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Dodge The Indian Sun

Offbeating the travel odds!

Dodge The Indian Sun
Early Light
Hira Devi’s day begins early at Sarmoli village in Munsiari, Uttarakhand
Photograph by Abhinandita Mathur/Outlook Traveller
Dodge The Indian Sun
outlookindia.com
2019-04-19T11:30:11+0530

Have you noticed how other people want to “go somewhere”, “do something”, every summer? And have you noticed how they want you to tell them where to “go somewhere” and “do something”, every summer? Then, as if to skim the froth off the gathering puddle of bile about your immotile ankles, she of the hand-cr­e­amed hands, white sneakers-no socks and peach shorts, insists on an “offbeat”, “off-the-grid” holiday. Pre­fe­rably, with a strong 4G network and no leeches, thankyouplease.

With the election season upon us though, we’re temporarily dialling down our hostility towards all or any fellow-citizens making a run for the hills—travellers or tourists, socks or no socks. And so it is in the spirit of tolerance, as a peace offering to the gods of deluded democracies, we bring you a list of Nation First summer experiences that are, um, rather “offbeat”.

Of course, offbeat is as offbeat does—what with expectations of accountability currently hanging heavy in the air. And therein lies the rub of modern travel. Even your neighbour, who hasn’t stepped out to fetch a packet of milk since Vasco da Gama was felled by malaria in Cochin, now wants to ‘discover’ a place that Aunty Google hasn’t. Once she discovers it though—on the internet, where else—it’s as interesting to her as chawanprash on dry toast. Or day-old manifestos. Nubra? Too touristy now. Mech­uka? Too far. Ziro? Too music fest-y. Jammalamadugu? There, we got your attention. (But who wants to visit a place where 11 per cent of the population is under six years of age?)

Dear reader, this is not a best-of-anything list. Or the 35 places you must visit to die, or before you die, hanging off a hill to call for help, feet firmly planted in a nettle bush. These here are just well-meaning suggestions for all manner of escapees in pants or shorts, with deep pockets or hole-y pockets… There are ideas aplenty for fit families and lazy ones. Ideas for friends willing to risk life, limb and high-altitude flatulence together—sometimes for a good cause, like electrifying remote Himalayan villages with no roads or lightbulbs. And for solo travellers dreaming of secret lakes, or kiteboarding in temple towns, buoyed by the best Bay of Bengal-y winds this season. In other words, we’ve mapped every major and minor bump on the Indian landscape, so you don’t have to. Not this summer.


Families

North

*The No.1 Ladies Collective Agency
Munsiari, Uttarakhand

Once you get there—and it does take some getting to—Munsiari can be a somewhat gentle introduction to rural holidays for (relatively fit) families that have never been on one. With earth-coloured rooms, clean white linen and large windows to ogle at the Panchachuli, local homestays here are planted along the mountainside and run by the women of Sarmoli village. Women who guard the forest commons, share an Instagram account (@voicesofmunsiari) and hike up hills while knitting yet another pair of mittens! They also double up as birding guides, slow food experts and storytellers, regaling anyone who is willing to listen about amorous mythical deities who live in the local pond—its waters tickled by butterflies every summer. With several short and long hiking trails in the area, it’s a good idea to carry sturdy shoes and sturdy knees along. The rest is taken care of.

Take a train or drive to Haldwani, then clamber up the mountain roads to Munsiari via Almora, with a stop at Bhowali or Chaukori on the first night. From Rs1,800 per person plus taxes on twin-sharing basis, incl­usive of all meals; www.munsiari.com. Little Local and Outlook Responsible Tourism Initiative are also offering a women-only trip called ‘She Moves Mountains’ next month (May 5-11); Rs 30,000, inclusive of stay, meals, experiences and local transport.

**Deep dives in a cold desert
Nimmu, Digar and Kanji Valley, Ladakh

Yes, they’re all going on a summer holiday—to Ladakh. But for a more boutique, 3 Idiots-proof exp­erience, consider spending a few nights at the now restored century-old home of a nobleman called Nimmu House, about 40 minutes northwest of Leh (from Rs 9,520 (heritage rooms) for doubles, and from Rs 10,640 (deluxe tents) for doubles; nimmu-house.com).

