Looking for the best places for stargazing in India? After years of chasing dark night skies, my favorite spots for shooting stars and meteor showers across the country.
A few days ago, I read, quite aghast, that a Japanese company has developed new technology to project fake shooting stars and even a meteor shower in the Hiroshima night sky – otherwise mostly starless due to the concrete jungle cities around the world have morphed into. *Gulp*
Stargazing in India
If you’ve ever spent a clear, dark night lying under the (real) night sky, watching millions of stars twinkling above and spotting shooting stars, you’ll probably share my horror at what Japan is about to do. I mean, half the joy of stargazing is travelling to a place away from everything – pollution, lights, clouds, noise and city life as we know it – and feeling your insignificance under a shimmering sky.
Personally, I think that anyone who has admired the Milky Way in the night sky recognises the need to go off the grid once in a while, protect nature and dark spaces, and shun our materialistic greed.
This post goes out to all fellow starry skies enthusiasts – as well as those yet to experience its magnificence. In collaboration with astro-photographer Saurabh Narang (check out his awe-inspiring work on Instagram), I’ve felt compelled to put together this list of the best places in India for stargazing, meteor showers and astrophotography:
- Stargazing in India
- Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh
- Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat
- Havelock and Mayabunder, Andaman & Nicobar
- Nag Tibba and Raithal – Uttarakhand
- Jaisalmer and Churu – Rajasthan
- Pin Valley, Himachal Pradesh (best stargazing in India for mountain lovers)
- Shnongpdeng – Meghalaya
- Gunopur – Punjab
- Bomdila and Tawang – Arunachal Pradesh
- Ladakh – Jammu and Kashmir (best stargazing places in India, especially for astrophotography)
- Koraput region – Odisha
Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh
On a dark, lonely night in Pachmarhi – Madhya Pradesh’s only “hill station” – I found myself under an incredible night sky with a naturalist from Forsyth Lodge and a local guide from Pachmarhi. The three of us, lost souls in our own ways, stood there watching the crescent moon set behind the hills, deciphering constellations and hearing rustling in the bushes – this is tiger territory after all!
Then a police jeep showed up and demanded to know what two guys and a girl were doing out there in the darkness. The photos on my camera saved us, as we tried to explain we’re out stargazing and that’s only possible in complete darkness. They left us with a warning to “do this stars thing quickly and leave.”
Oh India, under a sky full of stars, your inner darkness is fascinating too!
Practical tips for stargazing in Madhya Pradesh
Club a trip to Pachmarhi with a visit to Satpura National Park, where I loved staying at the eco-friendly Forsyth Lodge – home to gorgeous dark night skies as well. Experience Pachmarhi with one of their naturalists and preferred guide from Pachmarhi for an immersive wildlife and stargazing experience. I can imagine it to be the most perfect spot for meteor showers India. Note that budget accommodation in Pachmarhi is very basic.
The closest airport is Nagpur, from where Satpura National Park is a 3-4 hour drive. Pachmarhi is a 2-3 hour drive from Forsyth Lodge.
When to go
Winter months from October to March when the weather is cooler and the skies clearer. Pachmarhi is at a height, so carry some warm clothes.
Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat
In an attempt to catch the Geminid Meteor Shower in 2016, I landed up in the Little Rann of Kutch, fingers crossed for clear and dark skies, devoid of light or air pollution. Unlike the Great Rann of Kutch with the white salt desert, the Little Rann sees few visitors, and I was glad to be one of the only people staying in a kooba (round thatched roof hut) opposite the cracked earth desert.
When night fell, I lay in absolute darkness and silence, my eyes slowly adjusting to the night sky. Bright stars appeared above me one by one, shooting stars dashed through the sky and big green mesmerising Geminid meteors stole the show!
Practical tips for catching the Geminid Meteor Shower in Gujarat
Stay at Devjibhai Ka Kooba opposite the Little Rann of Kutch desert. There are no other accommodations in the vicinity, so it gets pretty dark at night. Devjibhai’s son is well acquainted with these parts and has some ideas for really dark spots for intrepid stargazers – inform them in advance about your interest in stargazing.
The Little Rann of Kutch is a 6-7 hour bus ride from Ahmedabad.
When to go
Winter months from November to February see cool temperatures and clear skies. Carry a light jacket for chilly nights.
