New Delhi: We set ourselves the challenge of finding an experience to remember for about Rs50,000 for two—including transport from the nearest metro, accommodation and meals—without resorting to deals and discounts!
These are our top picks for variety and quality. Neighbouring nations didn’t fare so well, primarily due to airfare. But if you find a good airline package (see “It’s a Big Deal” on Page 10), searching for the offbeat will still lend great value in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Laos and even Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as closer to home in Nepal or Bhutan.
Views into rooms: (from above) A traditional Ladakhi house in Ulley; one of the Tata Plantations bungalows at Chikmagalur; and Nandan Farms, Sawantwadi, is one of the Culture Aangan homestays.
Pollibetta, Kodagu, Karnataka
These plantation bungalows in and around Pollibetta also include Coorg’s sole tea estate, Glenlorna, amid the many coffee estates the region is known for. This is as picturesque and serene as a driving holiday gets. If you can’t sit or tramp around peaceably, there’s a golf course, too.
Tariff: Rs3,080-4,312 (including breakfast and taxes).
Meals: Lunch and dinner Rs305-325 each.
Getting there: Around 253km by car from Bangalore (best bet, with a halfway stop at Mysore); you can also take the train to Mysore, then cab it.
Total cost (3N/4D): Around Rs20,000 for stay and meals, and fuel if you drive. Though there are extra charges for all activities.
Tip: Bring cash; phone lines may not work, and it can be impossible to charge a card.
This treasure (Best Hidden Gems—Asia, TripAdvisor 2008 Travelers’ Choice awards) is run by Usha and Goverdhan Singh Rathore (son of wildlife activist Fateh Singh Rathore) with Pritam Singh (of ethnic boutique Anokhi), who ensure you are very well looked after. The location is beautiful, the accommodation so delightful you may never want to stir. Smaller wildlife and birds come almost to your door. Meals are a mix of traditional and global cuisines, all vegetarian, using organic produce grown on the property. Opt for the cottages, if only for the view and a bath under the stars, though the tents are attractive, too (it’s lovely even in the monsoons, though the park is closed).
Tariff: Rs8,000-15,000 (including all meals and taxes).
Getting there: Take the August Kranti Rajdhani Express to Sawai Madhopur; request a (free) pick-up from the station.
Transport: Rs650 per person one way on two-tier AC from Delhi.
Total cost (3N/4D): Around Rs50,000 for a cottage, two-tier AC train fare and a tiger safari or two.
You’ll pay extra for: Park entrance fees and safaris, alcoholic or aerated beverages.
Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir
The Unesco-sponsored Himalayan Homestays are a Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust initiative. This is community-driven eco-tourism: solar-heated water, dry-composting loos, candle-lit evenings—all with the warmth of a traditional Ladakhi home. Local guides can accompany you on a nature/wildlife tour. Households along the Hemis, Sham and Zanskar trekking routes have signed on.
Tariff: Around Rs615 (all meals included).
Getting there: Fly to Leh, stop 48 hours to acclimatize, and trek/drive from there.
Transport: Rs12,500 per person (Delhi-Leh return fare) if you plan early.
Total cost (5N/6D): Around Rs30,000 for stay, meals and airfare ex-Delhi.
You’ll pay extra for: Trekking and cold-weather equipment, which you had best bring along (look under “When to Visit” on the website).
Tip: Bring all necessaries; and do not plan to stock up en route.
Sawantwadi, Sindhudurg, Maharashtra
These Sawantwadi homestays in Sindhudurg district are an hour-and-a-half drive from the Goa airport. Choose from three homesteads: Pitruchaya, Sreeyog Paryatan and Nandan Farms. It’s a lovely taste of living close to the land, as well as of the famous Malvani coastal cuisine. Pinguli shadow puppetry and folk art, painted wooden toys and Ganjifa cards are the other attractions, besides the usual complement of forts, beaches, temples and waterfalls. Make it a long break (it’s very affordable).
Tariff: Rs2,000 per head (all meals and taxes included).
Getting there: Take the Mandovi Express or Konkan Kanya from Mumbai to Sawantwadi. Or fly to Dabolim, then take a cab.
Transport costs: Train fare for around Rs1,650 (one-way, first class AC on the Konkan Kanya) per person, plus Rs1,000 for the cab, organized by Culture Aangan.
Total cost (6N/7D): Around Rs32,000, including tariffs in highest category, first class AC train fares for two (ex-Mumbai) and incidentals.
OLD HARBOUR HOTEL
City vacations can be both affordable and comfortable, if you select a modest room in a lovely property—such as this restored Dutch-styled heritage mansion. On the other hand, if you take the train, you could afford a first class AC berth and the hotel suite. It’s a great base to explore old Cochin.
Tariff: Rs7,500-Rs14,600 ( icluding breakfast and taxes).
Getting there: Fly to Kochi, or take a train.
Transport: Around Rs20,000 for Delhi-Kochi return fare for two.
Total cost (3N/4D): Rs42,500 (for the superior rooms), including tariff and breakfast (assuming you eat out in the city for your main meals), and airfare from Delhi. If you take the train or fly in from another city, say Bangalore, you should be able to afford a room upgr ade within the same budget.
What you’ll pay extra for:
Lunch and dinner.