**Comfortably yours
Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

When in doubt, head to Utt­arakhand. There’s always a new, quieter place, und­iscovered yet by the persistent Dilliwallah, to read a pile of books in. In the Muktesh­war-Nathuakhan fruit belt, call Nutan Dixit, who rece­ntly opened up her home, Winter Cherry Cottage, to guests (Rs 3,500 for doubles, inclusive of breakfast and dinner, lunch on request for Rs 450 per person; indiauntravelled.com/winter-­cherry-tree.html). Or try Bird­cage in Mukteshwar, which is gaining quite a reputation for its food (from Rs 6,000 for doubles, inclusive of breakfast; www.hotelbirdcagemukteshwar.com). 

South

Naturalist Shaji in the rewilded forests of Fringe Ford in Wayanad.

Courtesy: Fringe Ford

***The forest makers
Wayanad, Kerala

Wayanad is Wayanad. Dependably there, every summer. But Fringe Ford estate—all 520 acres of it—is something of a botanical renegade here. For, who in their right mind lets a coffee and cardamom plantation willingly ‘go to seed’…. Rew­il­ding and restoring it as a fence-free Malabar rainforest that promptly spills into the Waya­nad and Tholpetty forest reser­ves next door, opening the hatch for rare and endemic species of birds and beasts. With big cats crisscrossing the hills, and elephants doing their own spot of gardening, it’s not the place to be wandering about at night. But what’s a wildlife lodge without

a close-enough shave? Ask Shaji, the resident naturalist. Or current owner Ahmed; a reluctant raconteur, if he’s spotted at Fringe Ford, expect great encounters, even around the dinner table! This summer, also on offer are naturalist training progra­m­mes for older children and adults, and Muthu’s beef fry, slow-coo­ked over a wood stove, a reward for the strenous wildlifing.

Fly to Calicut or take a train to Mysore, then wind your way up the hill to Talapoya, from where a van will take you to the estate. From Rs 11,400 for a couple, inc­lusive of meals and guided walks; www.fringeford.com.

*Happy campers
Sathnur, Karnataka

Summers were once spent digging up worms in a grandparent’s garden. Now, they are spent in summer camps. For children who may need a softer start, a parent-child camp at Backyard Camp in Sathnur, near Banga­lore, could be a good idea (May 17-19). Expect to pitch tents, hike, cook outdoors and track wildlife. (For children between 7 and 16 years; Rs 18,000 for one parent and child, inclusive of meals, stay and transport; www.thebackyardcamp.com. You could also consider joining the Cam­ping & Exploration group (June 3-7) or the Young Naturalist Workshop (July 1-5)). 

**Croaking about nature
Coorg, Karnataka

Life is an adventure. Throw in a gliding frog and a Malabar pit viper or three, and it gets exponentially better. No, really. One way to test the theory is to arr­ive just in time for the pre-monsoon showers in May and early June at the Rainforest Retreat in Coorg, 10km north of Madikeri. With cottages designed for families, and food sourced from their plantation, it’s a great neck of the woods to hop about in (Rs 3,000-4,000 for a cottage, inclusive of breakfast, a tour of the plantation and other activities; www.rainforestours.com).

East

A still from Roopa Barua’s documentary Daughters of the Polo God, based on Manipuri polo players.

Courtesy: roopa barua

**Princesses of polo
Imphal & around, Manipur

In Roopa Barua’s documentary Daughters of the Polo God, two young girls dressed in traditional green velvet and gold finery ride through the streets of Imphal on thickset Manipur ponies, now end­angered. Think Clint East­wood and John Wayne in pha­neks (sarongs). Only better, the colours deepened by dusk. It’s a powerful cinematic ode to the home turf of modern polo—a level playing field for women. While most tournaments are held at the beginning of the year, summer is a good time to get to know the sport and the players, who account for two-thirds of the Indian women’s contingent, and are supported by Polo Yatra, an initiative by the social enterprise Huntré! Equine. Girls who pray to a horse god and swing the mallet—sometimes, in gossamer weaves to celebrate the festival of Lai Haraoba in May.

