The new year brings the promise of touching new frontiers in travel – new destinations, novel experiences and newer ways to see places old and new. Not just the world, India too is opening up with unique travel experiences for the discerning traveler. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY dig out 10 exciting options.
Hot Air Ballooning as you SkyWaltz in Rajasthan & Maharashtra
If you think you need to go as far as Cappadocia in Turkey, Bugun in Myanmar or Africa for ballooning, here’s a major breakthrough! SkyWaltz gives you a chance to become a SkyXplorer with Balloon Safari options at multiple locations in India. In Rajasthan, waft over forts, palaces and villages of the rugged Aravalis as you get a taste of Rajputana at Jaipur, Pushkar, Ranthambhore and Neemrana. After a great stint at the Pushkar Mela, SkyWaltz brings the adventure to Maharashtra. Soar above green hills, valleys and lakes of the evergreen Sahyadris at Lonavala, Pune and Mumbai. While the duration of the morning and evening flight is 60 minutes, no two flights are alike as you drift where the winds decide to take you. The season is open until Feb-March with a short break for summer.
Cost Rs.12,000 or USD $250/head
Ph +91 9560387222, 1800 103 8839 http://www.skywaltz.com
Attend Asia’s longest beach festival
After charming everyone with their Isla de Calma (Isle of Calm) ad campaign, Diu now promises to tantalize tourists with the longest beach festival in Asia. A one-of-a-kind festival held across three months until February 15, 2016, Festa De Diu is a celebration of music, art and culture. Choose from 60 beachside luxury tented cottages, which give access to the cultural extravaganza. Heritage walks, workshops and theme weeks dedicated to wellness, laughter and the arts, besides a dedicated adventure zone for bungee jumping, ziplining between cliffs and hot air ballooning over the Arabian Sea, are added attractions. In your spare time, explore this erstwhile Portuguese enclave with stunning beaches, Baroque churches and historic citadels like Diu Fort and Fortim do Mar or Panikotha (Water Fort), which featured in films like Qayamat. After you’ve had your fill of local sights like Naida caves, the walled city of Jhampa and Nagoa Beach lined with hoka trees brought by the Portuguese from Africa, head to nearby tourist destinations like Gir National Park and Somnath Temple.
Cost Rs.8,099 upwards/day for 3 people, incl. breakfast
Ph 1800 103 9257 http://www.festadiu.com
Hampi by Sky on a microlight
With stunning architecture of the Vijayanagar Empire and a surreal landscape of boulders set amongst a quilted patchwork of banana and rice fields, Hampi is easily one of the most inspiring destinations in the country. As per local guidespeak, it would take a visitor ‘3 months, 3 days, 3 hours, 3 minutes’ on foot, to see all the ruins of this once glorious city. While one wonders just how they came upon this perplexing equation, you get a sense of Hampi’s vastness from the summit of Anjanadri or Malyavanta hill. Walk around the ruins in amazement or ride about on hired bicycles, or try a great new way to experience Hampi – on a microlight flight. Take off from a school playground for a 30-minute aerial tour of the ruins, soaring across the Tungabhadra and get a unique birds’ eye view of Hampi.
Cost 15 min Rs.3500, 30 min Rs.7000
Timings 6-8:30 am, 5-7 pm
Contact Manjunath +91 9448975862
Ziplining in Rishikesh
A holy dip in the Ganga is passé; it’s time to upgrade to a holy zip on the Ganga. Flying Fox, India’s zipline pioneers, started South Asia’s first zipline at Neemrana in 2007 with five sections over the 15th century fort – named after a film theme, from Bond to Major Saheb. Flying Fox also runs zipline tours at Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort flying over ridges, ramparts and two lakes before landing on the tip of a fortified tower. In Punjab, Flying Fox Kikar at an old hunting lodge is the longest zip-line tour in South Asia and the first forest-based zip-line adventure in India. Their latest addition is at Rishikesh – the only zip lines across the river Ganga. Run in partnership with Snow Leopard Adventures, the zip tour is located at Snow Leopard’s Camp Panther at Shivpuri, a 15-minute drive upstream of Tapovan. Two zip lines called High Times and White Water Flyer traverse 400m as you glide across the raging white water rapids 230 ft below, watching rafting crews bob past and unbelievable views unfold along the Himalayan foothills. The whole tour lasts 45-60 minutes and includes a safety briefing, trial zip, zip tour and a short forest walk. For the adventure enthusiast, the zipline tour is a great experience besides the rafting and bungee jump.
