Top 8 places in India for a December Christmas-New Year holiday
Planning a holiday in December? Now, there are two group of winter travellers — one that looks frantically for snow and, another, that runs away from anything below 10 degrees Celsius. And then of course, December is the month for Christmas and New Year festivities, and some travellers look for destinations that give them the best taste of these. Whichever group you belong to, we got you covered. From the snowy slopes of Auli to the golden beaches of Goa and the Christmas-New Year carnival of Kolkata, this list will help you choose a classy holiday to your liking.
1. Alleppey or Alappuzha, Kerala
Kerala, one of the prettiest states in India, is a strict no-go during the sweltering summer months. The best months for visiting Kerala are in winter, and for the romantic souls, the monsoon.
If you are looking for a lazy, idyllic holiday, head straight for the houseboats of Alleppey or Alappuzha, often called the Venice of the East. Bordering the Laccadive Sea, Alleppey is known for its palm-fringed backwaters (canals) and the rejuvenating Ayurvedic resorts.
These houseboats are a reworked version of the kettuvallams of yore, which were used to carry rice and spices. They have all comforts of a good hotel, including air conditioners, western toilets, cozy rooms, a kitchen, and a balcony.
As your houseboat passes through the backwaters, you can catch glimpses of paddy fields, coir-making, and other images of local life. Dig into some puttu and kadala, shappu meen curry, and semiya payasam — all specialities of Kerala. And, if you are game, try some toddy (palm liquor) at one of the many local toddy shops to add a touch of authenticity to your travel experience.
Plan at least a two-day trip to enjoy Alappuzha Beach (with its 150-year-old pier and a 17th-century lighthouse built by the Portuguese), Marari Beach, and Pathiramanal Island. If you have more time, head for Munnar and Thekkady as well.
2. Auli, Uttarakhand
Auli is a well-known hill station in Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand. It is an all-weather destination, but winter is especially significant because Auli is one of the few places in India where you can go skiing.
Plan a three- or four-day trip at least because you will need some time to pick up the sport before you can zip down those slopes on a ski. Instructors are available and you can have the adventure of a lifetime if you are willing to seek one.
From December to March, the meadows of Auli turn into dreamy snowscapes with icicles hanging from oak branches and clumps of snow plopping from pine leaves. The slopes offer stunning views of Himalayan peaks, such as Nanda Devi, Mana Parbat, and Kamat.
Another attraction in Auli is its ropeway, the highest and the longest in Asia. Auli’s artificial lake is one of the world’s highest man-made lakes. Chattrakund and Chenab lake are also worth visiting.
Skiing can usually be done from December to March. However, study the weather forecast before going because in the lean years, snowfall starts late.
3. Ranthambore, Rajasthan
Entire Rajasthan is a fantastic winter destination. But if you are in the mood for wildlife safaris, pack Ranthambore into your Rajasthan schedule.
Its National Park and Tiger Reserve are widely known, but Ranthambhore is much more than that. If you are an avid bird-watcher, remember than Ranthambhore is home to over 330 species of birds. At the same time, you can cherish its stunning locales surrounded by the Vindhya and Aravalli hills, gorgeous palaces, and royal ruins.
Some of the must-visit places are Ranthambore Fort, built by the Chauhan rulers in 944 AD. Surwal lake is another great location, perfect for seeking solace as well as birdwatching. Jogi Mahal near Padam lake is known for its architecture and sculptures.
While in Ranthambore, remember to savour some iconic Rajasthani dishes such as bal bati churma, ker sangri, mawa kachori, and laal maas. And to satiate the shopaholic within you, you can pick up some stunning art pieces made by rural women under the Village Women Craft initiative.
If you are looking to party hard during the Christmas-New Year season, nothing can beat the age-old Goa. With its pubs, beach shacks, seafood, Bebinca pudding, and of course, the famous feni, Goa is synonymous with decadence. And what better time for this self-indulgence than the Christmas Carnival!
Some of the best places in Goa to enjoy the Christmas fireworks are Anjuna, Arambol, Calangute, and Vagator beaches. Side by side, you can enjoy Goa’s vibrant nightlife or go for a game of luck at one of the famous floating casinos on Mandovi River.
During the daytime, visit Goa’s famous Portuguese architectural heritage, including its whitewashed churches, forts, unique houses and mansions with their oyster-shell windows. Just soak in Goa’s trademark “susegad” philosophy of living (laidback-ness).
