From intercity helicopter rides to cliff camping, here are some travel experiences to look forward to in India
Copter Ride: Mumbai–Pune
Countless helicopter services have reared their polished heads in the last few years, but few mean business like BLADE India. Launched last October, their Mumbai-Pune route connects via Mahalaxmi Racecourse and Mundhwa Heliport, respectively, and is the most scenic. A 45-minute ride on an Airbus H130, it offers stunning views of city landmarks along the Arabian Sea—Juhu Beach, the Bandra-Worli Sealink—until crossing over the dense forests of the Sahyadris, and the Pawna Lake, before settling down in Pune. Can you put a price on such beauty? Why yes, a cool INR 19,900 only. See flyblade.in
Achieving enlightenment has never been so easy—just hop on to the Mahaparinirvan Express as it chugs along Buddhist destinations in northern India. From Lumbini (where Buddha was born), Bodh Gaya, Varanasi (where he first preached) and to Kushinagar (where he achieved Nirvana), this well-curated journey by the IRCTC offers scrumptious meals and hot showers. The train departs from Safdarjung Railway Station in New Delhi, and after your darshan, returns via Agra.
Snorkel in Lakshadweep
The underwater world never ceases to surprise. And if you’re looking to explore the secrets that the marine world holds, head to the Lakshadweep islands. Considered the hub of snorkelling in India, these islands are a tropical paradise, their white sand beaches, pristine waters and untouched natural bounty drawing tourists by the dozen. The alluring islands of Bangaram and Thinnakara are the main snorkelling hubs, while Kadmad is also another option. Average starting rates are between INR 1,500 and INR 2,000.
Night Treks at Periyar
Daytime is for viewing its glorious greens, but the night is when a jungle comes alive. The night trek of Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is not for the faint of heart, but makes for great stories. Going shoulder-to-shoulder with trained tribal guards, visitors can uncover the elusive flora and fauna in the national park between 7pm and 4am. If luck is on your side, you may even (safely) cross paths with a tiger. Brave it through the night, and then head for the boat ride at dawn.
Cycle Across Sikkim
The serenity of Sikkim’s landscapes can be savoured on a unique mountain-biking trail from Gangtok to Rangpo. The capital is a stunning starting point, followed by the Rumtek, Ravangla, and Tashiding Monasteries and panoramic sweeps of unforgettable scenery, finally to conclude at the border town of Rangpo, which is located on the banks of the Teesta river. Of course, you get bonus points for being a responsible and sustainable traveller.
Float Through a National Park
Keibul Lamjao National Park is the only floating national park in the world. Large mats of decaying biomass, called phumdis, sit delicately on the Loktak Lake’s surface, with towering grass atop these carpets climbing up to 15 feet. You can take a canoe not only into the lake, but also through narrow waterways cut into the phumdis themselves (to help put out wildfires). And if you’re lucky, you might even spot the elusive brow-antlered sangai deer.
Go Surfing in Odisha
The pristine beaches of Konark play host to the Indian Surf Festival. A sun-soaked stretch in Odisha (pic), it’s filled with surfers from all over the world every year, and packed with activities like filmmaking, photography, sun-bathing, solar clay therapy, sand art and live music. The Puri-Konark Marine Drive will also introduce you to exciting watersports; climb a surfboard, balance, paddle and flat water surf on the crashing blue waters. Instructors from surfing schools can even train you in tandem paddling, for a good dose of Vitamin Sea.
Delhi’s Phoolwalon ki Sair
This unusual procession traces back to a promise made by Mumtaz Mahal. With a few breaks in between, the vibrant interfaith parade is held right after monsoons. It sees the florists of Delhi march to Mehrauli to offer a floral chaadar and pankha at the Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah and Yogmaya Temple. Before and after the sair, a mela featuring old favourites like kushti, kite-flying and shehnai has persisted through the ages. A cultural programme by state troupes at the Jahaaz Mahal wraps up the festivities. Relive the procession’s past with Delhi Heritage Walks, which offers a historical tour coinciding with the festival.