Ph +91 9568943116, 011-66487678 http://www.flyingfox.asia
Kitesurfing in Rameshwaram
Though most visitors to Rameshwaram head to the Ramanathaswamy temple to worship one of the twelve jyotirlingas in India and see the longest temple corridor in the country, the temple town is fast emerging as a pilgrimage spot for kite surfers. Steady wind speed, sparse rains and endless deep blue sea make it an ideal location for kite surfing or surf boarding powered by a kite. Quest Expeditions, fronted by petite Charmaine, India’s first female kite surfer, offers a certification course with wave-style riding, freestyle or jumps at numerous locations on the Coromandel Coast. Stay in rustic beach huts for a reasonable Rs.1,250 per person, including meals and transfers to kite spots like Swami’s Bay, Lands End lagoon and Fisherman’s Cove. Well connected by rail and road, Rameshwaram is a 3 hour drive from Chennai and Madurai airports. The activity is possible all year round, with winter north winds blowing between Oct–Mar and summer south winds between Apr–Sep.
Cost Rs.15-30,000 for private/shared lessons of 6-10 hours over 1-2 days.
Ph +91 9820367412, 9930920409 http://www.thekitesurfingholiday.com
Rickshaw Run from Jaisalmer to Shillong or Shillong to Cochin
When the joy of riding a tuk tuk didn’t seem exciting enough, maverick tour company The Adventurists decided to institute a 3500 km race across the Indian subcontinent for teams of three participants in custom-built auto rickshaws. Often described as a ‘pan-Indian adventure in a 7 horsepower glorified lawnmower’, the Rickshaw Run has no fixed route. Participants map their own way between the start and finish line. They also get to paint their rickshaw, customize and name it – Krazy Jalfrezi, Ganesha’s Goras, Curry on Tukkin’, Bananas in Pyjamas, Naan Point Five on Rickshaw Scale, you get the idea! Teams can choose a charity they support and raise funds for their adventure. This year’s edition offers three cross-country routes – Cochin to Jaisalmer in January, Jaisalmer to Shillong in April and Shillong to Cochin in August. If road trips aren’t your thing, perhaps you can try Adventure 9 in the Indian Ocean – crossing the Zanzibar Archipelago in a ngalawa (dugout canoe) powered by a bed sheet!
Cost £1,595 entry fee for the trio, which includes a rickshaw with all paperwork, 2-days of test drive, launch and finish line parties, a blog and free travel insurance worth £210. www.theadventurists.com
‘Life of Pi’ Rickshaw tour of Pondy & other filmy trails
The latest travel trend is thematic film trails, be it the Pataudi Palace that featured in Julia Roberts’ ‘Eat Pray Love’ or Ravla Khempur in Rajasthan where ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ was shot. However, Pondicherry offers a quirky rickshaw tour of the famous filming locations in Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’, besides Pondy’s other historic sights. Conceived by CGH Hotels, the tour commences at their flagship hotel Maison Perumal, winds past the 136-year-old Calve College to Foyer de Soldat, Joan of Arc statue and the tomb of Marquis de Bussy, dating back to 1785. Visit the 22-acre Botanical Gardens that served as the zoo run by Pi’s father. Instead of the motley bunch of animals, you’ll find 900 exotic plants collected by the French. Retrace the footsteps of Anandi and her friends through the bustle of Grand Bazaar at the junction of Mahatma Gandhi Road and Nehru Street into Goubert Market, where Pi peeped between the rows of garlands strung by flower sellers. Visit the trinity of faiths from Tamil temples, churches and the Kuthba Mosque, where Pi wrestled with spirituality. Or watch the surf at the old pier where Pi bid his final adieu to Anandi. End the rickshaw tour with a set Franco-Tamil meal at the nameless restaurant at Maison Perumal.
