Stepping on the soil of Goa is like entering a dream. You feel right at home and light-hearted, as the holiday spirit takes over. There is something in the Goan air that makes fun & cheer infectious, and you can't help but throw away your worries and eat, drink, laugh and enjoy instinctively.
Hop on to a two-wheeler, may be a guttural Enfield. It's not hard to find a ride with rental guys pitching their scooters with corny comments. It is the best way to get around town and to the open invitation of the sun, sand and seafood.
Noisy north Goan beaches, action packed water sports, bright markets, medieval forts, pre-historic rocks, calmer white sand beaches and a parallel hippie culture are some aspects of Goa that you'll come across. History has settled comfortably in Goa, evident in its architecture and the many churches and cathedrals. Old Goa takes her place in the sun once a year during the feast of St Xavier, which is a crowd puller and the trademark celebratory spirit is at its peak. Let's begin the voyage to the craziest Land of India...
In 1853, Jaipur's prosperous ruler King Sawai Man Singh got all city walls painted in pink to welcome the Prince of Wales, Edward VII. In the semi-desert lands of Rajasthan, Jaipur is the place for you if you are tired of frequenting hill stations in Northern India. A glorious past of Kings and palaces blended with a culture of pride and hospitality and topped up with a sepia urbanism, that's Jaipur for you!
'Queen of Hill Stations' is no hyperbole for Shimla. Not just weather, it is the atmosphere of the glory days gone by, a hint of which continues to cling. During the British Raj, Shamla was declared the summer capital and it thus became Shimla. Then love, politics and grand balls were talked about for long.
The summer capital is now a holidayer's paradise with romantic air for honeymooners, frolicking avenues for friends and scenic mountains and verdant forests of pines, oaks & deodars for just about everyone. No wonder movies like Black, Gadar, Jab We Met and 3 Idiots were shot here.
The town brings more. The single gauge toy train running between forests and towns from Kalka to Shimla, the soft shawls, antique books, colourful hats and wooden handicrafts present themselves with a chance to bargain! The temples with folklores and the grandiose churches offering views of valleys, the treks, solitary hiking sessions and Victorian buildings are what Shimla is. Let's take you to a quick ride through the hill town...
Draped over a hill, surrounded by tea plantations and backed by a splendid stretch of the Western Ghats, Munnar is a choice retreat in summer. Honeymooners frequent this hill station during all seasons for a taste of its cool and salubrious weather. The three rivers Madupetti, Nallathanni and Periavaru give Munnar its name, which means 'three rivers'. The Duke of Wellington's visit to Munnar in the 19th century put it on the map. Soon it acquired the status as a popular hill resort in south India and was nicknamed as Kerala's Scottish Highlands.
After enjoying the views from Echo Point or Top Station, take a short walk through tea plantations or go for a ride in a disco rickshaw. Lined with stalls selling tea, fruits and vegetables, the streets are crowded with people, cows and goats. Though most of the people are Tamilians, both Tamil and Malayalam are spoken.
The tribal colonies, where ancient customs are still practiced, are worth a visit. Attukal Pongala in February is their biggest event. Fort Munnar, a resort, hosts performances by tribals donning feathery headgear. Payippad Jalotsavam is when the excitement runs sky-high. It is the annual boat race held on Onam.
Picnicking at Anayirangal, looking out for the blue beauty, Neelakurinji (a flower that blooms every 12 years), watching pink dragonflies dancing around flowers, and practicing yoga at Chinnakanal Ayur Resort or Kaivalyam Retreat, fishing at Devikulam or High Range Club, or camping out at Hornbill or Anayirangal, there's lots to do in Munnar. And more, like trekking, cycling, kayaking, rafting, paragliding or a helicopter ride.
Wildlife enthusiasts can immerse themselves in lush greenery, sandalwood trees, sounds of animals, hidden streams, calls of birds and the myriad colours of flora. Oblivious to the world outside, the Eravikulam National Park, Thattekad (Salim Ali) Bird Sanctuary, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary and shola forests (Butterfly forests) are dense with animals like Mountain Goats, Bisons and Tigers.
With stunning greenery, rolling mists all around, and a nip in the air, it is easy to lose track of time.
Century-old English architecture, a rich yet equally confusing Anglican tradition, gabled cottages set amidst mystifying blue hills, Ooty is perhaps the only hill station that has refused to keep fair-weather friends. So much so, at some point, it was called Snooty Ooty' even by the early Madras government, for its notorious snobbishness tells it from the rest of Tamil Nadu. Guarding its warbled British, Anglo-Indian, and native heritage while slowly giving in to commercialisation, Ooty or Ootacamund still manages to lure those in need of low-key rest and relaxation. Walk the length of Commercial Road, spend a day strolling by the misty Ooty Lake, or gorge on some hot Bondas and a cup of Cardamom Tea from a tea stall. It is hard not to fall in love with its temperament. Calm, cool and collected are not just keywords here, but a way of life.
