Forest bioluminescence at Chorla Ghats in Goa/Karnataka/Maharashtra
On a dark moonless monsoon night, the tiny moss-like mycena mushrooms on tree barks turn neon green like a scene from the film Avatar, but with a ‘Hilltop’ Anjuna vibe. Of the 27,000 fungi reported in India, 50 are bioluminescent. Located at the tri-junction of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra, the forests of Chorla Ghats and Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary display this unique natural phenomenon. When the amount of oxygen and moisture in the air is at a certain level—conditions found only in the rainy season—the fungi dispel excess light energy and the forests begin to glow. Go on a night trek in the forest amid the cacophony of Malabar gliding frogs, switch off your torch and witness the enchanted forest come aglow. The surreal experience is at its peak from late August to end September. Stay in a valley view room at Wildernest Nature Resort (wildernest-goa.com), swim in the infinity pool, enjoy sunsets over Chorla Ghats and trek to Chorla and Vazra Sakla Falls.
Courtship dance of the lesser florican at Sonkhaliya Rajasthan
At dawn or dusk, the female florican emits its whistling mating call and the male reciprocates with its leap of faith. With wings aflutter, he leaps clear off the jowar fields, legs momentarily folded mid-air, neck arched back and the ribbon-like plumes behind its ear-coverts swinging wildly. This dance is repeated every few minutes until the female relents. The smallest of the three bustard species in India, the endemic lesser florican, locally called khar mor, is known for its acrobatic mating dance. This display occurs in the monsoon and the best place to photograph this spectacle is Sonkhaliya near Ajmer.
Dudhsagar waterfall trail in Goa/Karnataka
Deep inside Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary straddling the Goa-Karnataka border, the Mandovi River dashes off a cliff as Dudhsagar waterfall which means “Ocean of Milk”. Since it is at its torrential best during monsoon, getting here can be a bit tricky. Two streams flood the jeep road till October and access is via a narrow dirt track. If you like the rush of a monsoon bike rally, take a pillion ride with local bikers who offer an adventure on wheels from Kulem railway station in Goa. The 14km assault course at the edge of rail tracks, is an all-terrain path of ballast, puddles, culverts and raging streams. From the parking lot, trudge 100m over slippery rocks and stream crossings to the base for a picture-postcard sight—a railway bridge slicing through the misty falls in an arc. Alternately, hike along the railway track—a 12km climb from Kulem or a 14km descent from Castle Rock via several tunnels from the Karnataka side.
The wettest place on earth in Meghalaya
While Mawsynram may have ousted Cherrapunji, as the wettest place in India, the latter still holds the tag of having received the highest recorded rainfall in the world. And what better season than the rains to visit Meghalaya? Set up base at the Ri Kynjai resort (rikynjai.com) overlooking the Umiam Lake. There are numerous monsoon experiences to be enjoyed here. Go boating on the picturesque lake surrounded by the Khasi Hills. Walk on a double-decker living root bridge in Tyrna Village near Cherrapunji. Explore the misty village of Laitkynsew, enjoy the magnificent 1,100ft plunge of Nohkalikai Falls and the multiple cataract of Nohsngithiang.
Mandu in the monsoon in Madhya Pradesh
Nothing beats the romance of Mandu in the rains. The countryside is lush as the monsoon drama is at its peak at Baz Bahadur’s palace where the cliffside Roopmati’s Pavilion remains magically enveloped in mist. In this 15th-century central Indian sultanate, one monument that celebrates the monsoon is Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Khalji’s lakeside pleasure palace Jahaz Mahal. When the rains fill the twin lakes Munj Talao and Kapur Talao, the 120m-long, double-storeyed palace appears like a luxury liner afloat on water. Rainwater played a crucial role for its inhabitants and was collected in the cavernous Andheri Baori (Dark Well) and open-air Ujala Baori (Illuminated Well) for potable water. The terrace run-off was routed through curlicue channels, which slowed the flow and settled sediments so only clear water emptied into the lotus-shaped Kamal Kund on the terrace.
Detox for the rains in Kerala
The monsoon ushers in a quiet mood of meditative calm and the moisture in the air keeps the body tissue soft and supple, making it perfect to receive preparatory phase of panchakarma which loosens the toxins in the body through snehanam (oil application) and swedhanam (steam treatment) and pachana (digestion). Kerala, India’s Ayurvedic haven has options aplenty. Combine wellness with a heritage stay at Harivihar Wellness Retreat (harivihar.com) in Kozhikode, Poomully Mana (poomullymana.com) in Palakkad or CGH Earth’s Kalari Kovilakom (cghearth.com). Try naturopathy in the hills at Prakriti Shakti (prakritishakti.com) or indulge in wellness by the lake at Niraamaya Retreats Backwaters & Beyond at Kumarakom (niraamaya.com).
Sea views in Mumbai, Maharashtra
Dramatic skies, fishing boats bobbing in the surf, rain-washed sunsets and splendid vistas of the Arabian Sea; Mumbai has several spots to enjoy a meal with a view or seaside staycay in the monsoon. In Colaba, the Sea Lounge on the first floor of the old palace wing of Taj Mahal Palace (tajhotels.com) is an institution that offers colonial charm, Art Deco interiors, live piano music and the customary coffee, cream and chocolate dessert—Café Viennoise. No reservations for the romantic tables for two by the window; reach early to grab a seat. For other captivating views of the Queen’s Necklace, make your way to Eau Bar at The Oberoi Mumbai (oberoihotels.com) or Dome, the rooftop bar at Intercontinental Marine Drive (ihg.com). At Juhu sea face, drop by at Soho House (sohohouse.com) for a sundowner, sip a cocktail at JW Marriott’s sea-facing bar Reflections or nosh on dimsums, sushi and more in the alfresco section of their Asian eatery, Dashanzi (marriott.com).
