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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in India.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in India.
I stared wide-eyed at the two bridges. The first was made of bamboo and the second of rusty iron cables; both had steel wires to hold onto for support. A board read “Don’t shake the bridge”, but despite my best efforts to adhere to this instruction, it shook and swung as I walked over it.
Goa’s backwaters and hinterland are stunning, historical, authentic and still completely unchanged. Discover the nature trails by taking a guided boat tour of the area. Visualize a 360 degree picturesque scene and colourful parallel shores on either side as you experience both sunrise and sunset.
Sometimes getting the plans wrong can ruin a perfectly good holiday. Maybe it’s time to turn to professionals, experts who’ve been long and experienced enough in the business of travel, both at home and abroad, to help get those logistics right.
For any yogi cliques wanting to dive deeper into the practice, Ananda in the Himalayas is the perfect location. Surrounded by the vista of the Himalayas and just outside the wellness haven of Rishikesh, this luxury wellness resort provides the best in authentic yogic experiences. Continue reading
Located 335 kilometres from Mumbai, Ratnagiri has hills on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. Close to town, there are undisturbed and underrated beaches such as Velas, Diveagar, and Guhagar that offer an insight into the Konkan lifestyle.
► Home to the famous Alphonso mango, Ratnagiri is the perfect spot if you want to indulge in mango picking, and of course, eat them fresh from the tree.
► Try Konkan-style fish curry and balance its spicy flavours with sol kadi, a pink-coloured drink. Local snacks such as ambapoli and phanaspoli are must-try.
► Blue Ocean Resort & Spa offers a classic beach resort experience with comfortable rooms.
► Set amidst coconut and mango plantations, Atithi Parinay Homestay is an example of Indian hospitality. Stay here for its traditional food and outstanding location.
An erstwhile Portuguese territory, Diu is connected by a lattice of bridges and ferries to Gujarat on the mainland. It has a distinct Mediterranean-meets-Kutch look where houses are painted sunshine yellow, creamy white and powder blue under a scorching sun and clear sky. With a Union Territory status, it is a refuge for travellers to get a real drink as its neighbour is a dry state. Some call it Little Goa, and some call it Gujarat’s Ibiza. But it’s actually a charming and quiet island with clean beaches and delicious food. Wander at the old Portuguese churches and dine on fabulous seafood including rockfish, calamari and prawns.
► Rent a bike and drive to the quiet beaches of Goghla or Ngao and explore the Naida Caves.
► Plan a day trip to the Gir National Park to spot the endangered Asiatic lion from an open-roof jeep.
► Azzaro Resort and Spa offers 40 rooms and suites, a bar, and a spa.
► Close to the Gir National Park, The Fern is an eco-friendly resort with two restaurants, a spa, and simply decorated cottages and villas that bring you closer to nature.
Driving through the state of Madhya Pradesh, in the heart of Indian tiger country, it was difficult to reconcile the tranquil scenes flashing past my window with nonstop reports about the animal’s slide toward extinction. Tigers, it seemed, were the topic of the moment. As I set off from New Delhi on a six-day safari, global specialists were converging to discuss how many of the world’s largest felines are left, and how best to save them. With so many vested interests resting on the creature’s survival (it’s estimated that just six of India’s tiger reserves are worth US$1.2 billion to the Indian economy), it’s hard to know whose version of reality to believe.
On the one hand, the World Wildlife Fund and Global Tiger Forum claim the worldwide population has risen by 22 per cent since 2010, to 3,890. On the other, in spite of investment of about US$500 million since the start of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger in 1973—when nine tiger reserves were created and dozens of camps built—global tiger populations have plummeted. Since 1993, numbers worldwide have halved, and in the past 80 years, three of the nine subspecies have become extinct from habitats including Indonesia and Central Asia.
