1. Luxury Cruises, West Bengal
A four-decked luxury cruise vessel, M.V. Paramhansa, is set to sail on the Hooghly. On offer are two cruises — one into the mysterious Sunderbans Delta, and the other, a tour of some of the erstwhile colonial settlements on the west bank of the river. On the Sunderbans cruise the vessel drops anchor at a number of interesting sites like the Bhagabatpur Crocodile Park, Lothian Island, Burirdabri, and the Sajnekhali Forest Range.
The Hoogly Heritage Cruise — a joint initiative of the West Bengal Government, INTACH and Vivida Inland Waterways — includes stops at the former British colony of Howrah, the Danish education centre at Serampore, the French colony of Chandernagore, an Armenian neighbourhood and at Bandel, a Portuguese trading post. The ship has 20 air-conditioned luxury suites, a bar, restaurant and even a gym.
Tariff: from Rs 15,000-18,000 per person for 3N/4D (twin-sharing). Contact: Vivida Inland Waterways 033-24631990
2. Luxury Train, Karnataka
All this while North India has had two luxury trains — Rajasthan’s Palace on Wheels and Maharashtra’s Deccan Odyssey—but the South couldn’t boast of any. Southern spirits are lifting with Karnataka’s announcement of South India’s first luxury tourist train. It is still under construction and hasn’t been christened with an appropriately grandiose name yet, but the Karnataka Tourism Corporation has big plans. The train will connect Bangalore and Goa over six days, stopping at Mysore, Hassan, Gadag, Hospet and Alnavar. Tourists will be taken on various tours, including trips to Srirangapatna, Belur and Halebid, Sravanabelagola, Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole and Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary. KSTDC says the interiors of the coaches will evoke the various architectural styles of the state. The train includes restaurants, a lounge bar, a conference coach and a spa coach. While KSTDC hasn’t decided upon their hospitality partners or tariffs, they are planning to launch the train in November this year.
3. Namdapha Elephant Safari
Eastern Arunachal is one of the most picturesque and richly forested areas in the country. It’s also very inaccessible, and the best — and most regal — way of traversing the area is in on elephant-back. The Great Indian Elephant Safari is the first of its kind in India—and one of the few elephant safaris in the world. Starting out at Chongkham (130km from Dibrugarh), a tiny cluster of villages in Lohit district, you lumber through the forest canopy to the small town of Wakro, and then to the majestic Namdapha Tiger Reserve, one of the remotest forest areas in the country. Along the way, you’ll stay in small villages, go boating on the Lohit river, visit monasteries, and go birding. The elephants used on the safari are trained elephants who were once used to extract timber from the forests, but were left to starve by their owners (who could not afford to feed them) when the government banned logging.
Tariff: approx. Rs 12,000 per person per day (all-inclusive). Contact: Help Tourism 033-24550917, 24854584
4. Chitvan, Kanha
When does a jungle retreat become more than a jungle retreat? When it is a jungle retreat that also marks your entry into the forest as part of Hindu philosophy’s Vana Prastha, or third stage, of life. Chitvan, which will be ready in a couple of months—in time for the jungle ‘season’ this year, which traditionally begins from October — is where you’re invited to come channelise your chitta (consciousness). The proprietors of the new jungle property outside Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, correctly feeling that times have changed since our Vedic forbears romped in the forest, have equipped Chitvan with all modern comforts. So, you will be lodged in one of 12 luxurious, air-conditioned suites that offer views of the adjoining forests, farmland and hills. There’s a swimming pool, open-air showers and multi-cuisine restaurant. Your retreat from the world is further rendered illusory with the wi-fi-enabled environment.
Tariff: Rs 20,000 for double, including all meals, two jeep safaris a day, soft drinks, all park entry/guide charges and taxes.
5. Navara Eco Farm, Kerala
How would you like to stay on an organic rice farm, waking up at dawn, getting your hands dirty in the fields, watching the workers transplant rice, relaxing under mango trees and being rewarded with delicious meals? Very much? Then visit the recently opened Navara Eco Farm in Palakkad, Kerala. Located on the banks of the Chittur river, this farm is the biggest njavara farm in the state. Njavara is a rice variety known for its medicinal properties, and is endemic to Kerala. The grain is used in Ayurveda, especially in Panchakarma treatment. This grain is facing extinction and only a few farms in the state grow this crop. The Navara Eco Farm, spread over 18 acres, grows this rice variety along with medicinal herbs, coconuts, pomegranates and mangoes. While the farm managed by Narayanan Unny and his family is over 75 years old, it is only recently that they have started taking in tourists. Tourists can choose to stay at the family home or in a traditional nalukettu located close to the farm. The property can accommodate only six guests at a time. Visitors can observe the workers and farm animals at work, and even help at the farm and learn about the over 80 varieties of trees and plants. There is also the option of doing absolutely nothing.
