IT's a fact that the places—and people—that play hard to get are always the ones you want to hold out for. What charm or mystery can there possibly be in a place too easily arrived at? How can you ever feel truly cut off from the rest of the world if your private heaven is only a couple of steps from the very public hell of the metropolis you've been trying to escape? But too much agony and the traveller loses patience. Too little agony and all sense of adventure and reward is lost. The art of unwinding then is to strike the perfect balance between agony and ecstasy and head out for the perfect destination which suits you and your family this summer. Just a few ideas which do not necessarily involve physical strain.
VISIT NEPAL YEAR '98:With the intention of making their countrymen aware of how tourism can benefit the economy of the country, the Nepal government along with the private sector has declared it the Year of Nepal. All to the benefit of Indian tourists who are being offered unbelievable rates by tour operators. For instance, one such package costs about Rs 7,800 for three nights and four days including airfare. There's much to see and do in the world's only Hindu kingdom which lies nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. Home to the awesome Mt Everest, aerial tours provide a breathtaking view of the majestic mountains. Walk through the bazaars of Kathmandu or visit Pashupatinath temple or the 2,000-year-old stupa at Swayambhunath. The House of the Kumari, the vestal virgin, is not to be missed. Other places of interest include the ancient capital city of Nepal, Bodhnath, the golden gate, Pokhara Valley. Go wild at night at the many casinos. Take this opportunity to stay in five-star comfort at Nepal's premier five-star hotel, the Yak and Yeti, located right in the heart of Kathmandu. Originally an 18th century palace, the hotel offers exciting family, casino and honeymoon packages for three nights and four days to Indian nationals at very affordable prices. Family package: Rs 5,999 per person. Casino: at INR 10,999 per person. Honeymoon: Rs 16,333 per couple. The packages include airport transfers, local sightseeing, complimentary breakfast and dinner. No extra charge for children below 12 years. For further details contact: Yak and Yeti, tel: 248999; Delhi: 6182421, Calcutta: 5337742; Mumbai: 6131362.
VISIT KERALA '98: Tourists are in for a bonanza this year. With the state government geared up for this very special year, new and exciting destinations beckon in God's own land. Catch a bird's eye view from the highland areas of the western ghats. Tuck yourself away in quaint little stone cottages among rich loamy plantations of tea, coffee, rubber, orange and spices. Imbibe the fragrance of rare flow-ers that bloom once every 12 years in the hill stations of Kerala. To name a few: Munnar at 1,600 m above sea level boasts the Kundale tea plantation. Eravikulam national park is a four-hour drive from Kochi. Nelliyampathy, 75 km from Palghat has immense trekking potential and is home to the Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary. Wayanad, Devikulam, Peermade and Ponmudi, the last home to orchids, and Kovalam beach offer exciting holidays. Contact Kerala Tourism, tel: (91-471) 321132.
From the hills to the beaches. Are beach resorts the same everywhere? Not at Somatheeram, 9 km south of Kovalam. Built in wood and sporting antique carved architecture, Somatheeram has been conceived as a microcosm of Kerala. Eco-friendly all the way, there are a host of rare opportunities for residents who wish to do something more than merely bask in the sun. Somatheeram has an exclusive Ayurvedic centre which offers therapies based on 5,000-year-old body toning practices. There's also a yoga centre. Soma houseboats take you through the backwaters. Manaltheeram close by is a sister resort.
Spread across the coastal contours of Kerala and the Lakshadweep islands, the Casino group of hotels offer tempting getaways at their four resorts. All you have to do is choose between the Coconut Lagoon at Kumarakom on the backwaters with traditional wooden family houses; the tropical Lakshadweep islands where they have the Bangaram Resort where there are no indigenous inhabitants; their own Periyar Tiger Reserve with the Spice Village Resort in cardamom country; or the exclusive plantation bungalow neatly tucked away in the heart of Kerala amidst rubber plantations. Leisure activities include adventure sports, Spice Coast cruises, water safaris, backwater cruises, forest treks, cookery classes and Ayurvedic body toning. For further information regarding package prices contact: Casino Group, Willingdon Island, Kochi-682003 Tel: 668221 or Choice Travel Planners, New Delhi, tel: 6947444.