Cost Rs.600 for 1 hour, Rs.800 for 1 1/2 hour (For two)
Maison Perumal 58 Perumal Koil Street, Puducherry
Ph 0413-2227519, 9488009576 http://www.cghearth.com
Retrace the Silk Route in the Thar
Thanks to China’s bid to revive the ancient trade route linking China, Central Asia to Europe, the Silk Route has again come into focus. The southern arm of the trade route skirted north of Rajputana touching places like Lodhurva, Ossian, Bikaner and Jaisalmer, which emerged as trading hubs. Suryagarh on the outskirts of Jaisalmer has crafted bespoke Desert Trails in the Thar, allowing guests to visit old forts, caravanserais and cenotaphs of local and foreign traders, recreating the old trade routes that once criss-crossed the desert. Your caravan takes you to Khaba Fort overlooking the ruins of the ancient village of Paliwal Brahmins and repaints the faded glory of yesteryears in the abandoned settlements of Kuldhara and Lakhmana before transporting you to the desert oasis of Joshida Talao for elaborate repast set on the banks of the scenic reservoir. Further on, sip the cool sweet water from the ancient wells of Mundhari. At Suryagarh, relish char-grilled meats and succulent kebabs in a range of dining settings, get a spa treatment at Rait Spa using sand or the newly launched Luni Salt Therapy and participate in celebrations like the White Nights of the Rajputs.
Cost Rs.18,000 upwards
Ph +91-7827151151, 02992-269269 http://www.suryagarh.com
Glamping at India’s exclusive mobile luxury camp in Ladakh
The Ultimate Travelling Camp or TUTC is a unique concept in ‘Glamping’ or glamour camping introduced in India by Cox & Kings as part of their Bharat Deko brand. Past the white-washed stupas and fields of chorten, the Chamba Camp in Ladakh overlooking Thiksey monastery is set up when the passes open for summer and packs up before they close for winter. For a short period between June to September, it gives guests a taste of unrivalled indulgence. Each individually designed luxury tent comes with an en-suite bathroom, colonial furniture, private deck and your own personal butler. Experienced guides and travelogists accompany you on personalized cultural trips to monasteries and oracles and regale you with folk tales by the campfire. As part of the package, watch a game of polo in the high altitude cold desert, raft down the mighty Indus River and enjoy lavish picnic lunches. In 2015, it won Robb Report’s 27th Annual International Best of Best Awards, the connoisseur’s guide to the world’s finest things. They also run a similar luxury camp at Diskit in Ladakh’s Nubra Valley.
Cost 2,45,355/person for 6 days, 5 nights
Ph 1800 123 0508 http://www.coxandkings.com
Kerala’s Jatayu Nature Park and Ramayana museum
While Kerala’s ambitious Muziris Heritage Project (the largest heritage conservation project in the country) is still underway around the ancient port of Muziris near present day Kodungalloor, the state is ready with its latest attraction – Jatayu Nature Park. It is believed that Jatayu, the legendary vulture from Ramayana tried to rescue Sita as she was being abducted by Ravana and perished on this rocky lair, which was called Jatayupara (Jatayu Rock). The dominating feature of the mythological cum adventure theme park is the 200 ft long sculpture of Jatayu sprawled atop the 1,000-ft high hillock at Chadayamangalam in Kollam district. One can also spot Lord Rama’s footprint on the hillock, set in stone. The 65-acre park is the brainchild of Malayalam filmmaker and sculptor Rajiv Anchal. Besides an adventure park, ropeway rides, viewing deck, Ayurveda themed cave resorts and a 1.5 km long walkway through the jungle, the theme park that will be unveiled in phases. It will also feature a Ramayana museum and a ‘6D theatre’ that recreates the aerial battle between Jatayu and Ravana.
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 3 January, 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.