Some great Indian summer escapes

Drop the fixed itineraries, put on your explorer’s hat and head for unique adventures and experiences. Avantika Bhuyan takes you off the beaten track to discover some of the many hidden surprises in this vast country

Setting the stage in a forest

This summer, thread your way to the picturesque district of Goalpara, Assam, for a unique theatre experience. Located 134 km from Guwahati, close to the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra, Rampur village in Goalpara is home to the Badungduppa Kala Kendra, which has become one of the hubs of experimental theatre in Assam. Here you will get to see the traditional theatre, as practised by the Rabha community, blend with contemporary forms. You can spend the days witnessing rehearsals at the centre or in one of the lush forests and bamboo groves adjoining it. “People had never witnessed plays taking place in broad daylight before. We introduced that, along with the use of a natural background,” says Sukracharjya Rabha, who founded the Kendra in 1998. A group of four to five could easily stay at the centre or else make one of the many hotels in Goalpara its base.

Details: Email badungsukra@rediffmail.com or visit Badungduppa Kala Kendra, Rampur village, Goalpara, Assam

Clean and green

 
Declared the cleanest village in Asia in 2003, and then again in 2005 by Discovery and the BBC, Mawlynnong is on the must-visit list of most explorers and adventurers. This picturesque village is located 90 km from Shillong. With cottages straight out of Enid Blyton books, the village follows a community-based ecotourism initiative. Kids are taught the importance of keeping the village clean and dustbins make an appearance every five minutes. After a walk through Mawlynnong, make your way to the neighbouring village of Rewai for a breathtaking view of the living tree root bridges. At first glimpse, it feels like you have entered the spectacular world of the Lord of the Rings. Every step on this living marvel is a wonder.

Details: Stay at a guesthouse managed by Henry Kharrymba, which offers two cottages — a bamboo one with four beds and a cement one with two. Contact Henry at 9615043027

Surf ‘n’ turf

 
What better way to escape the torrid heat than have the cool sea waves break upon you while surfing. If you are still a novice, then enroll at the Kallialay Surf School, located on Serenity Beach, a few kilometres north of Puducherry. Considered one of the best places to pick up the nuances, the school is run by brothers Juan and Samai Reboul, who have introduced countless tourists to the wonders of surfing. “The first lesson equips you with skills to take on a foam wave. To get a grasp of the material and safety knowledge, one must enroll for a 10-day course,” says Samai. They offer surfboard rentals as well for you to go into the water by yourself.

Details: Kallialay Surf School, Puducherry. For information on the packages, see surfschoolindia.com

Meeting the stars

If you want to get away from the madding crowd, then opt for a sky observation session by the Khagol Mandal, the largest organisation of astronomers in Mumbai. “We usually arrange such sessions every month, around the new moon when the sky conditions are best for observation,” says Pradeep Nayak, president of the group. This month, one can head away from the hullaballoo of Mumbai on May 27 to the quiet environs of Neral, near Matheran, to trace the constellations, planets and star clusters in the skies. “We start at 7 pm with a discussion and then go on to observing the skies through laser light and telescopes. After dinner, there is a small presentation on astronomy, discussions and an interactive Q&A session, and after 3 am, we show the newly-risen sky,” he says. During the monsoons, when the skies get too cloudy for observation, the organisation conducts lectures and basic astronomy classes. 

Details: For more information, check khagolmandal.com

Zip through the jungles

 
Ziplining has, of late, become one of the most popular activities for those seeking with an insatiable thirst for adventure sport. Outdoor sports companies now offer adrenaline-pumping tours through thick forests, over gushing rivers and the embattlements of ancient forts. Flying Fox, which calls itself India’s only zip tour company operating to the international standard, offers tours through Neemrana, Jodhpur, Rishikesh and Kikar. While the first two are closed for the season, the ones in Rishikesh and Kikar stay open through the summer. You get to soar 200 feet high over the river Ganges or embark on the longest zip line tour in South Asia at Kikar, through the forests located at the Shivalik foothills. The duration of these tours lies between one to two hours. 

Details: Visit flyingfox.asia for more information

A taste of life in the vineyard

 
To get an insider’s view into the world of wine, head to Fratelli vineyards, located in Akluj, 170 kilometres south of Pune. You could opt for a rejuvenation getaway at one of the four lavish double bedrooms, complete with a lounge area, or rent an entire vineyard for a luxurious holiday. Spend the days cycling around the picturesque Motewadi and Garwad vineyards and head off to the tasting room or the barrel cellar in the evening to taste the white wine and red wine varietals. Round this off with a meal on the winery lawn, under the stars. 

