Wetter is better: 9 reasons India is best in the monsoon
When it's time for the summer monsoon in India, tourists empty out. That's the time for you to get in.
India during the summer rainy season between June and September feels like a whole other place.
After months of hot, moist air from the Indian Ocean blowing across the country, building sweltering conditions, people get irritable and lethargic in the oppressive heat. They can't wait for the skies to open for the downpours.
When the monsoon finally arrives, it is a welcome and grand spectacle.
If you are near the sea, you can watch the monsoon approach over the ocean.
First, a ferocious wind blows up. The sky and the sea turn different shades of blue and grey. Clouds roll rapidly across the skies. An expectant hush falls.
Then the storm bursts. People can be seen dancing on the streets, faces turned towards the sky, hands outstretched, enacting their own personal Bollywood rain scene.
The monsoon in India is believed to cleanse the earth and its people. It is also key to India's agriculture economy, boosting the growth of crops and driving stock markets.
Apart from bringing down temperatures, the monsoon also lowers room rates for travelers, turning India into a great off-season destination.
You've just got to endure getting a tiny bit wet.
1. Storm out impurities
Ayurveda experts say the monsoon in India is the best time for treatments. The rainy season aids in bringing balance back to the body.
Monsoon therapy is the fastest-growing segment in health tourism, particularly in Kerala, the home of ayurveda. Herbs and medicinal plants bloom during the monsoon season.
Opt for a general massage or go all out and get the Panchkarma (a highly personalized treatment) or Sukha Chikitsa (an elaborate session over several days that detoxifies and reactivates tired cells).
Check out Vaidyaratnam P. S. Varier's Arya Vaidya Sala, Kerala. One of the oldest and most renowned, this is a no-frills place for aficionados who take ayurvedic treatments very seriously.
If you want some creature comforts while detoxing, try Uday Samudra Beach Hotel Kovalam, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Or combine ayurveda treatments with yoga at the seaside retreat, Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort, Kovalam.
2. Monsoon in a teacup
From July to September, it's high cropping time at Darjeeling's tea estates when the hillsides look fresh and green.
Early morning fog covers Darjeeling in a beautiful haze and gives it a mysterious quality.
There's a splendid high tea place called Glenary's Bakery & Café, an elegant restaurant that's great for a bite and a cuppa.
A tour with the Darjeeling Heritage Walks will get you quickly acquainted with Darjeeling’s history, culture, food and people.
Also on CNNGo: Unusual monsoon getaways within Mumbai
3. A quieter Goa
The flea markets and crowds are gone. Goa in the monsoon means lower prices, long rides on motorbikes with the risk of getting soaked, watermelon pink sunsets, unpopulated beaches and lots of festivals.
Young men in laurel crowns jump into wells during the Feast of St. John (the São João festival) in June. It celebrates the arrival of the monsoon in India and filling of wells in Goa.
During the Feast of St. Peter, Goa’s fishing community constructs makeshift stages from boats tied together to form rafts. Miniature models of churches are erected on these floating platforms. Tiatrs (local theater), folk dances and music are also performed on these water stages.
Divar Island holds the popular Bonderam Festival on the fourth Saturday of August when locals recreate past disputes between sections of the village -- much like the Montagues and Capulets -- in good humor.
Held on August 10 all over Goa, the Feast of St. Lawrence marks the end of the monsoon and the reopening of sandbars to river traffic in the Mandovi.
As for Goa's famed seafood, unfortunately fishing boats cannot go out during the monsoon. Local restaurants buy fish in advance, sun-dry them and store in airtight tins with mango leaves. Pick any café and curl up with a book, a glass of feni (a spirit made from coconuts or cashew apples), some molho (pickled seafood) and dried fish.
4. Romancing the rains in Mumbai
One traveler's bad weather is another's miracle -- Mumbai's monsoon tourism is boosted by visitors from the Arabian Peninsula who escape their arid homes to marvel at India's heavy downpours.
Sure, the city usually gets flooded a couple of times during the rains, but Mumbaikars and their Arab visitors don't let a monsoon get in the way of their parade.
The whole city becomes a wet playground. People succumb to monsoon mania and flock to seaside promenades to watch the monstrous 10-meter-high waves splash over the sea walls, drenching them.
