ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list out their Top 20 unusual things to do at destinations that Jet Airways flies to
1. Surf with the Swamis at Ashram Surf Retreat, Mulki
Despite a 7,000 km coastline and 1.2 billion people, the only ‘surfing’ most Indians prefer is on the internet. But Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram (aka Ashram Surf Retreat) at Mulki promises adventure buffs the real deal. Run by Krishna bhaktas, the retreat offers everything an ashram should – yoga, mantra meditation, healthy veg fare (served as prasad), detox (no smoking/alcohol allowed), plus something unique – surfing lessons! Ride the Zodiac boat to local surf breaks like Baba’s Left, Tree Line, Swami’s and Water Tank. With only 3 guest rooms and sparse beaches, it’s the ideal place to flounder in perfect anonymity.
India Surf Club
Tariff Rs.3500-4500 (double occupancy), surfing lessons Rs.1500/p/day
Complimentary lessons in yoga and use of river kayaks
When to go: April-May is mild surfing season with 1-2 m waves, between June-September you can get 8 feet waves Jet Airways flies to Mangalore, from where the coastal village Mulki lies 30 km north
2. Wade with Rajan, the Swimming Elephant at Havelock
He reached for a cola can in Tarsem Singh’s Coke commercial. He helped the five heroes in The Fall escape from Butterfly Reef Island. And now, all of 61, he accompanies guests of Barefoot Resorts on occasional swims or leisurely walks on Asia’s best beach, Radhanagar. Meet Rajan aka the Swimming Elephant, the most famous pachyderm in the Andamans. Snorkel and scuba dive at Elephant Island (Hathi Tapu), kayak the mangroves, walk through rainforests and indulge yourself at a plush seaside retreat ranked among the 30 Best Eco Resorts in the World.
Jet Airways flies to Port Blair, from where Havelock is a 1½ hr boat ride by the Makruzz
3. Get in the saddle at Dibrugarh’s Chang Bungalows
Lead the lazy life of a planter in a chang bungalow (traditional house on stilts) on the quiet outskirts of Dibrugarh. Specially designed horse-riding tours take you around century old tea estates or cross-country along the banks of the Brahmaputra River. Picnic on grassy banks, boat cruises and kayaking or extend your itinerary to visit the ancient Ahom capital of Sibsagar and the wildlife preserves of Kaziranga and Dibru Saikhowa. Purvi Discovery runs another lodge closer to town called Chowkidinghee Chang Bungalow.
Jet Airways flies to Dibrugarh
4. Celebrate Ganga Dussehra, the descent of India’s holiest river
Take a dip in India’s holiest river in a unique festival that marks its descent from the heavens to earth. The annual Ganga Dussehra is held over 10 days at locations sanctified by the course of the river. Be it Haridwar (where Ganga first enters the plains), Garh-Mukteswar (the nearest Ganga ghat to Delhi), the holy confluence of Prayag or the ghats of Varanasi, each place comes alive with celebration. Devotees bathe in the river, meditate on its banks, collect gangajal (sacred water) and river clay while the waters dance with the light of a thousand aratis (lamps).
When to go: May-end to June (begins on the new moon of Jyeshta of Hindu calendar), the last day being the holiest
Jet Airways flies direct to Varanasi and Dehradun, from where Haridwar (53 km) and Rishikesh (42 km) are just over an hours’ drive
5. Cheer on a snake boat race
The first race of the harvest season, the Champakulam vallam kali is Kerala’s oldest and most popular boat race. Around 1545, when it was discovered that the Krishna idol being installed at the Ambalapuzha Temple had a defect, the Raja of Champakaseri ordered for a new one. In transit, the idol was kept for a night at a Christian household in Champakulam and sent the next day with great pomp on a flotilla of festooned chundan valloms (snake boats). The king announced a great water carnival to commemorate the deity’s installation and the secular ceremonies have continued unchanged for 500 years. After Champakulam, it’s the turn of Punnamada Lake to resound with cheerful vanchi pattu (boat songs) and racing chants of ‘arpu’ ‘irroh’ during Nehru Trophy Boat Race on the second Saturday of August, followed by the Aranmula race in Aug-Sep.
