Tag Archives: Thailand

Immersive Thailand

Standard

Thai kickboxing and cooking classes, boat rides in canals and bicycle trails, wine appreciation tours and scenic excursions around Bangkok; Thailand is luring tourists with local immersive experiences, discover ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY

Thai cuisine DSC00218

No authentic travel experience in Thailand is complete without experiencing the food of the region. From the first sip of our lemongrass welcome drink, to inspiring décor with distinctly Thai themes – lotuses, wooden antiques and filigreed lamps shaped like fingernail adornments of traditional dancers, Thailand unlocks its surprises in a burst of new images and colours.

A good place to start is Bangkok’s Sky Restaurant at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel with a sumptuous buffet and spectacular night view from a revolving deck. Riverside dining hotspots like Baan Khanitha at the shopping mecca Asiatique and the Supatra River House along the Chao Phraya River provide an explosion of flavours – hearty seafood and pork dishes, unique combinations of steamed rice with neem flower gravy and green beef curry, stir-fried veggies, flat noodles with tofu, mildly sweet salad of raw papaya, carrot and prawn… besides platters of cut mango, sticky rice and coconut ice-cream with frozen tapioca flowers for dessert.

Thai cuisine DSC09865

Be it tom yum goong (shrimp soup) at street food stalls or kluay tod (banana fritters) from vendor carts, you could get more adventurous with odd bites like bamboo worms, crispy spiders and bugs on skewers around Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Thailand is often called Venice of the East because of its canals! A boat ride took us past beautiful pagoda temples painted in bright colours with gilded edges glinting in the sun and charming old wooden houses lined with potted plants and orchids hanging from the roofs. Boats doubled up as small floating markets with hawkers selling provisions and mementos as motorboats whizzed by with tourists. Along the banks, water monitor lizards sunned themselves on the edges.

Amita Thai Cooking classes DSC00355

We stepped off the small jetty in front of a heritage cottage to be welcomed by the charming Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon who runs Amita Cooking Class set in an organic vegetable and herb garden, right by the canal. Having lived here all her life, she smiles, saying, “The canal was very clean and quiet earlier but with tourism, it has become busy with boats.” In a four-hour session, Tam helped us whip up a range of dishes at our individual cooking stations.

With her rooster Soya Sauce strutting around like a sous chef and pet hill myna Basil punctuating her demo with entertaining screeches of Sawadeeka, laughs, coughs, whistles, siren calls and random Thai phrases, Tam took us through some delicious traditional Thai items with most ingredients sourced from her organic garden – Phay Thai (soft rice noodles stir fried with prawns and tamarind sauce), Gai Phat Met Ma Muag Himmaphan (stir fry chicken with cashew nuts), Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut soup) and Tab Tim Krob (water chestnuts in syrup with coconut milk). The most interesting aspect was Tam’s mastery in creating natural colours by crushing flower petals and vegetables, to make the dessert bright and appealing! It felt wonderful to eat what we had cooked.

Amita Thai Cooking classes DSC00360

All this food deserved a good workout and a round of Muay Thai Kickboxing classes at Sor Vorapin Boxing Camp sounded perfect. After a hectic warm-up that tested our stamina, we donned our boxing gloves, ready to pummel our fists like Brad Pitt in Snatch or Fight Club. Our coach explained the intricacies of Thailand’s unique martial combat.

“Muay Thai is a great way to keep fit, besides being one of the best forms of self defence. You make a move to knock down your opponent rather than use force. It’s all about focus and opportunity and striking with your fists, elbows, knees and legs. That’s why it’s called the Art of Eight Limbs.” Thanks to our encouraging coaches, we pulled out all our punches and it left us feeling powerful and energised.

Muay Thai Boxing School DSC00548

The gym was located in the famous ‘hippy market’ area so we decided to make the most of it. Funky dresses, tie-n-dye t-shirts, footwear and accessories for a steal, hair pieces in pop colours, parlours to get braids, massages and tattoos sandwiched between snack shops – this was a shopper’s dream. The harbour front at Asiatique is lined with old warehouses that have been converted into shopping stalls and restaurants.

