QUIET GETAWAYS NEAR DELHI
- Pangot, Uttarkhand
About 15km from Nainital town, Pangot is just an overnight bus ride or a few hours’ drive from Delhi. Get off the bus at busy Nainital, then hire a cab to reach this little village that’s also a birding hub in winter. This is the kind of village where ‘shopping’ means one general store and two tea stalls, with the post office doubling as a provision store. Bemused villagers gape at the occasional carload of hysterical tourists from the plains who arrive at Pangot, but for the most part, it is quiet. And if it still isn’t quiet enough, there is a hiking trail up to Naina Peak.
Travel time: Overnight bus from Delhi to Nainital + 60 mins by cab from Nainital; about 6 hours’ straight drive from Delhi.
Stay: Jungle Lore Birding Lodge (www.pangot.com); The Nest Cottages (www.thenestcottages.com); local homestays.
- Shojha, Himachal Pradesh
Overlooked (thankfully) because of the rush to the star hill stations of Himachal Pradesh, Shoja is a beautiful little place that takes a while to reach from Delhi, but makes the weariness fall away once you get there. Endowed with all the beauty of the classic Himalayan hill town, Shoja is within the Great Himalayan National Park area. Walking trails leading off this way and that make this a lovely spot for unwinding without a rigorous sightseeing plan. Serolsar Lake, Jalori Pass and Waterfall Point are a few nearby attractions.
Travel time: Overnight bus from Delhi to Bhuntar (on the Manali route) or direct flight from Delhi to Bhuntar + 2 hours by local bus or taxi to Shoja; about 11 hours’ straight drive from Delhi.
Stay: Banjara Retreat (firstname.lastname@example.org); Shoja Camp (http://himalayanlodges.com/shoja-camp/index.html); Solace Retreat (email@example.com).
QUIET GETAWAYS FROM MUMBAI
- Amboli, Sindhudurg
At an elevation of about 700m or a little over 2,100ft, Amboli has a balmy climate that’s a relief from the grimy plains of Maharashtra. There are several picnic spots, including those at the Nangartas Falls (10km) and Sunset Point. The season just after the monsoon is a good time to visit, as the waterfalls still have volume, but you won’t get constantly wet.
Travel time: Overnight Konkan Kanya from Mumbai CST to Sawantwadi Road (the station nearest to Amboli) or the morning Mandovi Express to Sawantwadi Road + 1 hour to Amboli by local cab.
Stay: Dark Forest Retreat (www.darkforestretreat.com); MTDC hotel (www.mtdc.in).
- Bordi, Maharashtra
A long stretch of beach and fruit orchards make Bordi an idyllic place. Pack some picnic goodies and head for the reservoir lakes formed by the Asavali (or Asawali) dam and Depchari dam. The onset of winter is the time to buy fresh chikus from the local orchards.
Travel time: Trains run from Mumbai Borivali to Bordi; about 3 hours’ straight drive from Mumbai.
Stay: MTDC Bordi Resort (www.mtdc.in); Tapovan Retreat (www.tapovanretreat.com); Anand Resort (www.anandresort.net).
QUIET GETAWAYS NEAR KOLKATA
- Kurseong, North Bengal
While neighbouring Darjeeling and Kalimpong get the heavyduty tourist traffic, Kurseong is only a passing-through pitstop, which makes Diwali a quiet time here — even the Diwali mela here is quiet. But Kurseong has all the glorious views and mountain air that you can experience anywhere else. Trek up to Dow Hill, stopping on the way at the picturesque hamlet called Chimney, which takes its name from an ancient brick chimney from the British era. A short 2km hike to Eagle’s Crag will take you to a wonderful viewpoint. Also close by is the Makaibari Tea Estate, open to visitors.
Travel time: Overnight bus/train ride from Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri + 90 mins by local cab.
Stay: Makaibari homestay as a volunteer (Nayan Lama +91 9832447774, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org); WBTDC Tourist Lodge (www.wbtdc.gov.in); Cochrane Place (www.imperialchai.com); The Amarjeet Hotel (www.theamarjeethotel.com).
- McCluskieganj, Jharkhand
This is one of those little towns in Jharkhand (earlier a part of Bihar) that feels like a second home for people travelling from Kolkata. Consisting of not much more than a whole lot of quaintness left behind from the Raj era, McCluskieganj eliminates the need for obsessively racking your brain about how to ‘enjoy’ yourself. Doing little or nothing is the main pleasure of McCluskieganj. If you must have some snapshot moments, walk around admiring British-era bungalows and churches. An interesting outing could be to Duli village, where a mandir, masjid and gurudwara stand close to each other, and to Dugadugi river, 4km from the town.
Travel time: About 7 hours by the Howrah-Ranchi Shatabdi or overnight Howrah-Hatia Express to Ranchi + 90 mins to McCluskieganj from Ranchi by local cab.
Stay: Gordon’s Guest House (Tel: +919470930230); homestay-type arrangements with local residents.
QUIET GETAWAYS NEAR CHENNAI
- Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu
A sanctuary attached to the little village of Vedanthangal, very close to Chennai city, this doesn’t actually need an overnight stay plan, but stay here you could, just to see it at leisure. Officially called Vedanthangal Lake Bird Sanctuary, this is also one of the oldest in the country, and locals have been actively involved in its preservation. Vedanthangal is not far from the Karikili Bird Sanctuary, so you could visit both of these over a two-day stay. An outing to the nearby Madurantakam Lake is a pleasant experience.
Travel time: About 2 hours’ drive from Chennai down NH45.
Hotels: Hotels clustered near the Madurantakam railway station, 30 mins from Vedanthangal Lake Bird Sanctuary by car.
- Pulicat, Tamil Nadu
Little known and tiny, Pulicat, on the Coromandel Coast, has a colonial history dating back to the 17th century, when it was a Dutch settlement. The British and the Portuguese had also established a presence here. These colonial powers are remembered through the ruins of their buildings. The Dutch cemetery, in particular, is quite spectacular, with its patina of age and architectural features. Pulicat lake supports a lot of bird life and there’s a nice stretch of beach, too.
Travel time: About 90 minutes' drive from Chennai.
Hotels: The Pulicate Lake area lacks good hotels, so keep this to a day trip.
QUIET GETAWAYS NEAR BENGALURU
- Manchanabele, Karnataka
Variously called Manchanabele, Manchinbelle or Manchinbele, this is an artificial lake born of the dam built on the Arkavathi river. It is a birding hotspot, thanks to the surrounding Savandurga hills, and the lake itself has water sports activities like kayaking, rappelling and raft building. There are hiking trails in the nearby hills.
Travel time: About 1 hour’s drive from Bengaluru.
Stay: No hotels in the areas immediately surrounding the lake, though there may be unlisted homestays.
- Skandagiri, Karnataka
A fortress built on top of a hill and the ruins of a temple lend the Skandagiri trek a heritage charm. This is a relatively easy hike, and at the end of it, the traveller can sit at peace with a panoramic vista in front. The climb itself is very refreshing, being full of greenery. A night trek is also possible here, so you could reach the top a couple of hours after midnight and nap in a sleeping bag before waking up to see the sunrise.
Travel time: About 1 hour-90 mins’ drive from Bengaluru.
Stay: The nearest big town is Chikkaballapura or Chikballapur. There are several budget and 3- or 4-star hotels near the town’s railway station.