“Winter is coming”, said often by the characters in the widely popular TV show, Game of thrones, is a remark made in great fear and preparation for the unknown and possibly dangerous future. But that’s medieval earth. In current times, we don’t hibernate in the cold, we get out to explore winter destinations in india that become even more enchanting with fallen leaves, snowfall and fauna at their misty best.
1) Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh
Namdapha is one of the largest biodiversity hotspots in the Eastern Himalayas and among the most enchanting forests in Arunachal Pradesh. It is surrounded in the south and east by the Patkai hills and in the north by high mountain passes and peaks of the Himalaya.
The evergreen rainforests are covered by evergreen rainforests in the lowlands, subtropical and temperate forest in mid elevation and rhododendron and sub alpine meadows. Bamboo forests and canebrakes are common, often in impenetrable thickets in the valleys and along stream beds.
Namdapha is to be explored on foot with an experienced Lisu guide. About a hundred mammal species, from the conspicuous hoolock gibbon to the elusive spotted linsang are found here. Namdapha is the only park in India, and probably the world, with four large cat species – tiger, leopard, clouded leopard and snow leopard. At least 500 species of birds can be seen in Namdapha, including global rarities like the Snowy-throated Babbler, White-bellied Heron, Rufous-necked Hornbill and Ward’s Trogon.
The best time to visit Namdapha is November to March.
Skiing is the best way to enjoy freezing winters and snow. Lesser known than Shimla, Gulmarg or Manali, Auli is gearing up to be one of the best ski resorts in the country. Situated amidst the mighty Himalayas, the slopes offer ski options for both the novice and the professional skier. Auli also has Asia’s longest cable car – the gondola.
Best time to visit is last week of Jan to first week of March for skiing.
Situated among hills, Shillong the capital of Meghalaya, throbs with life from dawn to dusk. Narrow hill roads bordered by tall pine trees and cottages made of wood. The city, which is referred to as the “Scotland of the East” due to its striking similarity with the Scottish highlands derives its name from ‘Leishyllong’-the supreme power or God who is believed to reside on Shillong peak. Shillong is abound in waterfalls, from the Crinoline Falls, the two Gunner’s Falls, Spread Eagle, Elephant Gait and Elephant Falls, Beadon and Sweet Falls. Winters is the best time to witness the clear blue skies in the backdrop of the mountains.
Karnala, located in the Western Ghats, is surrounded by many hills and is a trekker’s paradise. It has a protected wildlife park on the Konkan coast and is sanctuary to over 150 resident bird species.
Winter welcomes as many as 37 species of migratory birds as they flock to Karnala – the ashy minivet, red-breasted flycatcher, blackbird, black-headed cuckoo-shrike, blue-throat, the blue-headed rock thrush and many others. The four-horned antelope, wild boar, common langur, are amongst the commonly seen wildlife at Karnala Bird Sanctuary.
5) Pench National Park
Situated on the border of Madhya Pradesh and adjoining Maharashtra, the Pench National Park is well-known for the abundance of flora and fauna found within the park. Spread over 758 sq.kms of tropical moist deciduous forest, Pench is one of the most accessible tiger reserves in the country and with 55 tigers, sightings are also common. A number of other endangered species including the Indian wild dog, the wild pig, nilgai, chital, muntjac, gaur, the four-horned antelope have made it their habitat. This is also the hunting ground for crocodiles and turtles.
The Reserve is located in the southern part of the Satpura hill range in the Seoni and Chhindwara districts in Madhya Pradesh and is open to visitors from early November to end June each year and closed during the rainy season (July- October). With harsh summers, the best time to enjoy is during winters.
Explore the ruins and the abundant boulders of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hampi. The terrain is scattered with numerous boulders along the Tungbhadra river, also known as Pampa. Amidst the mounds of the boulders peak the ruins of the erstwhile flourishing kingdom of Vijayanagar.
Apart from its historical significance, Hampi is also a revered religious spot; it is believed to be the birth place of Hanuman – the mythological city of Kishkindha. Since Hampi is best explored on foot or on bike, winter is a pleasant time to visit.
Pangot is a picturesque hill station located about 13 km from Nainital in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. The pleasant climate, scenic landscape and laidback charm of Pangot make it an ideal place for tourists. Tourists flock to Pangot in the winter months to experience snowfall.
A birdwatcher’s paradise, Pangot is 15 kms from Nainital and the drive is through the bird habitats of Cheena Peak range forests via Snow View Point and Kilbury. Almost 2000 bird species have been recorded at Pangot and its surrounding areas. Corbett National Park is situated just a few kilometres from Pangot.
Several stunning lakes such as Naini Tal, Saat Tal, Naukuchia Tal,etc. surround Pangot.
What appears as an endless desert plain running dead straight for the horizon, is in fact virtually ‘a seasonal island’ resembling a “Katchua or Kachbo” meaning tortoise, surrounded by seawater.
The Kutch landscape is flat and dry, but one finds villages dotting the entire dramatic, inhospitable landscape. The history of Kutch goes back to 3000 BC with the discovery of the traces of the Indus Valley civilization and even today, one can find various nomadic, semi nomadic and artisan groups living in Kutch, who produce some of India’s finest folk textiles, glittering with exquisite embroidery and mirror work.
The district is also famous for Banni grasslands with their seasonal marshy wetlands which form the outer belt of the Rann of Kutch. Kachchh District is surrounded by the Gulf of Kachchh and the Arabian Sea by the south and west, while northern and eastern parts are surrounded by the Great and Small Rann (seasonal wetlands) of Kachchh. Migratory birds deem it an abode during diverse weather conditions. The Little Rann Of Kutch well known as The Wild Ass Sanctuary,is the largest wildlife sanctuary in India and the last abode of the endangered Wild Ass.
The best time to visit this place would be between November and March.
9) Lake Chilka
Chilka Lake is the biggest lake in India and a delight for avid bird watchers. It is a blackish water lagoon located at the mouth of Daya River in Orissa and spreads over Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts. This water body is the home to migratory birds coming in from Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea and other remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and Southeast Asia, Ladakh and Himalayas, Sibreia and Iran during winter season. There are many species of plants and animals found in the lake and the surrounding areas. Around 160 species of migratory birds have been recorded here during winter season.
Kichan is not a sanctuary or a national park, yet the number of winged guests found here can far outnumber those found anywhere else. The Demoiselle Cranes are the favoured visitor to this sanctuary and the Eurasian Cranes flock in large numbers to Khichan beginning August.
A few years ago, locals started the practice of feeding the birds. This attracted a large number of the cranes and year on year the number has grown upto 9000. The villagers adore the birds for their apparent vegetarianism and their practice of monogamy. Today, on an average, the birds consume upto 500 kgs of feed on a single day itself.
Witness the organised and natural feeding done by the village community, twice a day during the birds’ entire sojourn to the town in the months of August to March, with November to February being the peak season.
Images are sourced from Flickr on Creative Commons License – Attribution and Wikimedia Commons.
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