Details: For more information, check www.fratelliwines.in

Up close and personal

 
Located in the tiger heartland of central India — Kanha National Park — the Singinawa Jungle Lodge doesn’t just offer a unique wildlife experience, but a chance to interact closely with the local Baiga and Gond community. Regular Gond art workshops are conducted at the Lodge for the guests. You could also visit the village of Kohoka, be a guest in a tribal home, help in the kitchen gardens and watch the local produce being dried in the sun. “Or assist the the children of the local school in painting the flora and fauna of Kanha on the walls and understand how their lives are in harmony with nature,” says Tulika Kedia, managing director of the Lodge. One could also spend a day with the potters of Baihar, as they spin the wheel to create urns and pots to be sold at the weekly Sunday market.

Details: For more information, visit www.singinawajunglelodge.com

Coffee country experience

 
Now’s your chance to wake up to the smell of coffee every single day of your vacation by staying at the Halli Berri Cottages, which are located in the midst of the Kambihalli coffee estate at the foot of the verdant Bababudan Hills, Chikmaglur. Indulge in a long walk through the plantation, soaking in the sights and aromas as sustainable, eco-friendly 100 per cent Arabica is produced using the highest quality AAA beans at this all-women led coffee concern. Keep a sharp lookout for rare birds, as the estate supports 296 species of migratory birds (according to the National Geographic Survey 2014). Spend the evenings sipping freshly brewed coffee at the Coffee Barn, a cosy cafe nestled within the plantation. 

Details: For more information, check halliberri.com

A birder’s paradise

 
Located in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, Mandala is a little-known biodiversity hotspot. A wide array of habitats can be found here, ranging from the rainforests to bamboo, broadleaf and pine forests. This lush vegetation is home to nearly 260 species of birds, making this a birder’s paradise. A walk through the forests could also yield sightings of the Red Panda, Arunachal Macaque, the Golden Cat and the Himalayan Serow. You could embark on mild day-long treks to the natural lakes located in the upper reaches or simply curl up with your favourite book by the window at the Mandala Birding Lodge, which offers some spectacular views.  

Details: For more information, check out www.eaglenestbirding.com

A masterclass in rare art forms

 
For over four centuries now, members of the Thakar tribe have been practising rare forms of painting, puppetry and storytelling in the village of Pinguli, located on the Mumbai-Goa highway, amidst the lush Sahyadri hills. In the olden days, these artists used to work as spies for Maratha kings such as Shivaji and would gather information while going from village to village, telling stories. “Our community is known for 11 rare art forms such as chitrakathi painting and kalsutri bahulya, a style of string puppetry,” says puppeteer Chetan Gangavane. And now you too can learn these forms by staying at the Thakar Adivasi Kala Aangan Museum, established by his father, Parshuram, in 2006. “We run an MTDC-approved food and homestay, titled Sunder Homestay. So, tourists can stay here, interact with the local community and learn our art” he says.

Details:  For more information on the museum and homestay, visit pingulichitrakathiart.com

Around the city in a tuk-tuk

The city of Bengaluru has a very strong association with tuk-tuks. “They were earlier called ‘pulled rickshaws’, generally pulled by one man, and then came the cycle rickshaw and the auto rickshaw, which has been ferrying people for the past 50 years from one destination to another,” says Tejaswini Gopalaswamy of Bengaluru-based travel company, Unventured. She is now using conducting special tuk-tuk tours to help tourists discover little-known facets of the city. The tour starts from Hard Rock Cafe and moves on to St Mary’s Basilica, St Andrew’s Kirk, Tipu Sultan’s summer palace and then to KR Market. “It’s a market for anything and everything. But the most exciting bit is to see people sitting in tiny shacks, setting diamonds. You can see the entire process of gold being melted, moulded and set with diamonds,” says Gopalaswamy. While for most people, Bengaluru is synonymous with IT offices and malls, this tour offers a glimpse of the other side of the city. “This is the hardworking real India,” she says. Unventured also conducts evening tours of the city.

Details: For more information, check unventured.com

Sacred gastronomy

 
Nearly every alley and street in Varanasi resounds with fables around food. And what better way to experience the culinary traditions of this ancient city than by opting for a curated food walk by India Food Trails, a flagship vertical of the guided tours company, India City Walks. The trail starts at the famed ghats of Varanasi, where guests can enjoy piping hot kachoris, stuffed with moong dal and served with potato gravy and chutney. The highlight is a visit to the Kashi Chaat Bhandar, which makes the tamatar chaat , a cross between pav bhaji and sev tamaatar . Finish  the tour on a sweet note with a chilled glass of thandai or the laong-lata, a delicacy made from refined flour, stuffed with khoya, deep fried, dipped in sugar and dusted with crushed cloves. The trail allows you to discover the malaiyyo, Varanasi’s best-kept secret, which is a foaming and fizzing seasonal sweet. 

Details: For more information, check indiacitywalks.com


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