Where to Go This November: Our Top Travel Picks for the Month

Picturesque hill stations, thriving wetlands, and desert festivals. | By NGT Staff  
Sip on a cup of chai at a Darjeeling tea estate, while looking out at Mount Kanchenjunga. Photo courtesy Glenburn Tea Estate
Sip on a cup of chai at a Darjeeling tea estate, while looking out at Mount Kanchenjunga. Photo courtesy Glenburn Tea Estate

Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, West Bengal

A cosy boutique hotel in two colonial-style bungalows nestles on the Glenburn Tea Estate, established in 1859 by a Scottish tea company. The hotel is 36km/1hr out of Darjeeling, and Kalimpong is just a day trip away (visit on Wednesday or Saturday for the Haat Bazaar). Take a cooking class at the hotel, or the “Tea Experience,” which gives an introduction to the estate along with a visit to the plantation and tea factory. Views of the surrounding snow-clad Kanchenjunga mountain range are clearest during November. More here.

Ooty and Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu

Coll weather at the nilgiris

The cool weather of the Nilgiris lends itself to thousands of acres of tea plantations, which provide a lifeline for the locals in Ooty, Coonoor, and Kotagiri. Photo: Vivek Mathew

There are plenty of ways to enjoy the mild weather and slight nip of November around Ooty’s neat, tea-lined valleys and colonial buildings. Go boating on the lovely Ooty Lake, or enjoy the horticultural wonders of the Botanical Gardens. Established in 1848, the well-manicured gardens include a 20-million-year-old fossilised tree, a glass house, and over a thousand species of exotic flora spread around the grounds. From horticulture, turn to agriculture, with a guided walk through the Tea Factory and Museum. Visitors gain insight into the tea manufacturing process, and sample teas. From here, you can also see the Lego-like houses between acres of undulating tea plantations. Nearby Kotagiri (29km/1hr from Ooty) has beautiful hiking trails, with dramatic views of the surrounding ghats. It is also relatively free of tourists. More here.

Rajasthan

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal looms over Johari Bazaar, where stalls selling colourful joothis, bangles, and jewellery sit cheek by jowl. Photo: Nico Crisafulli/Flickr/Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

A cool breeze sweeps across the desert state and the sun shines a little more benignly in winter. Rajasthan offers a dazzling variety of activities for holidaymakers. A trip can include close encounters with India’s animal kingdom in Ranthambore and Jawai; memorable meals (camel milk ice-cream, anyone?) in Bikaner; and romantic evenings under the twinkling lights of fairytale city Udaipur. For a one-off experience, visit the famous Pushkar Camel Fair that takes place between Tue November 8–Mon November 14, 2016. Or leave civilization far behind and stay at a desert camp to experience the magical dunes. Our guide to Rajasthan’s best getaways has everything you need to plan a trip.

Chilika Lake, Odisha

Chilika Lake is known for birding, boating, fishing, and angling

There are six main islands on Odisha’s Chilika Lake, and a number of smaller ones with names like Honeymoon and Breakfast. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Spread over 1,100 sq km and three districts in Odisha, Chilika Lake is known for its boating and birding. The best time for birds is from November to March, when concentrated populations can be sighted from Mangalajodi village, Parikud Island, Bird’s Island, and Nalbana Island. Nalbana, which has birdwatching towers, is at the centre of the lake and gets submerged every year during the monsoon. As the water recedes, its mudflats attract flocks of flamingoes, pelicans, herons, egrets, and storks. When it comes to navigating the waters, there are many options. The Forest Department’s boats take visitors to Nalbana, and private or state-run operators are also available. Excursions include cruising the open waters, and visits to Kalijai Island and Rambha Bay—a cluster of small islets wedged between the southern shore of the lake and the Bay of Bengal. More here.

