Last updated: Apr, 2016
In the Rann of Kutch, the world's largest saline desert, the wind howls and hoots like a banshee. Those trackless wastes hijacked our imagination so much so miracles and mirages seemed to merge in the flat vastness, and the lines between the real and the unreal were blurred.
At Than monastery, a remote temple complex on the edge of the virtually untrodden Rann (60 km from the district capital of Bhuj), a caretaker told us about a Hindu saint who had meditated there in the headstand position for 12 years! "Twelve years!" we echoed in a mixture of disbelief and astonishment.
But then we thought, anything is possible in this inhospitable terrain; stark, barren and seemingly devoid of life, with silvery pools of water glimmering in the distance like an answer to a shipwrecked man's prayer. "Those pools are mirages," said our guide "as we squinted into the blurry distance where the very air seemed to shimmer like a bride's veil."
The Indo-Gangetic Plain, where the Buddha spent his lifetime, offers several destinations that mark important milestones in The Enlightened One’s life and make for an interesting itinerary for any traveler seeking to follow the life and times of the founder of Buddism.
The first stop is Lumbini, which lies across the Sunauli border on Nepal side. It marks the beginning of Buddha’s trail and is a World Heritage Site of supreme significance, although missed by most travelers despite it being birthplace of Prince Siddhartha, as Buddha was known before attaining enlightenment. 500 kms away from Lumbini is Bodh Gaya in Bihar, where Buddha found enlightenment under a fig tree (called Bodhi tree) after meditating for 49 days.
The next stop in the itinerary has to be the Deer Park at Sarnath, where Buddha preached the first sermon to his five companions. For spiritualists seeking to practice meditation, Sarnath and Shravasti, where Buddha spent 24 years, are ideal destinations. The final stop is Kushinagar where a 6.1 metre-long sandstone statue of the Reclining Buddha inside the Mahaparinirvana Temple marks the site where Buddha attained nirvana after death. The natural beauty, historical significance and rich heritage of the Indo-Gangetic plains invite both leisure travelers and serious spiritualists to embrace the magic of Buddha’s expedition while indulging in some of the most picturesque spectacles in the world.
If you are looking for paradise, then surely Ladakh, nestled in the lap of Himalayas in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, has to be one of your top target destinations. This serene, intriguingly beautiful, mysterious and inviting region offers myriad attractions to a traveller. Whether you want to visit Pangong Lake, the highest saltwater reservoir in the world at an altitude of 14,270 ft or Tso Moriri, the fresh water lake situated at a height of 15,000 ft, you would be spoilt for choices. Nubra valley, the valley of flowers, hosts the Diskit monastery dating back to 14th century and offers a peep into the ancient legacy of Tibetan Buddhists. You may soak yourself in the warm hospitality of the ever smiling locals or seek solitude along the numerous walks and enjoy the captivating beauty of snow-capped mountains, endless valleys and the unspoilt greenery.
To visit the soulful Ladakh, you may visit take a flight from Delhi, Jammu, Srinagar, Shimla or Chandigarh. Alternately if you are the kind who enjoys the journey as much as or more than the destination, you may drive down to Leh, the capital of Ladakh along the highest motorable pass in the world, Khardung La, which is an adventure in itself.
If you are looking for a quiet date with history and some moments for self, then this is the perfect time to head to Orchha. Far away from the madding crowds of urban centres, this tiny village town in transition in Madhya Pradesh, offers a vacation that promises to be a medley of absorbing details, relaxation, peace and rejuvenation. Stepping into Orchha is akin to stepping back in time—here time seems to have stood still beguilingly. This tiny city hides within it centuries of India’s past—a legacy carved in stone—mute yet evocative.
If heading from Delhi, just take a train to Jhansi, which is a 15 km ride from this ancient city. You can come back to explore Jhansi again, but for now, catch an auto or a taxi and head out to the erstwhile seat of the Bundelas. The sight of Orchha is like an artist’s impression, drawn on a canvas of blue, grey and blue—a line of stone palaces and temples with rising domes etched between the blue of the sky above and reflected in the still waters of Betwa river below—mesmerizing in its beauty and the architectural excellence of the bygone era. Orchha is a true reflection of India of the Maharajas. Built in the 16th and the 17th centuries, its monuments hide within their walls the rich history of the region.