Madhubani Painting in Mithila
Perhaps one of the best-known genres of Indian folk paintings, the Mithila or Madhubani School is characterised by complex geometric patterns, bright colours and engaging storytelling. Spread across five different styles, namely bharni, katchni, tantrik, godna and kohbar, the art was predominantly practised by women. Over time, it has become an integral part of the festivities in the region, and has attracted art connoisseurs and contemporary artists who’ve taken it to a global stage. We recommend trying your hand at the Mithila Art Center.
Rural Olympics at Kila Raipur
A three-day sports festival held every winter in Kila Raipur, a small village on the outskirts of Ludhiana, this ‘rural Olympics’ is quite out of the ordinary. Organised at Grewal Sports Stadium, it’s an annual festival that is a celebration of rural Indian culture. Millions throng to witness unconventional sporting events that include tractor tyre racing, gilli danda, gatka (Sikh martial arts) and tug of war. The dates are not always fixed, so do keep tabs.
Stargaze in Spiti Valley
Tucked in the folds of the Himalaya, Spiti’s high-altitude villages lack light pollution, affording gorgeous views of the Milky Way to the naked eye. A treat for stargazers and astrophotographers, Tabo, Kibber, Dhankar, Komik are popular areas for this activity. Find a cosy nook, and spot the millions of celestial bodies that decorate the sky.
Yak Safaris at Tsomgo Lake
The land of glacial lakes, Sikkim compels you to explore its charming hamlets and enjoy a wide variety of adventure activities. One of the most unique things to do here is the yak safari. The colourfully-adorned yaks, with woollen knitwear fitted over their horns and tinkling bells around their necks, offer you a walk around the Tsomgo Lake. Situated at an altitude of 12,400 feet, the lake is surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks and saddled atop a yak, makes for a memorable journey.
The Taj by Moonlight
The romance of the Taj Mahal increases leaps and bounds under the mellow radiance of the moon. For five days every month, the Archaeological Survey of India allows 400 people into the complex for an exclusive look at what Tagore called a ‘teardrop in the face of eternity’. Dates vary according to lunar cycles, and tickets can be bought a day before the night viewing. See tajmahal.gov.in for a calendar.
Bouldering in Hampi
The landscape across the river from Hampi Bazaar is dotted with giant boulders, many of which are split vertically. Back in the 16th century, artisans split the boulders and used these hunks of granite to build temples in the region. Today, these rocks are a favourite for rope-less climbers, sacrificing their fingertips to the rough surface. November and December are the best time to go bouldering in Hampi, with most climbers visiting between October and March. Make sure to catch the Golden Boulders Climbing Festival. Visit hampiclimbingfestival.com
The High Ride
Tough climbs, gut-wrenching descents, high altitudes, cutting through three mountain ranges, all the while covering long distances every day, the road from Manali to Leh is one of the most scenic, dare we say, cinematic highways. Cycle (or motorbike) your way through some of the highest passes in the world, 11,400ft above sea level.
Take a Scenic Train Journey
Chai and train journeys go hand-in-hand and is a must-do experience. The railways run across the length and breadth of the country, providing transportation to millions of passengers each day. See the landscape change from rolling hills to mustard fields, lush greenery to roaring waterfalls as you make your way to different parts of the country. Did you know that you could ride on a Unesco Heritage Site in the country? The Mountain Railways of India comprise three rail routes: Siliguri to Darjeeling, Nilgiris (Mettupalayam to Ooty), and from Kalka to Simla. So this year, make a promise to ditch flying (carbon emissions, hello), stock up on munchies, get a cup of chai from the pantry cart and travel through India.
Apatani tattooing in Arunachal Pradesh is a painful process, using a thorny plant and soot mixed with animal fat as ink. Men usually wore a ‘T’ on their chins, women had a vertical line down the middle of their forehead and five on their chins. These traditional tattoos were looked upon as ornamentation, and also had spiritual meaning. Although these were banned in the 1970s to avoid persecution, you can still find some people bearing such tattoos in the Ziro Valley.
