Drama in the night sky
- From Milky Way views to moonlit hikes, a guide to the top spots for stargazing and seeing the moonrise
- A shooting star, a twinkling planet, a meteor shower, a faraway constellation or a ginormous galaxy—the list of celestial delights is endless
I once spent an evening alone on a deserted shore of Neil Island, in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. With only my camera and tripod for company, I stood on a narrow beach, the darkness of the forest behind me and the onslaught of the rising tide in front. Dozens of hermit crabs scuttled in the sand beneath my feet as the night bore down on me. Luckily, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore drowned my rapidly unravelling thoughts. I reassured myself with the reminder that there would soon be light.
For I was there to see the full moon rise. But when I looked up at the patch of sky visible beyond the tree canopy, I was surprised to see the Milky Way twinkling back at me. It seemed to be an alignment of cosmic proportions, an unexpected wonder. Since I was on a flat island with unobstructed views, I could see both the galaxy and the moonrise on either side of the sky for a brief period of time. Dangling just above the horizon, the full moon’s glow was strong enough to light up the littoral forest, yet not so strong as to drown out the Milky Way. In the years since, though I have been on many a marvellous night hike and gazed at dazzling night skies, nothing has quite matched the beauty of that momentous, solitary evening.
Whether it is Himalayan mountaintops or the steppes of Mongolia, stargazing is now an essential part of my journeys around the world. A shooting star, a twinkling planet, a meteor shower, a faraway constellation or a ginormous galaxy—the list of celestial delights is endless. From being someone who fears the dark to becoming someone who now seeks out the night, it’s been an incredibly rewarding journey. Here are some of the top spots across the country if stargazing or seeing the moonrise is on your radar too.
LADAKH, Jammu and Kashmir
No list of places to stargaze in India can be complete without this obvious addition. The remoteness of Ladakh’s otherworldly landscapes makes it ideal for watching the night sky. Practically anywhere outside the town of Leh is suitable. Areas around high-altitude lakes are good for viewing the moonrise.
ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR ISLANDS
Visitors come here for the sea, and leave impressed by the star-drenched sky. Wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee recommends Chidiya Tapu near Port Blair for its unusual setting of mangroves and their stilt roots, the sight of the sky through them, and its reflection in the sea.
SAMBHAR SALT LAKE, Rajasthan
The Thar Desert is where night campers and stargazers usually go, but Sambhar Lake, just 80km from Jaipur, is just as good, especially for meteor showers and eclipses. Jahangir Chattri atop the hill above Shakambari Devi Temple affords good views.
The Western Ghats aren’t just geological and ecological marvels, but also great for stargazing. Mumbai-based nature photographer Sarang Naik recommends the Railing Plateau in Maharashtra for its dark skies, easy access without hiking, and ease of camping.
SONMARG, Jammu and Kashmir
The meadows of Kashmir, especially beyond Sonmarg, are gorgeous spots suited to camping and night-sky gazing. Unlike the harsh landscape or setting of other high-altitude stargazing spots in the Himalayas, the surroundings are flourishing and lush green here.
RANN OF KUTCH, Gujarat
The Rann of Kutch, especially the White Rann, is popular with landscape photographers for its surreal stretch of salt desert. It is also perfect for gorgeous sunset and moonrise views. On some days, not only is the sky full of stars, but it is also reflected in the dark pools of water accumulated on the salt flats.
This is perhaps one of the most comfortable and convenient stargazing destinations. With warm tropical temperatures, no great heights involved and easy vehicular access, the boulder-strewn landscape of Hampi is a perfect place to camp out at night and watch the skies. See the stars reflected in the still water of the Sanapur reservoir, or find a perch overlooking the endless layers of rocky hills.
Enchanting as it sounds to escape the blinding lights of the city for the dazzle of the night sky, it’s not always possible to head out on a whim. At times like this, there’s solace to be found on the outskirts of our cities. I have seen a spectacular supermoon rise over the Bay of Bengal, sitting on a breakwater in Chennai’s Ennore neighbourhood. In Bengaluru, I have enjoyed the night sky while driving around Nandi Hills; and in Mumbai, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park is a dark refuge where you can stargaze or even hike at night inside the forest with proper permissions.
Neelima Vallangi is a travel writer and photographer.