Rann Utsav, Dhordo, Gujarat

Rann Utsav Gujarat

The white dunes of Gujarat’s Great Rann of Kutch pop with the colours of camels decked out with intricate saddles, as they take visitors across the desert. Photo: Rann Utsav – Tent City, Dhordo – Operated By White Rann Camping and Hospitality

The Rann Utsav celebrates the blanched salt land and vibrant culture of Kutch. The Great Rann of Kutch is the largest salt marsh in the world, spread out over 7,505 sq km, but the four-month festival is clustered around Dhordo, a village that is 81km/1hr20min by road from Bhuj. Each year, luxury and standard tents are put up every year to accommodate visitors. There are tours to heritage sites, wildlife excursions, folk music performances, and stalls selling traditional Kutchi handicrafts and textiles, like handmade leather joothis. It’s a good time to plan a cultural excursion to the state. This year’s edition takes place from Tue November 1, 2016–Mon February 20, 2017. More here.

Dharamshala International Film Festival, Himachal Pradesh

The quiet spinning of prayer wheels marks time at Dharamshala, home to a strong Tibetan Buddhist community. Photo: Erik Grootscholte/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The quiet spinning of prayer wheels marks time at Dharamsala, home to a strong Tibetan Buddhist community. Photo: Erik Grootscholte/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) from Thur November 3 to Sun November 6, 2016, is a warm, inclusive experience for all who attend, and a great time to visit the misty hill station before winter sets in. DIFF was launched in 2012 in Dharamsala, to introduce international film culture and community to a Himalayan town with no cinema halls. Six films have been announced so far this year, with all filmmakers in attendance for Q&A sessions. The festival often screens films about politically motivated violence and the experience of people at the margins of society. This makes for particularly potent viewing in Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees who fled their Chinese-occupied nation after the 1959 Tibetan uprising. More here.

Surf Season

Surfers at Varkala

The beaches in and around Varkala, Kerala are great for beginner surfers. Photo: Henrik Jagels/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

India’s surf culture is making bigger waves each year, with surf schools now open in a number of places including Pondicherry, Kerala, and Karnataka. If you’re considering taking the plunge, the west coast states of Goa, Karnataka, and Kerala are prime spots for beginners from November until March. The waves aren’t too harsh, and it’s a good time to get acquainted with a surfboard in the water. Catch surfing pros in action at the India Surf Fest, which takes place from Sat November 12–Mon November 14, 2016 on the Ramachandi beach, along the Puri-Konark road in Odisha. More on surfing basics and where to sign up for lessons here.

Varanasi

Dev Deepavali in Varanasi

On Dev Deepavali, Varanasi’s ghats pulse with glowing diyas and devotees dressed in their festive best. It is believed that even the gods arrive here on this day for a dip in the Ganga. Photo: Christophe Boisvieux/Dinodia Photo Library

While most Hindus celebrate the triumph of good over evil on the new moon night of Diwali, Varanasi waits a whole fortnight to really bust out the fireworks. On the full moon 15 nights after Diwali, the holy city celebrates Dev Deepavali—literally, the Diwali of the Gods. This year, Dev Deepavali falls on Mon November 14, 2016. The bustling city is filled with thousands of pilgrims from around the world, who begin the day by immersing themselves in the river and offering diyas to the goddess Ganga. Pujas and feasts are held, and courtyards decorated with rangoli patterns. Thousands of clay lamps glitter on the city’s 84 ghats, with the spectacular daily Ganga aarti performed in full fervour for the river deity. More here.

Goa

Unwind with a cool beer on the porch of one of Goa's trademark Portuguese homes. Photo courtesy Elsewhere

Unwind with a cold beer on the porch of one of Goa’s trademark Portuguese homes. Photo courtesy Elsewhere

Goa will host the International Film Festival of India between Sun November 20 –Mon November 28, 2016, with movie screenings taking place across Panjim, in venues like the beautiful Maquinez Palace, the Kala Academy and a local multiplex theatre. If you need a break from path-breaking foreign films and talks by their directors, make a beeline for one of Goa’s many beautiful beaches. Listen to the sound of the waves as you sip on chilled beer and dig into some delicious pork sorpotel, and work it off with a bracing swim in the warm Arabian Sea. The state’s buzzing nightlife, a combination of upscale clubs, colourful, open-air night markets, and beach shacks, will ensure you end the day on a high. Click here for stay recommendations; our list covers chic resorts, beach shacks, homestays, and forest lodges.