In India, where two-thirds—or about 2,200— of the world’s tigers live, in and around 49 reserves, there is grounds for cautious optimism, with one study recording an increase of 30 per cent in numbers between 2010 and 2014. Having been on five tiger safaris in India in the past decade, I wanted to see if there was any perceptible improvement in terms of the numbers that were visible and the protection they were being given. Along the road from Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur Airport to Bandhavgarh National Park, where more than 60 cats roam through 1,11,000 acres of forest, it was clear the species is a big part of local identity. I noticed their image everywhere: on a packet of cookies bought at a stall, sculpted on an arch, painted on a village temple. I was also informed of a discouraging report stating that 19 tiger deaths had been recorded in Madhya Pradesh in the first half of 2016 (almost half of all Indian tiger deaths in that period).
As I’ve learned over the years, there’s nothing straightforward about conservation in India, and with so much conflicting information in my head, I was relieved to arrive at Samode Safari Lodge, on Bandhavgarh National Park’s periphery. Built by descendants of the royal family of Samode, the camp’s colonial-style interiors are reminiscent of an African safari camp, with whirring bamboo fans and elegant tea-planter’s chairs. My room was designed in the style of local farmhouses: roughly rendered in mud and decorated with naive, nature-inspired bas-reliefs and murals. Outside, there was a tub for starlit baths and, on lamplit communal patios, trays laid with spicy fried okra, flame-grilled prawns, and fresh coal-baked roti.
There wasn’t much time to sit around feasting, though. Bandhavgarh park authorities allow visitors to take three- and four-hour safaris twice a day, starting around 5.45 am and 2.30 pm. While that does leave a little time for a midday massage or a swim, I spent most of my days in a safari jeep in the company of my guide, Anshuman Shah. He warned me right at the start of our first drive that not every guest sees a tiger. “Most people staying three nights should see one,” he said as we made our way to the park gates. “A group from Canada recently saw eleven in four days. It’s a question of luck: being in the right place at the right time.”
A decade ago, Bandhavgarh’s roads used to be clogged with cars full of colourfully-clad passengers who would spill out, often yelling into their cell phones. Today, only a limited number of registered 4 x4s are allowed into each zone, radios and phones are banned, and a park guide has to accompany every vehicle. The experience is far more peaceful and organised—not dissimilar to a safari in a popular park in Africa— even if visitors all still want the same thing “Just tiger, tiger, tiger,” as Ramkripal Ram, our park guide, put it. But cat sightings that day weren’t good. After spending four hours in the morning and three that evening listening, watching, and tracking, we returned, slightly dispirited, to camp.
The next day, I was assured, we would have more time, since the hotel had secured one of only five 12-hour, US$750 permits issued every day: a popular move by Bandhavgarh’s authorities. “You will see a tiger before you leave, I am sure,” Shah told me. In fact, I saw not just one magnificent cat on my full-day safari, but two. When, mid-morning, we ascended a hill to find a male cub lying languidly on a shaded sandstone rock, I was so thrilled my eyes welled up. Banbayi, a handsome 18-month-old, is seen regularly in this area, Shah said. From his supine position, the cub occasionally looked up at us as we examined him through binoculars, trying to memorise every detail: the long white whiskers; the striped tail that flicked every now and then to dislodge a fly; the muscles that rippled beneath his taut, light-orange hide as he slowly padded off into the long grass to the accompaniment of hooting langurs.
Our second sighting evoked a different emotion. After lunch, we spotted an eight-year-old tigress, Pattya, slinking into a bamboo thicket to rest. Keen to see her properly, we decided to sit and wait for her to re-emerge. By the time she padded out, two hours later, another 18 safari vehicles had lined up beside us, as well as two open-topped buses of schoolchildren. Thanks to the presence of park officials, the crowd was remarkably quiet. Nonetheless, the scene was more zoo than safari, and the striped star of the show was clearly aware of her audience. After performing a quick turn—drinking delicately from a water hole, rolling like a kitten in the sand— she took a final look at the crowd and vanished. And with the evening performance over, the cat paparazzi dispersed in clouds of dust, leaving us to make our way back to camp, as the red ball of the sun sank below the tree line.
