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Visit these Indian hill stations for a memorable Christmas celebration Come winter and the snowscapes of India beckon travellers to come and experience the cold climes and their ethereal scenery. As Christmas nears, the towns and cities burst with colour against the backdrop of a snow-covered landscape. A Christmas holiday in the hills is an unforgettable experience, one that lets you feel the yuletide cheer with local cultures, delicious dishes, soulful music and a plethora of adventures. Here are some of the Indian hilly stopovers that celebrate Christmas on a grand scale.
Perched at a height of 1,525 m above sea level, on a plateau surrounded by hills, Shillong is a city of simple yet unforgettable experiences. Its quaintness and serenity transform into liveliness and spirited festivities at the time of Christmas. With the melodious tunes of Gospel music in the backdrop, the city, laden with snow, resembles a picturesque postcard. Colloquially called the 'music capital of India', Shillong comes to life during Christmas festivities when carols can be heard echoing down the streets as people welcome this blissful time of the year.
The city is decked like a bride, with yuletide decorations and Santa faces peeping from around every corner. Huge and elaborately-decorated Christmas trees are put up around the street corner and in homes, and people gather around them to exchange gifts with friends and family on Christmas day. Food is an important part of the celebrations with traditional preparations served across the city. There is a special tradition here in which different cakes are served with tea. Smoked meat, pie, puddings and vintage wine are a must-try. Some of the other authentic dishes you can try are pukhlein, dohkhleih, jadoh, tungrymbai, chowmein, momos, etc.
Nestled in the Himalayas, in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, Manali is a charming hill station. Snow-capped mountains, lofty mountain passes and quaint churches give this tiny town the allure of a fairy-tale setting. This snowy town is idyllic for a Christmas vacation. Hit the snow-covered slopes for skiing, snowboarding and heli-skiing, try sledging or a mesmeric gondola ride, there's much to do here. You can also indulge in ice skating and ice climbing. The town glows on Christmas eve, with locals decorating their homes with lights and Christmas trees. If you want to quietly soak in the festive spirit, sit by a fire and sip hot cocoa, as you see the merry-makers make their way to various musical concerts, chic cafes and eating joints. Some of the traditional delicacies to look out for are plum cakes and dry fruit cakes.
Things to do: Visit Gilgal Prayer House Church, Arcot Lutheran Church, go skiing, snowboarding, heli-skiing, sledging, gondola riding, ice skating.
Enveloped in mist, nestled within dense forests and silhouetted against snowy peaks of the mighty Himalayas, Shimla is a paradise in the hills. An ideal Christmas getaway, Shimla is dotted with rustic churches that are decked to the nines during the festival. A plethora of parties are organised all over town and local cafes and restaurants serve authentic cuisines. A speciality around this time is cake, which comes in various versions. The epicentre of the celebrations is Mall Road, which bustles with tourists and locals. Shimla's snowscape is idyllic for adventure sports and travelling on the toy train makes for an exciting experience.
Things to do: Ride in the toy train, adventure sports, stroll along Mall Road, visit Christ Church.
Nestled in the secluded mountain ranges of the Himalayas, Lansdowne, in Uttarakhand, is dotted with charming churches, overrun by flowering thickets and small ponds. Beautiful blue pine forests and thick oaks surround this hill town that is perched at an elevation of about 1,700 m above sea level. Lansdowne has many picturesque Instagrammable locations that would make any shutterbug fall in love. There are several camping opportunities here, especially beside River Kho. Tourists can also indulge in adventure sports like trekking, rappelling, cliff-jumping, etc. The Kalagarh Tiger Reserve nearby makes for an interesting detour.
Things to do: Photography, excursion to Kalagarh Tiger Reserve, camping by Kho river, visit churches.
Perched on steeply-tiered hills in the eastern Himalayas, the picturesque city of Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, is set against the backdrop of the majestic Mt Kanchenjunga (Khangchendzonga). During winters, the entire landscape is capped with snow, with the lakes freezing over. The churches are decorated to the hilt and the atmosphere is one of immense joy and festivities. Tourists can visit various churches here and partake in the merry carol-singing. Several nightclubs, restaurants and cafes host parties and Gospel-music concerts that enrich your visit. You can also indulge in local delicacies and desserts. Snowy escapades in Gangtok are known for trekking off the beaten path and exploring the mysteries of the mountains. A yak ride also makes for an exciting experience.
Things to do: Visit churches, trekking, yak riding, relish local delicacies.
The scenic valley of Gulmarg is a little piece of paradise cocooned by the mighty snow-clad mountains of the Pir Panjal range. In winter, it is transformed into a white wonderland, with skiers making a beeline for its famous slopes. A Christmas holiday in Gulmarg is idyllic for snow-lovers. It is peppered with ancient churches that hold a mass on Christmas eve. Saint Mary's Church is the most popular here. More like a tiny countryside chapel in appearance, this church has grey stone walls that add to its vintage look. It looks scintillating during Christmas, especially when it is laden with snow. The church is counted among the top attractions of Gulmarg and is also one of the most peaceful places in the town. Its wooden walls are beautifully decorated and the roof boasts green tiles. There are frescoes inside, which depict scenes from the Holy Bible. When observed from a distance, its charm is unparalleled and the stained glass artwork stands out for its beauty. At night, the church is almost akin to a beacon of hope, illuminated by strings of multi-coloured lights.
Tourists can also experience various adventure sports that Gulmarg is known for. Snowboarding, heli-skiing (skiing down a mountain after being taken up by a helicopter), off-piste skiing (skiing on unconventional ski runs), etc., are some of the popular options.
Gulmarg lies in the lap of the towering Apharwat peak, which is accessible via the Gulmarg Gondola – the second-highest cable car ride in the world. A ride on this gondola is a unique experience as it glides above hills and valleys and seems to gets lost in mist and clouds!
Things to do: Visiting Saint Mary's Church, snowboarding, heli-skiing, off-piste skiing, gondola riding, etc.