4N/5D till end May or before the rains arrive. Rs 33,000 per person on twin-sharing basis, ex-Imphal, inclusive of breakfast, local transport, excursions, entry fees for three days and taxes; www.emmahornetravel.com.

*Hide and seek in Lepcha land
Dzongu Valley, Sikkim

Home to the Lepcha community, the valley of Dzongu—with the Teesta running through it—is res­erved for the original inhabitants of Sikkim. Mayal Lyang, a homestay run by anti-dam activist Gyatso Lepcha, can be a great perch to view it from. Key among its many inducements are foraged foods, cooked on a wood stove. (Rs 2,000 per person,  inclusive of all meals; www.mayallyang.com).

**Holiday sail
Along the Brahmaputra, Assam

All good holidays usually end in a traffic snarl. But not this one. The last cruise on the Brah­ma­putra for the season will run bet­ween April 27 and May 7; dro­­pping anchor, thereafter, till the winds pick up again in Oct­ober. It’s a swimmingly easy way to do it all: visiting the capital of Ahom kings in Siva­sa­gar, the Horu Charai tea estate, Vaish­navite monasteries on the island of Majuli, Kaziranga National Park, tantric temple ruins at Madan Kamdev and the silk weaving clusters at Sual­kuchi ($195 per person per night; assambengalnavigation.com).

West

Fireflies put on a great show at Purushwadi village in Maharashtra.

Photograph by Gautam Eunny/Grassroutes

*Love me do, firefly
Purushwadi and four other villages, Maharashtra

In firefly almanacs, summers are set aside for speed dating and mating. Yet, few in the city can hope to witness the brillia­nce of this annual pyrotechnic PDA, marked though it is by much flashing of lights—a sort of amorous insectile Morse code of love. But about 11 years ago, Grassroutes, a Mumbai-based social enterprise, spotted the first pinpricks of an opportunity here in the Western Ghats. And now, in the villages of Purushwadi, Wanjulshet, Gundoshi, Maveshi and Kawatwadi, near Mumbai and Pune, sexy firefly season is also sexy tourist season! This year, the window to see some of the 2,000 known species of fireflies is May 24 to June 30. This is the kind of adult entertainment that children are welcome to—especially, if they have never met beetles with bellies that light up the dark and sing silently of a hard day’s night.

All five villages are a few hours’ drive from Mumbai and Pune. From Rs 2,300 per person (homestays) and Rs 5,200 for doubles (tents), from Rs 1,100 for children, inclusive of all (vegetarian) meals, guide and activities in the village; www.grassroutes.co.in

**Tropical surprise
Konkan coast, Maharashtra

Who plants themselves willingly in the Sindhudurg district in the middle of May? Many happy customers, apparently. Maachli, a lovely, sustainable plantation stay run by Pratha­mesh Sawant and his family, has been coolly operating through the last six summers without a single AC! With a dense tropical canopy, a stream gurgling through the farm and coconut fronds to cool the roofs, Maachli has its own microclimate. One that ensures a steady supply of mangoes, jackfruit, kokum and wild berries in the summer (Rs 4,500 for doubles, meals extra; maachli.in).

***Greatest hits
Matheran, Maharashtra

No two families are the same. But with years of practice, some hotels have fine-tuned the art of pleasing the most rabid prototypes. Take the Parsi Manor in Matheran. A 130-year-old house with planter’s chairs planted on a verandah overlooking all manner of green. Eager to please, it even offers itself up for wedding shoots and babymoons! (Rs 6,962 inclusive of taxes, meals extra; saffronstays.com)


Friends

North

On a village electrification expedition in the Zanskar valley.

