Value for money—that’s the buzzword among potential travellers nowadays. The Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) has learnt this the hard way with the Golden Chariot train, its pet bait for foreigners and non-resident Indian tourists, which has seen a drop of up to 30% in bookings. Priced at Rs1.14 lakh for a week’s luxury trip through Karnataka and Goa, the train ran four full trips in December, but now only two trips are scheduled per month.
“The number of people coming from outside India has come down by 20% in comparison to last year,” says Vinay Luthra, managing director, KSTDC. “To keep the foreigners coming, it’s important to package southern states as one destination rather than stand-alone spots.” It’s something easily done, according to Sabina Chopra, co-founder, Yatra Online. “South India is a well-rounded destination with temples in Tamil Nadu, forests and heritage in Karnataka and the backwaters in Kerala. Foreign tourists want to see the best of these three states in one trip,” she says.
Accordingly, KSTDC has decided to float a two-week tour that will cover Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa in October. The itinerary for this is yet to be released.
On board: Fine dining on the Golden Chariot train
In the meantime, though, tour operators have already packaged locations in different southern states. We shortlist the most exciting:
• The Golden Chariot tour
Bangalore-Mysore-Kabini-Bandipur-Mysore-Hassan-Shravanabelagola-Hospet-Hampi-Hospet-Badami-Goa-Bangalore is the present itinerary. Eight days-seven nights, including nights at the Leela Palace Kempinski in Bangalore and on board the Golden Chariot train for the rest of the journey. Price: Around Rs1.08 lakh for single occupancy and Rs78,400 per head for double occupancy. Visit www.thegoldenchariot.co.in for details and bookings.
• The Best of South India
Chennai-Mahabalipuram-Puducherry-Thanjavur-Madurai-Kanyakumari-Thiruvananthapuram-Kovalam-Kumarakom-Thekkady-Munnar-Kochi. Seventeen days-16 nights; accommodation and breakfast at standard or deluxe hotels at all destinations. Air-conditioned cars for all transfers and sightseeing. Price: Rs55,500 per person on a twin-sharing basis. Contact Travel Tours (www.traveltours.in) at 080-22287027/028.
• Forests and Hill Stations
Divine power: Sun rises over one of the shore temples at Mahabalipuram. Dinodia
Thiruvananthapuram-Periyar-Alleppey-Kochi-Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore-Bangalore. Fourteen days-13 nights; accommodation at three-star properties and travel by air-conditioned cars. Price: Rs55,000 per person on twin-sharing basis. Contact Cosmovision Tours on 09899095777.
• Colours of South India
Chennai-Mahabalipuram-Kanchipuram-Chennai-Madurai-Periyar-Kumarakom-Alleppey-Kochi-Ooty-Mysore-Hassan-Bangalore-Mumbai. Seventeen days-16 nights; accommodation in three-star properties at all destinations, travel by air-conditioned cars. Price: Rs65,000 per person on a twin-sharing basis. Contact Cosmovision Tours at 09899095777.
Long way up: Debolin Sen (extreme left) with fellow trekkers on the way to Everest Base Camp, a trip that led to the formation of 18 Days. Debolin Sen
Miles to go
Eighteen days of your life. That’s all advertising and marketing man-turned-travel pro Debolin Sen is asking from you. These 18 days, he promises, will resurrect the adventurer in jaded urbanites. In that time span last year, Sen trekked to Everest Base Camp, and it proved to be a life-changing experience for him: It gave him the impetus to set up his own adventure journeys outfit—appropriately called 18 Days—offering a bouquet of options that beckon the Himalayan traveller. “Take 18 days out and see what I have to offer,” he says, and that includes fixed-departure trips to the Suru, Zanskar and Kargil regions of Ladakh (in July; Rs35,000 per head, ex-Leh), Everest Base Camp (in October; Rs56,500 per head, ex-Kathmandu), Kanchenjunga Base Camp (in October, Rs31,000 per head, ex-Siliguri/Bagdogra), as also road trips to Bhutan and Kailash-Mansarovar (costs on request). All these trips—and more are in the offing—are conducted by experienced and established outdoors outfitters and customized for 18 Days. “Safety was our prime focus when tying up with the service providers,” says Sen, a self-confessed “average Joe” who now introduces himself simply as a “high-altitude Himalayan trekker”. If you want to be one as well and want to shop for the trip that suits you and your skill-sets best (shorter trips are also available), log on to www.18days.in or call Sen at 09820087629.
