ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list out the season’s hotspots and their favourite new year getaways
Amidst New Year resolutions and social engagements, if you still haven’t figured out where to let your hair down for the year-end, don’t fret. Having been to full moon parties, 5-star bashes and quiet escapes, here’s a lowdown of our best party spots – from winter festivals and cultural carnivals to frenzy on the beach and solitude in the hills.
So when was the last time you spent a new year at Hampi? At sunrise, marvel at the Tungabhadra slithering through mist-covered boulders from your aerial perch at Anjanadri. Have some banana lassi and pancakes at Mango Tree restaurant or lose yourself in the maze of cafes at the backpacking haven of Virupapuragadda. To immerse yourself in local culture, take a coracle ride across the river to The Kishkindha Trust at Anegundi, Hampi’s oldest quarter. Learn about shorba (banana fibre) handicrafts, appreciate the vernacular architecture of quaint homestays run by TKT or enjoy classical concerts by the river. Boulders Resort nearby has integrated boulders into its architecture with a beautiful stone pool and walkways along the river bed sculpted by water.
Many tourists tend to couple a visit to Hampi with Goa, though this connection is not new. The Vijayanagar Empire enjoyed trade links with Portugal via Goa, so travellers are merely retracing a historic trade route. If you’re a fan of electronic dance music, head to Candolim for Sunburn (27-29 Dec), which has emerged as the premier EDM platform in India. Having recently broken all records, outselling the online sale of even IPL tickets, this year’s edition features big names such as BT (Brian Transeau), Paul Van Dyk, Richard Durand and Roger Sanchez, besides top artists from the country. If Sunburn’s 3-day, 9k price tag is going to burn a hole in your pocket, try Palolem in the south or Morjim and Arambol to the north, besides old faithfuls like Curlies, Hilltop Anjuna, Shiva Valley and Primrose Vagator.
Partying at New Years in Goa has its pitfalls – the crowds, traffic snarls, over-priced rates and bumping into acquaintances as if it was a mini Mumbai or Bangalore! For a less commercial trip with fewer people, try Gokarna, whose bouquet of beaches like Kudle, Om, Paradise and Half Moon wear a rustic and earthy charm. Ambient dub reggae beats blare from beachside speakers while someone plays a djembe or Diabolo. It was a New Year party many full moons ago that led to a phone call a month later saying ‘Hi, this is Willem. I’m in Bangalore. You told me I could stay with you. We had met at Namaste Café at Gokarna… (No recollection) We were in front of the speaker and had trouble talking (Bingo)!’ If mud huts and teepees in the forest are not your thing, opt for more creature comforts at SwaSwara. CGH Earth’s swanky resort near Om Beach is a great place to unwind with yoga in the attic, meditation in the Blue Room and gourmet cuisine.
Further down the west coast, Kerala is excellent for a quiet escape. New 5-star properties like Taj Bekal, The Lalit and Neeleshwar Hermitage have firmly placed Kasaragod, the state’s northernmost district on the tourist map. With only 35 rooms, The Lalit is exclusivity personified with Balinese décor and a range of rejuvenative programs at its trademark Rejuve Spa. Go kayaking and canoeing in the Nombili river or opt for a houseboat cruise at Valiyaparamba, easily Kerala’s most pristine backwater stretch. If Alappuzha’s kettuvallam circuit is too commercial for your liking, choose CGH’s Spice Coast Tours, which has its own private jetty and transfer to Coconut Lagoon after a cruise on Vembanad lake. At the Cochin Carnival (Dec 22-Jan 1) catch colourful pageantry and traditional art forms, besides dirt bike races, beach volleyball and fireworks display at Fort Kochi.
The fun is not relegated to India’s West Coast alone… there’s a lot happening on the East Coast as well. Get a music education at the month-long Madras Music season in Dec-Jan at Chennai with over 1500 performances of Indian classical music, dance and allied arts. Soak in the majestic ambience of the newly opened ITC Grand Chola, the world’s largest LEED-certified green hotel and the third largest hotel in India. Enjoy a quiet walk along the beach or indulge in the luxurious oasis of Fisherman’s Cove on East Coast Road.