Courtesy: Global Himalayan Expedition

***Lightbulb moments
Skurbuchan and Nubra Valley, Ladakh

What could be a more cut-off-from-it-all experience than trekking to a place without lightbulbs? Paras Loomba and his friends at the Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) have been inv­iting anyone who’s fit and willing to electrify villages since 2013 in remotest Ladakh. This year too, between June 22 and 30, everyone’s invited on a trek to Skambordho in the Skur­bu­chan valley to help 20 households reduce their dependence on coal and gas. Later, another party will head out for the Climate Action Expe­di­tion in Zanskar valley in July. The reward? Spectacular views of (un-Leh) Ladakh, pitstops at glacial streams, obscure monasteries, and the privilege of turning on a brand new switch.

Rs 1.5 lakh per person for Skurbuchan valley and Rs 1.9 lakh for Zanskar, ex-Leh, inclusive of meals, transport and, importantly, cost of solar panels and batteries; www.ghe.co.in

*Himalayan heart bleats
Bastadi and five other villages, Uttarakhand

Every goat has its day—presumably, all day, every day in the six middle Himalayan Goat villages in Uttarakhand. The cottages in Nag Tibba, built using traditional Koti Banal techniques, for instance, could be great for a summer huddle. But the one with the most intriguing story is Free­dom Village, Bastadi, in Pitho­ra­garh, which hopes to reh­a­bilitate a former convict in a village that was abandoned after the 2016 floods (from Rs 1,000 for stay in Pitho­ragarh, Pay What You Like for meals; thegoatvillage.com).

**Boat, of course
Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

Rafting in Rishikesh is not an inspired idea. Rafting in Rishikesh with friends is only marginally better. So, why suggest it? Because it’s there. Because it’s fun. And bec­ause anyone can do it—with a little help from Planet Abled…. Senior citizens. No problem. Wheelchair-users. No problem. Scaredy-cats. No problem. (2N/3D from $200, ex-Rishikesh, planetabled.com)!

South

La Providence, a restaurant that was formerly a chapel at Tamara Kodai.

Courtesy: Tamara Kodai

***Holy days
Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu    

Graham Greene would have app­roved…the Tamara Kodai’s claustral calm and grey granite and basalt walls now act as a wonderful foil to modern hospitality. But would the American monks from Nagapattinam, who bought this 1847-built edifice, ostensibly to escape heat, dust and malaria, have raised their holy brows at it? The prospect of eating impious meals in this one-season-old luxury hotel’s chapel-­restaurant, with the sun filtering through its sta­ined glass windows and glinting off the chandeliers, is a happy one.

Best to drive up from Kodai Road or Madurai (about 3 hours). Rooms from Rs10,000 plus taxes for doubles, inclusive of breakfast; www.thetamara.com.

**Planters punch
Sakleshpur, Karnataka

The best thing about Sakleshpur is that you can leave Bangalore after breakfast and be there f­or lunch. Also, it offers the prospect of lying on the grass and listening to birds tweet at Mugilu. Or watch fireflies on summer nig­hts. With four cottages on stilts on a 10-acre plantation, it’s looked after by the Gurukars and their four adorable dogs (Rs 5,400 for doubles, inclusive of two meals and two rounds of tea/coffee; mugilu.com).

*Saddled together
Yercaud, Tamil Nadu

Friends who cycle together, stay together. Or so no one said. But if your idea of bonding invo­lves a two-day, 80km cycling tour from Salem to Yercaud and back Unventured can help (Weekends till May end, or even better in June, when there’s a light drizzle, Rs 12,000 per person ex-Bangalore, inclusive of transport, stay, bicycles and meals (in a group of eight); unventured.com).

East

A room with a view at a homestay in Meghalaya.

Photograph by Chenthil Mohan/Journeys With Meaning

**Somewhere else
Meghalaya and Assam

Lately, in Meghalaya, The Formula follows. Drive into the hip, musically-inclined capital, proceed to admire the wettest places on earth, throw in a root bridge or two, and you’ve arrived at Level One. Add a whistlepodu tour of a national park or a tea bungalow—that’s Level Two! Notwith­sta­nding its achingly earnest name, Journeys with Meaning, offers an eight-day trip thr­o­ugh the sacred forests of the Khasis. The grasslands of Kaziranga too make an appe­arance. But the focus is squ­arely on the smaller creatures and over 400 birds, not just the one-horned rhino. Level 3 unlocked.     