From clothes stalls to designer boutiques and artists at work to relaxing restaurants and people walking their fancy pooches, the place buzzes with action. Siam Center is surrounded by malls such as MBK, Siam Paragon, Platinum and Pratunam, though a night market experience is a must!

MBK Mall

We headed out to lovely excursions around Bangkok – night safaris at Khao Yai National Park, rafting and soft adventure in Nakhon Nayok, golfing holidays at Royal Hills Golf Resort to wine tasting at Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand’s emerging wine county – there’s lots to do. Spread over 2000 acres below the Payayen mountains, PB Valley is Thailand’s largest vineyard. At GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery, Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy, Thailand’s only female oenologist and viticulturist taught us a thing or two about Thailand’s New Latitude wines.

For a ‘knowledge tour’ of Farm Chokchai, Thai girls in plaid shirts and cowboy hats act as guides on the largest agro tour in Asia. The sprawling 8000-acre dairy farm has 5,000 cows with rodeo shows, pony rides, petting zoos, Wild West town, animal shows and lasso tricks. We tried our hand at milking cows, with scoops of dairy fresh ice cream and juicy beefsteaks at the Steak House.

Death railway at HellFire Pass DSC01050

Kanchanaburi, Thailand’s western province offers a heady blend of nature and history. A 3 hr drive took us to the site of the World War II military camp where the JEATH Museum is a window into a darker past. The museum documents Japanese atrocities on prisoners of war from America, England, Australia and Thailand.

POWs were forced into labour to build a bridge and meter gauge railway line in just a year (1942-43), cutting through hard rock and cliffs of the Tenasserim Hills. It is said that one life was lost for every sleeper laid across the 415km track linking Thailand to Burma, earning the epithet ‘Death Railway’.

Death railway at HellFire Pass DSC01049

An Audio tour captures recorded sordid memories of the surviving POWs. We walked along the historic Bridge over the River Kwai (which inspired the David Lean movie of the same name). The original iron bridge suffered great destruction by Allied bombings in 1944 and was renovated. At Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, rows of stone tablets between flowering shrubs marked over 7000 persons who sacrificed their lives in the railway construction.

At Hintok River Camp, a former Japanese military base for POWs, we stayed in tented camps close to HellFire Pass and Memorial Museum. Driving around Kanchanaburi reveals the beauty of Thailand’s countryside with waterfalls and riverside nooks. We stopped by for a soak under Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi, or Khao Pung Falls, a gorgeous cascade and picnic spot where locals love spending a few relaxing hours.

Khao Pung Falls DSC00810

It was a royal retreat in the early 20th century and has a vintage steam locomotive on display. It was through the Three Pagodas Pass at the border that Buddhist teachings reached Thailand from India in the 3rd century.

Back at the camp, after a hearty meal of grilled meats and Thai fare, we chatted around a bonfire late into the night. The next morning, we hopped onto our mountain bikes for a ride to an ancient monastery just 2km away. We pedalled down the country road, past houses and temples and an old hanging bridge before halting at a splendid cluster of five colourful Buddha statues symbolising the different births of Buddha on earth.

Cycling tours DSC00888

At the monastery, we offered food to Buddhist monks. In the peaceful silence of the temple, we knelt and bowed our heads in prayer. As we received traditional blessings from the head priest, we realised what a befitting end it was to our journey. We were truly blessed to experience a side of Thailand that went beyond the clichéd itinerary of beaches, massages and bazaars.

Five Buddha statues DSC00937

FACT FILE

Getting there
There are several direct flights from India to Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand that take 3½ – 4½ hrs.

