Anyone who has spent a more than a week in India knows that we’re a nation that loves ‘hill stations’. From ancient Indian mythology to the colonial British to Bollywood movies, a visit to any of the various hills and mountains of India has always been marketed as a positive experience by all and sundry.
Also, anyone who has also spent at least a day on the internet in the past decade has seen or heard the phrase, ‘Don’t be a tourist, be a traveller’. At times it seems well-intentioned, while at times it comes across as rather pretentious.
What’s so charming about the mountains? And what’s with being a tourist or traveller? Read on as I try to answer these questions from both perspectives.
Why tourists visit the hills and mountains
1. The weather
One of the most obvious of reasons. For at least half the year, the plains of India are quite warm. Lower temperatures and cool breezes are extremely comforting. The air tends to be cleaner. They’re also our only opportunity to brush the dust off the woollens stashed deep inside our closets.
2. The sights
Most hill resorts in India have a set of sights or viewpoints where one can marvel over the splendidness of nature, and the planet we inhabit at large. As tourists, it is customary for many of us to visit these spots, as we are also excited to get those priceless pictures that we can go back and share with friends and family.
3. Tourist infrastructure
Another reason why many tourists visit the hills and mountains simply is the plethora of resorts, hotels and lodges available there. From luxury spas to arcades filled with cheap thrills, there are a ton of things to distract our minds with. A relaxed, festive mood with something for everyone to do is why many tourists love hill stations in India.
4. To escape
Life in the Indian plains can be very stressful. In the big cities, one needs to compete just to be able to pay exorbitant sums for products and services. One needs to then compete further just to enjoy these products and services. No wonder then, that the isolation of these hill stations provides for an excellent escape from daily life for many tourists.
No shame in being a tourist or a traveller
Before moving on to the travellers’ part, I’d like to clarify that there is nothing wrong with being a tourist or a traveller. They just have different intentions. We should not judge either one of them. In fact most of us, if not all, are a varying mixture of both when we travel.
However, if we lived in a binary world, I’d say that tourists visit the hills and mountains to recharge their batteries before going back to their lives. Travellers visit the hills to figure out what why their batteries were built and what they run on.
Why travellers visit the hills and mountains
The journey up to the top, whether it’s by jeep, bus, bicycle or on foot, is always extremely rewarding for a traveller. I’ve found that looking back down at the valley floor is one of the best motivations to keep going on, regardless of my destination. The mountains provide an instant, tangible gratification that is not easily seen elsewhere.
Hills and mountains in India are hotspots of cultural, natural and historical diversity. In a few hours or with an altitude gain of just a few hundred metres, one can see the entire landscape change. Cultures change; the way the locals talk, appear and behave is different. The potential to discover and experience so many different elements in the same region is a traveller’s dream.
Ideally, learning can be done anywhere. With anything. However, the isolation that the mountains provide us from the relative chaos of the plains make a very conducive environment for self-learning and discovery. Couple this with the incredible diversity of the region as mentioned above and it’s not hard to imagine why those who seek to learn more are so attracted to the mountains.
4. Comfort (in the lack of it)
One very telling element that you are in the hills and mountains of India, is how much more welcoming people are to other humans. They’ve learned that to try and survive such an environment alone would be suicidal. On the contrary, this harsher, more unforgiving landscape provides travellers with a setting to challenge themselves as they push themselves to discover their own boundaries.