Tariff: Rs 8,000 per couple per night on full board. Contact: 04923-221177, 9447277749
6. New Hotels, Arunachal
One of the most beautiful states in the country — and one of the most untouched by the depredations of tourism — is opening its doors to visitors. Arunachal is home to the friendliest of peoples, but the lack of basic infrastructure such as hotels has been enough to put off all but the most undaunted of travellers. Things are changing. The first sign of this is the opening in the past few months of two charming lodges, both in the West Kameng district. Much is delightful here: the quiet village of Tippi, in which the Elephant Point Retreat is set, has an orchidarium as well as orchid farms. Pemaling, the second lodge to open, is in the hill station of Dirang at an altitude of 5,000ft. It’s touted as being a ‘nature resort’, and so it probably is, in the state known for its stunning landscapes and breadth of breathtaking flora.
Tariff (at both lodges): 2N/3D for Rs 4,999. Contact: 1800-111-333
7. Village walks, Kumaon
Uttarakhand’s Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary offers views of more than 200 species of birds and a grand panorama of Great Himalayan peaks. The deeper you venture into its forests, the richer the sightings. Village Ways Tourism, in partnership with Binsar’s Mountain Resort at Khali Estate, has introduced walking tours that take you into the far reaches of Binsar. You’ll be walking from village to village with porters and trained guides from the area. Tour options include the 10-night Ramsay’s Ramble (named for Sir Henry Ramsay who created the Khali Estate in 1875), which retraces Ramsay’s favourite paths through his once vast and sprawling estate. Best for mountain views is the 9-night Beyond Zero Point tour. It takes you along old forest tracks to the highest points in the sanctuary. Don’t miss the special 7-night Spice up Your Life tour which celebrates the culinary traditions of Kumaon, with hands-on experience in the kitchens of village houses. With no more than four hours walking every day, accommodation in village houses equipped with flush toilets, showers, solar-powered water heaters and lighting systems, and home-cooked meals, this is a soft return to nature.
Tariff: Rs 3,000 per person per day (inclusive of stay and meals). Contact: Village Ways (05962-251048, 9411105450
8. Hooghly Cruise
It was once the primary waterway of colonial expansion in India. So it is appropriate that the languid Hooghly comes alive once again with an Indo-British venture. This month will see the launch of the Assam Bengal Navigation Company’s luxurious cruises on the river. ABNC will ply 7N cruises every July and August from Kolkata to Farakka and vice versa. The cruises will take in the colonial enclaves of Serampore, Chandernagore and Chinsurah, the terracotta temples at Kalna, the battlefield of Plassey, Murshidabad’s Hazarduari palace and much more. The cruises are intimate, with the 12 air-conditioned en-suite cabins ensuring that the maximum group size never exceeds 24.
Tariff: US$1,295 plus 4.9% tax per person on twin-sharing basis. The price covers full board with all excursions, rail tickets Kolkata-Farakka or vice versa, and transfers in Kolkata. Contact: Assam Bengal Navigation Co, 0361-2602186, 2602223
9. Houseboats In Maharashtra
Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district is endowed with empty beaches, coconut and areca nut groves and an exceptionally tasty seafood-based cuisine. Those in the know say it’s what Goa used to be two decades ago and what’s more, the state government has actually declared it a tourism-only district. Yet tourists haven’t really discovered the region. The state tourism corporation is finally taking some action and has launched two houseboats — the first outside the states of Kashmir and Kerala — on the Kalri river in Tarkarli near Malvan. The tourism corporation promises a luxurious experience, with air-conditioned rooms and the services of a personal assistant. Tourists can also enjoy the finger-licking Malvani cuisine on board. There are music systems and DVD players as well but chances are you’ll be too busy relaxing on the beaches of Devbaug, Nerurpar and Tarkarli, or discovering picturesque villages, to play with the gadgets on the boat.
Tariff: Rs 5,500-6,500 per couple per night including all meals and sightseeing.
10. Women-Only Holidays
When travel writer Sumitra Senapaty kicked off Women on Wanderlust (WOW) — a travel club exclusively for women — about two years ago with a tentative little trip to Ladakh, she could have had no inkling of the overwhelming interest it would generate. Since then, WOW has been around the world and back, several times over. Stops have included Egypt, Greece, Sri Lanka, Turkey and New Zealand. Security is a concern, so hotels are always centrally located and, while not luxurious, aren’t of the backpacker variety. WOW is not a travel agency, it’s a travel club, insists Sumitra, who conducts all the tours herself (although she’s now looking at expanding to cope with the popularity of the tours) and keeps the group size under 20. As eclectic as the choice of destinations are the travellers themselves, anywhere from 24 to 60 years of age, hailing from metros but also cities like Guwahati and Lucknow, single, married and divorced, from jewellery designers to corporate executives. Next up is South Africa (17-26 September) at an all-inclusive cost of Rs 1,10,000 per person on twin-sharing.
Contact: Sumitra Senapaty, 9891655054. Mumbai-based tour operator Kesari also offers a slew of ladies-only tours to destinations like Thailand (7N for Rs 41,050), Mauritius and Switzerland.