Monsoon’s a good time to make merry, find the fun element as you chase the rains to Mumbai, Goa, Vizag and Ooty...
When the clouds gather overhead and the weatherman predicts the shower, it’s time to smile, pack your bags and make it to the destination of your choice, even if it’s pouring buckets. Get ready for some monsoon masti and enjoy your holiday to the fullest. The flip side of vacationing when it’s raining is you don’t have to plan months in advanc, in fact, you don’t have to plan at all. With no teeming tourists to cramp your style, with deserted beaches and resorts at your disposal, holidaying in the monsoon is a steal.
Monsoon tourism is the relatively new buzzword that’s making the rounds, with the Kerala Government being one of the first to don the mantle, followed closely by the Maharashtra Tourism Corporation, which has done much in recent times to refurbish some of its more popular destinations. And, even if that is not happening, travelling during the monsoons can be totally refreshing, with India’s unsullied green landscape more than making up for any downside incidents. On that conclusive note, let’s chase the rains to Mumbai, Goa, Vizag and Ooty.
You can’t miss the Gateway of India, it’s Mumbai’s signature mark and built in the memory of the historic landing of King George 5th and Queen Mary in the early 20th Century. It occupies a strategic position past the Council Hall and towards the sea, and where most of the city’s five star hotels are located. Of course, the beaches are a must-visit, but only when it’s not raining and when the tide is low. Juhu Beach, in the northern suburbs of Mumbai, is one of the most popular places for Mumbaikers to hang out in. It’s ideal for bathing and picnicking and is in the vicinity of the domestic and international aiports.Chowpatti Beach, which is located between Malabar Hill and Marine Drive used to once be the hub for political meetings during the days of the freedom struggle. Today, it is also one of Mumbai’s favoured joints, where Mumbai’s jaanta gathers to gorge on bhel puri and other goodies. Marine Drive is another major attraction of Mumbai, and this beach stretches from Nariman Point to Malabar Hill, with tall buildings on one side. This beach is called Queen's Necklace on account of the myriad lights that illuminate the stretch at night, giving it the impression of a royal necklace. Nearby Marine Drive, Malabar Hill extends to the northern parts of the island to the southernmost points of Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Nariman Point, and Fort-all great for a long drive on a rainy day.
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park has many admirers, principally during the monsoons, when a green mantle envelops the entire park. If it’s raining and you still wish to do the rounds of Mumbai, visit the Prince of Wales Museum. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the museum is well known for its imposing architecture, drawn from the architectural styles of the 15th-16th centuries of western India. The museum houses many important collections on art, natural history and archaeology.
Located next door is the Jehangir Art Gallery, where many art and photography exhibitions are held. Other great indoor places you could visit on rainy days are the Nehru Planetarium and the Nehru Science Centre at Worli. Other interesting places to see in Mumbai are the Taraporewala Aquarium and the ISKCON temple.
You have to visit Chor Bazar, which is right next to Bhendi Bazaar. Check out the antiques and souvenirs, but be sure to identify the genuine article. Then drive down Veer Nariman Road and you’ll reach Flora Fountain, Mumbai’s busiest centre. Nearby, you will find Bombay University and the old Secretariat, both interesting buildings to see. Mumbai is also known for its shopping bazaars… The bazaars of Kalbadevi and Bhuleshwar, north of Crawford market are the major shopping spots visited by tourists as well as by the locals. Other shopping areas include Mangaldas Market and Zaveri.
If you’re comfortable with a day-trip from Mumbai, then visit Tungareshwar, a wonderful hill-station located on the Mumbai- Ahmedabad highway. Monsoons are an ideal time to see this place, which has a fresh, clean look about it, along with the gushing, nearby Tungareshwar River. The hill-station gets its name from the Tungareshwar Temple which is situated at its base, amidst dense forests. Try the mithai here, they’re said to be the best, along with the hot, spicy samosas-ideal for a rainy day. Mahabaleshwar takes on a different shade during the rains, it’s even more attractive now than at other times. At 1,372m above sea level, Mahabaleshwar is one of Maharashtra’s favoured hill-stations, and it’s just about 247km from Mumbai. There’s plenty to do and see here-the old buildings, fort and church are worthy of a visit.
Alibaug is just 108km from Mumbai, its beaches, forts and the entire town is awash and green in this season. The place abounds in coconut, mango and areca trees, which makes the atmosphere refreshing. And watching the rains from a shack alongside the beach is a new experience altogether. Who hasn’t heard of Lonavla and Khandala, Mumbaikers’ favourite getaway destinations? Located about 600m above sea level in the Western Ghats, on the Mumbai-Pune Highway these hill-stations are at their greenest best during the monsoons, with waterfalls rushing down steep ravines and the gentle mists in the valley.
If you have enjoyed Goa in summer and during it’s peak season, then enjoy it during the rains-it’s truly spectacular. And, when it comes with package tours at half the rate, accommodation available almost wherever you want, then it gets even more spectacular.
Avail of the advantages offered by the state-run Tourism Development Corporation’s hotels as well as other hotels- almost all of them offer the monsoon package at almost half the seasonal price. Many estate owners in Goa have started providing lodging and catering facilities as well.
There’s so much to do and see in Goa even if it’s raining. For starters, you could walk along the beach in the light drizzle and take in the fresh monsoon breeze, the roar of the sea and the palm trees swaying around you, but if that doesn’t give you a high do the laid back thing. Sit back in your shack or hotel overlooking the sea with your glass of feni and a plateful of your favourite sea food and enjoy the sights and sound of rain.
Or take a trip to Panaji and visit some of Goa’s well known and most regal buildings namely, St. Cajetan's Church, Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate, Secretariat's Building, Se Cathedral; Asia's largest Church and Basillica of Bom Jesus (infant Jesus or Good Jesus). The interiors of the Basillica are superb, with their display of architectural pieces in wood, stone, gold and granite.
Then there are the museums , which are worth a visit-Rachel Museum of Christian Art, as well as the Kerkar Art Complex and the Cocoon Art Gallery. And of course, the grand Aguada Fort is not to be missed. Also, visit some of the well known temples in Goa namely, Shree Mahalaxmi Temple, Shree Bhagwati Temple, Shree Hanuman Temple and Damodar Temple. One holy spot you must is the Safa Shahouri Masjid.
Do some shopping at Mafusa and Anjuna when it isn’t coming down heavily.
But Goa in the monsoons is sheer magic. On the west is the splendid coastline, with its beaches, while on its east is the raw beauty of the Western ghats. Goa’s mountains have a thick cover of evergreen forests that extend over 50 per cent of its area. But it’s the hinterland that is well worth discovering at monsoon time, especially the Madgaon-Londa section, which is best done by train, since it offers unrestricted and spell- binding views of the landscape. You can take a ride on any one of the numerous trains available in this sector-Goa Express, Amaravati Express, Vasco-Yeshwantpur bi-weekly Express and the Vasco-Chennai weekly Express.
Watch the magnificent Dudhsagar Falls on the Goa-Karnataka border. The falls drop from a height of 600m from the Deccan Plateau and through a sheer vertical drop off a cliff, to enter the coastal region. The entire stretch between Kulem in Goa and Castlerock in Karnataka, is outstanding during the monsoon. Gushing streams every few metres, green mountains topped by clouds-all this can be enjoyed from the coach window.
Fort Aguada is a beautiful sight with its lush greenery all around, and nearby, there is a lighthouse comprising four floors. There’s a narrow passage that leads to the top, from where spectacular views are to be had.
Visakhapatnam ( Vizag )
Vizag during the rains could be daunting, but when there’s a brief letup in between, head out to the many interesting tourist places in Vizag, right from the temples and Buddhist sites to the beaches and natural spots.
Rushikonda is barely 8km from Vizag and the ideal tourist setting, with sun (when its not raining ), sand and sea, with charming cottages on the hills around. There’s a bar-cum-restaurant attached to the cottages, where you can watch the rain as you sip your favourite drink.
The 25km stretch of road that hugs the coastline from Visakhapatnam is called Bhemunipatnam and it is incredibly beautiful. Catch the unique formation of red sand on this stretch of unending beach. Drive into Bheemli, a laidback little colonial town at the mouth of the River Gosthani. There are temples here, old churches, a clock tower and lighthouse and pilgrimage centres worth a visit.
Vizag’s most prominent landmark is Dolphin’s Nose that is a huge hillock of more than 350m high and resembles a dolphin’s nose. It protects the Visakhapatnam harbour and the Headquarters of Eastern Naval Command. The lighthouse located on top of the hill guides all approaching ships to the port city. The three hills in Vizag, Ross Hill, the highest mountain, Darga konda, with a mosque atop it and Sri Venkateswarakonda, which has a temple on top.
Ramakrishna Beach is one of Vizag’s most popular beaches and gets its name from the Ramakrishna Mission. The Submarine museum, Visakha Museum, the Aquarium, parks, a War Memorial-all these are situated on this beach.
Kailasagiri Park is located atop a hill at a height of 130m and faces the Bay of Bengal. The idols of Shiva and Parvati are lodged here, and you can see the entire city from this strategic point. You can drive uphill or climb up the steps when it is not raining. At night, the entire area is lit up and can be seen from any part of the city. The food court, jungle trail, telescopic viewpoint, the ropeway to the hill, an art gallery and a capsule lift to the topmost point of the hill are all enjoyable features.
Or visit Simhachalam, an exquisitely sculpted temple, about 16km from Vizag, and set amidst densely forested hills.There is a 16-pillared natya mantapa ( dance platform) and a 96-pillared kalyana mantapa (wedding podium) which is architecturally brilliant.
Araku Valley, located about 112km from Vizag, is a prominent tourist destination and is a popular hill-station, with its scenic gardens, lush valleys, waterfalls and streams. It’s altitude at over 3200ft makes it highly conducive for tourists, weather-wise, while The Botanical Garden at Padmapuram and the government-owned silk farm are places of interest. There’s a Tribal Museum here which is a great attraction and showcases the culture and tradition of the various ethnic tribes who live here.
How can you not visit the famous Borra Caves? Just 90km from Vizag and on the way to Araku Valley, the Borra Caves go back a million years, to their spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations, with their intricate designs resembling mythological characters. Discovered in the early 19th century, the caves are set amidst beautiful hills and valleys, with the river Gostani flowing nearby. Local fable has it that the caves were discovered when a cow fell into the caves through a hole in the cave.
Ooty ( Udagamandalam )
India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, christened it the “Queen of Hill Stations” and many years down the line, Ooty still retains that title,’ even though its 36sqkm area is dotted with many tall buildings, the inevitable result of economic prosperity. Located at an altitude of 2,240m above sea level, Ooty attracts visitors from home and abroad. The British connection is visible in the hand-rolled cigars and the chocolate and cheese that are available here.You also have the popular derby, and 'hunt,' both annual features in Ooty.
Ooty’s forte is its breathtaking landscape, with its variegated vegetation, its gurgling streams and tea gardens. And none of this changes when it rains here, if anything, it gets more breathtaking, the green gets greener and the mist which envelops the hills lends it an added mystique. The perennial attraction has always been the quaint and utterly charming mountain train on its old ratchet and pinion track, winding its way through verdant hillsides, deep ravines, tea gardens and hair-raising curves and bends. From Kallar, near Mettupalayam, from where the train starts, to Coonoor, the journey is unbelievably spectacular.
Here are some of Ooty’s best sightseeing areas-the Avalanche, the Western Catchment, the Government Botanical Garden, St Stephen’s Church, Elk Hill, Dodabetta, which is 2,592m above sea level, Snowden Peak on the Kotagiri road from where you can see the whole of Mysore, the famous man-made lake, Wenlock Downs, Parson’s Valley, Kalhatty Falls and Glenmorgan. The Mudhumalai Sanctuary is close by, just 36km away from Ooty.
Avalanche, which is only 28km from Ooty is a beautiful lake, set amidst dense sholas (leguminous plants). The Western Catchment, which is 20km from Parson’s Valley, is a grassy area, which is peppered with sholas in valleys and low-lying areas. Glenmorgan, which is 17km from Ooty, has a hauling machine that transports staff from the Electricity Board to the Singara power house, and you can take a ride on this winch and enjoy the fantastic landscape as it glides along the hill slopes.
Take a trip to the famous Botanical Gardens that exist since mid-nineteenth century. The sprawling 55-acre lawns are exceptionally well maintained and have such ancient trees such as the cork tree, the paper bark tree and even a monkey puzzle tree. You can even see a 20 million year old fosssilised tree, an Italian-style garden bordering a pool, several flowering plants and bushes, plus a fern house with a humungous range of ferns and orchids. The garden falls under the aegis of the Horticulture Department of Tamil Nadu and summer festivals are held here every year. The Flower Show is especially popular and brings in many tourists.
The artificial Ooty Lake has boating facilities, a mini garden, an amusement park for kids and a toy train.
And what better way to spend indoors on a rainy day than playing snooker and billiards at the Ooty Club? It was the Brits who introduced it here and now there’s the Coonoor Club, the Gymkhana Club, the Lawley Institute, plus some deluxe hotels that provide indoor entertainment.
The Ooty Golf Course is unique, in that it has an 18-hole natural golf course at a height of 7,400ft and spans 193 acres. Word has it that if you can play to a single digit handicap on this course, then you can play under par anywhere in the world.
When the weather is pleasant, the hills make trekking and walking an absolute joy. You could choose an overnight trek or take a walk on the outskirts of the city. The western region has wonderful views, and has springs, rivers, grasslands and forests. There’s wildlife, too, comprising nilgiri, tahr and sambar deer, wild dog, elephant, panther and occasionally, tiger as well. The lower areas of the north and east are completely different, with rough, rocky terrain.
Horse racing is of course, the most popular sport in Ooty, but only in summer. The race course is about 2.4km long and is in the heart of the city.
Get your monsoon gear ready-the raincoats, the umbrellas, the boots and other accessories that you will need to have the time of your life as you chase the rains around the country.