It’s a sad truth that, were the tiger a less beautiful creature, its future might be more secure. But the glorious Shere Khan archetype of The Jungle Book is in the unenviable position of being not only the beast that most tourists want to photograph, but the one poachers most want to capture for use in Chinese medicine. It is wanted both dead and alive. The fact that there are any still in existence is in part thanks to Project Tiger, and in part thanks to a handful of enlightened state leaders, said hotelier Jaisal Singh. Singh, a co-founder of Sujan Luxury, a chain of high-end Indian camps and hotels, spent much of his life studying tigers with his uncle, the well-known conservationist Valmik Thapar.
He told me that in states such as Maharashtra and Rajasthan, chief ministers have diligently implemented conservation policies. These have included programmes to turn poachers into gamekeepers, the launch of responsible-tourism organisations that link public and private companies (a pilot project of privately-run nature reserves is underway in Maharashtra), and schemes to compensate villagers if they or their livestock are harmed by a tiger. What they are up against, though, is an exploding human population that increasingly encroaches on forests, creating man-animal conflicts. “India has one and a quarter billion people, with goodness knows how many cows and goats that need land to feed on,” Singh said. Another problem is that forests are run by individual states—whose local bureaucrats make their own rules.
The central government spent US$57 million on the issue in 2015 but, according to Singh, “no matter how much money is pumped into tiger conservation, it gets sucked up by bureaucracy. Until you have a national strategy, nothing will happen.” Most conservationists agree that, under current prime minister Narendra Modi, there is little sign of positive change at a national level. Last year, Modi’s government not only cut funding for the environment by 25 per cent, and support for tiger protection by 15 per cent, but fast-tracked projects that could have disastrous environmental consequences.
These include a river diversion that will submerge nearly a third of the Panna Tiger Reserve and the expansion of a country road along the Pench Tiger Reserve into a four-lane highway. And despite signing an international agreement promising to protect tigers and their dwindling environment, the country currently loses an average of 333 acres of forest a day, which partially explains why the creatures now occupy just 7 per cent of their original habitat. As Julian Matthews from Travel Operators for Tigers explains: “Now less than two per cent of India is protected, far less than is needed for the tiger’s ecological security. Forests are being decimated for pasture and charcoal. So tigers are increasingly forced to live off cattle, which further worsens man-animal conflict.”
“JAIPUR IS SLOW LIFE!” my taxi driver declares. All around us, cars, pedicabs, bicycles and cattle are stuck in hardcore commuter gridlock. Horns screech, elephants trumpet, and pedestrians tumble in and out of the disorderly scrum. Young boys jog in between the cars and oxcarts hawking fresh coconuts, marigold garlands, and saris. A horse cart waits patiently next to us, the turbaned driver casting a betel- stained grin. My driver responds by pressing on the horn for an unnecessarily long time. Slow life? Sure, in the literal sense. But it definitely doesn’t seem relaxing.
After a few days in the Rajasthani capital, however, my taxi driver’s declaration begins to make sense. In spite of the log-jammed roads and dizzy markets, folks here take their time. Like the horse-cart driver who smiles in traffic, shopkeepers linger over tea and conversation, and skilled artisans work slowly and deliberately to create swoon-worthy architecture, textiles, art and jewelry that stand the tests of time. This is no accident.
Back in 1726, Maharaja Jai Singh, the city’s namesake, summoned skilled craftsmen—bricklayers, stone masons, marble cutters, metal smiths, potters, weavers— from the farthest reaches of the Subcontinent to build a new capital from the ground up. City planners followed architectural blueprints detailed in Vastu Shastra, a part of the Vedas, or Hinduism’s religious texts. Think of it as Vedic feng shui. Balanced aesthetics and details of extraordinarily exquisite filigree, inlay and gilt are the cornerstones of the city’s iconic structures: the old city wall, the City Palace, Jal Mahal (or Water Palace, on Man Sagar Lake), and the pink Hawa Mahal, (Wind Palace), for example.
Jai Singh launched one of modern India’s first intentional artisan communities. Deep inside the dusty warrens of the walled old city, artisans— or karigbars— turn out extraordinary objects much like they have for the past three centuries. Craftsmen chisel marble, cut gems and hand-embroider garments with solid-gold thread with casual expertise. The level of detail is staggering. More than once on my visit, I was given a magnifying glass to properly appreciate gold inlaid with precious gems, highly technical weaving techniques, and pichwai or gota embroidery, which resembles a painted tapestry.