A more composed way to enjoy Mumbai in the rain is to draw inspiration from Bollywood. The films have capture the romance of the monsoon in India so well that it has become the iconic image of rain for the country.
Take cover under a big black umbrella like Raj Kapoor and Nargis in "Shri 420" and walk down the promenades of Marine Drive or Worli Seaface. Drink cups of hot chai, roast groundnuts or roast corn-on-the-cob slicked with lime from roadside vendors.
Go posh and have a lazy afternoon at Taj Mahal’s Sea Lounge with a high tea. It's the best place to watch a rain-lashed Arabian Ocean and anchored boats in the Gateway of India harbor -- as well as to watch high society.
5. Biodiversity in the Western Ghats
Head for the Western Ghats where the rains are considered the best time to enjoy the beauty of these rolling hills.
Formerly barren slopes transform into blooming green hills, with silver waterfalls gushing out amongst them.
The Ghats are recognized as one of the world's eight hottest hot spots of biological diversity and contains a large proportion of India's plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Some 39 sites in the Ghats are now on the UNESCO World Heritage list and scientists recently discovered a species of frog here which has been around since the dinosaurs.
During the monsoon, pink-legged European flamingos fly here to breed in the marshy waters of Pimpalgaon Joge Dam, escaping the harsh winters in their homelands.
A trek to Konkan Kada, the highest cliff wall at more than 600 meters in the Sahyadri mountains, is unique for its concave shape carved by winds.
6. A royal monsoon showcase
That India's royalty was smitten by the monsoon is evident from the many special palaces they built to highlight the splendor of the weather.
Walk in the footsteps of royalty at the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan. You might recognize it from the James Bond flick "Octopussy." Built in the 17th century, it is now a much-awarded hotel. During the monsoon in India, special promotions mean rooms go for nearly half the usual rate.
But the best place for the rains is the hilltop fort of Mandu in Madhya Pradesh. Perched high on the hills of Vindhya, Mandu has many pavilions for watching the rains fall over hills.
Mughal emperor Jahangir was an admirer: “I know of no other place that is so pleasant in climate and with such attractive scenery as Mandu in the rainy season."
The fortified city is dotted with countless bodies of water that fill up in the rains and reflect the ancient monuments. It was the perfect setting for the doomed lovers Sultan Baz Bahadur, a 16th century poet-prince, and Roopmati, a singer.
The romance ended in tragedy when Mughals captured Mandu and spread a rumor of Bahadur's death on the battlefield. Roopmati committed suicide after hearing the news.
Locals say you can hear her lyrical voice floating over the lakes surrounding Roopmati Pavilion.
7. Stay in a tree house
Get closer to the rain clouds by climbing up to a tree house.
Perched above a rainforest canopy, 30 meters from the floor, is Vythiri Resort in Wayanad.
Mornings are spent bird-watching at the tree houses. The jungle's most distinctive inhabitant is the Wayanad laughing thrush with its mirth-filled call.
For the rest of the day, trekking with a naturalist guide through the rainforest is the thing to do here and treks are on the house.
In July, Wayanad's tourism department holds Splash 2012, a monsoon carnival, at Kalpetta. Highlights include local sports like vadamvali (tug-of-war), kabaddi (a team game similar to "tag"), archery, slow cycle races, crab tours, rock climbing, marathons, rafting and mud football.
8. Superlatively wet
Every year, Mawsynram in northeast India competes for the title of "wettest place on Earth" with its neighbor and former champion, Cherrapunji.
Mawsynram is now said to hold the record for highest annual rainfall in the world at 11,872 millimeters.
While you are there, use one of the jingkieng deingjris -- a living bridge made of manipulated roots of the rubber tree and which takes about two decades to grow and become fully useable. Locals use this to cross turbulent streams during the monsoon in India.
9. French, even in the monsoon
Formerly a French colonial outpost, Puducherry (previously Pondicherry) is St. Tropez-meets-India and it comes complete with intermittent showers.
During the monsoon, the rain here is not incessant. You can catch the sun often.
Start the day by the sea with croissant and coffee at Le Cafe. Take a ferry ride to Paradise Beach; visit Auroville with its population of 50,000 people from around 45 countries; hire a bicycle from the Park Guest House and explore.
The pace in Puducherry is more French Riviera than big city. The food is a bit Creole-influenced. The drink is vin rouge.