Havelock and Mayabunder, Andaman & Nicobar
[Recommended by Saurabh; see his astro time lapse video shot on Havelock]
The Andaman & Nicobar Islands offer much more than dreamy beaches; thanks to their remote location and little light pollution, the night skies are stupendous for both stargazing and creating astro time-lapse videos. Lay on the unobstructed helipad on Havelock Island, on a tropical night, for thousands of stars in your eyes and the waves of the Indian Ocean in your ears. Or go further off the beaten track to Mayabunder, to live with a tribal Karen family, so far away from city lights that as the sky above fills with twinkling stars, you’d begin to wonder if the former really exist.
Practical tips for spotting shooting stars in Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Take the 2-hour ferry from Port Blair (the capital) to Havelock Island, or a bus from Port Blair to Mayabunder.
When to go
November to January is best for clear skies.
Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears
Nag Tibba and Raithal – Uttarakhand
Living without electricity in different parts of Garhwal totally made me question why we need it at all. Days are meant to be spent outdoors and nights under dark shimmering skies. As I lay under thousands of stars, I couldn’t help but think back to my childhood days in Dehradun, when during long powercuts at night, we would sleep out in the garden, in the breeze and under the stars! These days, nights in most Indian households are for television, internet and air conditioning. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider what “development” really is.
Practical tips for spotting shooting stars in Uttarakhand
The Goat Villages, set up with a goal to encourage the reverse migration of Himalayan farmers, are experiences unto themselves – the fact that they don’t have electricity means that you can see incredibly dark skies right from your balcony!
The Goat Villages near Nag Tibba and Uttarkashi are 3 and 7 hours from Dehradun respectively, accessible by shared taxi.
When to go
The skies are clear year-round except the monsoon months from July to early September.
Jaisalmer and Churu – Rajasthan
Imagine if you can. The Perseid Meteor Shower is going to peak and I make a mad dash with my partner to seek clear skies in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert. We reach Churu close to midnight, and drive out to the farm of our host family where they’ve laid out khatiyas for us to sleep on. Although there is more light pollution here than the further reaches of the Thar, we spot 5 Perseid meteors in literally the first 15 minutes – bluish, more sluggish, closer to earth than shooting stars. Then the moon rises higher and fills the sky with light and the cool breeze puts me into a deep slumber. Sleeping outside is so underrated!
Further out in the Thar Desert, accessible via Jaisalmer, I caught my first Gemenid Meteor Shower, laying on a flimsy mattress on the leeward side of a sand dune with a bottle of rum to keep warm! There’s no joy like seeing the Milky Way in the vast expanse of a desert sky, as large green meteors streak through the sky. Possibly the best place for stargazing in India.
Practical tips for catching the Perseid Meteor Shower in Rajasthan
Malji Ka Kamra was the base of our meteor shower adventures in Churu – clubbed with discovering crumbling old havelis that have stood the test of time. In Jaisalmer, l loved exploring the Thar Desert and stargazing with Suryagarh.
Churu is a 5-6 hour drive from Delhi, while Jaisalmer is a long overnight train ride away.
When to go
The winter months from November to February are best for clear skies and relatively cooler desert weather. Nights get chilly in winter, so carry warm clothes.
Pin Valley, Himachal Pradesh (best stargazing in India for mountain lovers)
Although all of Spiti is heavenly for stargazers and astrophotographers, I felt like there was a different kind of magic to stargazing amid the stark mountains, gushing rivers and all-encompassing silence of Pin Valley. On each of the two nights I spent there, I would finish dinner with my host family and slip out onto the terrace, as gazillions of stars lit up the skies above and the Milky Way (the part of our galaxy we can see in the sky) shone like an ethereal apparition in the darkness. I was fully aware of sharing this territory with snow leopards somewhere in the mountains above and red fox somewhere in the valley below – and even jumped at a glowing pair of eyes in the far distance once!
Practical tips for spotting shooting stars in Himachal Pradesh
The Hermitage, designed by French volunteers, run as a guesthouse by a local family and supported by social enterprise Spiti Ecosphere, is tucked away deep in the heart of Pin Valley. A heartwarming experience with crystal clear night skies.
Pin Valley is a 2-3 hour drive from Kaza, the administrative capital of Spiti – which is a 14-hour drive up on treacherous roads from Manali.
When to go
Pin Valley is most accessible in the summer months from late May to early October; the night skies are always clear (and hope they’ll remain so despite growing tourism).
