Social media has been lamenting the paucity of snow in the Himalayan regions. Locales that should have been an exciting shade of white by mid-January were boringly bare and brown, but there was finally reason to rejoice this week as Gulmarg went white when it finally received snowfall. Weather forecasts indicate that February will see snowfall in the Himalayan states of Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, cheering the hearts of both travellers and locals dependent on winter tourism. Here are three getaways in Himachal Pradesh where you can experience the cold freshness of snow and once you’ve had your fill of the cold outdoors, you can retreat indoors for toasty and luxurious comfort.
Where: Saroga Woods, Saroga village, near Thanedar, off Narkanda-Rampur Road
Getting there: Flight to Shimla’s Jubbarhatti airport (SLV) from Delhi (70 minutes) and then 96km (3.5 hours) by road to Saroga Woods.
What to expect: Having moved lock stock and barrel from Singapore to Thanedar in Himachal Pradesh in 2012 to start a rural agricultural business making jams and chutneys, Anuradha and Kartik Budhraja planned to build a house in the hills—the fruition of a long-standing dream to live in the Himalaya. That dream finally took the form of Saroga Woods, a charming homestay, which is also their home, sitting at 8000 feet. They put in years of research to build their home in the hills, and rather than just following the local methods, they made some additions and improvements. The result is a house that has under-floor heating, a rainwater and snowmelt harvesting system and solar electricity. The two guestrooms are very comfortable with fabulous views. The common area is a great place to gather for conversations and the large terrace with its uninterrupted views of the snow-clad peaks and the bottle-green Sutlej sparkling in the valley below is superb for sundowners and barbeques. Both of them are passionate cooks and the food ranges from regional to south-east Asian to European. The coffee is robust and flavourful and on a clear day with snow all around it truly feels as if you’re in a winter wonderland. Keep your eyes peeled for the black bears that raid the fruit orchards on the steppes below the house.
Where: Sitara, Devata village, Old road to Rohtang La
Getting there: Flight to Kullu’s Bhuntar airport (KUU) from Delhi (80 minutes), Chandigarh (40 minutes) or Amritsar (70 minutes) and then 60km (90 minutes) by road to Sitara.
What to expect: Since Devata sits higher than Manali, snow falls here first and the secluded areas around the property are a great way to get your fix of the white stuff. With 10 elegant guestrooms, the Sitara resort created by Anita Lal, founder and creative director of Good Earth, is tasteful and indulgent. Large glass windows face snow-capped peaks and the river Beas, while floor heating, a choice of down, feather or buckwheat pillows ensure warm coziness and comfort. The kitchen staff and chef are talented and their hot chocolate is pure sin. The spa, Svasthi by Paro, is housed slightly higher than the main resort and offers treatments based on ancient Vedic wisdom with an emphasis on a holistic understanding of the deep connection between the mind, body and spirit.
Where: Banjara Valley Retreat, Batseri village, near Sangla, Rampur-Rekong Peo road
Getting there: 225km from Shimla (7.5 hours)
What to expect: If you want to drive in snow as well as have the luxury of enjoying an entire valley, then Sangla is where you should head this February. Batseri is a village on the banks of the Baspa River and the retreat is located near the village. Sitting at almost 9000 feet, temperatures drop to about -10 degrees during the night. The forecast tells of snow expected on quite a few days through February. Though it is cold outside, inside the retreat, it is cozy with heating stoves in the common area and electric blankets, heaters and very warm quilts in the rooms. The thing to do here to truly enjoy your winter trip is to drive to Rakcham (10km) and Chitklul (20km) up the valley along the Baspa River. The landscape with its pine trees and sky-scraping Himalayan mastiffs is rendered alpine during the winter with snow. The view looking up the valley as you drive is achingly beautiful. There are plenty of trails to explore too and these will certainly be peppered with snow. On really cold days the river freezes in flow and that is truly a sight to behold.
Rishad Saam Mehta is a Mumbai-based author and travel writer.