For most of us city-dwellers, one of the major highlights of holidaying just about anywhere else is the rare opportunity to glimpse a starry, unpolluted sky. A short trip to the edge of the city would reveal a whole vista of unexplored sky but to get the full impact of the universe you really should be planning ahead.
India has an incomparable range of climates, cultures and scenery that would suit a stargazer’s purpose but there are some that stand out more than others. We’ve gathered up the best of the best so that the next time you’re planning the trip of a lifetime, you know exactly which direction to go and if you get lost…let the stars be your guide.
I. Dalhousie - Himachal Pradesh
Located in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, Dalhousie spreads itself languorously over 5 hills at an elevation of 2,000 metres. The main town is a picturesque testament to Colonial India with quaint Victorian-style mansions around every turn. Your final destination however, should be Khajjiar, a hill town that lies a mere 21 kilometres away and boasts of spellbinding snowy vistas and lush green pastures.
Stargazing scenes: The crystal clear skies over the mountains afford an unparalleled view of the night sky. Step outside with a drink and a blanket and immerse yourself in lifes simpler pleasures.
II. Great Rann of Kutch - Gujarat
This seasonal salt marsh at the edge of the Thar desert was a name that was repeatedly knocked into us by our middle school Geography books. But outside of those dry written words you’ll discover that its quiet beauty is really quite spectacular. As one of the largest salt deserts in the world at 7,505 square kilometers it’s another testament to India’s seemingly limitless diversity.
Stargazing Scenes: The flat expanse of marsh can seem a bit surreal during the day but when night falls the skies reveal a new secret. Stars as far as the eye can see and an uninterrupted, front row seat to it all. If you’re lucky you may even catch a glimpse of the mysterious Chir Batti (ghost lights), unexplained balls of light that float and flicker across the horizon. For the best experience visit on moonless nights.
III. Hanle - Ladakh
Hanle has a rich history and is still the site of a 17th century Tibetan monastery. The monastery belongs to the “Red Hat” Tibetan Drukpa Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism and straddles an old branch of the Ladakh-Tibet trade route. The village itself has only 1,000 or so residents but is home to the Indian Astronomical Observatory operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, the highest observatory in the world at 4,500 metres.
Stargazing Scenes: When an Astronomical Observatory sets up shop somewhere, you know the view has to be pretty spectacular. With it’s collection of optical, infrared and gamma ray telescopes this is the place for people who want to mix their stargazing with science.
IV. Hatu Peak - Himachal Pradesh
Located at an elevation of 12,000 feet above sea level the Hatu Peak is the highest summit of the Shimla – Narknanda region of Himachal. Immersed in dense forests the area is rife with Firs, Spruces, Maples and Cedar trees. This fairytale setting is beautiful during the daylight hours and at night takes on an almost ethereal beauty.
Stargazing Scenes: The peak can be reached either on foot (or by bike if you’re feeling lazy) but once you reach the top you’ll discover that it’s definitely worth the effort. Standing high above the clouds you’ll feel like a ruler surveying their star-spangled kingdom.
V. Jaisalmer - Rajasthan
If you’re more enamoured with deserts than with mountains then ‘The Golden City’ might be the place for you. Jaisalmer is located in the heart of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, 575 kilometres west of the state capital Jaipur, and is well known World Heritage Site. The crowning glory of this sandy haven is the sandstone fort surrounded by Jain temples. An ancient trade route, even amidst its modern additions Jaisalmer still captures a sense of exotic history and mystery of the desert.
Stargazing scenes: In the middle of the flat expanse of the Thar Desert with no mountains or buildings to block your view, nothing comes between you and a spectacular starry sky. Don’t let the desert sun fool you though; temperatures at night can drop to less than 10 degrees at night so wrap up warmly!
VI. Kausani - Uttarakhand
This hill station is well known for its scenic routes and 300 kilometre panoramic view of the Himalayas. Mahatma Gandhi once referred to it as the ‘Switzerland of India’ but we know that it holds a unique splendour that cannot be compared. In among the tall conifers lies a spectacular getaway that will have you coming back year after year.
Stargazing scenes: The way to best enjoy this star-studded sky is from out in the open. So cancel those hotel bookings, pull on your hiking boots and camp out under the trees to enjoy the best this town has to offer.
VII. Neill Island - Andaman & Nicobar Islands
To most Indians the Andaman and Nicobar Islands need no introduction. Lying just off the coast they serve as a magical but easily accessible escape. Neill Island, located in Ritchie’s Archipelago is just another little slice of heaven to explore and at 36 kilometres from Port Blair, it is one that you should bump to the top of your itinerary.
