Towards the end of summer it is common to find people across India looking up at the sky, shielding their eyes from the sun with outstretched palms. Clouds appear larger and fuller, and rains seem imminent.
The actual date when the monsoons will set in is always a debatable question. After the long and relentless heat, when the first droplets of rain fall on the cracked earth, and the smell of petrichor saturates the nostrils, there is almost an audible sigh of relief. The arrival of the monsoons is one of the most eagerly awaited events across the Indian subcontinent.
As the intensity of the showers grows there is a visible shift in the land and people. Parched lands soak up rainwater, and swathes of brown transform overnight into carpets of green. Temperatures drop from 40-plus degrees Celsius (over 104 degrees Fahrenheit) to the more manageable 30s. With it, heat-induced irritability evaporates and tranquillity sets in.
Travelling through India during the monsoon season, which usually lasts from June to September, can be rewarding for many reasons. The crowds have long gone, the landscapes look their best, and hotels slash rates to entice guests in the off-season. Here are some of the best places to visit.
"God's own country", Kerala shines with the pitter-patter of raindrops as its backwaters and lakes swell, and the country turns a brighter shade of green.
There are many ways to enjoy the monsoons in the state both on the coast and up in the hills.
Watch storm clouds gather and enjoy the first downpour of the season at tranquil Marari Beach. Spend languorous days sipping herbal tea and watching the rains from the comfort of a houseboat gently floating on the Vembanad Lake.
When they stop, soak in the brief sunshine cycling through the sleepy villages of Kumarakom. Witness cascading water and swirling mist surrounded by lush greenery at the Athirappilly waterfalls. Explore the highlands up in Munnar, walking down paths that snake through lush tea gardens.
Synonymous with romance and royalty, Rajasthan has sand-coloured forts and palaces of the state that glow against the grey skies of this time of year. The cooler weather and thinner crowds add to their charm.
Step into the shoes of the erstwhile maharajas and maharanis in the opulent rooms of the City Palace in Jaipur. In the city of lakes, Udaipur, discover the rich history of the Mewar dynasty. Through the intricately carved balconies of the palace, you can spot peacocks opening their kaleidoscopic feathers and dancing, heralding sudden showers as the rain breaks the calm surface of Lake Pichola.
Sajjan Garh, a former monsoon palace built by Maharaja Sajjan Singh to watch the monsoon clouds, in the Aravalli mountains, offers panoramic views of the city and surrounding hills.
From the Konkan coast to the hills of the Western Ghats, Maharashtra bursts into life at this time of year.
The coast is an endless stretch of clay beaches, bendy coconut trees, crumbling forts and small villages.
Up in the hills, Lonavla, Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani turn a sparkly green, waterfalls and streams spring to life, and mists shroud mountain tops. Trekkers take to the hills to make the most of the cooler weather and enjoy the scenery.
Monsoons are also the time when the rare bluish-purple flower, the elusive Karvi, blooms across the hills of Maharashtra - a rare treat that occurs once every eight years (the next is due in 2024).
Party capital Goa is a revelation in the monsoons. The boisterous crowds disappear and the numerous shacks lining the beaches shut shop for the season. The loud music and cacophony of voices is replaced with the sounds of thunder and the soothing rhythm of raindrops.
It is the best time to experience what the locals call susegad or blissful life. Go on long bike rides through verdant paddy fields, between farms and Portuguese mansions. Stop by a local bakery and dig into freshly baked poi, a local favourite with hot tea.
This is also the best time to visit the Dudhsagar Falls. The water comes down with incredible force and looks white like milk, giving the falls its name - Dudhsagar means "sea of milk" in the Konkani language.
Historical gems, wildlife sanctuaries, coffee estates and the mighty Cauvery River - Karnataka has many intriguing sides.
The forested state turns an iridescent green after weeks of heavy downpour. Up in the highlands, the rural district of Coorg, popularly known as the "Scotland of the East", with acres of coffee plantations and gushing waterfalls, is a spectacular sight in the monsoons.
The leaden skies offer the perfect backdrop to explore the sprawling ruins of Hampi, the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagara Empire.
Though wildlife sightings are scarce in the rains, monsoons are a special time to be in the forests, where the vegetation is lush after the hot and dry summer months.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.