India is an enthralling destination no matter when you visit, but there are a few major factors to consider before choosing dates for your trip. Weather can be extreme, with severe heat in May and June (particularly in North India), followed by heavy monsoon rains in much of the country during the months of July and August. Travelers may also want to plan their trip around one of India's numerous festivals, like Holi (the festival of colors) and Diwali (which celebrates the victory of light over darkness), as well as events ranging from boisterous New Year's Eve parties in Goa to the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. Ahead is a breakdown of the best time to visit India, depending on what you're after.
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October-November: Festival Season
India’s high season starts around the month of October, when temperatures begin to drop (particularly in the central and northern parts of the country). Many of India’s most important Hindu festivals also take place during these months (though dates vary from year to year, as they are based on the Vedic calendar). The season kicks off with Navratri, or Durga Puja, a nine-night festival honoring the Goddess Durga. It’s celebrated differently throughout the country, and is particularly important in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal, where devotees erect huge temporary shrines to the goddess known as pandals.
A few weeks after comes Diwali (a.k.a. Deepawali), the most important festival for many Hindu people. It celebrates the victory of light over darkness. Along with religious rituals, the festival is observed by dressing up in finery, exchanging gifts with friends and neighbors, lighting oil lamps (diyas) and candles, and setting off all sorts of fireworks. Crops in North India are often burned at this time, which can lead to severe pollution, especially when combined with massive fireworks, traffic, and dropping temperatures. This is particularly true in New Delhi.
Right after Diwali, Pushkar holds an annual camel festival, which draws travelers from across the globe to see thousands of camels being traded in the desert, among much fanfare. The end of the festival season also brings the beginning of the traditionally auspicious wedding season, which can mean regular processions throughout the streets, complete with brass bands, dancing, and grooms astride white horses.
December-March: The Coolest Months
Temperatures begin to drop significantly in January and don’t start picking up again until early March, usually around the annual Holi (festival of colors) celebrations, which are worth experiencing if you don’t mind getting covered in colorful powder. The Christmas and New Year’s season is particularly fun in Goa, when all sorts of parties take place. January festivals include Lohri, a Punjabi festival held on the 13th day of the month to mark the end of winter. Makar Sankranti usually occurs around the same time across the country in honor of the harvest, but it’s best celebrated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu as Pongal, a four-day festival honoring the sun. Yoga practitioners won’t want to miss the International Yoga Festival, which is held in early March in the city of Rishikesh on the Ganges River.
May-June: Indian Summer
It takes a brave soul to visit India during the months of May and June, especially if you’re visiting the northern states, where it’s not uncommon for temperatures to hover above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this is the best time to visit the state of Ladakh on the Tibetan Plateau, particularly if you want to hike without too much worry of being snowed in. It’s also the low season, and thus a good time of year to get discounted hotel rates. Budget travelers should be careful, though, as high loads on the electricity grid due to everyone switching on their air-conditioners at once can lead to frequent power cuts, and many affordable guesthouses lack backup power supplies.
July-August: Monsoon Season
For many people, the most romantic time of year in India is during the monsoon season, which usually kicks off in late June and runs through August, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country, effectively cooling down the country. However, heavy rainfalls can make traveling around a drag and flooding is not uncommon.
April and September: Shoulder Months
April and September are the closest thing India has to a shoulder season. In April, temperatures begin to rise dramatically, particularly in North and East India, where there’s a lot more variation between winter and summer. However, the first part of the month is generally pretty pleasant and you might not need to start using air-conditioning until later in April. September can be hot and muggy, with residual rainfall from the monsoon season, but it’s still fairly pleasant and crowds tend to be fewer in tourist hot spots, especially Goa.
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