Romancing the rains

Clouds start to fill the valleys in the lower Annapurna Himalayas during monsoon.

Heaven opened and the water hammered down, reviving the reluctant old well, green-mossing the pigless pigsty, carpet bombing still, tea-coloured puddles the way memory bombs still, tea-coloured minds. The grass looked wet-green and pleased. Happy earthworms frolicked purple in the slush. Green nettles nodded. Trees bent.”

These lines from Arundhati Roy’s 1996 bestseller, The God of Small Things, aptly captures the subcontinent’s love for the rains. If there is one thing everyone across the country looks forward to with the same eagerness, it is the monsoon season. Given how fierce Indian summers are, the rains come as a welcome relief from all the heat and dust, the sweat and grime, the scorching sun that demands complete respect. As temperatures come down, tempers also cool down, which also explains the intensity of longing among many urban and rural communities for that first big downpour.

Fresh & clean

For most travellers, the rainy season marks a hiatus from their explorations — a time to wander inwards and travel through their sepia-tinted lanes of memory, with a generous dose of melancholy thrown in. But the truth is, rains are also the perfect time to head out and discover a new world, even if in your own backyard, or your own state, a world washed clean and waiting to be savoured afresh. And it certainly helps that many hotels, airlines and tour packages are available at vastly discounted offseason prices.

In today’s Instagram age, where every photo seems to be dotted not just with stunning landscapes or prominent landmarks, but also the heads of a thousand other wannabe photographers intruding on your frames, the rains are just made for those with a longing to have a place entirely to themselves. Think of any popular tourist destination in India, from Goa to Sikkim, from Kerala to Meghalaya, and it is certain that visitor numbers dwindle drastically during the monsoon months.

Your camera will love the look, as is evident from the hundreds of films that pay homage to this season, either with calming and caressing shots of greenery, or with a boisterous song and dance meant to welcome the break in tropical summer weather.

So, why not be audacious and go forth into the wet, wild world? This means miles of rolling emerald green hills, ready to be hiked and trekked, with a spectacular view from the peak — not to forget the dozens of streams and waterfalls all along the way that get a new lease on life with the downpours. The smell of wet earth. Swirling mist. A plate of vegetable Maggi downed with a cup of steaming ginger tea.

The hills of the Western Ghats — Mullayanagiri, Tadiandamol and Kudremukh close to Bengaluru, or the hill forts of Lohagarh, Harishchandragad and Rajmachi near Mumbai/Pune — are all ideal for this adventure. Sure, these hikes are challenging and come with an element of risk, but isn’t that half the fun?

To the beaches

Alternately, head to the white sands of an aquamarine beach, temporarily turned virgin and uncrowded. Monsoon in Goa means a chance to find a large stretch to be alone, even on the most popular beaches of the north. The sun worshippers have long gone and the flea markets and nightclubs have decided to take a reprieve to prepare for the next boom in visitor numbers. And once you have had your fill of the gigantic waves, rent a motorbike and ride to the churches and cemeteries of old Goa through narrow country lanes lined with swaying paddy fields.

The coastal route of Karnataka, through Udupi, Gokarna and Maravanthe, all the way to Karwar on the Goa border, wears a similarly deserted look for these few months. But that also means a chance to go off the beaten track and discover the villages and hamlets around the big towns. Or to make a side trip to the magnificent Jog Falls in full flow, even as you stare down in wonder at nature’s handiwork.

Of course, there is another possibility offered by the monsoon months — the chance to indulge in a spot of wellness and healing, without pushing your comfort boundaries in any way. Forget the walking shoes and the motorbike helmet and instead book into a yoga or Ayurveda retreat close to home — there are several to choose from in South India, and especially in Kerala, where the magic of the monsoon is unparalleled.

The traditional system of Ayurveda believes that the body takes time off to cool down and seek balance during Varsha ritu. It is, therefore, one of the recommended seasons for general detoxification and rejuvenation through ancient panchakarma treatments. So, take the time off for a course of massage therapy, accompanied by a light diet. Or learn that system of yoga that you have always wanted to before it is time again for the heat and sweat to sap all your energy.

If all else fails, there is always the option of checking into that new boutique city hotel that you have always wanted to visit. Get away for a weekend inside your own city, sit down with a good crime thriller and reclaim that part of your life that you have lost to work and stress.

The rains are here in full force, so go ahead and take a walk in the clouds. Who knows, you may discover your own unclaimed slice of paradise.

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Romancing the rains

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