Venture to the high-altitude hill and mountain regions of India and you will discover, hidden amongst vertiginous peaks and dense, lush forests, an array of exquisite hill stations. Historically, these elevated resorts served as a respite from the sweltering summer heat during the rule of the British Raj. With a much cooler climate than the rest of the country, these peaceful towns were as close to a British environment as could be found in India and were seen as areas where one could relax and recuperate amongst the tranquillity of nature. Today, these hill stations are a delight to visit; often reached by cheerful toy trains, and offering a serene pace of life married with impossibly beautiful scenery. Read on to discover more about five of India's most renowned hill stations…
Possibly the most iconic hill station in all of India, Shimla is found nestled amongst the foothills of the Himalayas, in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. After its 'discovery' by the British in 1817, gleaming reports of its beauty and favourable climate soon spread, and by the 1830s Shimla was the most fashionable summer resort in India. It came as little surprise then when, in 1864, the Government of India declared Shimla their official headquarters during the hot season.
Today Shimla is still a special place to visit, boasting wonderful views across the surrounding Himalayas, old world allure and incredible man-made marvels such as the Viceregal Lodge, the single most impressive colonial monument in the town. Built to house the government, which it did until the 1940s, the ornate building is the only one in Shimla to occupy a hill all of its own.
The journey to Shimla is just as remarkable. The Shivalik Express is an extraordinary feat of engineering and a UNESCO-listed mountain railway which runs from Kalka to Shimla. During the leisurely climb into the mountains, there is plenty of time to sit, in stunned silence probably, as the mighty Himalayas roll by your window.
Found in the Nilgiri Hills in rural southern India, Ooty (short for Ootacamun) was historically a weekend retreat for British colonial rulers, and the summer headquarters of the Madras Presidency. Nicknamed Queen of Hill Stations due to its mesmerising beauty, Ooty is a picturesque paradise for nature lovers. The hillsides around the town are dotted with tea plantations, and occasional colonial mansions set in generous grounds overlooking their estate and sprawling plantations. The region has been producing tea for over 100 years, and the local tea is known for its dark, aromatic varieties.
The Government Botanical Gardens, one of the oldest of its kind in India, can be found in Ooty. Laid out in 1847, the pretty botanical gardens are set out over approximately 22 hectares and are home to beautifully manicured lawns, a myriad of exotic flora and a spectacular 20 million-year-old fossilised tree.
Reached by one of the world's steepest rack-and-pinion railways on a route established over a century ago, Coonoor is the smaller and somewhat quieter, though no less enchanting, sibling of Ooty - known for its spectacular tea gardens and factories, beautiful native wildflowers and a plethora of rare and exotic birds.
Sitting high in the undulating Nilgiri Hills overlooking the vast verdant landscapes of southern India, a visit to Coonoor affords breathtaking panoramas across the lush greenery, valleys and waterfalls of the encompassing countryside.
Famed for centuries as a tea-growing centre, Darjeeling is quite simply one of the most magnificent hill stations in the world. Surrounded by leafy, undulating hillsides punctuated with traditional tea plantations, each filled with the remains of stunning Victorian-era colonial architecture and crowned by the majestic peaks of the Himalayas, Darjeeling is a diverse destination filled with unique culture. Here, British style public schools sit alongside Buddhist monasteries, and a rich history intertwined with that of Nepal results in a destination that is culturally diverse and fascinating.
Darjeeling also boasts one of the most impressive mountain railways around, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which uses innovative engineering to make its steep ascent into the Himalayas.
Surrounded by misty mountains and a host of spice plantations, Thekkady is a popular tourist destination within Kerala's Periyar National Park, an area rich in biodiversity. The landscapes around Thekkady are simply unrivalled; thick jungles, beautiful, sprawling lakes and protected grasslands populated with captivating wildlife; tigers and elephants all add to the wonder of this enthralling area.
Visitors to Thekkady will find there is much to recommend it, from tours of fragrant spice or tea plantations to peaceful boat rides on Periyar Lake and fascinating visits to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve.