Holidaying in the mountains in winter : A beginner’s guide

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Winter has made an early entry this year as the mountains have received the first snowfall of the season already. It is that time of the year when the snow sprinkles its magic in the mountains and one can only fall in love with the enchanted whitewashed landscapes.

Mashobra
A lovely snowy morning at Mashobra, Shimla.

It is also that time of the year when we coastal citizens get a break from the sticky burning hell and enjoy the short-lived crisp morning winter that hardly ever goes below 16 degrees C. It may not sound all that cold but that is all we get and we are grateful for it! (We have still not given up on the dream of seeing the snowfall in Mumbai. With all the drastic global warming changes our hopes have grown stronger).

Now, many of us prefer to visit the mountains in the summer because we think we cannot tolerate the extreme cold. I can totally relate as I still sometimes need sweater in Mumbai during peak winter times which is laughed upon by many of my north Indian friends. But the trick to enjoy winters in the mountains in to be completely insulated as per your threshold to the cold. My husband and I chose to spend our honeymoon in Himachal around the end of January and we survived cheerfully. It was the first time I witnessed a snowfall and the happiness was ten times of what I feel with first monsoon showers. We loved the experience so much that we visited again during last Christmas. It didn’t snow then however the cold was good enough to chill our bones. But this is what makes it so special… This is what we miss here as we never get to enjoy the winter in all its glory.

So if you are still wondering where to plan your holidays this winter – head towards the mountains! I bet you will love the experience!

Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh
During our honeymoon, as we reached Dalhousie on a cloudy winter afternoon, we were welcomed by a sudden hailstorm. We ran towards our hotel saving ourselves from the hard hitting hails. By the time we checked in, hails had stopped and it was drizzling. We were enjoying the view from our balcony when we suddenly realized it was actually snowing. The snow fall got heavier and within a few minutes everything got covered in a blanket of white fluff! Both of us were witnessing snowfall for the first time in our lives and the memory will always be close to our hearts.
Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh
Tasting a bit of magic! Clicked at Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh. The place is ethereal in white and absolutely peaceful since it is not easily reachable when it snows heavily. One has to take a longer route via Chamba to reach here from Dalhousie as opposed to the regular 22Km road.
Mashobra
Mashobra, Himachal Pradesh. Mashobra is at less than an hour’s distance from Shimla. Choosing your stays away from the heart of the popular destinations can be a good idea in many ways especially during peak tourist season.
Khajjiar
Khajjiar often referred as the Switzerland of India is a sight to behold in winter as the lush green hamlet looks enchanted in the snow. Snowy season is officially off-season here and apart from a few tea stalls you may not find any shops open. Choosing your destinations carefully can turn an ordinary looking itinerary into a completely offbeat one with the season.
winter
Things look very different in snow. Visiting the same place again in winter can be an altogether different experience. Post new year’s, it is an off-season at most of the places. This is an added advantage in case you are running short on budget. Yes, some places will look gloomy due to lack of activity but if solitude is what you want then there is no better season to be in the mountains than winter.
shimla
Avoid popular hill stations around Christmas or new year’s. They tend to get polluted, overcrowded and expensive during this time. As soon as the holidays are over they come back to life with their regular charm.

As I said earlier, to enjoy the winters in the mountains one needs to be well insulated. Don’t go by the Bollywood movies that show actresses dancing in the snow in skimpy clothes. I don’t know how they manage to shoot like that but it is highly inadvisable (more so if you are from the tropical regions).

So here are 10 tips for beginners to make the most of winter holidays in the mountains.

  1. You have to know your threshold for the cold. The easiest way of knowing this is to think of the times you feel like wearing winter wear in your own climate. Anyone with a low threshold should never step out without wearing thermals. It might look all bright and sunny when you step out but it might get overcast by the evening and you may end up shivering for the rest of the day. Wearing thermals doesn’t hurt.
Mcleodganj
Christmas eve ’17 in Mcleodganj. This was clicked around sunset at St. John in the wilderness church. We stayed back to attend the mass. As the evening progressed it started getting very chilly and we had to leave since some of us had kept our heavy jackets in the vehicle and the cold was beyond our tolerance. It was just a couple of minutes walk but by the time I grabbed my jacket my nose had gone numb. What did I learn? Things get serious with dusk in the mountains. I should too.
2. If you are expecting snow, carry waterproof jacket and shoes. Ladies, no peep toes or fancy boots from your local markets. They wont do you any good. If your shoes are not waterproof, carry plastic bags to wear over socks in case you experience snow.