Where to Stay
Siam Kempinski Hotel
Ph +66 2 162 9000 www.kempinski.com

Intercontinental Bangkok Hotel
Ph +66 2 656 0444 www.ihgbangkok.com

Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort
Ph +66 2 476 0022 www.anantara.com

Hintok River Camp, HellFire Pass
Ph +66 8 1754 3898 www.hintokrivercamp.com

DSC09995

Where to Eat
Bangkok Sky Restaurant
Ph +66 2656 3000 www.baiyoke.co.th

Baan Khanitha, Asiatique
Ph +66 2 258 4128 www.baan-khanitha.com

Supatra River House, Chao Phraya River
Ph +66 2 411 0305 www.supatrariverhouse.net

What to Do
Amita’s Thai Cooking Classes
Ph +66 2 466 8966 www.amitathaicooking.com

Muay Thai Kickboxing classes, Sor Vorapin Boxing Camp
Ph +66 2 282 3551 www.thaiboxings.com

GranMonte Vineyard & Winery
Ph +66 36 227 334 www.granmonte.com

PB Valley Khao Yai Winery
Ph +66 36 226 415 www.khaoyaiwinery.com

For more info, www.tourismthailand.org

Absolutely Fantastic Holidays Ph +66 29 549 401 www.absolutelyfantasticholidays.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of JetWings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways. 

Advertisements

Travel in Style: Around the World in 2014

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 14 exciting destinations and new ways to explore the world in 2014 

River safaris, luxurious cruises, coastal drives, seaplane ride to private island resorts, salt mine tours, sightseeing on the run, Vinotherapy holidays, wildlife watching tours and spectacular festivals; the new year promises many new experiences for the global traveller. 

Image

Poland 
Besides Auschwitz, Sobibor and Oskar Schindler’s factory in the old capital of Krakow, Poland has a lot more to show than its war wounds. Listen to legends of dragons, mermaids and fairytale castles as you discover the legacy of composer Frederic Chopin. Visit the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw where his heart is enshrined or take the Royal Route from the reconstructed Old Town to Łazienki Park lined with palaces for a meal at the Belvedere. Try hot chocolate at Wedel’s Chocolate Lounge or warm your cockles with a glass of mulled wine, Polish mead and smoked Oscypek (mountain sheep cheese) served with cranberry sauce. But for something truly spectacular, head to Wieliczka’s Kopalnia Soli, the world’s oldest salt mine still in operation and perhaps the oldest corporation! Marvel at its jaw-dropping saline architecture with altars, statues and chandeliers carved out of rock salt by mine workers, ending the tour with dinner in an underground chamber. Head south to the winter capital of Zakopane for a funicular train to the top of Mount Gubalowka for snowmobile rides against the stunning backdrop of the Tatra mountains. At the unique Bukovina Hotel, bathe in therapeutic thermal pools channeled from 2400m deep geysers! With ICE Krakow, a new convention centre slated to open in 2014, Poland makes for a great destination for holidayers and corporate groups alike.

Image

Ireland   
After clocking a million visitors at Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland takes its maritime legacy a notch up with the renovated SS Nomadic, the feeder ship used by first-class passengers to board the Titanic. Get a dose of adrenalin at SKYTrek, a new outdoor high ropes activity centre near Belfast and head out to the Coastal Causeway Route. The 120-mile drive along the North Antrim Coast ranks among the world’s top road trips. Stop over for English tea and scones at the Londonderry Arms Hotel, once owned by Winston Churchill and try Irish cuisine at Bushmills Inn. En route visit Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge over a deep chasm and Dunluce Castle, a medieval structure dramatically perched on a cliff. At Giant’s Causeway marvel at the hexagonal basalt columns formed 60 million years ago, when molten lava cooled suddenly on contact with water. Enriching the scenic walk are excellent audio guides explaining Irish folktales behind the distinctive formations like the Camel, the Wishing Chair and the Harp. The recently opened £18 million visitor centre has a great interactive exhibition and souvenir shop. The Causeway Crossing Marathon in May, Adventure Travel World Summit at Killarney in October and Giants Causeway Coast Sportive cycling tour in November make it a great year to visit Ireland.