Raft the mighty Siang in Arunachal Pradesh
Originating in Tibet as Yarlung Tsangpo, the Siang dashes down a series of gorges through Arunachal, before joining the Yamne, Lohit and Dibang to flow as the mighty Brahmaputra. The sheer volume of water it carries expands even more during the rains. The full rafting stretch from Tuting to Pasighat is a weeklong 180km run from Purung, the launch site. The treacherous Upper Siang is expedition-level with Class 4-6 rapids; the 2-day Lower Siang is more doable with Class 3-4 rapids—Hairy Hari, Moing Madness, Karko Killer, Geku Wave and Begging Rollercoaster. Paddle past Boleng and Komsing’s hanging bridge to Pangin amid bewitching landscapes, forested hills, jagged rock formations and the Rottung and Big Pongging rapids, ending at Ranaghat Bridge. Prepare to get wet, whether in the heavy rains or in the rapids. Stay overnight on sand embankments and grassy campsites as you try local rod fishing. From Abor Country River Camp at Pasighat, visit Adi Padum villages and help transplant rice in paddy fields. Abor Country Travels & Expeditions (aborcountrytravels.com) organises Siang Rush rafting festival and customised trips in the region.
Wet weather farming and fishing in Maharashtra
Modelled after machaans erected in fields to protect crops, Maachli Farmstay (maachli.in) in Parule is the place for a hands-on farm experience in the rains. Tucked away in a picturesque village on the Konkan coast, the farm is accessed by a short walk through dense foliage and a footbridge across a stream. Settle in any of their four village-themed cottages with thatched conical roofs and enjoy their interactive kitchen—learn how farm-fresh organic fare is prepared on a mud stove and served in earthen pots, areca fronds and patravali (leaf plates). Milk a cow, draw water from the well or learn to use a laath, the traditional way to tap water from the stream for irrigation. Too much work? Dangle your legs in the cool stream for a natural fish spa. Visit a potters’ village, the local avath (village society) or take a plantation tour. Take a short walk to the Bandheshvaray temple of the gurakhi (shepherd) community or hike to the ancient seaside devrai (sacred grove) of Dungeshwar, a god of the local Kolis. For something a little more challenging, try the two-and-a-half-hour sunset trek in the rain to the beach through coconut groves, mango orchards, forests and hills.
Hike to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand
In 1931, three British mountaineers Frank Smythe, Eric Shipton and RL Holdsworth got lost in a blizzard on their return from a successful ascent of Mt Kamet, and stumbled upon a mystical valley of alpine flowers where “it was impossible to take a step without crushing a flower”. Ever since, the Valley of Flowers has captivated humanity. It was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. The rainy season, especially July to early September is the best time to visit, when endemic flora of various hues carpet the 7-8km long, 2km wide valley. A 4km stone paved trail from the base Ghangaria follows the Pushpawati river. Cross waterfalls and wooden bridges, stop for dhaba meals and marvel at the Nilgiri, Gauri Parvat and Bhyundar Khal peaks as well as the magical swathes of colours blanketing the valley—blue Himalayan poppies, hooked stickseed, purple Himalayan bell flowers, white river anemone, Himalayan rose, meadow geraniums and more. Return to Ghangharia and spot the rare Brahma Kamal flower on the 6km hike to Hemkund Sahib.
Getting there: Fly to Dehradun and drive 20km to Rishikesh. From there, take a 9-hr drive to Joshimath. Drive another 20km to Govindghat and then for 4kms to Pulna. Hike 9km along the Pushpawati river via Bhyundar village to Ghangharia, from where Valley of Flowers is 4km away.
Monsoon delicacies: Hilsa to Madd thopp in West Bengal/Karnataka
As the first drops of rain lash the sea, the hilsa or ilish swims upstream to breed and spawn in the rivers between July and October, making monsoon the best season to eat Bengal’s most prized piscine delicacy. Hilsa mania peaks in Kolkata where Ilish maachh is stirred into bhaaja (fry) and paired with piping hot khichuri, another rainy day specialty. Other much- loved preparations include the ilish bhapa (steamed hilsa), smoked hilsa, ilish jhaal and much more. This is also the season when nearly 300 varieties of wild edible mushrooms are consumed from Malnad to Maharashtra and Meghalaya. Be it doda in Rajasthan, boda in Chhattisgarh, rugra in Jharkhand or uyen in Manipur, in monsoon, mushrooms are an alternative to meat for many. In Kashmir, morels are made into flavourful guchhi pulao. Coorg has its favourites too—the needle-shaped nuchi kumme, umbrella-shaped koday kumme and mara kumme found on trees. However, Coorg’s monsoon wonderfood is madd thopp or ‘medicine leaf’. Harvested on the 18th day of the monsoon month of kakkada when its medicinal properties are at their highest, the stems and leaves are boiled into a purple extract and used to make madd kool payasa, a sweet rice porridge.
Monsoon Treks in the Sahyadris in Maharashtra
A misty trail disappearing into the clouds, seasonal waterfalls, wild flowers, green escarpments, rock-cut caves and crumbling forts at dramatic locales; trekking the Sahyadris is an unparalleled experience in the rains. Popular routes are around the Mumbai-Pune highway, so choose a trek to suit your comfort levels. Beginners will enjoy the hike to Bhimashankar via the Ganesh ghat route, Manikgad Fort from Khandas village near Karjat, Prabalgad between Panvel and Matheran or Visapur from Bhaje. Seasoned trekkers can take on Rajgad on the outskirts of Pune, Harishchandragad from Khireshwar or Pachnai and Kalsubai, the highest peak in Maharashtra. Good shoes, rain gear and local guides are a must.