Walk on Water in Chandipur
Chandipur, a small, lesser-known town in Odisha (pic), boasts of a beach where people can literally walk on water. It sounds like something right out of the Bible, and it may as well be but with a simple twist. As though playing hide-and-seek, the water recedes up to five kilometres, exposing a seabed full of treasures. Walking here gives an illusion of walking on water, making it the perfect photo-op.
Nostalgic Drive-in Theatres
Sunset Drive-in in Ahmedabad, Gurgaon Talkies in Gurugram, Balaji Drive-in Cinema in Visakhapatnam and the Prarthana Drive-in Theatre in Chennai will give you a nostalgic movie experience. Sunset is the oldest, going strong since 1973 with Asia’s largest open-air screen, Prarthana is a beachside venue, Balaji does reality shows and short film previews alongside commercial flicks, and Gurgaon is the baby of this quartet, fitting only 30 cars.
Rappelling at Vihigaon Falls
Star Wars fans, it’s the one time you’ll enjoy the Force being against you. Located near Kasara in Nashik, the Vihigaon Falls (also called the Ashoka Falls, after the SRK film) are a verdant location for waterfall rappelling in the Deccan (pic). Visit during the monsoons, and make your way up the torrential cascades—the rock surface and falls extend for 120 feet, covered in an average of 30 minutes. You’ll need a good bit of enthusiasm and stamina to complete the rappelling, but in case you forfeit and decide to dive into the plunge pool, it’s forgivingly wide.
Hot-Air Ballooning in Jaipur
Forget the blue skies over Cappadocia and instead book a flight to the Pink City. There’s something absolutely mesmerising to see India’s newest Unesco World Heritage Site from a hot air balloon. See the sun rise as you float above the ground; see the royal palaces, the forts, manmade lakes and so much more as a bird would. While there are many companies offering hot air balloon rides in the early mornings and late afternoons, make sure you have time on your hands as unfavourable weather may dampen your plans. Tip: the best time to do this is from April to October.
Dining in the Dark
Blanketed in pitch-black darkness, this dining experience is offered by Dialogue in the Dark in Hyderabad. It is based on and run by the visually impaired to help people rely on senses other than sight. The exhibition puts you in everyday situations like crossing a bridge, going to the supermarket or enjoying a meal at their restaurant Taste of Darkness. Guests are led into a dining hall with absolutely no light, and even the menu is kept under wraps. The idea is to touch, feel and listen, basing the meal off aroma and texture. See didindia.org
Neither flying cars are a reality nor connecting flights from Bengaluru Airport to Bengaluru. But what is real is your dream to whiz past the city’s traffic by flying over it. Letting you soar as high as the city’s skyline, Myflying lets the adrenaline rush kick in at just the right time. In the moment, clouds seem to be one’s home and the entire world a labyrinth, ‘soaring high’ for sure. See myflying.in
Camping on the side of a cliff, dangling inside a tent mid-air is quite the rush! After a trek to the campsite in Sandhan Valley in Maharashtra, one is fitted with appropriate safety gear and harnesses to be lowered into a hanging tent. The experience lasts for a short duration, but the photo-ops are bomb!
Caving in Meghalaya
Meghalaya, the abode of the clouds has people gushing over its cool climate, beautiful hills, rolling meadows, and cascading waterfalls—much to the delight of nature lovers and photographers. But adventure lovers need not despair for this gorgeous Northeastern state has a secret up its sleeve—caves! With over 1,200 of them, the state boasts of the largest network of caves found on the Indian subcontinent, stretching over a good 300 kilometres. Popular locations for caving include the Jaintia, Khasi and Garo Hills. Squeezing through narrow passages, wading through waist-deep water, walking in underground gorges with spiders, bats and beetles for company is sure to give you some serious adrenaline rush.
This article was originally published in the February issue of the magazine.
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