On the joyous occasion of India's 71st Independence Day, we decided to leave behind the tried and tested and venture forth into offbeat, quirky, insightful and fun new destinations that you can visit from your city. Know your country better, and know what makes it special. The best way to do so? Travel.
To help you plan a quick getaway, we’ve been coming up with long weekend plans for quick getaways from your city. Today, we bring you some offbeat weekend plans out of Delhi. If you are are inclined towards heritage, then the temples and monuments of Khajuraho and Orchha are perfect for you; for a luxuriously leisure weekend getaway you can escape to Udaipur; soak in Tibetan culture in Dharamsala whilst enjoying a view of the Dhauladhar range; or spend your weekend teeing off at the 9-hole golfcourse in Ranikhet. Here's how you can spend your long weekend:
Madhya Pradesh: Khajuraho
In times of overt censorship in the name of culture, the Khajuraho temples are perhaps the biggest symbols of irony in a 70-year-old independent India. A recent controversy surrounding the temples originated from a right-wing group asking for a ban on Kamasutra sales near the temple premises. Perhaps the intricate carvings on the stone temple walls had eluded their sight. Built in the 10th and 11th centuries by the Chandella dynasty, the stone temples have some of the most gorgeously-carved facades seen in Indian temple architecture. The erotic sculptures are rightly famous, but there's just so much more. Just 25 of the original 84 structures stand today. These include both Hindu and Jain temples.
Licensed guides can be booked at the ASI booth for a guided tour, or an audio guide can be bought to explore the site at leisure. The temples of western cluster remain open from 8 am to 6 pm, except Matangeshwar Temple which remains open from 6 am to 10 pm. There’s an entry fee of â‚¹10.
Located in the Bundelkhand region of MP, the site can be easily reached by air (Khajuraho Airport) or rail (Khajuraho railway station) or road (11 hours from Delhi). Try Ramada Khajuraho (from â‚¹ 3,540 per night; 076862 72302) or the extremely economical Hotel Casa Di William, located hardly 150 metres away from the western cluster of temples (from â‚¹ 400; 098933 98536).
Madhya Pradesh: Orchha
Confused between heritage-rich towns and riverside locations? Think no more. Orchha, on the banks of the Betwa in northeastern Madhya Pradesh, offers both. Located 18 km from Jhansi, Orchha–which literally means 'hidden place'–has so far lived up to its name. Built in 1501 CE by Rudra Pratap Singh, the medieval town served as the capital of the Bundelas. Over a long weekend, there’s much to do here. Besides the main fort, there are ruins of temples, palaces and cenotaphs which provide architectural and historical delight for tourists. While here, check out the first palace built, Raja Mahal, and its elaborate motifs. Also see Rani ka Mahal, Dauji ki Haveli and the grandeur of Jehangir Mahal. The Chatturbhuj Temple takes the limelight for its sheer scale while the Laxmi Narayan Temple is famous for its murals. The Ram Raja Temple is perhaps the only one which worships Ram as a king, rather than a god.
To reach Orchha, fly to Gwalior airport (120km) and take a taxi for approx â‚¹ 3,000; the nearest railway station is Jhansi (16km). For a royal experience, stay at one of the eight old-world rooms in MPTDC’s Sheesh Mahal, once the residence of Raja Udait Singh, Maharaja of Orchha. (from â‚¹ 2,500 plus taxes; 07680-252624). Alternatively, Orchha Betwa Retreat offers budget hillside cottages with a view of the river (from â‚¹ 2,500; 07680-252618).
You don’t need a wedding invite to visit Udaipur. A long weekend will do. While the heritage properties in the city, with their eternal romance, may lend themselves nicely to big fat Indian weddings, the city of lakes is best enjoyed at a slow pace on a leisurely holiday from Delhi’s urban chaos. Founded in 1553 by Maharana Udai Singh II as the capital of Mewar Kingdom, Udaipur boasts of a rich history and plenty of royal residences. The most famous of these perhaps is the Lake Palace, located in the middle of Lake Pichola. Now a hotel, it was originally called Jagniwas and served as a summer palace. The City Palace (composed of four major and several minor palaces) and Sajjangarh (aka Monsoon Palace) are must-visits. Amidst all the grandeur, a solar observatory in Lake Fateh Sagar makes for a unique claim to fame– it is the country’s only observatory located on an island. As long as you’re in the heart of Rajasthan, feel free to shop around in the narrow lanes around the City Palace.
Located around 650km from Delhi, the ‘Venice of the East’ is well-connected by air and rail. A road trip may take over 13 hours. Perched on top of a hillock and providing a charming view of Fatehsagar and Swaroop Sagar Lakes, Anand Bhawan offers 21 AC rooms (from â‚¹ 1,500 doubles including breakfast; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Himachal Pradesh: Dharamsala
What was once projected to be the summer capital of British India is now a favourite tourist destination for those who don’t like the hustle-bustle of Shimla, the one that beat Dharamsala to the podium. Besides its sense of serenity, the quaint town overlooks the beautiful Kangra valley at a height of around 4,550 ft and is also home to the central figure of Tibetan Budhhist faith, the Dalai Lama. After fleeing into exile in the 1959, he came to India and eventually settled in McLeodganj, Upper Dharamshala. The leafy neighbourhood of Upper Dharamshala is populated with beautiful cottages and hotels; 10 km away, Lower Dharamsala is famous for the clamour of Kotwali Bazaar.
While in Mcleodganj, you could do the Triund trek or take your bike on the trail to Sidhbari or simply stroll up to the Bhagsu waterfall, visit the Dalai Lama’s Palace and try to get a sight of the man himself, meditate amidst the tranquil chanting of hymns at Namgyal Monastery or check out the Tibet Museum for some lessons in history. Dharamshala also hosts one of the most picturesque cricket stadiums in the world.
It lies 507 km northwest of Delhi. The nearest railway station is Pathankot (85km) and the nearest airport is Gaggal (13 km). For a budget stay, check out Hotel Bhagsu of HPTDC (from â‚¹ 1,500 including one meal; 01892-221091 ). Clouds End Villa, the nine-acre summer retreat of the erstwhile rulers of Lambagraon-Kangra, has 10 cosy rooms to offer. (from â‚¹ 2,000 per night; 01892 — 224904, royalkangra.com/cloudsendvilla.html)
Beat the heat by retreating to a hill station where nature has precedence over everything else. Sprawling along a 15-km ridge, this cantonment town offers awe-inducing 180-degree panoramic views of the Himalaya. It gets its name (Queen’s meadow) from folklore that talks about the effect the place had on Rani Padmini, wife of Raja Sukherdev. The area has many temples, the most popular being the Jhula Devi Temple and the Kalika Devi Temple, and a number of churches.
You can also have a swing at golfing here. Ranikhet has a famous (9-hole) army golf course, just five km away from the town. It can be accessed by civilians for a nominal fee. Ranikhet feels ethereal when explored on foot. Trek from Chaubatia Orchards to Holm Farm or to Bhalu Dam, Ranikhet Club to Chevron Rosemount, and Meghdoot to Jhula Devi Temple are some popular trails. Dwarahat, the seat of the Katyuri dynasty in the 16th century and host to many old temples, is just 32km away.
The nearest railhead is Kathgodam (76 km) from where you get taxis for approx. â‚¹1,500. Buses also ply daily from Delhi to Ranikhet. Chevron Rosemount is a 3-star hotel that offers some beautiful rooms at budget prices (from â‚¹3,333; 05966-221391). Holm Farm Heritage is famous for having once hosted Jawaharlal Nehru and the Mountbattens (from â‚¹2,500; 05966-220891).