There are two monsoons (or rainy seasons) in India. The summer monsoon season in India, otherwise known as the southwest monsoon, which lasts from June to September and affects the whole of India. Then the northeast or winter monsoon brings seasonal rainfall to Southeast India from October to December.
Visiting India during the monsoon
As the monsoon rains follow a pattern with the trade winds, it is possible to plan your India holiday around them and avoid the heavy rainfall. For instance, the summer monsoon does not cause heavy rains to the southeasterly regions like Tamil Nadu, which experience heavier rainfall in October & November. So, although extremely humid, July and August are good off-peak months to explore the temple delights of Madurai and the coastal French colonial town of Pondicherry. I’d recommend visiting sights in the cooler mornings and evenings, and choosing a lovely hotel with air conditioning and a swimming pool, to help you to get the most out of your hot midsummer holiday!
Rajasthan is the driest state in India and has the Thar desert to its west. The summer monsoon hits in July, and starts strongly, with the first rains turning the streets into rivers. July and August see approximately 7-8 inches of rainfall each month in a typical Rajasthani town, such as Jaipur. However, come September, the monsoon has almost blown out, though there can be the occasional shower. It’s a beautiful time to visit as the hills are lush and green, the lakes are full and only a few other visitors, so you can feel as if you have the country to yourself!
The southern mountain ranges, the Western Ghats, do receive a lot of rainfall during monsoon! Their altitude catches the monsoon trade winds in the summer and winter – so can have heavy rainfall June to October. As the beautiful landscapes and views of the western ghats, include tea and spice plantations, lakes and waterfalls, and support great birdlife the best months to visit them and enjoy the great outdoors is November – March.
Most national parks are closed over the monsoon season, as flooding and rainfall hamper accessibility to the rural zones and reduce the chances of wildlife sighting.
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What are monsoons and what causes them?
Monsoons are caused by a pressure difference between sea and land, bringing seasonal winds and rains.
The southwest monsoon occurs after the hot summer. The huge landmass of India heats up at a different rate to the surrounding sea, and the extreme heat of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan draws in moisture-laden winds from the low-pressure area in the Arabian sea. The winds first hit the Western Ghats of Kerala, this land relief causes the air to rise and cool with subsequent rainfall, they then move northwards. The rains reach Kerala around the beginning of June, usually arrive in Mumbai approximately 10 days later, then Delhi by the end of June, and the rest of India by mid-July.
The reverse happens in winter, during the northeast monsoon. The land is colder than the sea, so the pressure gradient is from land to sea. Winds blow over the Indian subcontinent toward the Indian Ocean in a northeasterly direction, passing over the Bay of Bengal picking up moisture, and causing rain in Tamil Nadu in October – November.
How bad are the monsoon seasons?
There is often news of disruption, flooding and landslides at the start of the summer monsoon around June, as it is stronger than the winter monsoon. The earth is sunbaked and dry from the summer and so can not cope with the sudden deluge. That said, the start of the monsoon is not always disastrous – in fact, it is often welcomed after the hot summer, and many Indians will rejoice in the first downpours which are accompanied by a dramatic thunder and lightning display! As India’s economy is ~20% agriculture, it is reliant on a good monsoon.
As the monsoon progresses through the season, it falls into a rhythm of raining for at least a few hours most days. It can be sunny one minute and pouring the next, and the rain can be unpredictable. Some days there is very little rainfall which will cause the temperature and humidity to rise again. The peak months of rainfall are July and August, it tapers off in September. September is a great month to visit as the lakes are full, the mountains green, and the temperature cooler.
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Are monsoon months the same as the rainy season in India?
The monsoon is also referred to as the rainy season, although the summer monsoon brings more rain than the winter monsoon.
Temperatures during monsoon season throughout India
The monsoon rains bring relief from the heat of summer throughout India. In the southern states such as Kerala, which is always around 30 degrees celsius, the temperature drops a couple of degrees with the rains. However, what is more noticeable is the welcome drop in humidity.
In Rajasthan, premonsoon summer temperatures are in the 40s, then come July this drops to the low 30s but the humidity increases.
Tamil Nadu experiences only moderate rainfall in the summer monsoon, temperatures are in the mid-30s in July-September; but then during the winter monsoon, its main rains come and with it a drop in temperature to high 20s and reduced humidity.
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