Attend the Hemis Festival in Ladakh
July and August are peak tourist months in Ladakh, when the weather is warm and the skies are clear. Head into the barren high altitude desert region on July 3-4 to experience the culturally vibrant Hemis Festival, among the largest and most popular of Ladakh’s monastery festivals. The grand 17th century Hemis gompa is Ladakh’s oldest, and hosts hundreds of visitors and locals during two days of masked chaam dances, accompanied by frenzied drumming and the blast of traditional horns. Locals dress in ceremonial finery with colourful headgear, and handicrafts from the region are on display. The festival marks the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.
Complete the Great Lakes trek in Kashmir
The season has just begun for the stunningly beautiful Great Lakes trek in Kashmir – one of the few monsoon treks in the country. As you ascend from Sonamarg, forests of pine give way to thickets of spruce, silver-toned birch, fir, deodar, and eventually flatten out into wildflower-studded meadows and alpine scrub. The 72-kilometre route winds past high-altitude passes and jaw-dropping vistas: steely lakes of incredible blue mirroring the snow-capped peaks that surround them, sweeping valleys, massive glaciers above Gadsar Lake, and the Gadsar Pass at 13,750 feet. Camp under the stars at night, and get your feet wet in the glacial waters by day. The eight-day trail is perfect in the monsoon when the lakes fill up and the flowers are in bloom.
Seasonal Blooms at the Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand
For a short spell between July and August, the monsoon rains transform Uttarakhand’s Valley of Flowers to a carpet of colours. Though the UNESCO World Heritage Site remains open from June to October, the alpine meadows are in full bloom with nearly 300 varieties of flowers July onwards, so it’s best to go now before the crowds arrive. The five or six-day trail will take you past waterfalls and riverbeds, fields of blue poppies and violet dandelions, delicate daisies and orchids. Camping isn’t permitted within the park, so budget at least two or three days to explore the region’s diverse flora with a base at Ghangaria.
Witness the Dree Festival in Arunachal Pradesh
Between July 4 and 7, the Apatani tribe celebrates an agricultural festival in Arunachal’s Ziro Valley. Locals dress up in traditional finery, sing and perform traditional folk dances like daminda. Prayers and sacrifice are offered to appease the gods and pray for a good yield. Rice beer flows freely, food stalls do brisk business. Community feasts are hearty affairs, with local meat, cucumber and rice. There are games for children, wrestling matches, performances and even modern additions, like a Mr Dree and Miss Apatani contest. A general air of revelry fills the usually quiet valley, and it’s the best way to explore the region’s scenic charms and unique customs.
Architectural wonders in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh
Set on a plateau against the Vindhyas, the sepia-toned city of Mandu is an architectural delight best seen with a monsoon backdrop. The lakes are full, clouds thunder and break over parched plains, the fort looks onto sweeping swathes of green forest, enlivened by the rains. Many rulers have ruled over the city of Mandu, and the centuries-old edifices are a blend of several Islamic architectural styles. Explore the Jahaz Mahal, a palace sandwiched between two lakes; Hoshang Shah’s tomb, an all-marble, domed structure that many say inspired the Taj Mahal; the Hathi Pol or Elephant Gate, and the pink-sandstone Jama Masjid.
Check into a 300-year-old haveli in Bundi, Rajasthan
Built on the lower ramparts of the Bundi Garh Palace, Bundi Vilas is a 300-year-old restored haveli that embodies royal luxury. The palace and haveli tower above the town, and the rooftop offers a view of crumbling mansions and pale blue homes, baolis or stepwells and the Jait Sagar Lake. Explore the Grand Palace with its collection of murals in the Chittra Sala, the 14th century Taragarh Fort and Raniji ki Baoli. Or retire to your room with traditional Rajasthani furnishings and miniature paintings, and enjoy lavish meals at the rooftop restaurant, looking up at the palace and the Vindhyas.
Watch the Champakkulam Boat Race in Kerala
Monsoon marks the season of snake boat races in Kerala. The oldest race and the first of the season takes place at Champakkulam, close to Alleppey. Snake boats are typical of Kerala – long and slender wooden boats with raised prows that seat over a 100 boatmen. Boats from various villages gather for a grand spectacle on the water, as hundreds of oarsmen row in unison amidst chanting and songs, competing to win the iconic race. The banks are filled with cheering locals and visitors, as the usually calm stretch of water comes alive with frenzied activity. Before the race, a procession with water floats and boats decorated with parasols and flower garlands kicks off the festivities. The race is scheduled for July 8.
King cobras and memories of Malgudi at Agumbe, Karnataka
The torrential monsoon in Karnataka’s Western Ghats brings its waterfalls into full flow and the forests are abuzz with animal and reptile life. Agumbe – among India’s wettest spots – is a village that served as the setting for the televised version of RK Narayan’s Malgudi Days. Surrounded by roaring waterfalls and the rainforests of the Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary, diverse fauna and bird life call the forest home. Among them is the rare King Cobra, along with tree frogs, cane turtles, and a host of reptiles and amphibians. Walk through dense forest trails and follow the roar of water to find raging waterfalls – the Jogigundi, Barkana, and Onake Abbe are some of the largest. Or spend your days with warm cups of tea, watching the rain lash down on the forests and valleys.
Ride the Island Express to Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu
Hop aboard the Island Express for a languid train journey with magnificent monsoon views. The train route that begins in Bengaluru and winds through Kerala’s lush landscapes before ending at the country’s southernmost tip, Kanyakumari. As the rain draws patterns on the windows, the landscape outside is awash in green, with views of winding backwaters, coconut palms, and slow-paced villages. Grab a window seat at Kollam, as this is when the most scenic stretch begins. At Kanyakumari, the highlights are the confluence of the three oceans – the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea – and the spectacular sunrise and sunset.
Mangrove explorations at Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh
A large swathe of mangrove forest, it extends along the Godavari delta in Andhra Pradesh. With backwaters from the Bay of Bengal, this sanctuary is one of India’s few wildlife destinations accessible in the monsoon. The mixing of saltwater and freshwater gives rise to a thriving ecosystem in the estuarine basin: the open-billed stork, the Brahmini kite, the elusive smooth-coated otter, estuarine crocodiles, and the rare fishing cat, all live within the thirty species of mangroves here. During high tide, take a boat trip through the riverine channels, or ascend the viewing platform for an aerial view of the marshy forest.