7N/8D trip till April or before the rains arrive. From Rs 28,000 per person on twin-sharing basis, ex-Guwahati, inclusive of local transport, meals, guided walks; journeyswithmeaning.org.

*Top spot
Neora Valley, West Bengal

Although monsoon in the Neora Valley is as beautiful as it gets, driving up from Kalimpong is much easier in summer. Bir­ders flock here to see gorge­ous birds of the eastern Himalayas in this season. Others, merely for a quiet perch at the Neora Valley Jungle Camp (from Rs 5,500 plus taxes, inclusive of all meals; www.helptourism.com).  

***Custom designed
Meghalaya

Ri Kynjai is that sweet spot bet­ween Guwahati and Shillong that we keep returning to. Built as a modern ode to Khasi culture and customs, it still preens in the peachy pink light that bathes the Barapani lake twice a day (from Rs 9,500 for doubles, inclusive of breakfast, rikynjai.com).

West

Close encounters in Gir.

Photograph by Chirag Munjani/Rural Pleasure

**Den again
Gujarat

Those willing to brave the heat a little, this is an excellent time to go prowling in Gir. While there’s enough tree cover, the grasses are scorched, driving creatures big and small to the watering holes. An introduction to the only population of Asiatic lions is incomplete without getting to know the Maldhari community that shares the Banni grasslands with them. Rural Pleasure, which offers a tour that starts in Junagadh, also stops at a village near the Devalia Park to learn about the handicrafts of the Siddis. Descendants of Bantus of East Africa, the Arabs brought them to India in the 7th century. One can sign up for a project to cover the open wells in and around Gir to prevent the accidental deaths of lions and leopards. If you’d run for the Gujarati hills instead, you can summer in the Saputaras, Dangs or Wilson Hills.   

2N/3D trips on weekends till June 15. From Rs 14,000 per person on double-sharing basis, inclusive of meals, safaris, guides and transport to the starting point of Junagadh from Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Anand, Nadiad;  www.ruralpleasure.com.   

***Surf excel
Maharashtra-Goa

A summer cruise from Mumbai to Goa may seem like an ‘un-escape’. But not if you drink your evening tea in Mumbai and breakfast in Goa. Buffeted by the Konkan breeze, expect smo­oth sailing on the Angriya, a luxury vessel, which plies till the middle of May. Summer is when they brew Feni—so pull up a chair at the Firefly Feni Bar in Benaulim (from Rs 5,700 per person, plus meals for Rs 2,000; angriyacruises.com).  

*Open house
Havelock island, Andamans

Till clouds gather in end-May, and through September in the monsoon, you’d do well to drift down to the Andamans. Barefoot offers a cut-price off-season exp­erience at their dive centre, Barefoot Scuba, on the Havelock island (Rs 7,000 (sea-facing cottage) and Rs 4,500 (sea-view cottage and tents) with breakfast; barefootscuba.in)


Solo Travellers

North

On the great lakes of the Kashmir trek.

Courtesy: Aquaterra Adventures

***Secret lakes
Jammu & Kashmir

It’s a summer of discontent, but it’s hard to keep Kashmir out of this list. Arguably one of the most beautiful high-altitude walks in the world, the Great Lakes of Kashmir Trek by Aqua­terra Adventures takes the path of least resistance by starting at Leh (June 29-July 9 or July 12-23). Looping in the impressive Vishnusar, Gadsar, Satsar, Gang­bal and Nandkol lakes, this 11-day circuit cuts through flo­­­­w­­­­er­­­ing meadows to arrive in the middle of new Nowheres. It offers a chance to meet a Kash­mir untouched by newsprint.

Rs 86,500 plus taxes, ex-Leh, all-inclusive, with stays in tents, hotels and houseboats; www.aquaterra.in.