And if you are a true-blue traveller at heart, remember that there is much more to Goa than beaches and booze. Keep enough time in your hands to explore.
5. Kohima, Nagaland
If you haven’t visited Nagaland yet, head for Kohima before December 10. The iconic Hornbill Festival is usually held from December 1 to 10. To experience the best of this north-eastern state, pack your bags, book your flight, and head for its capital Kohima.
Over ten days, the Kisama Heritage Village near Kohima houses the grand festival that showcases the culture, art, and food of all the various Naga tribes. The stalls, called “morungs,” are named after each Naga tribe and you can hop from one to the other and relish their food and pick up local delicacies such as pork and soyabean pickles and craft items.
Another thing to pick up is Naga coffee, which is not very well-known but splendidly aromatic. The central arena is where the dance and other performances happen. All you need to do is grab a seat in the open-air stadium and enjoy the display of traditional Naga culture. Western music shows are also held as part of the festival.
In the main Kohima town, what is popularly known as the Night Bazaar is also a must-visit. If you are an adventurous foodie, you can try some exotic items such as snails and fried silkworms, which you will get both as the festival and the Night Bazaar. If you are game, wash your food down with the local rice beer, which you’ll get aplenty at the festival.
Apart from Hornbill Festival, you can also book a cab and visit some of the iconic destinations in the town, such as the World War II Cemetery, the museum, various churches, and the local markets.
6. Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
The ancient city of Khajuraho, in Madhya Pradesh’s Chattarpur district, is one of the most well-known historical sites in India. Known for its magnificent temples and intricate sculptures, Khajuraho is perfect for winter travel.
Built between 950 and 1050 AD by the Chandela dynasty, the site originally had 85 temples spread over 20 sq km. Of these, only 25 temples exist now, spread over 6 sq km. The temples at this Unesco World Heritage site are famous for their Nagara architecture style and erotic sculptures.
The temples are divided into three complexes: Eastern, Western, and Southern. The Western group, with around 870 marvellous sculptures, includes the temples of Lakshmana, Matangeshwara, Varaha, Kandariya Mahadev, Chitragupta, Parvati, Vishwanatha, and Nandi.
The Eastern group includes the Vamana, Javari, Parsvanatha, Adinatha, Santinatha, Ghantai, and Brahma temples. The Southern group includes the Duladeo and Chaturbhuja temples.
Apart from appreciating the incredible art of Khajuraho, you can also club trips to Panna National Park (96 km from Khajuraho), Raneh Falls (21 km), Pandav Falls (34 km), Maharaja Chhatrasal Museum (62 km), and Jain Museum (1 km).
7. Kolkata, West Bengal
If there is any time just as good as Durga Puja to visit the City of Joy, it’s during Christmas-New Year. Kolkata may not be a Christian-majority city, but no one does festivals better than Kolkatans! No matter the religion, Kolkata knows how to party — and party hard. And the proof is in Bow Barracks and Park Street.
The traditional Anglo-Indian hub of Kolkata, Bow Barracks, usually houses a two-day pre-Christmas carnival between December 20 and 22. You can expect open-air live music, home-made liquor, and yummy home-made snacks to gorge on. The atmosphere is electrifying, and we guarantee that you will crave more.
On the eve of Christmas, join thousands of Kolkatans at St Paul’s Cathedral to attend the Midnight Mass. And on the day of Christmas, be nowhere but Park Street for a carnival to remember. Kolkata’s poshest of roads is lit up end to end, along with live music, scrumptious food, and endless fun.
Before you leave, don’t forget to try the rich fruit cake at Nahoum and Sons in New Market, something Kolkatans swear by at this time of the year. That is, if you do not mind queuing up for your cake for hours and be prepared to return empty-handed!
8. Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
If you are in the mood for history and heritage this winter holiday season, you can consider the Unesco World Heritage site of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu.
It is a small town in the south-eastern part of the state, stretching between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake, only 58km from Chennai. It was one of the two major port cities during the Pallava reign in Deccan from the 3rd to the 9th centuries. The town was named after Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who was also known as Mamalla.
Mahabalipuram is famous for its temples and monuments, especially the Shore Temple and the Pancha Rathas (five temples built in the shape of chariots). The Shore Temple is a complex of three temples built in the 8th century.
Among the other notable sites in Mahabalipuram are The Descent of the Ganga or Arjuna’s Penance, the Crocodile Farm, the cave temples, the Indian Seashell Museum, and Krishna’s Butterball. You can also enjoy some beach time at Kovalam or Sadras.