Image

Oman 
Just a 2½ hr drive from Dubai and an hour’s flight from Muscat, Mussandam is emerging as Oman’s hottest destination. With a rich sea-faring tradition, Oman’s northern-most governorate overlooks the strategic Strait of Hormuz, with Portuguese-built forts-cum-museums at Khasab and Bukha. Go dolphin sighting on a dhow cruise in the fjords of Mussandam (described as the Norway of Arabia) and watch amazing marine life while snorkelling at Telegraph Island, named after an undersea telegraph system set up by the British in 1854. Head on an off-road drive to Jebel Harim (Mountain of Women), named after local women who flocked to the hill to escape pirates when their husbands were away fishing. Hunt for fossils and petroglyphs high in the mountain caused by the collision of the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates. Enjoy Arabic platters and fresh catch from the sea at Golden Tulips hotel and pick up Omani halwa and dates at the new Lulu Hypermarket.

Image
Alligator Snapping Turtle, River Safari © Singapore Tourism Board

Singapore
Embark on a journey of discovery at the brand new River Safari, Asia’s first and only river-themed wildlife park in Singapore. Explore eight freshwater habitats with over 5,000 aquatic and terrestrial animals representing 300 species. Meet rare giants such as the giant river otter, giant salamander and the Mekong giant catfish. From the mighty Mississippi to the majestic Yangtze, stroll through freshwater galleries and walk-through exhibits. Watch giant pandas at the lush Giant Panda Forest, Southeast Asia’s largest panda exhibit and witness the annual flooding of the Amazon jungle at the Amazon Flooded Forest, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium. Located between Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, it has all the makings of a wild holiday.

Image 
© Shangri-La Bosphorus Hotel

Turkey
With films like Skyfall, Ek Tha Tiger and Race 2 shot in Istanbul and the sea resort of Antalya, Turkey has captured the imagination of the Indian traveler. Roam around the iconic Blue Mosque, spice-scented bazaars and narrow streets around the Golden Horn, gaze at the soaring dome of Hagia Sophia, soak yourself in a hammam (Turkish bath), drop by at the upscale boutiques of Nisantasi or visit the Dolmabahce Palace with opulent chandeliers and rooms built for Ottoman sultans. Go on the perfect romantic holiday or opt for a stylish wedding at the Shangri-La Bosphorus Hotel. Travel Shop Turkey’s new Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours offer a new way to discover the country beyond Istanbul – boutique cave hotels in the underground city of Cappadoccia, the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Trojan Horse of Troy, one of the Seven Churches of St John at Pergamon, the ancient city of Ephesus, the calcium pools of Pamukkale and the beautiful scenery of the Mediterranean coast.

Image 
Run Cape Town © South African Tourism

South Africa
Ever done Sightseeing on the Run? Run Cape Town offers Running Tours of the city through its streets, with Western Cape Tourist Guide Philippa sharing anecdotes and history of major sights. With a backdrop of Table Mountain, an incredible coastline and great weather, Cape Town is the perfect city to discover on foot. The Historic City Centre tour can be adapted to routes of 5km, 8km or 12km (1 hr 40 min) with new running tours at Darling, Lions Head and Gugulethu. Stellenbosch Wine Festival from 24 Jan–2 Feb 2014 promises tasting programs from over 75 wineries in the beautiful surroundings of Die Braak. But don’t just sip your wine; try vinotherapy, South Africa’s hot new trend with treatments inspired by merlot, chardonnay and pinotage. Librisa Spa at Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town offers a special head-to-toe Vine Secret Vintage Experience. Or perhaps Your Highness may prefer Constantia Uitsig’s signature treatment Les Aromes Du Vin?

