Tag Archives: Ballooning in India

A Slice of Adventure

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY showcase the coolest adventure sports and the best places in India to experience an adrenaline rush

Livingstone-Microlight IMG_4033

Snowboarding, ziplining, surfing, caving, paragliding to hot air ballooning, India’s diverse terrain offers something to every adventure junkie. Push your limits with the coolest adventure sports on offer. Take on the elements as you ski down the slopes of Kufri, Auli and Gulmarg, go kiteboarding at Rameshwaram, zip down Neemrana fort, over the Ganga, at old hunting lodges and abandoned stone quarries, surf along the country’s west coast, glide across the skies in hot air balloons or scour the bowels of the earth with caving in the north east… this is a must-do guide for every adventure seeker!

IMG_6971

Skiing in the Himalayas
You don’t have to go all the way to St Moritz for some snowplay. Come winter and heavy snowfall transforms the Himalayas into vast outdoor playgrounds perfect for snow adventures across Uttarakhand, Himachal and Kashmir. Learn the basics at Auli (1917-3027m), with 3m snow carpeting the slopes, the longest cable car ride (4km to Rajju) and the backdrop of Nanda Devi, Kamet and Dunagiri peaks. At Manali, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports offers skiing courses and facilities at Solang Valley with lessons on offer at Himachal’s first advanced amusement park at Kufri.

In Kashmir, at 13,780 ft, Kongdoori on the shoulder of Mount Affarwat is the highest skiing point in the Himalayas. Little wonder CNN has ranked Gulmarg as the 7th best ski destination in Asia. The world’s highest ski lift whisks you to the upper slopes from where you ski or snowboard down freshly powdered slopes. The Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM) has certified instructors, quality skiing equipment, snow gear and modest shared rooms. For more luxury, stay at the plush Khyber, one of the few resorts where you can literally ‘ski-in, ski-out’!

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Srinagar, from where Gulmarg is a 45 min drive.
When to go: December to March
Cost: Around Rs.40,000/person (minimum group of 8), includes stay, food, training and equipment

Contact
Mercury Himalayan Explorations
Ph +91 11 4356 5425
http://www.mheadventures.com

Ski & Snowboard School
Auli, Garhwal Himalayas
Ph 9837937948, 9837685986
www.auliskiing.in

Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports
High Altitude Trekking & Skiing Center, Narkanda Ph: 01782-242406
Incharge, Skiing Center, Solang Nalla, PO Palhan, Manali Ph: 01902-256011
www.adventurehimalaya.org

Kitesurfing near Rameshwaram C55A9949

Kiteboarding near Rameshwaram
Kiteboarding is a surface water sport that harnesses the power of wind on water. Combining multiple disciplines like surfing, windsurfing, paragliding, wakeboarding and gymnastics into one extreme sport, the surfer is propelled on a kiteboard by a large controllable power kite. Southern Tamil Nadu, with a large stretch of sea, steady wind speed and dry weather, provides the perfect conditions for kiteboarding. India’s only female kitesurfer Charmaine and Govinda, who trained under the legendary Ines Correa, provide certification courses. Learn jumps and wave-style riding from IKO (International Kiteboarding Organisation) certified instructors at Fisherman’s Cove, Lands End lagoon and Swami’s Bay. Learn all about tea-bagging – popping in and out of water intermittently due to light or gusty wind, poor skills or twisted lines. Stay in rustic beach huts for around Rs.1,400 per person per night, inclusive of meals and transfers to kite spots. Also learn snorkelling, kayaking and stand up paddleboard while you’re at it.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Chennai and Madurai, a 3 hr drive away. Or take an overnight bus or train to Rameshwaram, with Rs.400 auto fare to the location.
When to go: Oct–Mar (Winter North Winds), Apr–Sep (Summer South Winds)
Cost: Private or shared lessons of 6-10 hours between Rs.15,000-30,000 (1-2 days).  

