India is so vast that climatic conditions in the far north have little relation to those of the extreme south. While the heat is building up to breaking point on the plains, the people of Ladakh, in the Himalaya, will still be wait­ing for the snow to melt on the high passes.

India has a three-season year-the hot, the wet and the cool. Generally, the best time to visit is during winter (November to February) although there are regional variations (see the ‘At a Glance’ boxes at the start of each chap­ter for the best times to go to certain regions).

The Hot

The heat starts to build up on the northern plains of India from around February, and by April or May it really hots up. In central India temperatures of 45°C and above are commonplace.

Later in May, the first signs of the mon­soon are visible in some areas – high humid­ity, violent electrical storms, short rainstorms and dust storms that turn day into night.

The hot season is the time to leave the plains and retreat to the hills, and this is when Himalayan hill stations are at their best (and busiest). By early June, the snow on the passes into Ladakh melts and the roads reopen.

The Wet

When the monsoon finally arrives, it does not just suddenly appear. After some advance warning, the rain comes in steadily, generally starting around I June in the extreme south and sweeping north to cover the whole coun­try by early July. The monsoon doesn’t really cool things down; at first hot, dry and dusty weather is simply replaced by hot, humid, muddy conditions. Even so, it’s a welcome relief, not least for farmers who face their busiest time of year as they prepare fields for planting. [t doesn’t rain solidly all day dur­ing the monsoon, but it certainly rains virtu­ally every day; the water tends to come down in buckets for a while followed by the sun.

The main monsoon comes from the south­west, but the southeast coast is affected by the short and surprisingly wet northeast mon­soon, which brings rain from mid-October to the end of December.

Although the monsoon brings life to India, it also brings its share of death. Almost every year there are destructive floods and thou­sands of people are made homeless. Rivers rise and sweep away road and railway lines and many flight schedules can be disrupted.

In recent times, poor monsoons have lead to crippling droughts in many parts of rural India.

The Cool

Finally, around October, the monsoon ends for most of the country, and this is when most tourists visit. However, this is already too late to visit Ladakh and Zanskar – May to October is the optimum period.

Generally, it’s not too hot and not too cool (although in October it can still be sur­prisingly humid in some regions). Delhi and other northern cities become quite cold at night in December and January. It certainly becomes cold in the far north. In the far south, where it never gets truly cool, the temperatures become comfortably warm.

Then, around February, the temperatures start to climb again and, before you know it, you’re back in the sweltering hot weather.