Alappuzha – 688 006
Ph 0477 2233691-93
When to go: June-August
Jet Airways flies to Kochi, from where Champakulam is about 85 km (15 km from Alappuzha).
6. Witness a Tantric Fertility Festival at Kamakhya
A revered Shakti peeth, Guwahati’s Kamakhya Temple is where the yoni of Sati is worshipped. When the Brahmaputra river is in spate, the natural spring flowing over the stone shrine becomes turbid with red oxide, symbolizing the menstrual course of goddess Kamakhya. During the annual Ambubachi Mela or Ameti, the temple is shut for three days and devotees shun pujas, cooking, farming and reading scriptures. After a ritual bath the devi regains her purity and devotees rush in for prasad – angadhak (holy spring water) and angabastra (stained red cloth of the deity). Thousands attend this fertility festival, including saffron-clad Sadhus and Sanyasins, black-robed Aghoras, Khade-babas, Bauls (Bengal’s minstrels) and Tantriks.
When to go: The four-day mela is held in the monsoon season during the Assamese month of Ahaar (22-26 June)
Jet Airways flies to Guwahati
7. Attend Saurath Sabha, a unique matrimonial mela
Surath, a tiny village in Bihar’s Mithila region, believed to be the venue for Sita’s svayamvar, plays host to a unique mass marriage mart for Maithil Brahmans. Saurath Sabha Gachchhi (literally, ‘congregation in an orchard’ in Maithili) is held in a 22-bigha patch donated by the Maharaj of Darbhanga. Participating villages are allotted a dera (sitting place) where fathers search for suitable grooms for their daughters aided by ghataks (middlemen). Marriages are fixed in the open after matching horoscopes by panjikars (registrars), who issue an asvajajanapatra (certificate of non-relationship) based on panji (genealogical records), a system dating back to early 14th century. The only catch, ladies are not allowed at the Saurath Sabha!
When to go: 20-29 June
Jet Airways flies to Patna, from where Madhubani is 170 km. Saurath lies 6 km north east of Madhubani
8. Pillion-ride Adventure to Dudhsagar Waterfalls
Every monsoon, on the remote Goa-Karnataka border, the Khandepar River tumbles down 310 m as India’s fifth highest waterfall – Dudhsagar. With the jeep track cut off by two streams, the only access is on hired bikes and your last hope – the ‘Dudes of Dudhsagar’! Clad in slippers and shorts with little protection, ace bikers from Collem rev up the mountainside to cover a 14 km obstacle course – along railway tracks, on ballast, through slush, culverts and mountain streams. After a short trek over slippery rocks, you finally arrive near the base for a jaw-dropping view. At Rs.300/head for a return trip, it’s more than just a cheap thrill. If you survive, soothe your frayed nerves at Dudhsagar Spa Resort, who also organize trips to the waterfall.
When to go: July-September, before the jeep track opens in November
Jet Airways flies to Dabolim Airport, Goa from where Kullem/Collem is about 65 km (6 km off Mollem on NH-4A/Goa-Belgaum highway).
9. Go mmmm at Delhi’s Mango Festival
If you feel you didn’t do justice to mangoes this summer, make amends at Delhi’s International Mango Festival at Talkatora Stadium and Garden. Over two days, you can sample nearly 500 varieties from all over India, from classics like Alphonso, Banglora, Langda and Banganapalli, to hybrid varieties like Amrapali and Mallika. Also on offer are mango-based products and dishes, mango saplings for sale, mango-eating competition for women and music concerts.
When to go: First week July (11 am to 8 pm)
Jet Airways flies to Delhi
10. Become a tea-taster at Jorhat’s Heritage Tea Bungalows
Trace the journey of the famed Assam tea from leaf to cup while staying at the fascinating Heritage Tea Bungalows around Jorhat. Choose from the luxuries of Thengal Manor at Jalukonibari with its tasteful interiors, to the colonial architecture of Burra Sahib’s Bungalow at Sangsua with a private lake and golf course, or the quiet charms of Banyan Grove (earlier the Mistry Sahib or Estate Manager’s Bungalow) with its looming old banyan tree. Visit the Gatoonga Tea Factory and learn the subtle art of tea-tasting from experts who fiercely guard their sensitive palate. If time permits, swing by at Gibbon’s Sanctuary nearby to see India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon.