3. Most of the markets, cafes and streets come to life in the evening but the temperature may drop drastically. If you are not a winter person then feel free to overdress but do not cave inside your room out of the fear of cold. 

Mcleodganj
This is us waiting for our dinner around 9PM in a restaurant with two tiny heaters. It was our first night in Mcleodganj and the outside temperature was around 2-3 degree C. We were shivering even with so much stuff on. We thought we had done a mistake by coming to Mcleodganj in winter. However the next evening, we were so much more comfortable as we explored the local market and cafes. Probably it was the hunger messing around on the first evening!
4. Pack your bag in such a way that you will be able to layer up. Layering is a great way to make sure you are comfortable all the time even during the most unpredictable weather conditions. It doesn’t mean you should skip on heavy jackets. In fact, in winters you must not skip on heavy jacket. You can travel light by layering during the day time and make use of the heavy jackets in the evening (or sooner if it snows). It may sound like carrying too many things but apart from the heavy jacket nothing really consumes much space.
Bumla pass
All layered up!!
5. While traveling with children, make sure you gain the altitude gradually since they are easily prone to altitude sickness. You can cut down your journey at a relatively low altitude place if possible. You can keep some camphor pills handy since inhaling them helps relieve altitude sickness symptoms.
travelling with children
We have done a couple of long arduous journeys with these two munchkins in the mountains and they have been absolute sport. But kids do tend to get irritated and cribby with all the road travel, motion sickness or with sudden altitude change. They may not be able to express their discomfort clearly however one can imagine how tiring long bumpy road journeys can feel to them. So it is always a good idea to break down long journeys when you travel with kids.
6. You may not sweat much in the mountains unless you do some heavy physical activity. However make sure you consume lots of fluids. You may not feel thirsty but your body needs more water in the dry cold places. 7. One of the things that I enjoy the most about spending winters in the mountains is that I can eat whatever the heck I want and digest it like a pro! No acidity or heartburn! Oh, and no guilt as well. 8. Sunburns in the snow are much more damaging due to high UV radiation reflection. Even on cloudy days, keep yourself well moisturized, protect exposed skin with a sunscreen and wear proper eye protection in the snow. 9. Things may seem to be moving really slow in the mountains. Literally. You may feel like you have been on the road forever. Be assured that it is completely normal and bound to happen. Hence plan your trip by adding considerable buffers especially if it involves long road journeys. Above all, practice patience. 
Mountain travel
While planning your mountain trips, keep at least one day (preferably the last one) spare since things may not progress as planned considering frequent landslides, poor road conditions, vehicle failures etc. If you are on a tight schedule and have a flight to catch, start your journey as early as possible. We had been in darn situations a couple of times on our return journeys and if we had not started them earlier than needed we would have surely missed our flights back home.
10. Last but not the least! Don’t pollute!! Be mindful of what actions of yours might harm the environment. Trust me, there is nothing more rewarding than enjoying a clean, serene surrounding! So be a responsible tourist and throw your garbage only when you see a dustbin. 
jungle
The least you can do is to be respectful towards the environment.

Winter and mountains may sound like an extreme combination to us tropical citizens. But with some planning, packing and perspective, you can make the most of it.So stop procrastinating and plan your winter holidays in the mountains now! Thank me later.

kufri

If you are still unsure of how to go about it feel free to contact me. I will be more than happy to help.

6 comments on “Holidaying in the mountains in winter : A beginner’s guide”

  1. Stunning pictures and such succinct, useful advice as well! I am yet to visit the northern belt of mountains but I have bookmarked this post and whenever I do, I’ll refer to this before going! Great post 🙂

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