Contact
Quest Expeditions
Ph +91 9820367412, 9930920409
Email booking@quest-asia.com
thekitesurfingholiday.com

Surfing Swamis-IMG_3016

Surfing in South India
With a 7,000 km coastline, India is just discovering the thrills of surfing. At Mulki, Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram (or ‘Ashram Surf Retreat’ as it’s better known) is run by Krishna devotees who impart surfing lessons besides yoga and mantra meditation. With no smoking/alcohol allowed on the premises and healthy veg fare, it’s the perfect place to detox and learn to ride the waves! Ride the Zodiac boat to local surf breaks like Baba’s Left, Tree Line, Swami’s and Water Tank. Ganpatipule near Ratnagiri is home to Maharashtra’s only surf school run by Ocean Adventures while Kallialay Surf Club at Mamallapuram south of Chennai provides surfing lessons with wakeboards and equipment on hire.

Getting there: Mulki is 30 km north of Mangalore, Ganpatipule is 300 km south of Mumbai, Mamallapuram is 56 km south of Chennai.
When to go: Good all year round, with Summer South Winds blowing between Apr–Sep and Winter North Winds between Oct–Mar 

Contact
India Surf Club, Mulki
Ph +91 9880659130
Email gauranataraj@gmail.com http://www.surfingindia.net
Cost Rs.3,500-4,500 (double occupancy), surfing lessons Rs.1,500/p/day

Kallialay Surf Club, Mamallapuram
Ph +91 9442992874, 9787306376
Email kallialaysurfschool@hotmail.com

Ocean Adventures, Ganpatipule
Ph +91-99755 53617
http://www.oceanadventures.in
Cost: Rs.2,500 (4 hrs) or Rs.5,000 (3 days)

Caving in Meghalaya Kipepo

Caving in the North East
Call it spelunking (American) or potholing (British version), caving is the hot new adventure trend. It’s dark and grimy, but the descent into the subterranean realm offers a chance to see the beautiful world of stalagmites, stalactites, candles, cave curtains and cave pearls, formed over thousands of years. The presence of limestone hills, heavy rains and high humidity are ideal conditions for cave formation, best exhibited in India’s North East. With 1350 caves stretching over 400 km, Meghalaya has the deepest, longest and the largest labyrinth of caves in the Indian subcontinent. Little wonder it ranks among the world’s Top 10 caving destinations.

For tourists, Maswmai Caves near Cherrapunjee in the Khasi Hills is a decent primer, though for less touristy stuff, head to Shnongrim Ridge in the Jaintia Hills, riddled with cave passages like Krem Tynghen, Krem Umthloo, Krem Chympe and Krem Liat Prah, the longest natural cave in India. In neighbouring Manipur, Khangkhui Mangsor (cave system) near Ukhrul is a top draw with the village’s Tangkhul Naga inhabitants doubling up as guides. Each of the pits and caves has interesting legends of kings and demons attached to them.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Guwahati from where Shillong is a 3 hr drive.
When to go: November to March

Contact
Kipepeo
Ph +91 9930002412
http://www.kipepeo.in

For more on Meghalaya’s caves, http://megtourism.gov.in/caves.html

Bir Billing Paragliding

Paragliding in Kamshet & Bir-Billing
A good place to get initiated into paragliding is Kamshet in Maharashtra. Its mild altitude, dynamic wind, moderate weather, profusion of flying institutes and proximity to Mumbai and Pune, make it ideal for beginners. All year round access means you clock more air miles here. Basic and advanced courses like EP (Elementary Pilot) and CP (Club Pilot) are offered, but for serious stuff like XC (Cross Country), head to Bir-Billing in Himachal Pradesh. The 2400 m high meadow at Billing, 14 km north of Bir, is the launch site with the landing site and tourist accommodations in Chowgan.

There are a host of paragliding schools like Paragliding Guru run by BHPA certified paragliding instructor Gurpreet Dhindsa or Hi-Fly run by Debu Choudhury from Manali, the only Indian pilot to be in the Top 50 of Paragliding World Cup Association and India No.1 several times. Manoj Roy, founder and president of Paragliding Association of India, explains that the sport is catching on at Panchgani, Sikkim, Vagamon and Varkala (Kerala), Yelagiri (Tamil Nadu) and Goa. An annual paragliding tournament is conducted in Bir in Oct.

