Saturday, January 19, 2008

Top 10 travel hotspots in India

Little paradises The Tribune, Saturday, January 19, 2008
Over the years, the tried and tested touristy destinations have remained popular but for some years now avant-garde tourism has been picking up. Mukesh Khosla lists 10 travel hotspots in India that promise an out-of-the-ordinary experience
A different view of the Taj
When you go to Agra, visit the Taj Mahal and then hit the Mughal Heritage Trail. This is one of the most unusual treks that has just been developed. It has been catching the fancy of the discerning tourists ever since it was developed. The trail on the backside of the Taj Mahal is designed around a 4-km meandering pathway of lesser-known monuments like the Chini Ka Rauza, Itmad-Ud-Daula and Rambagh. Another trail leads to Humayun’s mosque, where many of his kith and kin are buried, and the Jantar Mantar carved out of a single stone. While the mosque still stands, only a small part of Jantar Mantar remains and is known as Gyaraha Sidi (eleven steps). Soak in history as you stand atop one of the lighthouses from where you can get a stunning view of the Taj from across the Yamuna.
Divine experience at Lamayuru
The surreal gompa (monastery) perched atop a mountain in Ladakh is hidden from the world. Yet, twice a year on full moon nights, Lamayuru hosts the coming together of lamas from other monasteries of the region. They chant Buddhist shlokas and perform the mask dance, a symbol of divinity that is believed to guard against all evils. Tourists stay in Leh and take a taxi to Lamayuru which is 200 km away and spend the night in small resorts or camping sights along the way for a divine Buddhist experience.
Golden sands beckon
As you motor down from Jodhpur cutting through unending sands, Jaisalmer seems to rise out of the dunes. Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer magic of this desert city of Rajasthan. The majestic yellow fort is etched against the azure sky as if in a fairyland. A camel safari from Jaisalmer is an exhilarating experience. As you meander through sand dunes, you will go past havelis, magnificent temples, Rajasthani women in colourful attire and men in resplendent turbans sporting big moustaches. There are also the stepwells, sandstorms, desert foxes and chinkaras. A picture postcard exotica that’s held an enduring fascination for the footloose traveller.
A date with lions in Gir
Two centuries ago the Asiatic lion ranged across a territory that spread from Europe to Asia. Since then, the continual expansion of human habitat has contributed to its extinction in all but one small region, the Gir National Park and Sanctuary in the bowlshaped Saurashtra region in Gujarat. The home territory of the last surviving Asiatic lion, the Gir forest has been designated a national park. A jeep safari in this 1,400 sq km sanctuary is a wildlife lover’s dream come true. Besides the Asiatic lion, the other residents include the spotted deer, chital, nilgai, four-horned antelope, chinkara, wild boar, jackal and hyena.
Trekking time
A trek in the Garhwal Himalayas offers such stunning sights that it will take the breath away. Lush green forests on the one side and high mountain ranges on the other, with waterfalls cascading down from the skies. A trekking trip in the bugyals, extensive pasture lands found at heights ranging between 3,000 and 4,500 metres above the sea level, is an experience of a lifetime. The snowcapped mountains stand in bold relief against the lush bugyals. The most popular are the Panwali Bugyals skirting the Bhilling valley on the old pilgrim route from Gangotri to Kedarnath. No hustlebustle, no rush, no cars. Just the rustling of leaves, chirping of birds and the whistling of the wind. Truly time spent in paradise.
Falling in love with the falls
At first sight the natural horseshoe waterfalls created by the Indravati river in Chhattisgarh look startlingly similar to the Niagara Falls. And that is the main attraction of the town of Chitrakote in Bastar district, near Jagdalpur. This is the tribal heartland of India and nature trails lead you to unknown temples, dancing peacocks, stray cattle and happy locals in colourful attire. This is truly God’s own country that has not just retained its unspoilt charm but also its unique cultural and ecological identity. Don’t also miss the picturesque Tirathgarh falls at the Kanger river that cascade down from a height of 100 feet.
Auroville’s sounds of silence
Legend associates ancient Pondicherry or Puducherry with the great Hindu sage Agastya. Today there are more than 350 churches, temples and mosques, making it a virtual Mecca for the devout. One of the most striking and now universally famous religious centres is the Aurobindo Ashram founded by poetphilosopher Sri Aurobindo in 1926. Pay homage to the samadhis inside the premises of this ashram and then head for Auroville—the City of Dawn—on the Chennai-Puducherry highway. This is an abode of peace where meditation and yoga are a way of life. Soak in the sounds of silence as you commune with God.
On the lakefront
Though Nainital maybe the preferred destination for holiday-makers, many discerning tourists are skipping the crowded hill station and discovering the joys of nature walks in Bhimtal. Just 22 km from Nainital, this resort is a source of pleasure for those who enjoy nature’s pristine bliss. The lake that has an island in the centre is larger than Naini Lake and there are many ancient temples dotting the numerous hilly trails, one of which leads to the famous Bhimeshwar temple complex said to have been built by Bhima of the Mahabharata fame. Another trail leads to the Nal-Damyanti Tal, named after the mythological King Nal. Many historians are of the view that Bhimtal was a part of the ancient Silk Route.
Cruising the backwaters
A boatride in a kettuvalam on the backwaters of Kerala, starting from the Kumarakom jetty, is an exhilarating experience. It is a journey across several canals snaking through Kavalam and Pulinkunnu villages. The journey is in picturesque settings and these are wonderful waterways unknown to city dwellers. These waterways efficiently connect islands and villages in the interiors. The sight of coconut palms swaying in the breeze amidst a vast expanse of paddy fields, children bathing in the canals is an experience only Kerala can give. And don’t miss the canal of hyacinths on Punnamada Lake at Alleppey, the most befitting finale to a journey of a lifetime.
Nature trail at Binsar
Just a half-hour drive from Almora in Uttaranchal, Binsar, the capital of the eighth-century Chand Rajas, is an experience of a lifetime. Spread on top of the Jhandi Dhar hills, the small town offers a panoramic view of Greater Himalayas. The peaks of Nanda Devi, Kedarnath, Chaukhamba, Trishul, Panchchuli and Nanda Kot are visible on a clear day from Binsar. The resort town is lush with oak, rhododendron, pine and deodars. There is a wildlife sanctuary for those who like the wild side. HOME

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