Where to get outdoors in North India?
December 21, 2010 12:37 AM   Subscribe

We are traveling to India this January and are seeking some advice on where to go to get away from the big cities for a day or two. We have tickets for an arrival and Delhi and a departure from Mumbai and will have a total of 11 days in country. So far we have plans to explore Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Since it sounds like these places will be quite crowded with both tourists and locals, our thought was that it would be nice to get away from the teeming masses of humanity for a day or two and maybe see some nature. Where can we do this without traveling too far?

It sounds like the canonical "outdoorsy" answer for North India would be to take a trip to the hill stations. It also sounds like they would be rather cold in January. Are there any, say, famous parks near Delhi, near Mumbai, or between the two? Are there hill stations that would be reasonably pleasant this time of year? Anything offering some natural beauty would be good, really: interesting animals, great views, nifty plants, etc.
posted by epugachev to Travel & Transportation around India (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my goodness, if you're going to be near Mumbai, go to Matheran. It's a hill station that you get to by toy train, and there are no motorized vehicles allowed in the town. It's stunningly beautiful, tons of pines with hiking and incredible views. It definitely challenges your assumptions about India-- physically speaking, the landscape resembles nothing so much as New Hampshire-- but it is a unique place and a really nice contrast from the big city (I visited after living in Mumbai for a month). It's also an interesting cultural experience because it's teeming with tourists-- domestic tourists. Lots of folks from Pune, and very friendly because they're in vacation mode.
posted by threeants at 1:23 AM on December 21, 2010

On review of photographic evidence, the trees look decidedly deciduous. But the point still stands.
posted by threeants at 1:24 AM on December 21, 2010

Agreed, the cities are pretty boring to be touristing about. Be on the lookout for forts. When I visited Jaipur, I enjoyed visiting Jaigarh Fort and Amber Fort a lot more than the urban attractions. There's plenty of forts in North India and in the Sahyadri mountains near Mumbai, like Pratapgad.

Seconding threeants' suggestion of Matheran. Lonavala and Mahabaleshwar are also great hill stations in the area, though apart from the great scenery and quaintness, they didn't really impress me so much.

Since Kashmir's a dangerous area to be, the next best alternative would be snowy Shimla up north. Should be snowy there now (depending on whether you want that or not) and is one of the more popular hill stations in India.
posted by Senza Volto at 1:44 AM on December 21, 2010

We went to the Keoladeo National Park, which is a bird sanctuary not far from Agra. It has been badly affected by drought in recent years, so check before you go (we went 5 years ago and it wasn't a problem).

Birds aren't really my thing, but we needed a break from the cities, and it was perfect. Quiet, fresh air, no cars, potential for walks and really knowledgeable guides who made me a lot more excited than I ever thought I would be about birds. There's a lodge in the park where you can stay.

If I remember correctly, it's relatively easy to get to from Agra, although we went to Fathehpur Sikri first, and got the bus from there to Bharatpur. And after we left there by bus to Jaipur.

Apparently, the winter migration period is the best time to go, so you're there at the right time, if there is water.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:12 AM on December 21, 2010

When you go to Agra make sure you go to Fatehpur Sikri it's a UNESCO World Heritage site not to be missed. It's about 40km. from Agra.
Deeg is also well worth a visit as it's out of the way and not visited much by westerners.
Bharatpur is also the home of a Bird Sanctuary, here is a report from someone who visited in Nov 2009. Check it out while it lasts.
posted by adamvasco at 2:31 AM on December 21, 2010

I was coming to recommend the bird sanctuary at Bharatpur/Keoladeo. I cannot tell you how sad I am to hear about the drought. Sigh. Sigh Sigh. Also: Hampi. Don't miss Jaisalmer, tourists or no/
posted by tingting at 6:20 AM on December 21, 2010

Ah, on re-read North! India. Around Dharamsala are some lovely hikes. Especially nice if you are at all Buddhist inclined. Don't miss the Tibetan Black Bread. Mmmm
posted by tingting at 6:23 AM on December 21, 2010

Go see the Ajanta and Ellora caves. It has become more touristy over the years, but in a way that means you'll have a decent hotel and safe food options without being overrun. I recommended this to a couple who just went to India for the first time, and it was one of their favorite places.
posted by msk1985 at 7:56 AM on December 21, 2010

Seconding Matheran - or indeed anywhere in the Hills near Mumbai. Actually Matheran really is your best bet. It's close to Mumbai but totally different and you can easily spend a few days there.

The higher Himalayan Hill stations (like Shimla) can be snowy in the winter and very beautiful. But they're also a long way away and India is huge.

Ajanta and Ellora are cool too as is the near-ish-by Lonar meteror Crater. But each one takes a day and they're not really that close to Mumbai.

As for the cities - Jaipur is nice, Agra isn't and Delhi, well...it divides people, but I wouldn't spend long there. Mumbai has a certain buzz and energy - it's also worth visiting the island of Elephanta in Mumbai harbour.
posted by rhymer at 10:37 AM on December 21, 2010

Shimla and Dharamsala will be cold but will also be so totally worth it and so refreshing after Delhi/Agra/Mumbai. Go!
posted by turkeyphant at 2:18 PM on December 21, 2010

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