Stargazing Scenes: Of the 572 islands you have to choose from, Neill island offers the most sensational view for hopeful stargazers. Even as the sun sets the sky is littered with stars and by the time night falls you’ll be able to behold the full magnificent effect.
VIII. Nubra Valley - Ladakh
A quiet tri-armed valley in the North-East of Ladakh, locals believe that it was originally named Ldumra (the valley of flowers). The capital of Nubra, Diskit lies about 150 kilometres from the centre of Leh. The valley is formed where the Shyok river meets the Siachan (Nubra) river and lies between the Ladakh and Karakoram mountain ranges, on average the altitude of the valley is about 10,000 feet. The best way to reach the valley is via the famed Khardungla Pass from Leh which means that the journey there may even rival your stay.
Stargazing scenes: You could set up camp at virtually any spot in Ladakh and look up to a breathtaking night sky but there’s a special magic surrounding Nubra. It’s at the perfect altitude and so secluded that noise and light pollution will be a distant memory. Also, the temperate climate keeps the area cloudless for most of the year ensuring that nothing will get between you and your starry view.
IX. Pangong Tso - Ladakh
At about 4,350 metres above sea level this lake is a rare treasure. The lake itself is 134 kilometres long and straddles the India-China border with 40 per cent in Ladakh and the rest across the border. Being a sea-fed body of water the lake is saline but still freezes over when the temperatures plummet so be prepared for the chill, the cold defies science here!
Stargazing scenes: Pangong has 360 degrees of stunning scenery. Aside from the lake itself, the snow-capped peaks and star-filled skies will take your breath away.
X. Raigad Fort - Maharashtra
Once known as the ‘King of Forts’, Raigad served as the stronghold of Shivaji Maharaj for almost 3 decades but today is best known as the meeting ground of restless children on school outings. While during the day it plays the part of an overused tourist destination, at night it transforms and regains its regal stature underneath a starry sky.
Stargazing scenes: The 1,405 metre elevation and relatively darkened surroundings give you an unobstructed view. If you’re up to it you can trek to the peak of the fort during the day and take part in the evening stargazing sessions. If you wait until the later hours you could even catch glimpses of Jupiter, its four moons, Mars and Venus.
XI. Roopkund - Himachal Pradesh
One of the most popular Indian treks, the Roopkund trail offers a healthy dose of adventure. A stop-off at the eerie Roopkund Lake a.k.a Skeleton Lake will take that thrill factor through the roof. Lying at an altitude of 16,499 feet the two metre deep lake lies frozen almost year round but for one month in summer when it thaws it reveals a chilling secret, the skeletal remains of about 300 humans lying scattered on the lake bed and frozen into the surrounding earth.
Stargazing Scenes: Although the main selling point of the area is the mysterious skeleton array, the exhaustive trek will leave you high in the hills with clear views of the starry sky above…you just have to ignore the dark secrets that may lie below.
XII. Sarchu - Jammu & Kashmir
This popular pitstop on the Leh-Manali highway is known for its tented accommodation, a favourite with the more adventurous travellers. It lies on the boundary between Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh at an altitude of 14,070 feet with Baralacha la to the south and LachulungLa to the North.
Stargazing Scenes: Landlocked between mountains this undeniably beautiful spot obscures all the lights and sounds of city life to give you an experience of being entirely connected to nature.
XIII. Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
With picture perfect villages and desert-mountain valleys, Spiti is the lesser known neighbor of Ladakh. For about 6 months a year the valley is cut off from the rest of India by huge snow drifts, courtesy of its proximity to the Himalayas. The name Spiti means ‘middle land’ and true to its name it lies in the midst of high mountain peaks. Kibber town in the valley is also considered the highest motarable village in the world at 14,000 feet so that’s another thing you can tick off your bucket list.
Stargazing Scenes: Spiti is known as the Mecca for all die hard stargazers as it boasts of the very best view of the Milky Way anywhere on planet Earth. With the chance to have two once-in-a-lifetime experiences, there is absolutely no reason to miss out on the magic of Spiti.
XIV. Wayanad, Kerala
This idyllic district in the North-East of Kerala lies nestled in the Western Ghats. Its name translates to ‘The Land of Paddy Fields’ from ‘Vayal’ meaning ‘paddy field’ and ‘Naad’ meaning ‘land’. During the day their pristine, tropical forests will enchant you and you can check out the The Edakkal Caves and Kuruwa Island to immerse yourself in local history. But at night, get your telescopes out and look to the sky.
Stargazing Scenes: As long as you’re a little way out of the main city there should be no ambient light to disturb your experience. Even with the naked eye the constellations are easy to spot so brush up on your astronomy and begin your journey!