When to go: Tea-picking season is on from April-October making it a good time to visit the tea estate and factories.
Jet Airways flies to Jorhat
11. Trail the Grey Ghost at Hemis
The Hemis Festival is a great time to visit the monastery with Chham masked dances and traditional music ringing in the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. However, if you crave for extreme offbeat adventure, return to the region in winter for the Snow Leopard Trek. Using campsites and Himalayan homestays in Zingchen, Rumbak and Yurutse around Hemis National Park, Wild World India’s local guides help you track the elusive Snow Leopard or Grey Ghost of the Himalayas, besides urial (red sheep), bharal (blue sheep) and Tibetan argali (wild sheep). With two successful expeditions last winter, better reserve your seat now.
When to go: The Hemis Festival is on 10-11 July, though the best time for the Snow Leopard Trek is October-March.
Jet Airways flies to Leh, from where Hemis is 40 km
12. Pull a chariot at the Puri Ratha Yatra
Tug your way to salvation at the Puri Ratha Yatra. For anyone who pulls the chariots by the heavy rope is believed to attain great merit. Every year, the sacred idols of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra, are taken out in a grand slow-moving procession (thus, the origin of the word ‘juggernaut’). The 45-foot-high wooden chariots, each in specific colours, roll out from Puri’s Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple 3 km away, where they remain for nine days.
When to go: 13th July
Jet Airways flies to Bhubaneshwar, from where Puri is 60 km south
13. Try the Ayurvedic charms of Hari Vihar
Once the ancestral home of the Kadathanadu royal family, Harivihar is perhaps Kerala’s only homestead to receive a Green Leaf accreditation for authentic Ayurveda. Red oxide floors, traditional Kerala architecture in burnished wood, an old bathing pond made out of laterite and unique culinary delights like drumstick leaves in coconut milk soup make Hari Vihar an intriguing experience. With Kerala cookery demonstrations and classes, yoga training by the acharya of Sivananda Yogasram and Ayurvedic treatments done under the aegis of Ayurveda Samajam Shoranur, rediscover a new you.
Jet Airways flies to Kozhikode
14. Jaywalk in Jaipur with Virasat Journeys
Virasat Journeys’ heritage walks allow you access to the secret vaults in the dusty bylanes of Jaipur. Visit rare tantra temples, the ancient shrine of Sita Ramji that predates the city, the Sanghi Jutaram Jain temple with stunning kundan work, a family-run curio shop from the 1860s and Mr. Sharma’s fascinating museum housing over 1,25,000 manuscripts and other artefacts. Explore Ghee Walon ka Rasta, a street of gastronomic delights or walk down Hanuman Ka Rasta, a bustling alley of local craftsmen. Meet resident artisans, breakfast at Bagru Ki Haveli and visit monuments restored by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. Guided by local experts, you have a choice of four trails – Temples & Havelis Walk, Modikhana Walk, Bazaars Cuisine & Crafts Walk and Amer Walk.
Jet Airways flies to Jaipur
15. Make way for the ‘Dak Bams’ at Deogarh’s Shravani Mela
Each year during the month of Shravan, nearly 10 million saffron-clad devotees converge at the tiny village of Sultanganj to collect holy water from the Ganga and walk 108 km to Deogarh before offering it to the Shiva linga at Baba Baidyanath temple. While many stop at makeshift inns along the spiritual highway, a special class of ‘express pilgrims’ called ‘Dak bam’ traverses the distance without stopping for food, drink or even a moment’s rest. Jharkhand Tourism organizes the Deogarh Mahotsav, a cultural program of music and local art forms in early July.
When to go: The month-long mela is held in Shravan between amavasya (July 16) and purnima (August 13).