Getting there: Kamshet is 110 km from Mumbai and 45 km from Pune. Bir is 65 km from Dharamsala.
When to go: October to May (avoid rainy season and peak snowfall period in the Himalayas between Dec-Feb)
Cost: Around Rs.18,000 for 3-4 day course, includes stay, food, travel to the hill and equipment 

Contact
Hi Fly, Bir
Ph +91 9805208052
http://www.hi-fly.in

Paragliding Guru, Bir
http://www.paragliding.guru

Indus Paragliding, Karla
Ph +91 7798111000, 9869083838
http://www.indusparagliding.in

Nirvana Adventures, Kamshet
Ph +91 93237 08809
http://www.flynirvana.com
 

Temple Pilots, Kamshet
Ph +91 9970053359, 9920120243
http://www.templepilots.com
 

For more info, visit http://www.pgaoi.org, http://www.appifly.org and http://www.paraglidingforum.in

The Quarry Adventures-DSCN1404 (2)

Ziplining in North India & Coorg
Ziplining in the country started when Flying Fox founder Jono Walter met Neemrana Hotel’s Aman Nath and remarked “I want to fly you over your fort like a vulture.” Aman retorted, “No, no. I want to fly like a god!” And thus Flying Fox, India’s zipline pioneers, started South Asia’s first zipline in 2007. Ziplining at Neemrana promises a heady buzz of history and adrenaline as you zip over battle-scarred ramparts of a 15th century fort. Zipline five sections over the Aravali countryside – from the 330m Qila Slammer launched from an old lookout to the 400m ‘Where Eagles Dare’ or the Bond-inspired Pussy Galore and Goodbye Mr Bond, ending at Big B, named after Amitabh Bachhan who zipped from that very spot into the fort in the movie ‘Major Saheb’.

At Jodhpur, launch from ridges and battlements of the historic Mehrangarh Fort accessed through secret tunnels as you tackle Chokelao Challenge, Ranisar Rollercoaster and Magnificent Marwar, a 300m flight over two lakes landing on the tip of a fortified tower. In Punjab, Flying Fox Kikar set up the longest zip-line tour in South Asia and the first forest-based zip-line adventure in India at an old hunting lodge. Upstream of Rishikesh at Shivpuri, zipline over forests in the Himalayan foothills and raging rapids 230 ft below as you span 400 m stretches of High Times and White Water Flyer.

Down south, Siddhartha Somana (Sidd) repurposed a 35-year-old abandoned stone quarry near Madikeri into an offbeat adventure spot. Set in an 18-acre patch at Madenad in a 250m long horseshoe arc, take a guided Rainforest Walk, go rock climbing, rappel down a 50 ft natural rock wall and try 5 Treetop Adventures above the forest floor, eventually flopping into a Giant Hammock. The ziplining is done in two stretches – 400 ft and 600 ft, about 100-150 ft high. The all-inclusive ‘Full Dosage’ costs 1,999/person for all activities with food arranged on request.

Getting there: Neemrana and Kikar are 2 hr drives from Delhi while Shivpuri is a 15 min drive upstream of Rishikesh. Jodhpur Airport is well connected by flights from Delhi and Jaipur. Quarry Adventures is 8km from Madikeri.
When to go: All year round
Cost: Rs.1,399-2,299/person 

Contact
Flying Fox

Ph +91 9810999390, 011-66487678
http://www.flyingfox.asia

Quarry Adventures
Ph 9880651619, 9482575820
http://www.thequarryadventures.com
Timings: 9am-6pm

IMG_3657

Hot Air Ballooning across India
A hot air balloon is indeed a strange aerial vehicle that has no brakes or steering wheel with only the fair winds to guide you! Commercial hot air ballooning in India finally took off on 1 Jan 2009 with pioneers SkyWaltz waltzing into the skies. The tourism hub of Rajasthan, with its forts, palaces and rugged Aravallis was the perfect place to start. Headquartered in Jaipur, the action spread to Ranthambhore, Pushkar camel fair, a permanent operation at Lonavala, besides tethered flights at festivals like Taj Mahotsav, Hampi Festival, Amaravati Festival and Araku Balloon Festival. SkyWaltz has flown over 35,000 happy customers in the last nine years. With the trend catching on, the fifth edition of the Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival is back this January with tethered flights and night glow at Chennai and Pollachi.

