Monsoon is the time that most of us look forward to. It takes away the heat and makes the world look alive and beautiful. People travelling to India, especially foreigners often want to know if it is good to travel in the monsoon season, or how would monsoon force them to shift their travel plans. This FAQ is primarily aimed at helping these people to resolve such questions.
Colors of the tropical forest, on a wet day
Monsoon, what is it?
Most of India has a limited season in a year when it rains – primarily between June and September. In this season, rain clouds are carried in from the Indian Ocean by a seasonal wind called ‘monsoon’. The wind is in turn dependent on oceanic currents and more scientific stuff etc,.. Wind travels northwards into India from South-West direction and so, it is occasionally called South West monsoons.
What areas does it affect and in what season?
As I said before, it moves upwards from Indian Ocean in North East direction. The ‘normal date’ when it hits the southernmost portion of India every year – coast of Kerala is June 5th. But you need to give or take a week or two from this date. Met department usually gives the exact date. It is not difficult to predict rains if you look at the satellite map. See the map at Met department website and look for the white patches on the map which indicate clouds. It usually rains where-ever you see the clouds, but not necessarily so.
So it hits Kerala on June 5th, reaches coastal Karnataka in a few days, Goa and Mumbai in a week, and moves all the way up to Delhi in 2-3 weeks. In July, it will be raining in most of India. Tamil Nadu is an exception, it is not affected by monsoon and it doesn’t rain much there in this period. Instead, it rains there in last few months of the year when clouds hit this region from North West, travelling southwards. An exception is western hilly region of Tamil Nadu where it pours heavily during monsoons.
It is all lush green when it rains
How bad is the rains? Does it pour heavily or is it mild?
It varies considerably across India. For example, coastal Karnataka gets a lot of rain, but if you travel around 200kms inlands, there isn’t much rain. Such contrast can be seen in most parts of India. The typical regions where it rains heavily are like – Kerala, coastal Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, Sahyadri mountain ranges, parts of MP, Orissa. Rains in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are unpredictable – you can have floods in some years and drought in some! It generally pours very heavily in entire North East India. All this is a general observation – my knowledge of monsoons is fairly good about South India, but my observations of Northern parts is mostly news based than personal experience.
Keep in mind that there is no exact pattern of rains. Even in places where it rains heavily, you may get to see a few days with no precipitation. There is every kind of possibility – it may rain or drizzle the whole day, it may clear up after quick showers or you may see some dry days.
Forest streams and waterfalls come alive in the monsoons
How is it generally when it rains? Good, bad or unbearable? Can I travel?
Actually it is pleasant. The heat of the summer will wear off with the onset of rains and it feels good. That’s the case with the plains. In the early days of monsoon when it is still a bit hot, it is fun to get drenched in the rain. Of course, it will be cold showers and cold wind in higher altitudes. The northern planes – Gangetic planes and around Rajasthan can still be hot and humid.
Down south, especially in Kerala and Karnataka around Sahyadri mountains, the concept of monsoon travelling is catching up. It is lush green and beautiful during the monsoon, and the wetness has it’s own charm. Seasonal waterfalls and streams come alive in the jungles and rivers run full. It is as if earth has sprung to life with the rains coming down. I personally love going driving, hiking or trekking in this season. To get an idea, see about some of my past monsoon photographs and travel experiences in my blog – trek and driving.
But journey from place A to B could be a bit painful when it is raining, especially if you are taking public transport. Waiting for public transport in rainy day, going around in damp, slushy places can be annoying, but manageable.
Is there anything else that I should keep in mind?
Yes. Don’t get drenched too often and you might have to stay in bed for 2-3 days. In places where it rains a lot, carry an umbrella all the time. Cities can be a problem when it rains. Unlike the pleasant countryside, cities can get slushy, drains can get flooded, cause traffic jams etc. It’s an annoyance you will have to live with. And some parts of the country are notorious for flooding, especially the north east. Be careful and be informed if you are going to be in such places.
Any book recommendations?
Yes. Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater is a nice book. He travels along with the monsoon all the way from Kerala to Delhi and then to Cherrapunjee. Cherrapunjee is the place where it rains most in the whole world. He describes every thing – about India’s passion with the monsoons, how it affects people’s lives, the science of monsoon, etc. It is set in the seventies and feels little outdated, but still a worthy read.