Jet Airways flies to Ranchi, from where Deogarh is 252 km (4 hrs)
16. Discover Nawabi Grandeur from Charminar to Chowmahalla
Ever had breakfast in a palace after a leisurely morning walk? For a ticket of Rs.50 and a 3.5 km stroll you can capture the spirit of Nawabi culture reflected in the mirrored walls, delicate chandeliers and artefacts of the Chowmahalla Palace. A state tourism department initiative, the 90-minute heritage walk weaves past the vibrant Laad Bazaar to give glimpses of Hyderabad’s quintessential Nizam era. The city boasts a rich architectural trail – a Moorish mosque, buildings inspired from Isfahan, colonial structures and even a tomb for a French general (Mons Raymond). Relish Nizami cuisine at the renovated Taj Falaknuma Palace or the Marriott, overlooking the Hussain Sagar lake.
Andhra Pradesh Tourist Development Corpn
Ph 040-2345 0444
When to go: The walks are organized every Sunday and 2nd Saturday of the month
Jet Airways flies to Hyderabad
17. Go on the Amarnath Yatra
Trek up 14,500 ft to the cave shrine of Lord Shiva, where he narrated the Amar Katha to Parvati disclosing the secrets of immortality and the creation of the universe. Thousands tread from Baltal and Chandanwari for a view of the Shiva linga, an icy stalagmite that waxes and wanes with the moon. With just a 45-day window to visit each year, yatras and chopper seats are booked in advance. Register with the J&K Tourism Govt. offices or 121 designated branches of J&K Bank (for online registration http://yatra.jkbank.net)
When to go: The Amarnath yatra is in the month of Shravan between 29 June to 13 Aug, applications open in June.
Jet Airways flies to Srinagar, from where Pahalgam is 96 km. The starting point of the trek, Chandanwari, is 16 km away.
18. Bargain at Ima Keithel, India’s only market run by women
Imphal’s Khwairamband Bazaar rings out with the chatter of a thousand voices – cajoling, wheedling, bickering, each driving a hard bargain. What’s unique about the keithel (market) is that it is run exclusively by over 3000 imas (mothers), hence its popular name. Forget men, even young unmarried women are not given a toehold to run the stalls. Founded in late 16th century by Khagemba Maharaj of Manipur, the bazaar sells everything from vegetables, fruits, fish and farm produce to Manipuri handloom products. A few thousand imas also run the Lakshmi and New Market complexes nearby.
Jet Airways flies to Imphal
19. Check in at The Revolver, a Beatles theme lodge in Darjeeling
George Harrison may have come and gone, but three decades later, you can still relive the Beatles legacy in India. In a small theme lodge in music-obsessed Darjeeling, you can check in to ‘John’, ‘Paul’, ‘George’, ‘Ringo’ or ‘Brian’, all rooms named after the Beatles. Run by Asenla and Vikash Pradhan, The Revolver is inspired from the Beatles’ seventh and most successful studio album. Relive the magic with TV shows, documentaries, feature films and live gigs screened at the restaurant that stirs up authentic Naga cuisine.
Jet Airways flies to Bagdogra, from where Darjeeling is 94 km.
20. Do a Full Moon Census at Parambikulam
If you skipped the WillKat wedding at Westminster Abbey, you can still keep your date with royalty at ‘The dining table of Parambikulam’ with Royal Bengal tigers. The Parambikulam Forest Department gives visitors a rare opportunity to participate in a full moon census. Geared with data sheets, binocs, trained tribal naturalists and an armed guard, you trudge 4km to your throne – a treetop machan in the grasslands of Anakkal Vayal. This exclusive package is available only 5 days a month (two days before and after the full moon night). You may opt for other equally exciting tours like Parambi cruise in bamboo house boats, Cochin Forest Tramway Trek and Veetikunnu Island Nest.
When to go: While most wildlife parks close b/w June and November, Parambikulam is open all year round
Jet Airways flies to Coimbatore, from where Parambikulam is 115 km via Pollachi and Anamalai Wildlife Sanctuary