Getting there: Araku is 112km/3 hr drive from Vizag via Simhachalam.
When to go: All year round except peak summer and rains. Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival takes place 4-6 Jan 2019 in Chennai and 13-15 Jan at Pollachi.

Contact
Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival
Ph +91 95000 90850, 94882 54204
Email tnballoonfestival@gmail.com
http://www.tnibf.com

SkyWaltz/E-Factor
Ph +91 9560387222, 9560397222
Email goballooning@skywaltz.com
http://www.skywaltz.com

Pushkar Fair
Ph +91 8130925252
http://www.pushkarmela.org

Araku Balloon Festival
http://www.arakuballoonfestival.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the cover story in the January 2019 issue of JetWings International magazine. 

 

Basketful of Joy: Ballooning in India

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY reach for the skies and profile the mad world of ballooning while attending the Araku Balloon Festival

IMG_3666

Listening to tales of early explorers conquering the world in strange airships and watching their adventures on celluloid had always filled us with awe and wonder. Be it ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines’ or Phileas Fogg and his French valet Passepartout crossing the Pyrenees in Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, nothing had captured our imagination like hot air ballooning. Verne’s first acclaimed novel in 1863 ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon’ involved travelling across Africa from Zanzibar to St Louis in a hot air balloon. With the 2009 animation film ‘Up’, our interest only piqued…

Internationally, ballooning as a sport started in the late 1960s-70s in France, UK & the US and then spread across Europe. In 1986, maverick tycoon Richard Branson did the first Trans-Atlantic crossing in the biggest hot air balloon ever and in 1991, he successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean, setting a distance and speed record of 6,700 miles and 245mph. In the late 90s, Branson ran the largest ballooning operation in the world and wanted to bring Virgin Balloons to India, but things didn’t work out. In India, ballooning seems to have taken off with regular events like Taj Mahotsav, Pushkar Mela and the Tamil Nadu Balloon Festival at Pollachi in January (in its fourth edition).

IMG_3538

One day, out of the blue, we got the perfect opportunity for a first hand experience, thanks to the Araku Balloon Festival. Organized by E-Factor and SkyWaltz, pioneers of ballooning in India, in association with Andhra Pradesh Tourism, it was a chance to see Araku Valley and its stunning landscape from a different perspective. We flew into Vizag for the 3-hour drive to Araku where a recently harvested agricultural patch had been painstakingly transformed into a tented luxury camp. On the eve of our maiden flight, we hung out with the world’s top balloonists for an inside look into this fascinating activity.

There seemed to be more butterflies flying around our stomachs than there would be balloons in the air. Though Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes ballooning as the safest aero sport, Chief Organizer Samit Garg reassured first-time flyers, “Ballooning is the simplest form of aviation. It’s like a parachute that operates on the simple fundamental of being LTA (lighter than air). It does not have an engine that might fail, nor a wing that could fall off, if the burner has a problem, there’s a back-up burner, if there’s a hole in the balloon, it is not going to burst. If everything fails, the warm air inside will get cold and the balloon will slowly descend to earth.” We laughed at his simple logic. “The only two things that can go wrong is if you’ve taken a bad call and flown in bad weather or the pilot is an amateur.” We were fortunate to be in the company of legends.