*Humble house
Kais village, Himachal Pradesh

A 100-year-old traditional Devdar wood-and-stone house in village Kais, near Kullu. Farmer hosts Kundan Singh and his wife Kala. And plenty of mountain air. What’s not to like? (Rs 800, plus Rs 150 for lunch/dinner, www.facebook.com/pages/category/Hotel—Lodging/Kundan-Home-Stay-272542276493135/, )

**Safe and sound
Landour, Uttarakhand

One can’t go wrong with Lan­d­our, esp when travelling solo for the first time. In the peak season, it’s best to call as early as possible to book a room at La Villa Bethany, run by Amar­jeet and Sunita Kudle (from Rs 4,500, plus meals; lavillabethany.com).

South

Kiteboarding in Rameshwaram.

Photograph by Rammohan Paranjpe/Quest Asia

**The windfall
Tamil Nadu

Before our pointy peninsula gets too pointy on the map, the island of Rameshwaram appe­ars to make a break for it—almost leaping off the south-east coastline to touch the slender arm of Mannar in Sri Lanka. To most, that’s just geography. But to riders of the wind, it’s a windfall! In summer, when the wind blows at an average of 18 to 25 knots, true pilgrims of adventure gather here to go windsurfing and kiteboarding. When you’re in one of India’s windiest places, cool is a noun, verb and adjective all at once. A 100-per cent non-motorised adv­enture operation, Quest Asia, offers a chance to plunge headlong into wind and water sports. Other options include scuba diving, kayaking and sailing, bef­ore returning to charming cottages and tents by the sea.  

Rameshwaram is 3 hours by road from Madurai. 2-hour windsurfing lessons for Rs 4,000, 4-hour kiteboarding lesson with 1N stay at Kathadi North for Rs 12,000; bungalow for Rs 4,000 for doubles, beach huts Rs 2,750 and tents Rs1,750, quest-asia.com.

***For the love of coffee
Chikmagalur, Karnataka

Wake up and smell the gourmet coffee at Halli Berri, a charming estate run by Kariappa women, who can crack a good pun (Rs 5,000-8,500; halliberri.com).     

*For the love of tea
Devala, Tamil Nadu

For tea tours and community living, head to at Devala estate and Kolappally village in the Nilgiri biosphere (Rs 3,000 per night for doubles, inclusive of stay and meals, ex-Calicut or ex-Kannur; kabanitours.com).

East

***The (last) last frontier
Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh is the new Ladakh. Mysterious and far. And everyone wants to ‘do’ it! But no one exactly knows how. So it’s best to rely on travel outfits. Abor Country Travels are old hands, doing a fairly good job of navigating the mindbogglingly diverse bio-diversity and ethnographic landscape. With new air connections to Pasighat, the  Bogibeel bridge and a cross-border link road, the eastern reaches of the state are closer than ever before. Those looking for an active adventure, can go take a long two-week walk in the storied lands of Pemako, one of the 16 earthly paradises according to Buddhist mythology, before the rains arrive in end May. Others could park themselves at the Abor Country River Camp on the banks of the Siang in Pasighat, or at the Yamne Eco Lodge, further north in Damro.

Fly into Pasighat directly or drive down from Dibrugarh. Stay at Abor Country River Camp (Rs 4,500 (luxury room) and Rs 5,000 (tents) for doubles in Pasighat or Yamne Eco Lodge in Damro (from Rs 3,500 for doubles, inclusive of breakfast); www.aborcountrytravels.com.

*Same, same, but different
Kohima and Tuophema, Nagaland

Nagaland’s primary draw, the Hornbill Festival, is a winter affair. But in the summer, there’s plenty to do (or not) here. Consider spending a night or two at Razhu Pru in Kohima (from Rs 2,500, inclusive of breakfast; www.razhupru.com), before heading out to the Tourist Vill­age, Tuophema, about 40 km north of the capital (Rs 3,500 for doubles; 9436005002).

**Immersed in the clouds
Cherrapunji, Meghalaya

For solo women travellers, who are willing to stray beyond the city limits of Shillong, the Cherrapunji Holiday Resort offers a safe and charming refuge, apart from several soft adventures, including treks to the root bridges and to the base of the Kynrem Falls, gorgeous in the monsoons (Rs 4,650, incl of breakfast, dinner and taxes; www.cherrapunji.com).

