1. Chennakeshava Temple - Somanathapura, Karnataka
There isn’t too much public transport coming this way even though it’s only a 45min drive out of Mysore. May be that’s why this astonishingly beautiful temple built in 1268CE, now a historic site where worship has ceased, is so easily overlooked. It’s one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture, on par with Halebid and Belur. It’s intimate in scope (as opposed to Chola grandeur) and the exquisitely detailed stonework adheres to the eight-pointed-star grid with geometric precision. The ASI does a marvellous job of keeping the complex spotlessly clean. Set in the middle of well-tended lawns, it rises like a shimmering mirage on a hot summer day (Rs 5; karnatakaholidays.net).
2. Royal Mysore Walks- Karnataka
Drive three hours from Bangalore but cycle from there on! Four super-enthu friends got together and decided to introduce tourists to the city they love; that’s how Royal Mysore Walks came about. The team has expanded since then but the youthful zest they bring into introducing this historic city of over 600 heritage buildings is matched only by the quirky range of options they keep introducing. There are foodie tours, jeep tours, Mysore-by-night tours and of course walking tours but we’re going with tandem cycling this time, and they’ll customise whatever theme the two of you pick from their not insubstantial repertoire (price on request; royalmysorewalks.com).
3. Cancio’s House- Aldona, Goa
This 500-year-old Goan-Portuguese home in the sleepy village of Aldona, set among paddy fields in north Goa, is only half an hour or 18km from Panjim (unless you would like to drive from Bombay to Goa). It still preserves its original façade and slate roof, and the small windows of the living area that open into the sunny courtyard. Aldona is the sort of place where the bread man delivers freshly baked staples to every house in the morning, families walk to church together and writers like Amitav Ghosh might find inspiration. Roberto and Raquel Amaral warmly welcome guests to boat rides in backwaters (all the way to Panjim, if you like), strolls to abandoned homes and river bridges, and delicious home-baked brownies (from Rs 2,500; find them on Facebook or airbnb.com).
4. Humayun’s Tomb Restored- New Delhi
It took nine years to build and nearly seven to restore! The Aga Khan Trust for Culture completed the daunting restoration of the 400-year-old Unesco site in September 2013 via a pioneering public-private collaboration with the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the Archaeological Survey of India, which set aside its ‘preserve as found’ policy for ‘conservation and restoration’ for the first time. The project provided 200,000 man-days of work to masons, carpenters, plasterers, stone carvers and tile makers — a million tons of concrete (mis)laid on the roof in the 20th century was chipped away by hand to minimise vibrations, every stone was inspected to keep intervention minimal, replacements were made with the same tools and techniques used by its Mughal builders and 225,000sqft of lime plaster was laid in the largest and most ambitious project of its kind in India. Have you been there lately? (Rs 10; asi.nic.in)
5. The Cotton Trail Tour, Pollachi- Tamil Nadu
Pollachi is coconut country, reached by a lovely hour’s drive from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Appachi Cotton, a family-owned ginning factory here brings native weaving traditions, once seen in every home but now dying out, closer to the discerning traveller. Ethicus, their studio and label, has persuaded farmers of the Kabini region in Karnataka to grow organic cotton in the first contract model of its kind, acquired discarded looms, worked with designers and returned respect to craftspeople (saris carry tags with name, picture and age of the weaver, and how long they took to weave). Their ‘farm to fashion’ Cotton Trail Tour showcases the natural and cultural history of region. (4259- 234666, firstname.lastname@example.org; appachicotton.com).
6. Malji Ka Kamra, Shekhawati, Rajasthan
It takes 200km and four hours to get here from Jaipur and it’s hardly a room, but what a view — this meticulously restored 1920s haveli is one of the finest examples from a region that’s become legend for its uniquely stylised architecture and painting. More than a hundred pillars, some of Shekhawati’s best-preserved wall paintings, panoramic views of the old town of Churu (watch the sun go down from the terrace, please), a lovely garden, 15 meticulously kept rooms and suites (the high ceilings have original, untouched frescoes) that come with air-conditioning and modern bathrooms, all of which may be enjoyed with famed Rajasthani hospitality (from Rs 2,600; maljikakamra.com).
7. Gateway to Varanasi and Madurai- Uttar Pradesh & Tamil Nadu
Srirangapatna is 125km or a two-and-a-half hour drive from Bangalore (it’s just a half hour out of Mysore but falls in Mandya district). Tipu Sultan still rules here, the de facto capital established by his equally famous father Hyder Ali. There are about a dozen sites dotted about the river-island (the Kabini circles it), even if some of them are more evocative than impressive (a forlorn prison, for instance). But there’s also the grand temple to Ranganathaswamy, which gives the town its name; the pristinely kept Gumbaz, where Tipu is interred, the walls of his mausoleum painted with tiger stripes in homage; and his summer palace, the Dariya Daulat Bagh, with its beautiful frescoes and wall murals, charming memorabilia, elegant portraits, and vast and well-kept garden (local autos will show you about for Rs 300 in about 2-3hrs;karnatakaholidays.net).
It isn’t just the tropical weather that’s been keeping tourists away from Tamil Nadu’s many wonders for decades, it’s also the rather sad (and still evident) lack of classy tourism infrastructure. Thanjavur, arguably home to the most number of eye-poppingly grand temples anywhere in the world (three Unesco sites within an hour’s drive of each other), was similarly ignored. Fortunately, a clutch of lovely properties now welcomes visitors to a host of local heritage experiences. Try the eager Mantra Veppathur (from Rs 4,500; mantraveppathur.com) or Paradise Resort (from Rs 3,500; paradiseresortindia. com) near Kumbakonam; the delightfully quirky Tanjore Hi (from Rs 4,500; duneecogroup.com) in Thanjavur; the old-worldly Lakshmi Vilas(from Rs 3,600; lakshmivilas.co.in) outside Chidambaram; the well-restored Anandham(from Rs 2,750; indecohotels.com) in Swamimalai, or the tranquil Mangalam (Rs 2,500 up to September; email@example.com) run by an NGO at Thirupugalur near Thiruvarur. The entire delta region is ideally suited to driving about (300km or 7hrs from Chennai).