IMG_3552

“There are so few moving parts, what could possibly go wrong?” said Australian flyer Peter Dutneall in mock seriousness. He loved ballooning because it put smiles on people’s faces. Sixteen balloons from thirteen countries were taking part at the Araku Balloon Festival. Italian Paulo Bonanno, the world authority in burners, had been flying for 37 years. He originally made industrial textile machines and one day while talking to a friend on the phone, absent-mindedly doodled a round shape that looked like a balloon. On a wager, he made a balloon in 15 days. As he gained altitude with each try, one day he cut the rope and reached for the skies. Though he had flown across the world, this was his first time ballooning in India. “I’m 73 and plan to fly for the next 30 years,” he chuckled, chugging at his trademark pipe. “The only navigational tool I use is my nose.”

Ballooning is subject to good weather; one can’t do it when it’s too hot, so summers and rains are off limits. The season lasts from mid-Sep to mid-April. Josep Llado from Spain began by fulfilling his dream of exploring Africa by balloon. Thirty years later, he’s still not tired. “It’s freedom, you forget everything else,” he said. An India veteran, Josep had flown in Jaipur, Ranthambhore, over the Taj in Agra and above India Gate in Delhi. “Flying in India is very colourful and incredible, especially the landscapes and the people. When you fly over a city, people run to the roofs. When you land, they come in droves, always interested to see what’s happening.”

IMG_3544

Josep explained that the best time to fly is early morning or evening, as the wind is calm and the temperature cool, without thermals. For long distance flights or across mountains the ideal wind speed is 50 knots, but for short flights, within a valley, 6-7 knots is fine. Wind blows in different directions at various altitudes so one can change levels and pick another wind. That’s where experience comes in. You observe other balloons.

“It’s a bit old fashioned”, he laughed. If you burn less often, you begin to descend slowly. The pilot must always be conscious of what to do – don’t stray too far, watch out for power lines when flying low, land near a road. If it’s windy, you land a bit harder. It’s not important where you go; only the flight is important, so enjoy the flight.

IMG_3586

For Samit, the magic moment came in Germany in 2003 when he saw a hot air balloon for the first time while driving from Stuttgart to Frankfurt. On learning that it was a regular ticketed activity, he wondered why it couldn’t happen in India? Samit travelled to the UK, Turkey, France and Germany to understand how it’s done but India still didn’t have any laws to facilitate commercial ballooning.

After much deliberation with the DGCA and obtaining a NSOP (Non-Scheduled Operators Permit), SkyWaltz waltzed into the skies. Commercial ballooning in India took off on 1 Jan 2009. Rajasthan, with its forts, palaces, rugged Aravallis and steady tourist traffic was the perfect place to start. Headquartered in Jaipur, they soon spread to Ranthambhore, Pushkar camel fair and a permanent operation at Lonavala. They flew at Hampi Festival, Taj Mahotsav, Amaravati Festival and for a TV series for the Bedi brothers with balloon flights over 8 national parks.

IMG_3964

From branding, tethered flights, corporate group events and destination marketing to experimental breakfasts and proposal flights (somebody held a 100 ft long banner with the message ‘will you marry me’), ballooning is indeed special … Today, the market has grown so much that SkyWaltz flies three baskets full every morning at Jaipur. In the last nine years, they have flown over 35,000 happy customers.

The next morning, the pilots left early for the launch site. Numbered jeeps carrying baskets, cylinders and other equipment rolled in. Karimulla Syed from Guntur, the only balloon pilot from Andhra Pradesh with 800 flying hours across 15 countries, was coordinating the setup. Paul Macpherson, chief of operations at SkyWaltz, was busy checking if any balloonist needed anything.

IMG_3550

We had all been designated balloons and were given boarding passes. A huge crowd had assembled to see the drama unfold. It was overcast. “If it’s foggy, it means no wind, which is good,” said Paulo. “The ideal condition is no wind on the ground and soft wind in the air. The maximum speed permitted by rule is 10 knots,” he added.

Rick Astral and John were rigging up Iwi the Kiwi, a special shaped balloon that won many admirers. Rick, who calls himself ‘the cheeky Kiwi’, was a self-professed cowboy who had flown over the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. Setting up nearby were Swiss flier Marc Blazer, Kevin Chassa, whose mother was the first female balloon pilot in France and Izzati and Atiqah Khairudin, Malaysia’s first female hot air balloonists.