Along the banks: A bison comes to drink at the Kabini river. Saad Bin Jung
His uncle still faces charges of poaching. His cousins have had their run-ins with the wildlife police as well. But Saad Bin Jung, nephew of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (and descendant of royalty from three different states, as he likes to point out), believes in integrating man and nature by enabling enlightened adventure tourism and ecotourism. After building up the Bush Betta wildlife adventure resort brand, his latest venture is The Bison, a luxury camp on the banks of the Kabini river overlooking the Bandipur and Nagarhole national parks.
Comprising seven double deluxe tents with four-poster beds and step-in baths, the camp has its reception, lounge and dining areas encased in mosquito mesh and raised on stilts to discourage the pesky variety of wildlife. The camp, says Jung, looks to turn the clock back by 100 years. “The moment you do that, you return to the glory of the forest and the wildlife, cushioned by a level of service reminiscent of the Raj. Tranquillity, peace and wildlife are the three things people come to us for, but we don’t believe personal luxury needs to be divorced from any of this,” says Jung.
Bandipur-Nagarhole, like most other forest regions, witnesses many conflicts between man and animal, local and authoritative. “We believe in taking our guests to the heart of these conflicts,” says Jung. “So people are welcome to take part in direct and indirect methods of conservation— patrol the nights, learn how to fight forest fires, study the conflicts, educate the locals. Of course, they can go game-viewing, try a coracle ride, angle (though only outside national park limits), trek through the forests and camp around tribal villages, or even spend a day or two out on a bullock-cart safari.”
Built on inclusionary principles—all staff and service providers are local and guests are welcome to try their hand at management—the camp is best visited between May and August, and in the dry season, till February. Till June, expect superb game-viewing, especially elephants, gaurs, leopards, bears, wild dogs, deer, boars and tigers.
The website’s still under construction, but for bookings contact 080-41278708, 65590271 or call Shambu at 09901667519, or Swamy at 09008648714. Expect to pay around Rs8,900 per night per tent under an introductory offer, inclusive of accommodation and all meals.
Two for one
Fantasy land: Cinderella’s Castle lures visitors to Disneyland Resort.
Giant mice, turreted castles and manufactured happiness might not be your idea of a perfect holiday, but you may change your mind when you see your children’s eyes light up in Hong Kong Disneyland.
Located on Lantau island, 20 minutes from the Hong Kong International Airport, the 310-acre resort has four theme parks and two hotels.
And now there’s more reason than ever to make a holiday of it: Guests with park tickets who stay at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel or at Disney’s Hollywood Hotel are eligible for a “Stay and Play for 2 Days” offer till 30 September (as long as the first day is not a Special Day). Essentially, this means you get to visit the park two days in a row for the face value of a one-day ticket. The ticket price will depend on your outlay for the first day. So, if the first day is a Regular Day, then only Regular Day prices will be charged even on a Peak Day. Stay and Play tickets can be booked via hotel reservations through the Hong Kong Disneyland reservation centre, or at the respective front desks on checking in or the day of visiting the park. For more details, visit www.hongkongdisneyland.com or call 00852-1-830-800.
If you’re headed to the US, though, a summer offer at Disneyland Resort, California, extends your three-night vacation package to five nights, throwing in two free nights. This includes both accommodation and admission to the theme park. Bookings need to be made by 11 August, and must be availed of starting 26 September, latest. For more details and bookings, log on to Disneyland.disney.go.com
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