Pray… Shoot… Love! To take a little liberty with the famous book and eponymous movie Eat Pray Love. Bandhavgarh National Park is unique, for its history, flora and fauna, and the royal sightings. It’s ironic that in this erstwhile shikargarh of the royals of Rewa, the sighting of the once preyed tiger, has now become an answer to the visitors’ prayers. Yes it is true, this game preserve of the Maharajas of Rewa was a famous hunting ground for the rulers and their guests. Today the only shooting that is allowed here is with your DSLR. Bandhavgarh is the royal abode of exotic royal white tigers and the true answer to the nature tourist's prayers.
What draw tourists from India and abroad in hordes today are Bandhavgarh’s famous tiger sightings, not one or two but sometimes more than five, if you are really lucky and your prayers have been answered. Bandhavgarh calls out to not just tiger lovers but all wildlife and nature enthusiasts, wildlife photographers as well the general tourists. For others, the destination has a heightened meaning as culture, history and archaeology of the place transport the national park from a wildlife destination to something more exotic and intrinsically Indian in spirit.
If you are looking for something different from your regular beach holidays this winter, it’s time you headed out to Bandhavgarh. The season is just so perfectly ambient for a relaxing holiday in the midst of nature’s green. The best time to visit Bandhavgarh is from October to June. If you want to catch a sight of the sloth bear as well, then plan your visit between March and May. Fond of the multifunctional Mahua flower that is locally brewed into a fine wine, the sloth bear comes out from its hideout sniffing its sweet scent. Birds and deer are also fond of the Mahua, a tree native to India; and the best time for bird watching in this national park is between November and March.
If in the middle of cold foggy winter a beach holiday beckons tantalisingly, worry not. Just head to Mamallapuram, better known as Mahabalipuram. This ancient seaport town offers much more than a perfect soak in the sun. The beachside city is a curious potpourri of art, culture, history, heritage, architecture, modernity and much else and an archeological treasure trove with its famous group of monuments listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Yes, Mahabalipuram has much to offer to the world traveller, the reason why it has earned the sobriquet of a tourist town.
The tiny beachside getaway situated at a convenient distance of approximately 60 km from the thriving state capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai, is just a 45 minutes to one-hour drive down the East Coast Road (ECR). As you cruise along this one-lane well maintained toll road, one of the most scenic coastal drives in India, the Bay of Bengal plays hide and seek throughout the way.
It is a must-visit destination on the India itinerary of foreign tourists, the heritage and beach of Mahabalipuram are now drawing the domestic travellers too. Weekend revellers from the city and the corporate crowd often drive down for a picnic by the shore or just to spend the day on the beach. If you want to avoid the crowds, time your visit for weekdays when the beaches are peaceful and calm. The beach ambience of the seaside heritage destination and the treasure trove of its ancient monuments make Mahabalipuram among the top 10 most visited places by overseas tourists.
It’s royal, it’s imposing and it’s blue! It is the origin of the famous mawa kachoris and yes, it is the place that sashays on the international fashion ramps in an eponymous avatar—the world renowned piece of sartorial elegance—the Indian breeches. That in short is Jodhpur, the second largest city of Rajasthan and seat of erstwhile royals, the famous Rathores.
To do this, we recommend a trip to the desert town in the months between October and March, the best time to visit the Gateway to the Thar. Yes that’s another of the monikers of the Blue City and the Sun City. Situated on the edge of the Thar desert, the town is bright and sunny, hot and dry—a typical desert weather for most parts of the year.
Many buses, trains and flights take the visitor to the royal abode. But a road trip to Rajasthan has its own charm and so does a trip on the Palace on Wheels—Royal Rajasthan on Wheels. Board this regal chariot at Delhi and take a seven day round trip of Rajasthan, visiting all the former princely states ensconced in luxury.