SHILON RESORT:The only 5-star resort project in Himachal Pradesh, it's only 380 km from Delhi and 24 km from Shimla on the Chail-Kufri highway. Perched at a height of 7,200 ft amidst lofty Himalayan peaks and picturesque orchards, it makes a great holiday destination any time of the year. Built on several levels and set among apple and cherry orchards, its 50 cottages offer breathtaking views of the surrounding Kinner Kailash, Chur Chandni peaks and the Shivalik range. For recreation there's the Playpen which has a host of indoor games like chess, billiards, basketball and a doll's house besides video games for children. For outdoor enthusiasts there's tennis, skating, badminton, croquet and golf. Also yak and horse rides as well as trekking. There's a tea lounge, a reading room, a card room, a multi-cuisine restaurant and a well-stocked bar. But the piece de resistance is its swank nightclub and discotheque, Scandal Point. The first disco and the highest in the Himachal, there's no scandal, though attached to the disco. It just derives its name from Shimla's Scandal Point from where the notorious Maharaja of Patiala is said to have abducted the British Viceroy's daughter half a century ago. For further information and reser va-tions contact: UG Centre, D.B. Gupta Rd, Karol Bagh, New Delhi, tel: 5745073, 5745534 or M&M Better Relations, Tel: 6964510, 6512032
BINSAR VALLEY RESORT, MANIPUR ESTATE:An exciting new destination is being created in the Kumaon Himalayan region, an area referred to as the playground of the gods. The Manipur Estate where the resort stands, was established in 1934 by Major Pande as his summer residence. The present owners continued to develop the estate and have added an equestrian centre, a chalet and another cottage. About nine-ten hours from Delhi there's a short route through Almora town via Kasardevi and Denapani. The Ranikhet Express from Old Delhi station deposits you at Kathgodam from where it's a three-and-a-half hour drive. Activities include sheer lazing, treks, pony trails, bird-watching and trips to the Binsar sanctuary. A day trip to Patal Bhubaneswar is a five-hour drive from the estate which boasts apricot, peach, pear, plum and apple orchards. What's more, the greens served comes from their very own vegetable patch. For more information and reservations contact: Mukul and Kalpana Joshie, 1592, Sector C, Pocket I, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi-70. tel: 6896520.
GLASS HOUSE ON THE GANGES:Perfect for a quick weekend getaway, the Glass House on the Ganges is set in a sprawling litchie orchard on the banks of the Ganga. The white sands of the beach are tempting. The architecture with large glass panes, from which the resort derives its name, puts the river in full view of the house which stands raised on a plateau. Activities include river rafting. Contact: Wanderlust Travels, tel: 602180, 6111889, 6875200.
CHOKHI DHANI:This is an ethnic village resort less than half-an-hour's drive from bustling Jaipur. Tranquil and peaceful, beautiful landscaped grounds, tree-top platforms, lantern-lit pathways, bullock carts, pigeons, camels and daily puppet shows give you a taste of the land of the Rajputs. Contact; Wanderlust Travels, tel: 602180, 6111889, 6875200.
DISCOVER INDIA BY RAIL:Promise yourself a weekend filled with fun and adventure as you discover India with short package tours introduced by the Indian Railways in collaboration with the state Tourism Development Corporations. The costs include fares for the return journey, overnight stay and conducted sightseeing along with tour escort services, for a completely hassle-free trip. The tours commence on Friday evenings and terminate on Monday mornings. Twelve packages in all, they originate from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta and cover pilgrimage spots, hill stations, cultural centres and beach resorts. Then there's the Toy Train package which takes you on joyrides up the hills. Take a slow train up to the hill resorts of Shimla, Ooty, Darjeeling or Matheran past little hamlets and terraced fields, through tunnels, over breathtaking bridges. The toy train from Kalka to Shimla has 107 tunnels. For enquiries contact: Railway information or Government of India tourist of fices.
