous Buddhist monasteries, such as Zong Dhok Palri Phodang, should do the trick.

Stay: There are plenty of accommodation options, but Elgin Silver Oaks and Sinclairs Retreat are good choices.

Eat: While it is easy to get North Indian food, South Indian might be a problem. For local style dishes, try Zhakhang Butanese Restaurant, Gompu’s for momos and get refreshed at Cafe Kalimpong.

Know: The nearest airport is Bagdogra (75 km) and the nearest railhead is New Jalpaiguri (72 km), from where regular buses and shared taxis available.

Tip: Opt for private transport; shared taxis might be uncomfortable since they are filled with passengers and won’t make too many stops.

Landour (Uttarakhand)

Surrounded by Dehradun and Mussoorie, Landour is a tiny cantonment town that nestles in the shadow of its more illustrious neighbours. But this actually works, since it is a little sleepy town with winding roads, Raj-era buildings and stunning scenery round every bend. It’s a place that lets you set your own pace. Start your day with spectacular sunrises on Lal Tibba and let the day take its own course. Opt for long walks amidst thick forests of deodar, cedar, Himalayan oak, blue pine and Himalayan maple trees. Or just sit and gaze at the Garhwal Himalayan range. For wildlife enthusiasts and for birdwatchers, this is paradise with over 350 species of birdlife recorded. Or step out for short drives to Mussoorie falls, Kempty Falls, Kellogg Memorial Church, and other sights. The literary minded might want to swing by Ruskin Bond’s house; on the other hand browsing through the town’s bazaars makes for a rather interesting time.

Stay: Some options include The Tattva, La Villa Bethany and Royal Orchid Fort which is closer to Mussooroe.

Eat: Don’t miss stopping at Landour Bakehouse and a meal at Emily’s which serves both Indian and Continental fare.

Know: The nearest airport is at Dehradun (40km) and the nearest railway station is at Mussoorie (10km). Opt for a private cab/taxi.

Tip: Though Landour doesn’t get as crowded as Mussoorie, it does see a surge of visitors during weekends, so time your visit.

Pelling (Sikkim)

At over 1900 mts, Pelling is a little town in West Sikkim that offers some of the best views of the Himalayan peaks. But it has much more going for it. It is at the foothills of the Kanchenjunga and if you are lucky and the weather cooperates, then it is possible to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. That alone should be enough to recommend Pelling. But it is also relatively un-crowded and is replete with cultural history. A plethora of Buddhist monasteries lie in close proximity, some of which are also located beautifully against the backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks. If you visit just one among them, then it has to be the Pemayangste monastery with its exquisite sculptures, paintings and the striking statue of Padmasambhava.

Stay: There are several options across budgets, but Elgin Mount Pandim, Kaya Gantavya and Magpie Pacchu Village Resort seem to offer comfortable and family-style accommodation.

Eat: Don’t miss local eats such as momos, thukpa, gundruk and sinki, and sel roti. Kabur, a storied restaurant, and Melting Point, serve most of these dishes.

Know: The nearest railway station is at Siliguri (130 km); opt for a private taxi rather than a shared one.

Optional: As much as Pelling is a laidback place, it is also a great place for several activities that range across intensities - from village tours and gentle treks to rigorous hikes, rock climbing and mountain biking.


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