There will not be a dull moment in a trip to Jodhpur, with the city bustling with activity, visits to temples, monuments, forts and short excursions to the outskirts that add to the experience.
What makes Mussoorie the Queen of Hills? For one, it boasts of Cloud’s End at one end of it, and for another, it promises a mesmerising view of the majestic Himalayan ranges. An easy and picturesque 35 km drive from Dehradun, it is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, at a height of 200 m above sea level. In summer, this hill station provides an escape from the oppressive heat of the plains. With the highest temperature reaching 30 degrees Celsius and the lowest hovering at 10 degrees Celsius, summers are also the best time for trekking, rock climbing and camping.
Dehradun makes for a great base camp to do this loop and is well connected by air, train and bus from key cities of North India. Cabs are the easiest way to travel. Mussorie offers a wide choice of accommodation to the travellers—from budget to five star hotels. Take your pick after a thorough recce and select one with valley facing room for the best view of Mussoorie. Try out the variety of cuisine on offer.
Colourful woollens like Kullu socks, caps, mufflers and shawls make great gift items for friends back home. The Tibetan market offers a choice of sleeping bags, windcheaters, sweaters and shawls and a little further at the old cantonment area of Landour you can shop for Raj era memorabilia, silver jewellery and books.
McLeod Ganj, popularly known as Little Lhasa, a village in the suburbs of Dharamshala, is situated in the hilly terrains of Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh and is a popular Tibetan colony. McLeod Ganj is bustling with life yet serene and calm. In the upper recesses at 1,770 m is the residence of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. The lower Dharamshala (1,380 m), in contrast, is a busy commercial hub.
Make your way to one of the many budget hotels, homestays or guesthouses tucked into the narrow alleys depending on your purse and taste. Most offer clean, tastefully furnished accommodation with views to refresh the soul. Worth mentioning for a stay are the Tibetan themed ones that resonate with its culture. From décor to hospitality, all have a distinct flavour and bring Little Lhasa a little closer to the visitor in spirit.
Spring is in the air. The long damp, dark days of biting cold are come to a welcome end…well almost. The days are bright and warm and well the blues beckon—the lakes, the lagoons, the seas and the coasts. Coastal Karnataka, the almost 320 km of the most vivid coastal stretch of golden-white beaches and breathtaking sights that can ever be found in a single place! Bordered by the Arabian Sea on the west and bounded by the plains of Kerala on the south, Konkan on the north and Western Ghats on the east, coastal Karnataka has the most mesmerizing landscape that runs from Mangalore in the south all the way to Gokarna in the north.
Coastal Karnataka is idyllic most parts of the year. Yet March to August is the best time to plan a visit to its many famous beach destinations. Most of the beaches are at an easy distance from Mangalore, which is the nearest airport and railway station. Mangalore is also well connected to all the major cities of Karnataka like Bengaluru, Shimoga, Hassan and Chickmagalur, via road.
The charm is legendary. This tiny lake city, said to have sprung up from the petal of a lotus flower of Lord Bramha, is mystical and magical. It attracts millions, and in droves, especially in the holy month of Kartik for religious reasons and others, to the Pushkar Mela, the largest camel fair in the world, for all the fun and frolic that it promises. The history too of this ancient, tiny and sleepy town is fascinating. “Pushkar Fair is one of the most iconic travel destinations in Asia, with a uniquely exotic appeal for visitors, a chance to see one of the greatest traditional melas and livestock trading fairs. It draws visitors from all over the world,” said Mr Pankaj Sharma, CEO, Indian Moments, a tour operator specialising in Pushkar tours.
A natural lake amidst hills and sand dunes is itself a miracle, but Pushkar’s sacred importance in Hindu mythology is such that it finds mention in both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Camel rides and races, giant Ferris wheel rides, the longest moustache contest, the pagadi contest, the horse and donkey races, and balloon rides up in the clear desert sky, are just among the few activities that keep the visitors returning day after day, hankering for more excitement. The local wares bazaar offering ethnic jewellery, utensils, household items, and garments richly crafted with local designs, is a great attraction for souvenir hunters.
