Four offbeat summer getaways in India
Come summer, and the mountains beckon with crisp air, breathtaking views and a gentler pace of life. This vision of bucolic bliss is rudely decimated by the reality of traffic snarls and throngs of similar-minded visitors who flock to the hills every year. This year, evade the tourist juggernaut and escape to less-frequented locales which still manage to slip under the radar. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a gastronome, a culture buff or an ardent bird-watcher, these four unspoilt destinations are an ideal foil to the summer heat, and the madding crowd
Monastery circuit in Tawang
Tucked away at the north-western edge of Arunachal Pradesh near the Bhutanese and Tibetan border, Tawang is a heady brew of scenic beauty, Buddhist heritage and a vibrant culture. Perched on a mountain, the town is encircled by peaks and a river gorge. The crowning glory is the citadel-like Tawang Monastery, built in the mid-17th century, and considered to be one of the largest in the world. Lavishly embellished with murals, the monastery houses an eight-metre-high golden statue of the Buddha in the prayer hall, and ancient manuscripts in its library. Other monasteries to put on your itinerary include the Urgelling, Khinme and Taktsang Gompas. Couple the monastery visits with an outdoor jaunt to the picturesque Sangetser Tso (lake), which was re-named Madhuri Lake after the Hindi film actress shot a song for the film Koyla here. The nearest airport at Tezpur is a beautiful drive of 360 km, while the closest railway station at Guwahati is 532 km away. To visit, domestic tourists require an Inner Line Permit and foreign visitors need a Protected Area Permit.
Paragliding at Bir-Billing
The rolling hills and valley meadows surrounding the villages of Bir and Billing paint a picture of pastoral idyll. But enticing as the views may be, your eyes will probably stay fixated to the sky. Unless of course you’re staring down, strapped in on one of the countless paragliders soaring on the thermals. This region in Himachal Pradesh is considered to be one of the finest paragliding destinations in the world—a claim buttressed by a 2290-metre high take-off point facing a vast plain. Wide-eyed fliers can soak in 360-degree views of snow-kissed Himalayas and picture-perfect tea estates below. The best months for flying are March to May as well as October and November. And you don’t even need to know how to fly: just hop on to a tandem glider and enjoy the flight. If you’re keen to learn then enrol in the week-long course for beginners. Bir has adequate accommodation for visitors and there’re fascinating monasteries and meditation centres to explore on the ground. The hamlet is a little over 500 km away from Delhi and around 80 kilometres from Dharamshala.
Farmstay in Coonoor
Like riding horses and country music? This is for all those cowboys and cowgirls-at-heart who want a slice of the rustic laidback life, ensconced in a genuine tea estate in Coonoor. Sequestered amidst the lush Nilgiris these estates offer guests the chance to pick tea leaves (or oranges!), sip local blends like a connoisseur, go on hack rides, and then retreat into plush heritage cottages for a sundowner or two. Epicures can also take short courses in organic cheese-making. And when you’ve had your fill of the isolation then there’s always the option of making a beeline for Ooty, a hop-skip-and-jump away from Coonoor. Coonoor is 71 km from the closest airport in Coimbatore and connected to it by the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
Bird-watching at Malshej Ghat
Nestled in the Western Ghats, this mountain pass transforms into a verdant green paradise after the onset of the rains. Its misty hills are home to numerous waterfalls and offer picture-perfect trails for trekking and hiking. During the monsoons, the Ghat becomes a seasonal home for pink European flamingos which flock to the Pimplagaon-Joga Dam every year. It is also a biodiversity hotspot, so watch out for various kinds of flora and fauna. The only accommodation here is the government run guesthouse which is low on facilities but makes up with stunning views from its spectacular location on top of the hill. Malshej Ghat is 154 km away from Mumbai and 86 km away from Kalyan, the nearest railway station. By road, you can travel via Thane – Kalyam – Saralgaon – Vaishakhare. One word of caution: the area is notorious for landslides so get an update on road conditions before you leave.