Modern designers—native and foreign-born—still flock to Jaipur. Tapping indigenous artisans’ know-how, the new kids are repurposing folksy styles into edgy, appealing fashion, furniture and practically anything else. The contemporary craft movement, in turn, gives a lifeline to the karighars in their continual defense against machine- made wares. We can all thank the Maharaja for inuring his subjects with an abiding appreciation for hand-hewn beauty and intricacy—an ethos of living and enjoying creative pursuits that continues to underscore the city’s character. Here, the slow life is the good life.
Zip around the Pink City’s eclectic enclaves—a seamless blend of ancient and avant-garde, bustling and sleepy—via autorickshaw or Uber.
The Pink City got its rosy paint job in 1876, and the original walled core still blushes with glorious palaces, forts and temples. The old markets are full of treasure; it’s worth elbowing you way through the mayhem to get your piece of Jaipur’s magic.
The posh district’s graceful tree-lined streets and colonial and Mid-century bungalows appeal to dignitaries and design-types.
Teeming with youthful energy, this burb mixes cool cafes and crafty threads with the ubiquitous sidewalk ch ai wallah, or tea seller.
Endless rows of multi-generation jewelry shops, snack stalls and sari boutiques make this iconic street a one-stop shopping (and eating) hub.
The up-and-coming district’s low rents and broad avenues lure fresh start-ups looking for space to flex their creative muscles.
Not a neighborhood per se, the pretty shopping complex’s bougainvillea-covered courtyards are home to trendy ateliers peddling contemporary and vintage crafts.
With a melange of European influences, Fort Kochi is a historic place, with much architecture to marvel at. Kerala is a favourite with international visitors, but it can be as interesting as it is affordable.
Walk through one of India’s oldest Jewish quarters, Mattancherry, and visit the Dutch Palace and the Synagogue. Believed to be India’s oldest European church, St Francis, built by Portuguese Franciscan Friars, the Santa Cruz Basilica and Fort Immanuel are all worth visiting.
The Dutch Cemetery is a quiet, lovely spot for a break in your day. Fort Kochi’s beach, with its iconic giant Chinese fishing nets, is lovely in the mornings and evenings. Plan to visit the nearby Vasco da Gama Square and Maritime Museum along with Fort Kochi. The Kerala Folklore Museum is a must-visit, with daily traditional dance performances. If you’re hankering for a day-trip, Alleppey, with its beautiful backwaters and lagoons, is a good option.
Cherai Beach on nearby Vypeen Island is also worth visiting, with swimming and seafood restaurants vying for your attention. Back in Kochi, Bishop’s House Road, with its beautiful old-style homes, the Indo Portuguese Museum and The Union Club Building are all very pretty, and worth a dekko.
LEAVE ON A JET PLANE OR TRAIN: Return flights start at USD109 and USD70 from New Delhi and Mumbai respectively and from USD 3,300 from Bangalore; trains from Bangalore start at USD12.
GET AROUND: Auto rickshaws, taxis, rented scooters and radio cabs- take your pick. Of course, the cheapest option is to walk or cycle. Autos will cost a minimum of USD 3 – be prepared to bargain. Local taxis charge from USD 8, scooters can be rented for USD6 day. Radio cabs are easily available and almost as economical as using local cabs and autos.
STAY: Try The Old Courtyard, Raintree Lodge and The Fort Bungalow.
EAT AND DRINK: Visit the KashiArt Gallery and Café to feed your mind and soul, as well as your body with all-day breakfasts, hearty sandwiches and soups. The Teapot Cafe is justly famous for its variety of teas, including rose ice tea as well as local seafood dishes. You must visit Hotel Rahmaniya for the Kethel Chicken Fry. The no-fuss Kayees Hotel is famous among locals for its chicken biryani; get here fast as the biryani gets sold out quickly.
WHEN TO GO: October to February is the best time- Kochi is less humid then and its tropical climate is relatively cooler, with occasional showers.
If you like the rain, July to September, the non-tourist season, is a better bet, with lower prices.