IMG_3691

Their father Captain Khairudin, smitten by his first glimpse of a hot air balloon on a train journey in Switzerland, returned home to become Malaysia’s first balloon pilot. His daughters helped him organize the annual Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in 2009 and after his death in 2012, took over his mantle.

The sisters love the unpredictability of ballooning – the inability to control the direction or flight route, leaving your fate to nature, following the wind and letting it take you to unknown places. Flying a hot air balloon is different from any other aircraft because you can never plan where you will land. Once on a cross-country flight across nine states in Peninsular Malaysia, they landed in a palm oil plantation. First the workers ran away and came back with machetes as they thought it was a bomb. When they saw people inside, they thought they were gods! “Ballooning is so universal – no matter your age, race or where you come from, the reaction is always one of excitement.”

IMG_3546

“But it’s not as glamorous as it seems”, they chimed. “You sweat buckets, there’s heavy lifting and you need a team – it’s not a one-man (or woman) show!” The nylon-polyurethane envelope weighs 100kg, the basket about 60kg and 50kg each cylinder. It takes a crew of four 20 minutes to set up. A balloon can cost around 30,000 to 100,000 Euros.

The Bee, a special inflatable balloon purely for display, was the first to dance in the air, as Luc de Wulf from Belgium wielded it expertly. After growing up on his grandfather’s stories on flying, he made his first makeshift balloon at 10 by heating a piece of plastic with a hairdryer. Luc started ballooning in 2005 and after Israel, Lebanon, Thailand, Cambodia, Mexico, Dubai and flying over the Alps in winter, this was his first experience in India.

IMG_3706

We were assigned to his fellow Belgian Johan Vander Meiren, who had clocked a thousand flights in Europe and has been flying over Bruges for the last 12 years. “We cannot steer, so we float on nature,” he shouted over the din of industrial fans inflating the balloons. The burners fired up and after instructions to bend our knees on touchdown, we hopped in.

With a loud whoosh, we were off, rising above a patchwork of green, yellow and golden fields in a valley ringed with mountains criss-crossed with streams. After the initial whoops of joy, we settled in and savoured the 15-minute ride and the sight of other balloons on the horizon. The touchdown was really smooth. Johan radioed the ground staff and we lowered carefully into an open field where we were greeted by an excited group of farmers, children and bystanders.

IMG_4027

Yet, we were all unaware of another spectacle about to unfold that night – tethered flight and night glow! In a large ground, the balloons lit up each time the burners fired and the swarming crowd gasped. A lucky few got the chance to get into a balloon and experience a tethered flight. Little kids clutched colourful balloons on strings as if dressed for a fancy dress party. Later that night, we celebrated our success with dancing the local Dhimsa to the beat of tribal drums by the campfire.

On account of its sheer size and geographic diversity, India has the potential to be a top ballooning destination. However, weather and wind patterns are critical and you need vast open spaces for landing, so plateaus score over coastlines. Places like Varanasi and Hampi can rival Turkey or Myanmar. Ballooning is big business in Cappadoccia where 50-60 balloons take off each day but it took them 27 years to get there. In India, the tough part is done and the administration, the trade and customers are all aware of ballooning. As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been, and there you long to return.”

IMG_3687

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 27 May, 2018 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

In search of new thrills: New travel experiences in 2016

Standard

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.

Sky Waltz Balloons-2

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

DSC00930_opt

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

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

Kikar zip photo opt-2

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.

Cost Rs.1,399-2,299/person
Ph +91 9568943116, 011-66487678 http://www.flyingfox.asia

Kiteboarding near Rameshwaram C55A9949-2

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

Muzhappilangad Road Rajas IMG_0086_Anurag Mallick

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

 

20140927_084158

‘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

IMG_8995-Khaba Fort

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

IMG_2536-opt

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

jatayupara edited

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.

Jatayu Nature Park, Jatayu Junction, Chadayamangalam
Ph: +91-474 2477077 http://www.jatayunaturepark.com, http://www.keralatourism.org

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 3 January, 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.