Just beyond the Madras Crocodile Bank, welcome the new year through a celebration of dance. The famous Mamallapuram Dance Festival (Dec 29-Jan 1) is set against Arjuna’s Penance, the world’s largest bas relief. The Mayan Doomsday might have come and gone but Krishna’s Butter Ball promises to roll down at the end of the world, as per Hindu belief. Party at Butterball Café, Moonraker Restaurant on Ottavadai Street or pamper yourself at Radisson Blu Temple Bay Resort, marveling at the Shore Temple from an early morning catamaran ride.
If you can’t go to Paris in a hurry, you can still rekindle romance in true French style in Pondicherry (Puducherry). With its profusion of French heritage hotels, cafes and bakeries serving French and Creole cuisine, designer boutiques and beach getaways like Serenity and Paradise, the place leaves you spoilt for choice. Boogie all night at the Ska Bar cum Disco at Ocean Spray or go on a long romantic walk along the Promenade. A stay at any of the Aurobindo ashrams is spiritual and peaceful while a short drive to The Dune offers a plush holiday experience with gourmet seafood and Wat-Su (water shiatsu) aqua treatments.
There’s no state that understands the need for a lavish holiday like Rajasthan, throwing in a burst of colour and culture. Come winter, you can choose from Shilpgram Art and Craft Fair near Udaipur (23 Dec-Jan 1), Mount Abu Winter Festival (29-31 Dec) and Desert Festival at Jaisalmer in February. Be it Deogarh Mahal, Pal Haveli, Nachna Haveli or Neemrana’s string of palace and fort hotels, the numerous havelis and heritage hotels let you usher the new year with royalty and style. Sumptuous meals, bonfire nights with folk singers and dancers performing under the stars… you couldn’t ask for a livelier setting.
Neighbouring Gujarat too doesn’t fall behind in churning up a festive spirit. The Rann Utsav (15 Dec-31 Jan) offers a spectacular array of cultural events and an exhibition of the state’s vibrant art and crafts like Ajrakh hand block prints and Kutch patchwork with mirror embroidery. Stay in tented camps or mud huts adorned with wall paintings. The best time to see winter migratories, watch birds by the thousands at Narayan Sarovar or chase khur (Asiatic Wild Ass) at the Wild Ass Sanctuary.
We remember an unforgettable new year in Corbett National Park where we sat around a campfire exchanging wildlife stories. There was no music except the continuous symphony of cicadas and the occasional warning call of furtive barking deer. You can get a similar experience closer home at Mudumalai, Bandipur or Kabini, which have several wildlife resorts to pick from. If you’re looking for a back to nature theme, Coorg, Wayanad and Nilgiris are also scenic places to drop the pace.
If you are looking for a convenient international destination to party, you could ring in the New Year with new buys at great discounts, competitions, prizes, fireworks and entertainment at the month-long Dubai Shopping Festival (3 Jan-3 Feb). As far as new year festivities go, celebrate the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong (4-17 Feb) in the Year of the Snake with night parades, dragon dances and fireworks over Victoria Harbour. For an affordable exciting vacation nothing beats Thailand; fly to Bangkok to experience its vibrant nightlife and see why it was an apt setting for The Hangover 2. Or travel onward to the beaches of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi.
However, if your idea of fun is an endless night of pub crawl, let the Irish teach you how. Be it the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast or the Temple Bar area of Dublin, the alehouses and taverns of Ireland can give the pubs of London a complex. Dublin’s New Year Eve Festival heralds the start of The Gathering Ireland 2013, a year-long celebration of all things Irish. Learn how to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Storehouse. Do a Literary Pub Crawl in the footsteps of James Joyce, Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Or take a leaf from Irish author Brendan Behan’s book who moved to Toronto because he saw a coaster in a pub that said ‘Drink Canada dry!’ Happy partying…
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 23 December 2012 as a cover story in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.