Soak in the beauty of the hills from the toy train (the Nilgiri Mountain Railway) as it chugs along the hillside just as it did hundreds of years ago, ever so often stopping for no rhyme or reason. Get a snapshot of the 20 million year old fossil tree stump at the Botanical Gardens where it is overshadowed by a thousand other rare plants. Sink into the crumbling, torn seat at the Assembly Rooms theatre and watch a movie that probably released years ago. Lick on a puffy pink swirl of cotton candy as you skim through second hand book stalls that still sell obsolete prints. Taste Anglo-Indian delights at the stately British Fern Hills Palace, the former summer retreat of the Mysore Maharaja and let the sounds of the piano gently lull you to sleep soon after.
Run across the untouched wilderness of Avalanche Reservoir, and try your hand at Trout fishing in the ramshackle Wilson Fish Farm nearby. Squint and swipe with your lucky hand at the 100 year old Ootacamund Golf Course or mumble a prayer at the century-old St. Stephen's Church as the last rays of sun illuminate the altar through beautifully glass-painted windows. Enjoy a late evening walk as the last strains of the choir waft in the breeze onto town. There is simply no denying that Ooty remains regal, ravishing and royal no matter when you visit. See for yourself...
No holiday in India is complete without a trip to Manali. Tucked away in the shade of dense pinewoods and snowy mountains, there is something about Kulu Valley's premier hill station, that will make you recall childhood fairytales. The earth almost meets the sky all around, the meandering Beas River winds its way through the valley mysteriously, and between the imposing peaks of the Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar ranges, hundreds flock to experience how it must be to live in Paradise.
Known famously for its lush green valleys, this beautiful hill station in the lower Himalayas is closely connected to Indian mythology as the legendary King Manu is said to have lived here. It is believed that the ark of Manu was found here after the great flood. Today, the name Manali is almost forgotten for what it truly stands forthe Abode of Manu or the Abode of the Gods. And needless to say, this is precisely why everyone heads to the hills every year: to ski down the icy slopes of the Himalayas, where the gods once lived.
The land of warriors and home of the famous Coorgi Pork, Coorg (officially called Kodagu) is peppered with coffee plantations, gurgling streams and tumbledown town markets. Once the base of some of the most powerful empires in south India, Coorg will enchant you in more ways than you can imagine!
Madikeri (Mercara) is famously known as the "Scotland of India" for no lesser reasons. Quaint cottages, waterfalls, plantations, serenity and peace are all pervasive here. The warrior clan of Kodavas who have called Coorg their home over centuries, today offer an insight into their unique culture with good cheer and warm nature.
Explore lush wilderness at Nagarhole National Park, picnic by the majestic Iruppu Falls, stroll along Madikeri's enchanting evening market, enjoy rafting on Barapole River, trail into the unknown depths towards the Brahmagiri Peak, and discover Coorg"s rich history with a visit to Raja's Seat, Talacauvery, Madikeri Fort or Bhagamandala. Also tour coffee plantations or gorge on spicy, Coorgi curry at a local restaurant. The hills will soothe your mind beyond compare.
From hockey festivals to traditional archery, the fervent love for eco-tourism and nature, and the oh-so-obvious love of food and wine, Coorg will bowl you over indefinitely.
It is said that Kerala's best kept secrets lie in the heart of Thekkady. A lush green oasis that sprawls across the Periyar Wildlife Reserve, this is where man and beast live as one. Snarling Tigers, screeching Crickets and naughty Langurs, the mysterious calm of the jungle is enough to tempt anyone who yearns to explore the wild. Thekkady is a naturalist's dream. With tea and spice plantations, it has lent much to Kerala's commerce as much as it has to its beauty. The incredible wildlife preserved in Periyar Tiger Wildlife Sanctuary today attracts naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts from around the world. Declared a tiger reserve in 1978, the Periyar Wildlife Reserve is one of the few reserves where one can catch sight of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger that is fast dwindling in population. Shed your inhibitions and take a day off to enjoy a bamboo raft ride across the Periyar river, explore the forest at night, never knowing what is to come, and succumb to the temptation of traditional Kerala Fish Curry and Rice in every restaurant you visit.
Ride through the jungle on elephant back or make your way through the village on a bullock cart. Wild and raw, the countryside embraces you with warmth that is almost forgotten. On a longer day, visit the Mangala Devi Temple, a short distance from Thekkady town, or to its bustling cousin Kumily, known for its spice plantations. Peermade is another plantation town that lures people on that extended weekend in Thekkady. Cascading waterfalls, misty hilltops and plunging valleys of emerald green, let loose your wild side.
Visit the Tribal Heritage museum inside the Mannan settlement and explore artefacts from a lost generation. Finally, give in to the mellow breeze and soothe your mind as you enjoy an Ayurvedic massage, and let time stop at its tracks. Virgin and raw, Thekkady is for those who yearn to leave the world behind and retrace a journey back in time.
Udaipur's biggest charm lies in its location: the foot of the Aravallis. They surround the city protectively, gifting it breathtaking views of the hills that rise and fall. Famous as the City of Lakes, evenings in Udaipur, especially by the lake side is an amazing experience, which can also be enjoyed from the city's numerous rooftop restaurants.