BOGMALO BEACH PARK PLAZA RESORT, GOA:The Holiday Club launched in association with Diners Club-Citibank cards provides a member with a week's vacation every year for a period of 15 years. Value-added benefits include up to eight free return tickets to Goa from all major metros and the resort is fully geared to cater to the demands of the leisure traveller. Holiday Club has sales offices in Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore.
TAJ SUMMER HOLIDAYS '98:The Taj group of hotels is offering exciting packages valid till September 30. It allows customers to holiday at Taj locations at half the price they normally have to pay to stay in these hotels. In some cases, even less than half the price. The destinations include the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Kathmandu. You could head for a holiday in Fisherman's Cove in Chennai, visit any of five different locations in the backwaters of Kerala or, for the royally inclined, Jaipur's Palace properties. Complimentary airport transfers, food and beverage facilities and, in some cases, sight-seeing are part of the deal.
OBEROI AND TRIDENT GROUP SUMMER SPECIALS:On offer are specially designed holiday packages and weekend getaways from Oberoi locations. Destinations range from Sri Lanka to Khajuraho to Gopalpur-on-Sea, Bhubaneshwar and Konarak. Guests can book these packages through Oberoi Instant reservation offices.
THEME PARKS:Black Thunder, the water theme park in Mettupalayam on the Ooty Main road, 40 km from Ooty, is a fun place to be in, specially when your kids are screaming about so much sightseeing. Spread over 65 acres with the Nilgiris as the backdrop, it offers wild river rides, a wave pool, white water rides, cannon ball rides, a kiddie's pool with a volcano in the middle and dry rides like the giant wheel and rollercoaster among others. Forty cottages provide comfortable accommodation. Another theme park in Chennai, Kishkinta, promises to attract 3. 5 lakh visitors this summer. Water rides, water games, boating and Go Karting, make it an attractive proposition.
HERITAGE PROPERTIES:For the budget conscious traveller, these properties have come like an answer to a prayer. Affordably priced and conveniently located, these forts and havelis which have been turned into hotels offer excellent holiday options mixing leisure with grandeur, history with pleasure. Rawla Narlai is a 17th century fortress located midway between Jodhpur and Udaipur in Rajasthan. It was originally a hunting lodge which the then Maharaja of Jodhpur, Umaid Singh, presented to his brother Ajit Singh. You can visit the Kumbhalgarh fort steeped in history, as well as the Ranakpur temples and sites of excavation. Contact: Ajit Bhavan, tel: (0291) 37410.
Kesroli in Rajasthan's Alwar district is accessible by road from Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The seven-turret fort is said to have been built 600 years ago byYaduvanshi Rajputs. Situated atop the rare Hornstone Breccia rocks, it com -mands a splendid view. Nearby are the Sariska tiger sanctuary, the Kankwadi fort and the monuments of Tijara, Rajgarh, Machari, Vratnagar, Deeg and Bharatpur. Contact: A-58, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi. tel: 4616145. Himachal Pradesh also boasts a number of heritage properties like the Oberoi Clarke and Woodville Palace Hotel, Shimla; Palace Hotel, Chail; Fort Resort, Nalagarh, Hotel Roscommon and Alasia in Kasauli. Other properties are spread out over Mandi, Naggar, Palampur, Dalho-usie, Pragpur, Mashobra and Solan. The village of Pragpur with its age-old architecture and cobbled streets has been declared a Heritage Village while the 1,000-year-old Tabo monastery in Spiti with its wall paintings and stucco statues is a World Heritage site. For information contact: Himachal Tourism offices.