Image
Holi in Berlin © German National Tourist Office 

Germany
With special focus on its 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Germany is celebrating the ‘Royal Heritage Route’ in 2014 to mark the 300th anniversary of Hanover’s succession to the thrones of UK and Ireland. The year also marks the 300th birth anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s illustrious second son CPE Bach, about whom Mozart remarked to a Viennese patron “Bach is the father. We are the children!” The six ‘Bach cities’ of Weimar, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Berlin, Potsdam and Hamburg where the composer lived and worked are planning year-long celebrations. With concerts, exhibitions, conferences and festivals celebrating his life and work, it’s Bachanalia of another kind! Germany’s exciting electronic scene is abuzz with clubs and nightspots in Berlin. Let your hair down with thousands of revelers during Holi at Olympic Park. Events like the Berlinale International Film Festival in Feb, the Long Night of Museums in March and Long of Night of Opera and Theatre in April promise a lot of action for any visitor.

Image
Magical sunsets © Royal Caribbean Cruises

Royal Caribbean Cruises
From dramatic landscapes of the Arctic to South America’s beaches, rainforests and tango salons; ancient temples, open-air markets and cuisine of the Far East to culinary trails in Australia and New Zealand, Royal Caribbean Cruises is a great way to explore the globe. Get aboard the largest and most innovative cruise ships in the world including Allure of the Seas in the Caribbean and Asia’s largest cruise Mariner of the Seas that sails from Singapore. The 7-Night Argentina & Uruguay Cruise aboard the Splendour of the Seas has several fixed departures in Jan-April. On-board amenities include surf simulators, ice skating rinks, zip line, sports courts, casinos, aqua sports and Broadway-style entertainment. Tirun Travel Marketing, India’s premier cruise counselors in 2013, offer exclusive holidays and exotic Spa at Sea packages. Choose from Elemis Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage, rasul organic mud baths on Royal Caribbean International or award-winning AquaSpa treatments aboard Celebrity Cruises.

Image
Private pool © Song Saa Island, Cambodia

Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia’s fastest growing city, serves as the gateway to the world famous Angkor temples and ruins of a string of Khmer capitals between the 9th to 15th centuries. But there’s more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat, the world’s largest single religious monument, the massive stone faces of Bayon at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm’s Buddhist temples entwined by roots. The once inaccessible Koh Ker has been recently de-mined and reachable by a new toll road. But for something truly offbeat, visit Song Saa, the first and only private island resort in Cambodia. Arrive in style by a private seaplane from Siem Reap (1hr 15min) or Phnom Penh (1 hr). Luxuriate in Jungle, Overwater and Ocean-view villas built from sustainable materials with private pools as you indulge in the Sanctuary spa. Try watersports, nature walks and excursions to 20 deserted islands nearby like The Sweethearts that spans two islands connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve. The best part, there’s wi-fi all over the island!

Image
Canada by VIA Rail © Canadian Tourism Commission

Canada 
North America’s oldest tourist attraction, the legendary Maid of the Mist retires in 2014 after 165 years of service. Replaced by a Frisco-based company, the Hornblower will take tourists to Niagara from the Canadian docks past the base of the American Falls into the basin of the magnificent Canadian Horseshoe Falls. For a different perspective, take a Heli-Tour or ‘Journey beyond the Falls’ in a lift. However, as the second largest country in the world, Canada offers much more. Traverse the country on a budget with great deals and circuits from VIA Rail and try the recently launched Canadian Signature Experiences. Relive Canada’s railway building heritage and castles at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. View wild polar bears at Churchill by all-terrain Tundra Buggy or saddle up for the Calgary Stampede, billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’. Go dog-sledding, glamping in forests, culinary boot camps or Aurora tours to view the Northern Lights, which will be at their best in 2014. If Toronto’s CN Tower Sky Walk seems too urban, go for a Cliffwalk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver. And if all this seems too much, just chill with some Inniskillin Ice Wine!

