The Indian Subcontinent is a vast region with widely varying geography and climate. From the mighty Himalayan mountain range in the north, ranging from Pakistan in the west through India and Nepal to Bhutan in the east to the tropical south, including the islands of Sri Lanka and the Indian island states of Lakshadweep and Andamans. In the west are the deserts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Pakistan whilst the eastern delta rivers of India and Bangladesh run into the Bay of Bengal. The largest country in the subcontinent – India – also has a massive central plateau, the Deccan plateau which covers around 43 percent of the country’s landmass. This plateau is bordered by three mountain ranges and has varying climates throughout the hills and plains.
The region is also prone to extremes of weather from winter temperatures in the Himalayas reaching as low as -35 deg Celcius to summer heat in the deserts reaching 50 deg Celcius.
Taking into considering the season and region you will be travelling to in the subcontinent is a very important part of planning your holiday.
Incredible Indian Tours run trips to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, so I will be concentrating on weather conditions for these areas.
Sri Lanka has a tropical monsoon climate and is pretty much an all-year destination with May-July being wet throughout most of the country but good for the east coast. The high season is December through March and this is the best time for the southern and western parts of the country, whilst April, August and September offer the best all-round weather for the entire island country.
Bhutan is a low-mid altitude Himalayan nation with cold winters and pleasant to hot summers, but is also heavily affected by the Indian monsoons. The best times to travel are March through May and September to November. December and January are cold whilst the months of June to August are hot, wet and humid. The other consideration with Bhutan is travelling to experience one of the legendary festivals which are held from March to November.
Nepal, another Himalayan country with altitudes ranging from a mere 60msl to the highest point on earth, Mt Everest at 8848msl has extremely diverse weather for such a small country. Depending on whether you are trekking (and when) or visiting for cultural, adventure, photography or other reasons will require you to determine the best month to travel.
Most of the trekking regions in Nepal are best between February and May and October through November. June to September is likely to be effected by the monsoon with muddy and wet conditions with dangerous, slippery paths, some of which can be washed away. December and January can be very cold trekking at altitude. If you are trekking in the upper Mustang region, which is on the northern, rain-shadow side of the Himalayas, then the best time to go is March through to November, so it is the only region not affected by the monsoon weather between June and September.
If you are heading to Nepal for a low-level altitude cultural/wildlife/sightseeing holiday, then most of the year is good, although June through September will see a lot of rain and cloudy conditions – not great for views of the mighty mountains. If you are interested in landscape photography, then again this period is not great, nor is March – May when the mountains tend to be hazy. Photographers should plan to visit between October and February when the mountains are clearer and views are spectacular.
India, being the largest area of the subcontinent has the greatest variance of weather.
If you want to visit South India, the best time of year is December to March. The south is effected by two monsoons, the main south-west monsoon between June and September and the south-east monsoon in October and November. April and May can get uncomfortably hot with oppressively humid weather. Likewise, the beaches of India from the western coast of Gujurat, down through Goa and Kerala as well as the eastern coast up to Orissa are best during the winter months when seas are calmer and the weather pleasant.
Central India is good to visit between October and March, the rest of the year becoming very hot during the spring/summer and affected by the monsoon from June/July.
North India – from Delhi and Rajasthan through Uttar Pradesh across east to Kolkata is best also between October and March, however the monsoon months of July to September can be a great time to visit Rajasthan, which being a desert state has far less rainfall during the monsoon and becomes very pleasant and relatively cool.
If you are planning a trip into the Indian Himalayas, whether it is to the western Himalayan region, including Kashmir, Shimla, Dharamsala, Manali, Rishikesh and the trekking areas throughout, as well as the Eastern Himalayas, places like Darjeeling and Sikkim, then from February (which will be very cold at altitude) through to June is great. The monsoon can affect these parts of the Himalayas throughout July and August when heavy rainfall causes regular landslides making roads impassable and travel a little less comfortable. If you are heading further north into Ladakh, then May through September is the perfect time to go. These areas are across the great Himalayan range and fall in the rain-shadow meaning they get very little rain from the monsoon and in fact the passes to travel overland to Ladakh are only open between these months.
So, although the entire subcontinent region is good to travel all year, you really need to research and pick your time depending on where you plan to go.
And then of course, if you want to visit some of the myriad festivals held throughout these countries that will also influence your travel period, but that’s a different subject altogether for another day.