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Top 10 Snow Holidays in India

1. Pahalgam in Jammu & Kashmir
A humble shepard's village at the confluence of two streams, 8,957ft above sea level, Pahalgam grew to become a popular tourist resort, capable of catering to thousands of visitors. All through the seventies and eighties, it was visited by hordes of pilgrims, trekkers and honeymooners, especially in the months of June and July wher Srinagar grew too hot. These days, it also plays host to tens of thousands of pilgrims to the ice-lingam in the Amarnath cave(45 kms)away for a few days in July - August. Pahalgam offers the quietest snowy escapes you could have in winter once the crowds have left. Pahalgam's most charming aspect is the long walks you can take on designated trails. You may come across Bakarwal shepherds and interesting flora. A popular trek route is to the beautiful glassy Sheshnag lake (27 kms), Chandanwari (16 kms) is the starting point of the Amarnath yatra and yields snow views. Baisaran (5kms) offers great views of snow clad mountains and forests. The ancient Mamkeshwar temple is a must see. Pahalgam also boasts a golf course.

2.Mashobra in Himachal Pradesh
The twin settlements of Mashobra and Chharabra were the first choice of British officials and their families who wanted proximity to, as well as privacy from Shimla. Two of the village's most prominent structures, The Retreat and the Wildflower hall are concrete testimonies to the turf war for power and prestige in the late 1880's between Lord Curzon the ten Viceroy of India and Lord Kitchener the Commander in chief. There isn't too much to do here in winter except stroll over to have a look at pretty old houses, soak in deodhar forests and go for long walks or drives. A right turn from the Mashobra bazaar takes you to Sunderban, property of writer Khushwant Singh's brother Gurbax Singh, where the Merchant - Ivory film The Jewel in the Crown was shot. Buy locally made jams, pickles, squashes and also take up a picnic to Craigano and Shaily peak.

3. Harsil-Gangotri, Uttarakhand
The resplendent high mountain area around Harsil (9,005ft) and Gangotri(10,000ft) is India's definative training ground for adventure. The experience of the great Himalayan range in all its glory - beautiful rivers, gushing streams, hot springs, waterfalls, forests, soaring peaks which seem to touch the heavens, green meadows and treacherous glaciers - make this area a haven for those seeking adrenalin doses. The drive to Harsil is itself a pleasure. The route which follows the Bhagirathi river from Uttarkashi is a sheer visual delight with sharp twists and turns. Harsil is thus far untouched by tourism, beacuse the majority of travellers move on the gangotri. There are plenty of good walks in this area along the river. Two kilometers from Harsil is Dharali village, from where a 7 kms trek brings you to Sattal, a group of seven lakes, set amidst beautiful sorroundings. For snow, go from mid May to October, when you cal also visit the source of the Ganga at Gangotri.

4. Darjeeling, West Bengal
On a chilly December morning, its 3 am at a point called Tiger hill in Darjeeling. A sizeable crowd has braved sleep and cold, and made its way up to the hilltop. They were here to watch the first rays of sun fall on the snow covered Kangchendzonga. A glow keeps gathering on the horizon. Then the rays gallop past the crowd onto the tall massifs, mists that had been rising from the sepths of the valley disperse and the snow of Kangchendzonga are ablaze. Silence gasps, cameras whirr, and people come out of their trance. Darjeeling is a town made for long walks. As you walk you'll come across a lot of colonial architecture. English cottages, magnificient school buildings and churches. Chowrasta the main square is lined with shops, restaurants and hawkers. Pony wallahs will let children canter around. Catch a bit of shopping, explore the tea estates and monasteries, ride the tiny steam engine pulled toy train or just soak in sublime views.

5. Kufri, Himachal Pradesh
With its reputation for being a more reliable snow destination than Shimla, Kufri has emerged as a favoured ski resort, capturing the publicimagination with its snowy slopes, adventure sports options, sylvan views and orchards. For the active, it has a smorgasbord of offerings to choose from : Climbing Mahasu peak, skiing, trekking, tobogganing, rock climbing, while for the energy conserving kind there are peaceful walks, horse rides and temple stops. For everyone there is the good old charm of hot masala tea and pakoras among the wintery breezes to fall back on.

6. Nathula-Gangtok, Sikkim
Just two hours from the serious snow of Nathula (which sees snow all year round) and its self-importance of being at the very border of India, lies a light footed hill town that's pretty and quite uncrowded. Since you can only visit the Chinese border for a day trip, charming Gangtok is your base for visiting Nathu la and together they make a great package. To enjoy Sikkim's capital, stick to walking. The peaks change colour through the day. Enchey Monastery is situated on the upper slopes of the town. Another delight is the Himalayan Zoological Park, spread across a hill side, see the anow leopard and the red panda. The Institute of Tibetology, home to antiques, rare scriptures and thangka paintings is a must visit. Take a walk along The Ridge, visit Old Market, New Market or Lal Market for curios. For shopping there are hand carved wood choktse tables, carpets, shawls and prayer rugs. Importantly the eating in Gangtok is really good. Enjoy.

7.Thanedar, Himachal Pradesh
Thanedar at 7,300ft is famous as the place where apple cultivation began in Himachal, thanks to Samuel Stokes, the missionary who moved by the poverty he saw here, worked at growing commercially viable apple varities and helped local farmers switch to these. In March-April the orchards are covered with pink-white apple blossoms. In January the snow helps the trees bring forth next year's fruit. From its heights, Thanedar offers stunning views of the snow capped mountains to the north and the meandering Sutlej below. Visit the Paramjyoti temple on Barobagh hill and the St Mary's Church in neighbouring Kotgarh. Have a picnic on the snowy banks of the tranquil Tani Jubbar lake.

8. Narkanda, Himachal Pradesh
Near Shimla at a height of 8,884ft in the midst of hig mountains and forests is the quiet and beautiful Narkanda. 64 kms from Shimla and 406 kms from Delhi, Narkanda experiences snow in the months of December and January and Jan and Feb are the skiing months. Hatu peak 7 kms away is a hikers delight which takes you to a height of 10,827ft and can be done in a day through the tall blue pines, deodars, fir and spruce trees. The Hatu Mata temple is located on the top, and a 360 degree panoramic view of the Himalaya mountains, hills and valleys of Rohru, Theog and Shimla can be seen from here.

9. Auli, Uttarakhand
Located in the Garhwal Himalayan range in Garhwal, Auli stands majestic at a height of 9,500-10,500ft with views of snow clad peaks. 268 kms from Rishikesh and 490 kms from Delhi, Auli is known to be one of the best Ski resorts for beginners as well as advanced skiers. The season of December to March sees temp as low as -5 and the whole area is carpeted with snow.

10. Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir
Founded by the British as a Ski resort then, Gulmarg has always been popular with film makers and honeymooners. Every year the National Winter games are held here in March and also the Gulmarg Global Derby. The biggest attraction here is the Dondola cable car in two layers to reach the Mt Apharwat. Snow falls by December but the best months are January and Feburary.

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