Image

Thailand
Beyond the known haunts of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi and Bangkok’s 426 bejeweled temples, the famed City of Angels now offers a range of immersive experiences. Learn to prepare and feast on a full course of delicious traditional Thai fare at Amita Thai Cooking Classes run by Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon. Set in a cherry wooden cottage and organic garden by a canal, the sprightly cooking expert gives you a hands-on approach to a range of dishes. Get a good workout with a round Thailand’s famous martial art – MuayThai Kickboxing classes at S.Vorapin Boxing Gym. Soothe your tired muscles as you learn the intricacies of authentic Thai massage – traditional Wat Po or relaxing hot stone massages at RarinJinda Wellness Spa. Immerse yourself in the luxury of Siam Kempinski Hotel, a stone’s throw from Siam Center’s buzzing malls (MBK, Platinum and Pratunam). Shop till you drop at Asiatique Riverfront and dine at Baan Khanitha or Supatra River House, a ferry ride across the Chao Phraya River to gorge on exotic Thai fare. A short drive to Kanchanaburi lets you pay tribute to those who lost their lives building the Death Railway to Burma during WWII at historic sites like the Bridge on the River Kwai, the War Cemetery, Jeath War Museum and Hellfire Pass Memorial as you unwind in swanky tents at Hintok River Camp, a former Japanese military base.

Image
Daranshi Oreum, Jeju © Korea Tourism Organization 

Korea
Psy’s global success after Gangnam Style has elevated not just K-Pop but Korea Tourism into instant international stardom. In a witty Wiki Korea campaign, Psy introduces concepts like Gi (universal energy) and Heung (inner joy), besides tourism icons like Korea’s famous dish samgyeopsal (pork belly), Myeongdong Cosme Road and Jeju Olle Trail. The largest volcanic island in Korea, Jeju recently won the Global Geopark certificate and ranks among the New7Wonders of Nature. Visit its famous sites like Hallasan National Park, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak and Manjanggul Cave, the world’s longest lava tube recognized as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. A high-speed train connects Korea’s capital to its largest port city Busan, which hosts famous international fireworks and film festivals. But with historic sites like Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces and the traditional Bukchon Hanok Village, Korea’s surely got Seoul!

Image
Zell am See © Austrian National Tourist Office

Austria
Stunning mountainscapes, green pastures, lakes and ice; the alpine beauty of Austria’s Zell am See and Kaprun circuit is breathtaking. Besides the country’s highest mountain Grossglockner and the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, Austria boasts 267 peaks over 3000m, nearly 342 glaciers and mighty waterfalls like the 1,247 ft high Krimml Waterfalls, the tallest in the country. The newly opened waterfall center Wondrous Worlds of Water offers interactive experiences with an aquatic theme. Experience the world’s biggest ice caves at Eisriesenwelt or visit the 900-year-old castle of Burg Hohenwerfen, with a falconry centre, weaponry and museum. At Saalbach, a 20 min hike along the highest treetop path in Europe takes one to the end of the valley in Hinterglemm. Combined with the Golden Gate Bridge and a newly introduced high rope course, it’s an unparalleled alpine experience. Visit the baroque city of Salzburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fortress, cathedral and church steeples.

Image
Felicite and Sisters Island © Raymond Sahuquet

Seychelles
Thrumming with the strains of Creole music, Seychelles is a tropical paradise with 115 unique islands. Hop by plane or ferry between the 16 islands that provide stay options. Victoria, the world’s smallest capital, is so tiny you can explore it on foot while the largest island Mahé alone has 65 beaches! Nearly a fifth of Mahé’s landmass constitutes the Morne Seychellois National Park, named after the country’s highest peak. Enjoy dramatic views from Mission Lodge and Tea Factory as you learn the secret behind Seychelles tea – the cool crisp air of Mount Morne Blanc. Praslin, Seychelles’ second largest island once had such dense vegetation that explorers mistook it for the original Garden of Eden! Explore Craft Villages, Takamaka Bay Rum Distillery or go birdwatching for the Seychelles Black Parrot, one of the rarest in the world, besides the best fishing, snorkeling and sailing!

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 5 January 2014 in  Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald.  

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013: Great Places to Party

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list out the season’s hotspots and their favourite new year getaways 

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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. 

Image

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.

Image

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.