It is often said that people want what they don’t have. Europeans want tropical sunny weather as they get little sunshine at home, and you might hear a Jamaican say that they would love some cold rainy English weather, because they see sunshine on an almost daily basis at home. People in India are no exception to this phenomenon. It is a dream for most Indians to experience snow.
However, there aren’t many places in the country that receive snowfall. But once you go 6000 feet above sea level, you will have a good chance of experiencing snow in the winter season. And if you go to altitudes of 13000 feet, then you will probably see snow all year round. The only region in India with an altitude of more than 13000 feet is the Himalayan mountains. These legendary mountains stretch from Jammu & Kashmir in the north, to Arunachal Pradesh in the east. Following is a list of the most accessible and tourist friendly snow destinations in India:
This is the absolute number 1 most popular snow destination of India. Most Indians who are interested in travel will name Manali first up when you talk about snow. A lot of movies have also been shot in this resort town in Himachal Pradesh. Though Manali itself gets snowfall in December and January, the famous Rohtang Pass nearby (open from May to October) has snow cover during Summer and Fall. Getting to Manali is not too difficult either, as it is a 300km road trip (8 hours) from Chandigarh.
Shimla has historical significance, as it was the official summer capital/retreat of the British Raj. And the British chose this hill station for good reason, it is up in the hills and cooler than the scorching hot towns across India. Shimla does get snowfall, but only during December – January. Other than the snow, it is worth visiting this town because it may give you a feeling of being transported back in time, with Victorian architecture all around and a narrow gauge train (the world’s steepest) taking you up there. You can also reach Shimla by road via a short 4 hours drive from Chandigarh.
The capital of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir and a jewel of the Kashmir valley, Srinagar is known for its famous house boats on Dal Lake. However, because of its location among the Himalayan mountains, it also receives snow during winters (December – January). The picture above is of Gulmarg – a ski-town which is an hour’s drive from Srinagar. Gulmarg is also known as the winter sports center of India, with multiple activities such as heli-skiing, snowboarding, etc. being offered on its snowy slopes.
Located in Jammu & Kashmir, Pahalgam is an important destination in the famous Amarnath Yatra. Pahalgam is in fact the starting point of the Yatra. The summer months get heavy traffic from pilgrims all across India who go on to undertake an arduous journey further north. If snow is what you are looking for, then winter (December – January) is the best time to visit. There are places like Chandanwari nearby which receive snow even in May, but the winter months are recommended for the most optimal snow experience.
Named after a British Governor Lod Dalhousie, this hilly town in Himachal Pradesh is often called the ‘Switzerland of India’. While summer months are quite busy, with tourists visiting places like Khajjar Valley and enjoying the scenic views of nearby mountain ranges, snow is seen during the relatively less busy winter months. December – January is a good time to visit Dalhousie for enjoying snow, and you might get lucky during these months, as the lean season would mean hotels offering discounted accommodations.
Almora district in Uttarakhand is not very well known among tourists. However, it has a lot of historical significance, with famous personalities like Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and Jawaharlal Nehru, among many others, all having spent time in this hilly district. Almora gets snow in the peak winter months of December – January. While, this isn’t a busy touristy town like Manali or Shimla, it is a laid back place where you could book yourself a long stay at a resort and enjoy the surrounding nature.
Sonmarg in Jammu & Kashmir is one of the many points along the famed Srinagar-Leh drive, and is especially known for its stunning scenery. It was also one of the points along the ancient Silk Road. Sonmarg does not have a major permanent settlement because it is inaccessible in the winter months due to heavy snowfall. However, when the roads do open in late April- early May, you can experience snow here. The nearby Zoji-La pass has snow almost all year round. The Thajiwas Glacier near Sonmarg (a mere 3km) is also a great place to enjoy some snow (and perhaps glacial ice!). Sonmarg also serves as the starting point of some famous trekking routes to lakes such as Krishansar, Gadsar and Gangabal.
Kanatal is a small hamlet in Uttarakhand, located near Dehradun and Tehri Dam. It is another one of those low key destinations meant for relaxation. There aren’t many touristy attractions here, except visiting the Surkhanda Devi Temple and going on an excursion into nearby forest areas. However, if snow is what you are looking for, then December to March is a good time to visit Kanatal. There are some well known resorts in Kanatal where you can book your next winter holiday.
Auli is a well-known ski destination of Uttarakhand. Snowfall is witnessed from November to February in Auli. During these months, various ski festivals and even the National Ski Championships are held here. Because of its popularity, Auli has a well-established ski infrastructure in place, and there are Alpine Cottages and resorts that offer a comfortable stay. Whether you are an avid skier, want to learn skiing (training courses are offered in Auli), or want to simply enjoy the snow-capped Garhwal peaks, Auli offers you all of those options.
Sikkim is perhaps one of the most underrated tourist destinations of India. However, people that do visit Sikkim head to the state capital – Gangtok. While Gangtok itself does not see much snow, one can take day trips to surrounding places such as Tsongmo Lake and NathuLa Pass to see some snow. Another landmark experience is a drive to Gurudongmar Lake which is closer to the border. These destinations are normally the most visited places in Sikkim, and the months of January to March are the best (and coldest) times to catch snow at all those lakes and high passes.
Perhaps the most remote of all destinations mentioned here, Arunachal Pradesh is a challenging place to visit. There is simply very little infrastructure in place to really travel freely across the state. But there are increasing number of tourists across India who do make trips to Arunachal, and one place they all visit is the Sela Pass. This scenic high altitude mountain pass (13700 feet) connects Tawang to the rest of India. One can witness snow at Sela Pass from November to May. As of 2016, you need an inner line permit to visit Arunachal Pradesh, so make sure to get it in advance.