The perks of road trips are many: great views, the chatter of friends and family, the meditative silence of empty stretches of road, and the unplanned surprises that often become the most cherished of memories. Hitting the road is an especially great way to explore a country like India, where unexpected discoveries await every few kilometres. Motor along snowy paths from Dalhousie to Manali in Himachal Pradesh, roll past manicured tea plantations in south India, or go beach-hopping from Mumbai to Arambol in Goa. The drives we’ve listed can be done throughout the year, except in the peak of winter. Durations mentioned are for leisurely itineraries that include stopovers.
A trip to Valparai is best enjoyed by staying at a bungalow in one of the many picturesque tea gardens in the area. Photo: Aditi Das Patnaik/Flickr/Getty Images
Duration: 5-8 days
The Western Ghats chip and chop the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, punctuating the journey with evergreen forests, dense mists, tea plantations, and waterfalls. Driving through them, one realises it’s not the destination that’s important but the journey. The jungles change colours, and dry deciduous canopies are transformed into tropical forests. Biodiversity hotspots along the way are the habitat of endangered species like the lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri tahr, and the elusive leopard. –Lakshmi Sharath
Duration: 5 days
The Himalayas hold some of the most beautiful drives in the country and this lesser-known route in Himachal Pradesh is among its finest. It’s a beautiful route that goes from Dalhousie to Manali over the Sach and the Rohtang Passes through varying scenery and often challenging roads. The drive from Dalhousie to Chamba via Kajjiar (77km) is easy enough since it is a well-trodden tourist circuit. Pro tip: There is a PWD guesthouse in Bairagarh. Staying in this town allows acclimatisation and the chance to attempt the Sach Pass early in the morning when views are at their best. –Rishad Saam Mehta
This route may be a little tricky, but the best part is that falling on sand doesn’t really hurt. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar
Duration: 4 days
As you trace border roads heading to the Sam sand dunes in Rajasthan, be sure to make the trip to Longewala, the site of a famous battle during the Indo-Pak War in 1971. The sight of soldiers manning their posts is humbling as is the plaque that details the war when Pakistani soldiers decided to grab a fistful of Indian soil. There are a few camps that you can choose to stay over at along the way in the desert and there are some old havelis as well. –Debabrata Sarkar
Duration: Half a day
Harsil, a town in Uttarakhand, is a superb 35km-drive to Gangotri. The entire road might not be motorable in winter (until around February) but with snow chains, you can go further. Do keep in mind that the road is very narrow and the falls are sheer. But it is a fabulous sight to see the conifers draped in white and icicles hanging off pine needles. –Rishad Saam Mehta
Duration: 3 days
It’s possibly the most popular route for holidaymakers, and a guaranteed hit with Goa as the final destination. Keep a couple of days in hand to explore the route through coastal Maharashtra. The combination of small hills and golden beaches, with a healthy dose of creeks tearing into the coastline will give you plenty of opportunities to stop, stare, and take photos. It’s a slightly difficult road to follow with intermittent cellphone signal, few legible road signs, and even fewer people to get directions from. –Debabrata Sarkar
Duration: About a day depending on whether there are landslides or not
The wonder of the Hindustan Tibet Road, which runs from modern-day Punjab to the Indo-Tibet border, is that it was conceived as a walking track when it was built in the 19th century. There are gentle inclines and the average height of the road is low. This is why the road hardly becomes impassable, even though it is bitterly cold (-20°C in winter) in the part that winds through the high-altitude desert of Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. The road from Pooh to Tabo is a 100km-drive with spectacular views, especially in the colder months. Pass stunning frozen waterfalls and see sights that people won’t believe unless you show them pictures. –Rishad Saam Mehta
“Krishna’s butter ball” at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. Photo: Alvaro Leiva/Dinodia
Duration: 11 days
A heritage tour through Tamil Nadu can be wonderfully fun for all three generations of the family. Begin in Chennai, where you can visit Santhome Basilica and St. Mary’s Church. Punctuate the visits with food breaks at the many messes that serve excellent vadai and filter coffee. Drive onward to Mahabalipuram and then to Puducherry along a picturesque coast-hugging road. Stay two nights in a boutique bungalow hotel in Puducherry’s French Quarter. Visit the Aurobindo Ashram, stock up on sumptuous cheeses from Hotel Mango Hill and the Sun Farm, and try soft adventure activities on the beach. Stop by the temples in Thanjavur before ending your trip at beautiful Rameshwaram. –Reshma Krishnan Barshikar
The road to Sonamarg in April. Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta
Duration: 1 day
The town of Sonamarg in Jammu and Kashmir is just below mighty Zojila Pass, perched at 10,000ft and snowbound until the middle of April.
Sonamarg is just a 3-hour drive from Srinagar and the last 20-odd kilometers are absolutely spectacular, with the entire region full of snow and the road just a ribbon of black.
If you’re making the trip in winter, watch out for thin ice on the surface at some places. –Rishad Saam Mehta
Heading from Mysore in Karnataka to Ooty in Tamil Nadu is quite common, but not many exit Mysore via the Chamunda hills for Ooty via Masinagudi. The incredible ride through Bandipur and Mudumalai wildlife reserves is absolutely breathtaking, with herds of deer grazing not too far from the road, monkeys creating the usual chaos and, if you are lucky, a few elephants ambling in the forest. The really lucky ones spot leopards hanging off tree branches. –Debabrata Sarkar
Manali-Leh is on every biker’s to-do list. Photo: Debabrata Sarkar
You can’t leave this one out of any list of road trips—especially if you’re a motorcycle enthusiast. Being exposed to the elements, the exhaustion, and the views on the ride from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Kashmir is an epic experience.
The fact that Manali—and gradually, even Leh—are becoming more commercial and touristy makes you cherish this route all the more. The mountains, thankfully, with their many wind-carved minarets, stand just as they did many years ago, and simply being in their midst is a special feeling. –Debabrata Sarkar
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