Local travel is in right now, as the pandemic keeps us from using public modes of transport where we will come in contact with large numbers of people. Here are 5 breaks you can take to wash off the ennui.
Kalimpong, West Bengal
Long seen as a satellite attraction to Darjeeling, Kalimpong (now hived off into a new district) is slowly emerging as a destination on its own merits. Book a long holiday – there are some fantastic heritage hotels – to find out the many secrets of this charming hill station, about two hours’ drive from Bagdogra airport and the transport hub of Siliguri. Enjoy views of the Himalayan snow peaks etched on the horizon, go for walks among the leafy slopes, enjoy tranquil moments at the hill top monasteries, learn about indigenous culture at the Lepcha Museum, or connect with award winning botanical illustrator Hemlata Pradhan for a look around her School for Natural History Art (their botanical paintings and ceramic art make interesting souvenirs). Did you know Kalimpong is also home to several nurseries devoted to the growing of orchids and cacti? And in between take a break at the Café Kalimpong with its jaw-dropping views of the hills and the town, a menu balancing global cuisine with local dishes, and a tiny library.
An explorer’s town, it has something for everyone. Golden beaches washed by the billowing waves of the Bay of Bengal, tree-lined backwaters, heritage trails, atmospheric homestays and a fantastic range of bakeries and cafes. Dig into some amazing Franco-Tamil cuisine at the Courtyard Restaurant in the heritage hotel Le Dupleix (managed by Sarovar Hotel chain), fresh croissants, tarts and pies at Auroville Bakery, pizzas from Café Xtasi, and the list is endless. Le Café on Gaubert Avenue is right by the beach. And if you are looking for souvenirs, there are handcrafted goods, such as Kora grass bags, coconut shell bowls and bric a bracs, palm leaf baskets and trays, and custom made footwear at the local markets, to name a few.
If you haven’t heard of this leafy neighbourhood, about 45km by road from Dabolim airport, and tucked between the beach resort of Anjuna and the market town of Mapusa, it is because it is the sunshine state’s best guarded secret. Cosmopolitan in nature, it is known for its artistic enterprises, cafes and restaurants, and of course a chance to look into the Portuguese legacy for which Goa is so famous. One of the most interesting addresses here is The Project Café, which operates as an ‘experiential design consortium’, and offers artists and architects a run of the place to showcase their creativity. All the rooms at their boutique hotel is designed by different designers, the restaurant menu curated by different chefs, and every nook and corner displays arts and crafts on sale. In fact, you can even buy the linen, furnishings, furniture, fixtures, which you see around you. There are also many boutique stores selling clothing and jewellery. To get a feel of tranquil Assagao, chart out a walking tour of your own (or find out if Felly Gomes is holding one).
Kodi Bengre, Karnataka
You do not have to be religious to visit the pilgrim town of Udupi (about 70km from Mangalore). You may visit it for its delectable vegetarian cuisine. You may go for a photography holiday. And now here is one more reason – to visit the scenic Kodi Bengre Beach, lying supine along the Arabian Sea coast. Located about 18km from Udupi, it is where the Suvarna River meets the sea. Hence the beach is also known as the Delta Beach. Drive up to Hoode (a fishing village and market) and then take a stroll down to the beach. Of course, do not forget your camera to capture the blue water, the fishing boats bobbing on the waves, the foam dancing up the beach, the rows of coconut trees.
The manner in which the ethnic communities of Kutch accept their daily challenge, of trying to eke out a living from the arid landscape, and yet maintain a bright outlook on life, can be an inspiration in these trying times. Bhuj, the district headquarters with its own airport, is a good place to start if you are here for the first time. Check with your travel agent about eco-friendly resorts that are located in some of the villages. The region is known for its wildlife, including migratory birds in winter. Also if you are fond of ethnic designs and embroidery, then Kutch is a treasure trove indeed. You may drop in at some of the villages to see the women at work. Or visit artists’ welfare centres such as Kala Raksha Trust and Shrujan to know more about the embroideries, the people who make them, take a look at the museum displays, and buy some of the exquisite products, from dresses to wraps to bags, etc.