NH7 Weekender, Hyderabad, Nagpur, and Jaipur

NH7 Weekender

Throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care at the NH7 Weekender music festival. Photo: Bacardi NH7 Weekender/Facebook

Arguably India’s most popular music festival, Bacardi NH7 Weekender kicked off this year’s edition in late September and has gigs scheduled until early December. The party continues through November with gigs in Hyderabad, Nagpur, and Jaipur for the first time. Hyderabad is the first stop this month, with performances on the weekend of Sat November 5-Sun November 6, 2016. This is followed by day-long concerts at Nagpur (Sun November 20, 2016) and Jaipur (Sat November 26, 2016). The last set of performances is scheduled for Pune between Fri December 2–Sun December 4, 2016. More here.

Plan Ahead

Locals at the Hornbill Festival

During Nagaland’s annual Hornbill Festival, locals dress up in traditional attire (left) to showcase their culture; Hunting trophies (right) hang inside some of the morungs. Photo: Rob Horsefield (people); Natasha Sahgal (skulls)

Hornbill Festival, Nagaland

Nagaland’s annual Hornbill Festival will be held between Thur December 1–Sat December 10, 2016, in the Kisama Naga Heritage Village, just outside the state capital of Kohima. The event is a celebration of the state’s Naga culture and is named after Nagaland’s most famous bird. Nagaland has 16 tribes and this festival is a crash course in their culture, language and cuisine. Visitors can participate in indigenous games, enjoy music performances, and taste the local cuisine at food stalls. One of the highlights of the festival is the morungs, hostel-like structures that are unique to each tribe and built in different ways. More here.

Magnetic Fields Festival, Rajasthan

Renowned underground musicians and artists from across India and around the world converge at Alsisar Mahal, in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region, for the Magnetic Fields Festival between Fri December 9–Sun December 11, 2016. In addition to concerts and secret parties, there are yoga classes, art installations, treasure hunts and stargazing sessions. Beyond the festival, visitors can explore Shekhawati, an area known for its heritage havelis, which are covered in colourful murals. More here.

Poush Mela, West Bengal

Shantiniketan is charming throughout the year, but it gets a shot in the arm during the Poush Mela (towards the end of December), a three-day celebration of song, dance, and craft that dates back 100 years. Fairgrounds are lined with stalls selling leather bags, terracotta figurines, and jewellery of dokra metalwork. Outside the fairground, stop by the Rabindra Bhavan Museum and examine original letters and photographs from Tagore’s life. The Kala Bhavana is like an open art exhibition. The walls are covered in paintings, niches bear sculptures, and striking murals by artists such as Ram Kinkar Baij, Nandalal Bose, and Somanth Hore catch the eye. If possible, visit the Visva Bharti school, where classes are still held under the shade of sprawling mango trees. More here.

December Music Season, Chennai

Chennai comes alive during the Carnatic music season every December. The two-week-long celebration is the highlight of the city’s old-school cultural calendar. For 15 days each year, thousands of small and large concerts are sponsored by various neighbourhood organisations. Stalwarts and newbies in the field perform throughout the day, at different venues. Use the concerts as an excuse to explore Chennai, a city that is often only seen as a gateway to nearby Pondicherry or the Andaman islands. Shoot the breeze at Marina Beach, considered to be the second longest in the world. Visit ancient temples and marvel at its majestic colonial buildings including the Madras High Court and the Ripon Building. Along the way, fill up on classic Tamilian treats like vadais, dosas and steaming cups of filter coffee.