It’s the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, as named by the United Nations. Keeping that in mind, we set out to look for new destinations, knowing how hard it is to keep scenic locales a secret. Yet, if one heads a little off the beaten track, it is possible to unveil some gems. From faraway hill towns to royal hunting lodges, here’s a pick of lesser-known hideouts to check out this year.
LONG AFTER you think you are lost somewhere between Jodhpur and Beawar, a mud road deposits you at the erstwhile hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Raipur, Thakur Lakshman Singh. Built around a lake named after him, Lakshman Sagar is a charming boutique resort carefully curated by Sewara Hospitality.
Following a ‘zero kilometre’ concept, all building material has been locally sourced and the stress is on slow travel. Guided nature walks, breakfast in the fields, vegetable harvesting, village tours, local music performances and some country-style fishing in the pond enliven your stay. Six mud and stone cottages overlook the lake while six are contoured against the boulder-ridden landscape. Bathroom sinks and private plunge pools in each room are carved from rough granite sourced from local mining sites.
The Mardana and Zenana (originally male and female quarters) serve as common recreational and dining areas. Daubed in pink, the Zenana overlooks a stunning rock cut pool and has several interesting nooks and niches. Quaint colourful thread spools adorn little niches while chairs are quirkily dressed in blouses, skirts and bangles. While you catch the brilliant sunset with a sundowner in hand, the peacocks perched on the banyan tree rend the air with their plaintive cries. And as the moon rises over Lakshman Sagar, hurricane lamps on a dried tree trunk set the mood for dinner.
OF THE 500-odd islands in the Andaman and Nicobar group, Neil is a tiny speck in Ritchie’s Archipelago often overshadowed by its larger and more famous twin Havelock. And therein lies its charm. Dubbed as the “Vegetable Bowl of the Andamans”, Neil is perhaps how Havelock used to be before it became a magnet for scuba divers and deep sea fishers.
Alight from the lone boat that docks on its jetty every day and you are instantly wowed by the tranquil air and the aquamarine Andaman Sea. Spread over just 18.9 sq km and 5 km at its widest point, you could explore the whole island on foot. Stay in rustic thatch cottages, swing lazily in hammocks and gorge on fresh seafood till your heart’s content. The beaches, originally numbered for convenience, were renamed after Hindu deities when Bangladeshi migrants were resettled here by the Indian Government after 1971.
Relax at Ramnagar Beach, swim in Govindnagar, catch the sunrise at Sitapur or marvel at the natural stone bridge and corals in shallow pools during low tide at Laxmanpur. If you’re too lazy, just drift down the warm ocean current that skirts the island for unbelievable snorkeling.
DEEP IN the hills of Malnad between Koppa and Thirthahalli lies a place that has the unlikeliest link with the Ramayana. When Lord Rama killed Maricha the demon disguised as a golden deer, the place where the incident took place was called Mrugavade, literally, “where the deer was slayed”. The exact spot where the neck of the deer rolled down and Maricha was freed from a curse by Lord Rama was called Koraluvara (koralu is neck in Kannada and vara is boon).
Over time, the place was known as Kolavara and even now, a strange piece of stone shaped like a severed neck can be found at the Ishwara and Anjaneya temple at Kolavara. It’s just one of the many secrets you unearth while staying at Kolavara Heritage homestay. The 130-year-old chowkimane or traditional home with wooden pillars and antique furniture is located in a beautiful areca and spice plantation run by a lovely family. The lodging is simple, though the location and hospitality are unmatched. Go on nature walks through the estate and climb the nearby hill at dawn to watch the mist rise from the hills and valleys. Or lie back and enjoy authentic Malnad delicacies and some homemade betelnut wine. Kolavara serves as an excellent base to cover nearby sights like Agumbe, Sringeri and Kavishala, the birthplace of Kannada poet and littérateur Kuvempu.
THE ORNATE tin weathervane seemed as incongruous as the rooftop it adorned. A gentle wind blew in from the Beas River, making it twirl. Standing on the terrace of a heritage building, we gaped at the surreal roofscape of Garli. Just why there were colonial style mansions with Gothic windows and Belgian glass, deep in Himachal’s Kangra Valley at the base of the Dhauladhar mountain range, was indeed perplexing.
The story goes back to the Soods, a community of traders who migrated from Rajasthan centuries ago, and settled in Garli. As treasurers of the Kangra kings and contractors who helped the British build Shimla, they amassed great fortune, which was pumped into their little hometown, sparking a construction frenzy that peaked around 1821. Though the village was nearly abandoned in the 1950s due to a curse, today, a few hundred mansions still remain, several crumbling due to neglect.
Yatish Sud, with his son Amish, renovated his grandfather Lala Mela Ram Sud’s 1921 mansion into the stunning Chateau Garli. Besides 19 heritage rooms, excellent Pahadi cuisine and a whimsical pool with underwater speakers, Chateau Garli is a great base for heritage walks and local explorations.
Visit the trio of Shakti peeth shrines nearby – Jwalamukhi, Chintpurni and Brajeshwari, take a crazy off-road jeep drive to catch a sunset on the River Beas, go birdwatching at Pong Dam, marvel at the 200-year-old murals at the Dada Siba temple or the famous eighth century monolithic Masrur rock-cut temples, believed to have been built overnight by the Pandavas.
A MOUNTAIN retreat in Uttarakhand named after a faraway village in Wales? The erstwhile military sanatorium of Landour was set up by the British near Mussoorie after the Gurkha War, and the green vales, misty meadows and English nostalgia led them to name it after Llanddowror in Carmarthenshire county.
The commandant of the newly constituted Gurkha battalion Captain Young, hailed as the ‘discoverer’ of Mussoorie, built the first permanent home in these hills in 1825 and called it Mullingar, after his Irish town. The market, where the nurses had their barracks, was aptly called Sisters Bazaar. By the 1830s, American missionaries arrived and Landour became one of the first places in India where peanut butter was made commercially.
The perfect place to stay is Rokeby Manor, a colonial-era bungalow built in 1840 by Captain GN Cauthy, and named after the writings of Sir Walter Scott. Revamped into a charming boutique hotel, it also has a cluster of colonial cottages called Rokeby Residences – Bothwell Bank, Shamrock Cottage, Tabor Lodge and Pine Tree Lodge. Get on the chukkar, an old bridle trail that circles the three summits of Landour ridge past Kellogg Church and Landour Language School to Lal Tibba to catch the sun’s first rays fall on Himalayan peaks. Walk back via St Paul’s Church to Char Dukan, where Anil’s Café offers Ginger Lemon Honey Tea, with a Twitter endorsement from Sachin Tendulkar!
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