West

Drying garlands of corn at Mainpat, near Ambikapur.

Photograph by Gireesh G.V.

*Buddha in the middle
Mainpat, Sarguja, Chhattisgarh

Depending on who you ask, Mainpat, near Ambikapur, is a cluster of villages or a town; the ‘Shimla’ or ‘Tibet’ of Chhattis­garh; worthy of a day-trip or a weekend getaway. But most agree on one thing—at least in the former princely state of Sarguja—that this could be a temporary escape from the central Indian Summer. A Tibetan settlement announced by prayer flags, the bright red and gold of Buddhist temples and the carpets that the community weaves here also give Mainpat the air of a bona fide hill station. Add to that a spot of potato farming, a waterfall or two, other local tourists dawdling around, and there’s enough to take in. Stay options are few and unremarkable; try Chhattisgarh Tourism-run Saila Tourist Resort (from Rs 2,500 for doubles, although there’s a 50 pc discount till end June; visitcg.in).

***Grape escape
Nashik, Maharashtra

Who needs a fellow-traveller, when one can have a bottle—nay, a winery—for company? Barely a few months old, The Source at Sula, all Tuscan yellow and tiled roofs, is a happy place to watch the sun go down in (from Rs 7,500, inclusive of breakfast and a tour of the winery and a tasting session at the cellar; sulawines.com)   

**Last cat call
Kanha, Madhya Pradesh

It may seem counter-intuitive to head to Kanha in the summer. But the odds of spotting the big cats are much higher, and there’s always a cold glass of something to come back to at Shergarh, home to wildlifer Jehan Bhujwala and his family (open till April, or if the weather permits, till mid-May, Rs 16,000 for doubles, including all meals and taxes, safaris extra; www.shergarh.com).


The Fearless?

****Be a monk
Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

It’s called the ‘Be a monk for a month’ trip. Forbidding as it sounds, this is a 18/28-day circuit (Delhi-Shimla-Kinnaur-Spiti-Manali-Kangra Val­ley-Dharamshala-Delhi) with just about 7-8 days in a monastery in Spiti. ($2,680, all inclusive; spitiecosphere.com, monkforamonth.com/india/program). But if you’d rather opt for a similar yet simpler programme, consider signing up for the weeklong Inner Space Adventure (ex-Manali, Rs 23,990 plus taxes, www.spitiecosphere.com).

**Be a snake charmer
Goa-Kodaikanal-Hunsur

Who spends a holiday looking for wild snakes and lizards? Find out on a trip with herpetologist Gerry Martin and his friends, who are travelling across Goa, TN and Karnataka to spot all seven species of vipers found in south India between June 18 and July 1. If you don’t have two weeks to spare, join any of the five separate legs of the trip (Rs 1,20,000 for overall trip, or from Rs 10,000-24,000 for  sections; gerrymartin.in).

*Join the crew
Nubra, Ladakh

What can be better than running an ultra-marathon in Ladakh? Joining the crew, of course! Organisers of La Ultra High, a decade-old race that tests all kinds of limits every year, are offering a great Crew Certification Course in Leh and the Nubra valley (August 13-17), which includes training in outdoor survival skills and response to high-altitude-related illness (ex-Leh; Rs 5,000 plus taxes for the entire course (for race crew) or Rs 11,000 plus taxes (for those not staying on as crew for the race between August 17 and 23; www.laultra.in).

*Walk like a wildlifer
Satpura, Madhya Pradesh

Don’t let the word ‘professional’ in PRONAT or Pro­fessional Naturalist Training (August 25-Sept 15) deter you. If you’ve always wanted to don the sola topee, here’s a great chance to earn it after an intensive 21-day course in the Satpuras— with the option of adding three more days to learn guiding techniques. The camp will be set up in the grounds of the Denwa Backwater Escape (from Rs 78,750 triple-sharing, all-inc­lusive and Rs 12,600 for three extra nights (optional); pugdundeesafaris.com).

Budget Key

***Over Rs 8,000
 **Rs 5,000-8,000
 *Rs 2,000-5,000

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