The 'Fragrant One' from the land of the Blue Mountains lingers on the tastebuds. The colour is a brisk orange and the taste a distinct honey-sweet, not sharp and tangy but sweet and mellow. Just the right kind of tea, yes, it is the Fragrant One, a tea to sip through the day to beat the slight chill of the mountain air! But there's certainly more to the Nilgiris than its tea. It's a destination that is simply exquisite in its beauty. The Nilgiri Hills are a part of the rich biodiversity of the Western Ghats, located bordering the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Nilgiri District, part of Tamil Nadu, is situated within these hills. The English name of the Nilgiri Hills is Blue Mountains—their literal translation.
The region has reasons galore to celebrate the Nilgiris. The world-renowned travel destination is blessed with not one but several hill stations, each at a different altitude. It is a retreat that packs the thrill of high mountains, deep valleys, sparkling water bodies, dense forests and steep slopes, rich biodiversity, the peace of tea gardens, and the adventure of trekking and mountain cycling, et al. It is home to Ketti, the world's widest valley, as well as the famous Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary.
For the best view of four of the five highest peaks in the world and the adventure of a lifetime head to Sandakphu.
Spiti Valley is a perfect summer getaway offering unrivalled delights.
Stepping into Nagaland is akin to walking back in time. It's fascinating to see an almost medieval tribal island in a sea of 21st century modernity
The The hills of Wayanad resonate with history. The salubrious air smells of spices—a whiff of coffee mixed with cardamom.
India's French Coast! The French Riviera of the East retains its flavour. There's a distinct yet mellow air that blows here gently, slowing life to a leisurely pace. Pondicherry, the capital city of Puducherry, strikes a different chord-but not a discordant note.
Himachal Pradesh (HP), without doubt, is a "Dev Bhumi—Land of Gods". With its vast tracts of high-altitude trans-Himalayan desert, dense green deodar forests, apple orchards, cultivated terraces, snow-capped high Himalayan mountain ranges and snow-fed lakes that gush down in rivers, HP is a geographic marvel.
A trip on the famous Palace on Wheels is truly a journey of opulence and pageantry, through the cities and stories of Delhi, Agra and captivating Rajasthan.
Mumbai renamed from Bombay, pulsates with a rare and potent vibrancy. Numerous books, songs and movies have eulogised and romanticised this sea-side financial hub, which could be called as the 'New York of India'.
Kullu is known for its lush forests, flower-carpeted hillsides and hovering butterflies. In Autumn, Kullu's famous, 10 day long Dussehra festival is a must watch. Various performances like dancing and singing happen during this period and the Gaddi shepherds participate in the same.
Within Rajasthan is a quiet village en route to the well-known Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Bhangarh or locally referred to as the haunted city – a world so different and so nestled deep into the mountains and literally the sands of time that it almost seems a lost civilization.
The Madhav National Park in in Shivpuri, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, is situated on the gentle slopes of the upper Vindhyan hills. The terrain definitely sets the mood - of unhurried ease, such is the magic of the Park.
Wherever you go in Rajasthan, you can't remain untouched by its vivaciousness. The deeper you drive into the desert, the softer the language will become. Rajasthan is easy to spot. Women and men dressed in the brightest of colours, in defiance of the desert's arid brown.
Goa conjures up images. It is a perfect holiday place by the beach. In addition is its hospitality, cuisine, heritage and adventure sports. Goan cuisine is a fine blend of Indian and Portuguese influences.
Kerala redefines the colour green, washes it and presses it till it shines. The state is as lush, as it is silent—soulfully so. In the plains there is the hegemony of coconut. Drink it, eat it, sleep on it or wear it—the tree and its fruit are an integral part of life in Kerala. A small state with a large heart – Kerala.
Darjeeling is perched on the Himalayan foothills, at the northern tip of the West Bengal State, but you can easily call it the soul of Bengal. Darjeeling offers a handful of eateries and watering holes that down shutters early. Local cuisine is as tasty as it is cheap at the tiny Bhutanese and Tibetan restaurants—try their unique pancakes and bread.
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