Udaipur is a jewel of Mewar with rich history, culture and Rajput-era palaces. Also called the most romantic city in India, it definitely is the most serene of all.
Cochin will make you come alive at the very first sight. It offers a wealth of history, art and culture to travellers. Shuffled in the hands of Maharajas, and colonial powers like the Portuguese, Dutch and British, the present Cochin is chequered with impressive colonial landmarks as well as contemporary ones.
The essence of Cochin lies in its pristine beauty and the beaches dotted with palm trees. Its culture, nature and hospitality will surly lure you in. Cochin offers you more than beautiful beaches with architectural gems like Bolghatty Palace and Fort Kochi. Uncovering Cochin through Onam, the banquet of Sadya, the Malayattoor Perunnal Festival, yoga, Ayurveda and Kerala spices at the Spice Market is a fascinating journey of discovery.
Cochin is the only place where Chinese fishing nets are used outside China. You'll see local fishermen braving the waves on coracles. More than the ways of the fishermen, the palaces and ruins left behind like the Hill Palace offer a glimpse of the splendour of Kochi. Visit the Dutch Palace and the nearby Jewish Synagogue which is famed for its Belgium chandeliers and Chinese tiles.
Deep in ancient history, the city will make you snap back to the present in a jiffy with dazzling shopping complexes and places, such as Veega Land, a water theme park, the largest in South India.
Cochin tempts you with a boat cruise in the backwaters against the idyllic backdrop of the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. You can hire a ferryboat and row to Vypin Island from Mattancherry town to catch sight of dolphins making merry.
Cochin's diverse charms, and the relatively quiet, clean and rather conservative atmosphere set it apart from other cities. Don't be surprised if you take back more than a few unforgettable moments.
Nestled in the heart of the Palani Hills in south Tamil Nadu, Kodaikanal, a charming little hill station is a picture perfect postcard with its spectacular greenery, waterfalls, cliffs and blossoms. Long for a cool break this summer? Kodaikanal is where you need to be!
The main street-Annasalai is the beating pulse of the hills. Bhajji (fritters) stalls brimming with mouth-watering delights, evening joggers, couples walking hand in hand - no environment could be as laidback and relaxing. Buy a glass of sweet, Masala Chai (tea) and enjoy the scene. Virtually everything revolves around the feeling of goodness and getting in touch with your inner side. Cycle around the magnificent Kodai Lake early in the morning and lose yourself in the chill, misty state of calm.
Kodaikanal is the only hill station that was set up by American missionaries back in the 20th century. Trekkers will love a visit to Pillar Rocks, three massive stone faces that provide a stunning, panoramic view of the valley. Those who want to rest their feet will love sitting in the shade and enjoying a small picnic and snacks. Dolphin's Nose (a cliff), the Bear Shola Falls, Bryant Park and the Pambar Falls are great alternative options too.
Retire into a puffy leather couch in the well-stocked library of the Kodai Club. The old English aura of the bar is truly remarkable and evokes old memories with its all yesteryear English decor. Kodaikanal revels in the simple pleasures of life. No matter what kind of a break you are seeking, it makes sure you feel at home; the soft winds, the scented fragrance of eucalyptus trees and tea, the sprawling plum orchards and the delightful aroma of homemade chocolates will seduce you completely. It is difficult to say goodbye.
Gangtok, an unassuming Himalayan town comes with the quaint charms very much like most hillside towns. And yet its culture and its influences stop it from being clubbed with the rest.
Flung away from the heart of India and in proximity with Tibet, it is most certainly not the quintessential Indian town. Buddhism is prevalent. So are entrancing views of mountains and foliage.
Monks cruising down the street in bikes is a common sight. You cannot miss the numerous monasteries in the city. The mystical Do-Drul Chorten, Enchey Gompa Monastery, Rumtek Monastery, Tashiling Monastery and Phensong Monastery are quite beautiful. The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology offers an intimate rendezvous with its culture. Even better are the masked dances and processions during festivals.
Gangtok offers some incredible views of the mighty Kanchenjunga from Tashi Point and its quaint temple, Ganesh Tok. Hanuman Tok is another Hindu temple in this city.
Shoppers and foodies will be delighted. From yummy tea to Tibetan handicrafts and fur jackets, Gangtok's MG Road and Lal Bazaar are only too happy to please. The food is diverse and restaurants serve you traditional Sikkimese dishes, steamed and fried Momos, the wicked Chang and succulent meat that will have you asking for more.
Changu Lake, Saramsa Garden and Banjhakri Falls are all a short drive from the city and are neat getaways whether you want to ride a Yak, sip on hot tea meditatively or have a scrumptious picnic. For a few lessons in history, just drive up to the Nathu La Pass.
Orchids, Snow Leopards, Red Pandas and bamboos have their own sanctuaries in Gangtok that takes the conservation of its greenscape and wildlife seriously.
Not a tourist trap, with little to do and much to discover, experience the art of doing nothing and being everything in Gangtok.