History, culture, beaches, mountains.... Whatever your interest, there's a tailormade destination that will fit the bill. Here's the first in a two-part series on the best options for the perfect year-end holiday.
The unexplored sibling of the Tirthan Valley, Sainj Valley is quieter and better for multiple reasons
Even the most experienced trekkers treat a foray into the Great Himalayan National Park as a luxury. Walk through the vast, rolling verdure of Sainj Valley, the least-known of the four valleys of the national park, and witness its magic unfold. The verdant meadows and hirsute pine clusters stretching across the horizon in every way remind you of Kashmir—more so in the winter when the whole valley is cloaked in snow. While in the valley, undertake hikes of varying length, visit the stunning temples and godly lakes, camp at the inspection huts and watch the birds conquer the sky at dawn and dusk.
Pro tip 1: Don’t miss the day hikes to the scenic villages of Deori, Upper Neahi and Shangarh
Pro tip 2: Those looking to go further remote should explore Shanshar, where you will also find the Manu Rishi temples
Surrounded by Tibet and Bhutan, the quaint little town is suffused with the scent of spirituality
Set in a remote corner of Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang is an important centre of Buddhism. Its dense valleys, frozen lakes and snow-covered conifers are every traveller’s dream. Also known as ‘Mon-Yul’, Tawang was originally inhabited by the Monpa tribe, who still happen to occupy a major portion of the region. Scattered with beautiful monasteries, you can always find Buddhist chants and mystical monks here. Tawang is also home to the 4,000-year-old Tawang Monastery, one of the oldest and largest monasteries in India.
Pro tip: Visitors to Arunachal require a special Inner Line Permit (ILP) issued by the state government
Lying on the Konkan coast, it is home to several virgin beaches and the Suvarnadurga and Kanakdurga forts
The north may be cold right now but if there’s one place in India off the top of our head where you and your folks could have your own dramatic Roma moment at a virgin beach, it is the sweeping expanse of the Konkan coast at Kelshi, Anjarle and Palande. Known as Mini Mahabaleshwar, Dapoli (approximately a 5.5hr drive from Mumbai) is unmatched in terms of the sheer number of views of the sea that the snaking coastal roads of Maharashtra offer. And if that’s not enough, check-in to one of the many seafront homestays overlooking the frisky waves.
Pro tip: It is approximately 230kms and 186kms, respectively, from Mumbai and Pune
A scenic getaway from the urban chaos, this beach town dons the guise of a wonderland
Considered one of the most beautiful beach towns of Karnataka, Maravanthe is a picturesque locale on the Konkan coast. Set against the backdrop of the Kodachadri Hills and flanked by the Souparnika River on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other, drive along NH 66 to catch a glimpse of the river and sea together. Being a coastal town, it offers a wide variety of watersports including swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. The nearby Kodachadri Hills offer a number of trekking trails, best suited for professionals and experienced trekkers.
Pro tip: Best time to visit is between September and March
Famous for its stunning rock carvings, Unakoti is steeped in myths and legends
Unakoti is Tripura’s best-kept secret. Encompassed by dense forests, it is home to the largest bas relief sculptures in India. Thanks to the presence of the ruins of age-old temples, the place also serves as a Shaivite pilgrimage. A popular legend also suggests that the rock carvings here were done by an artist called Kallu Kumhar, who was a great devotee of Goddess Parvati. According to some archaeologists, Unakoti may also have served as a Buddhist meditation centre. Once you’re done marvelling at the fine specimens of rock carving at Unakoti, take a small detour to Jampui Hills, famous as Tripura’s highest hill. Visit the nearby villages and interact with the people of Lushai and Reang tribes for a wholesome experience.
Pro tip: Agartala (180kms), is connected to Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati by air
Located in the foothills of the Himalaya, the Dooars are streaked by sparkling rivers
For captivating views and thrilling encounters with nature, head east, this time to the Dooars, the lower-lying Himalayan region—in northern Bengal and Assam—famous for being the portal (or ‘door’) further into the seven northeastern states and Bhutan. From the dense forest and rich animal life of Chilapata and Gorumara to the lush, rolling tea estate of Samsing— natural beneficence is brewed into the air here. Hike to scenic hamlets that even the most seasoned hikers know little about or drive to the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, or just listen to the call of the wild from inside your forest rest house.
Pro tip: First-timers should book an experienced travel operator.
Located at the edge of the great Thar Desert, this little hamlet is straight out of the Arabian nights
If a luxurious mud-thatched cottage right in the middle of the desert, surrounded by a beautiful oasis and little shrubs on a full moon night is your idea of spending your winters, look no further than Khimsar. An erstwhile fiefdom, Khimsar paid allegiance to the kingdom of Marwar in the bygone era. Today, it serves as a rewarding getaway with the Khimsar Fort being run as a heritage hotel. Blessed with a charming ambience, the property has opulence written all over it. When done soaking in the winter sun at Khimsar, visit nearby Nagaur, known for its forts and red chillies.
Pro tip: It lies on the Jodhpur-Nagaur-Bikaner highway and is easily accessible
Palakkad represents the laidback best of Kerala and plenty of green havens
Mannarkkad is where the Silent Valley National Park—believed by the British to lack the cicada, hence the silence—thrives. The Neliyampathy Hills are a two-hour drive away. The Palakkad Gap, a low-lying pass in the Western Ghats, is a gateway into Kerala. The name itself means forest of the ‘pala’ tree and its interesting confluence of several cultures is a strong reason to visit. Sightseeing spots include the 18th-century Palakkad Fort, the Malampuzha Dam, and the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. Oh, and the food is to die for—savour pazham pori, mutta bhajji and porottas in between breaks as you shop in the busy wholesale markets.
Pro tip: Noorjehan, MHR biriyani House and Menma are three of the best places to eat at here
Soak in the tremulous beauty of the lush green forests of central India
The highest mountain range in central India, the Satpuras, a part of the Deccan Plateau, lure thousands of visitors every year. Literally translating to ‘seven folds’, it forms the watershed between the Narmada and Tapti rivers. Enveloped by dense green foliage, the Satpura Range is home to numerous tiger reserves and national parks, including the Satpura National Park. Teeming with an exotic variety of flora and fauna, the Satpura National Park is an integral part of the Satpura Tiger Reserve along with the Bori Sanctuary and Pachmarhi Sanctuary. Plan a visit to Pachmarhi, also known as the ‘Queen of Satpuras’. It is the only hill station in the region and a part of a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Believed to be older than the Himalaya, the Satpuras hold centuries of mysteries and folklores.
Pro tip: The ideal time to visit is October to April
Pelling, famous for its historic monasteries, recently saw the opening of India’s first skywalk
The Sikkim town may have got India’s first skywalk recently but we’re thankful that we’re finally talking about Pelling. The historic monasteries of Pemayangtse Gompa and Sanghak Choeling are the major tourist draws. Set time aside for the lesser-known Rabdentse Ruins and dig into some palate-pleasing grub at the tin-roofed Lotus Bakery. Ravangla is two hours away, so head to the pristine Darap village that is just 8km away. At this time of the year, the western Sikkim town may also be a great option to witness snow.
Pro tip: Carry enough cash since like most secluded havens, Pelling has just one ATM.