Shnongpdeng – Meghalaya
[Recommended by Saurabh; see his Milky Way cinemagraph shot in Spiti]
Meghalaya, home to the wettest place on earth, is seldom associated with stargazing. But besides cloudy skies, the lush green countryside often opens up to moments of pure silence with clear dark skies above, full of stars! In the small hill village of Shnongpdeng, close to the Bangladesh border, on a new moon night, find an isolated spot, let your eyes adjust to the darkness and watch the canvas above fill with twinkling lights – a most magical experience.
Practical tips for stargazing in Meghalaya
Fly to Guwahati, from where Shillong is 2.5 hours and Shnongpdeng further 3-4 hours drive.
When to go
The best time for stargazing and clear, cloudless skies is mid December to mid January.
Gunopur – Punjab
I unexpectedly landed up in Punjab, thanks to a cheap flight from Singapore to India – not knowing that I’d be rewarded with a stellar night sky. The rural countryside of Gurdaspur district, especially the village of Gunopur, home to mustard fields and (mostly) friendly farmers, offers chilly winter nights with little light and air pollution, which meant I could lay out on a charpoi on my terrace and gaze into the twinkling infinity. The sky clarity here doesn’t compare to that of Gujarat or Ladakh and you can’t see the Milky Way, but it’s a fulfilling experience nonetheless.
Practical tips for stargazing in Punjab
I loved staying at Punjabiyat, sandwiched between the villages of Saidowal and Gunopur, in the Gurdaspur District.
The nearest airport and train station are in Amritsar, only over an hour away.
When to go
The winter months from November to February are best for clear skies and blooming mustard fields.
Bomdila and Tawang – Arunachal Pradesh
[Recommended by Saurabh]
Sparse inhabitation and low light pollution account for incredible night skies across Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India, but the best places to embrace the cold and take in the stars are the tiny town of Bomdilla and the famous seventeenth century Tawang Monastery. By day, explore the intriguing tribal culture and hike amid the stellar beauty of the eastern Himalayas; by night, bundle up in warm clothes and gaze up at the Milky Way, surrounded by millions of stars – worth losing sleep over!
Practical tips for seeing the Milky Way in Arunachal Pradesh
Take the bus from Guwahati to Bomdila, followed by a shared taxi. The long and treacherous journey is well worth it.
When to go
March to October are best for clear skies and warmer weather.
Ladakh – Jammu and Kashmir (best stargazing places in India, especially for astrophotography)
Like Spiti, Ladakh is among the most incredible places for stargazing in India. Although unlike Spiti, it is also thronged by mindless tourists who think it’s okay to play loud music at night at the serene Pangong Lake. The bane of every stargazer.
In my little corner of Ladakh (best to keep it nameless), on clear nights, when everyone else had turned off the lights and gone to sleep, I would take my pillow, wear warm layers and lie under the dark night sky – under a million twinkling stars and the Milky Way! I spotted tens of shooting stars every night, and also some strange things… like unblinking star-like objects moving slowly in a straight line (perhaps a satellite?), flashing objects moving in a random trajectory, and faint slow moving objects falling a long way. Maybe it was just my imagination playing games with me. Or maybe someone was watching me from above 😉
Practical tips for stargazing in Ladakh
Opt for a homestay with traditional Ladakhi facilities. I’ve heard that Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company is great at helping finding those.
The easiest way to get to Ladakh is flying in to Leh. Set aside a few days to acclimatise to the high altitude.
When to go
The summer months from May to August are the warmest, though also pretty busy.
Koraput region – Odisha
On the last night of a heartwarming journey through Odisha, I sat outdoors, all by myself. The air smelt aromatic, sounds of a “kidnap wedding” broke the silence (that story is for another day), the silhouette of tiny mangoes on an ancient tree kept me company. Then a power cut plunged the world around me into darkness, and as silence washed over all my senses, tons of tiny stars dotted the skies above. A befitting end to an journey that I hope to continue one of these days.
Practical tips for stargazing in Odisha
I saw some magical skies at Chandoori Sai, the home (and homestay) of an Australian guy who made a small village in Koraput his home some 13 years ago; it’s also the most luxurious yet eco-friendly place to stay in the region.
The nearest train station is Koraput.
When to go
The winter months from November to February are best for clear skies and cooler temperatures.