The October guide
Does India have its own tradition of travelling to get away from it all?
We travel to our “native places” in the summer holidays so that our children can get to know their cousins. We travel to pilgrimage spots. Some of us are salesmen, travelling to sell tea or engine parts. In the 1980s and 1990s, we started going abroad so that we could show our relatives pictures of ourselves in front of the Eiffel Tower.
We’re still learning that it’s okay to travel for no reason except that we’re fed up of where we are, and want a break.
Perhaps that’s the reason why our ideas of getting away are hand-me-downs. We head to hill stations, in the manner of British Raj sahibs who would shift entire offices and departments to Shimla or Nainital in the summer months. When the hills are too far, we imitate Americans and go to a beach.
That doesn’t mean we haven’t made hill station and beach vacations Indian in our own way. This isn’t always a good thing, as the garbage littering the streets of Manali, Shimla or Nainital demonstrates—but we’re getting better at treating our destinations with respect, and at treating holidays as opportunities to do nothing, not do everything.
This issue brings you some of India’s most unspoilt hills and beaches. We skip Goa’s usual suspects for the quieter beaches of north Goa, Orissa’s undiscovered Chandipur, and Kerala’s Kovalam and Marari. In the hills, we feature the Nilgiris and Anamalais. In the west, we have Matheran, which lets in tourists but keeps out the cars. In the Himalayas, our spotlight is on McLeodganj and Dharamsala; a trek in the Valley of Flowers, and Gethia, Nainital’s less hectic suburb. There aren’t any destinations from North-East India—not because we forgot about them, but because we felt they deserved their own issue.
The stories in this issue can be read purely for the pleasure of reading wonderful writing, but I hope they convince you to shake off your routine and head for a break. With the Dussehra and Diwali holidays coming up, next month is the best time to do this.
If you do head to the places we’ve covered, that’s half the work done. Ideally, the writing here will inspire you to find a new destination, go there, and make your own story. India’s a big country, and there are lots of hills and beaches to discover.
A view of Nainital in Uttarakhand from the route to Kilbury forest.
Aadisht Khanna, Issue editor
Also See | Triplanners Get Set Go (PDF)
Tamil Nadu, Ooty | Track a hundred back
The 46km line took 54 years to build—from the first proposals in 1854 to completion in 1908. Three companies tried their hand. Two were daunted by the terrain and gave up. The third managed to finish it. Part of a Unesco World Heritage Site today, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway was among the most ambitious engineering projects of the British Raj. Read more
Uttarakhand, Nainital | In search of lost time
At a height of 1,938m, giddy tourists gratify themselves by boating on the lake, riding the ropeway trolley and shopping on Mall Road. That’s Nainital, the hill station in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region, 330km north of Delhi. The sensitive traveller goes back with memories of smog and crowd, trash and traffic, tipplers and honeymooners. Read more
Maharashtra, Matheran | Red Earth and 38 lookout points
Even for one of the country’s smaller hill stations, Matheran is remarkably small. You could, if you wish, traverse the entire hill station by foot in the space of a single day. It is so small, so solitary, so quiet and so uncharacteristic of the times we live in that, in all probability, Matheran is where people who live in other hill stations come to when they want to “get away from it all”. Read more
Gear Guide | Travel Right
Whether it’s the hills or the beaches, missing these essentials could cramp your style. Read more
Orissa, Chandipur-on-sea | The ballistic blues beach
There were no mermaids rising out of the basement. In a poetry class long ago, Emily Dickinson had promised there would be. I had believed her then just as easily as I didn’t wonder about their absence now. Read more
Kerala, Marari Beach | IL Dolce far niente
Romu leapt back like a gazelle, startled by the rapidity with which I had sprung out of my car and enthusiastically grabbed the coconut he was holding. The tall, swaying palms that surround Marari beach, hiding it away from the mainland, also provide coconuts—and coconut water is an ideal welcome drink for the sweaty traveller who has just battled the heat and the aggressive traffic on the roads of Kerala. Read more
Himachal Pradesh, McLeodganj | Like a prayer wheel
Tibet is mystical.
It is distant. It is alluring. It seems closed and inaccessible. Pop culture has romanticized it and kindled the spirit of curiosity among those of us who thirst to know more about it. Its absolute unwillingness to open itself up to foreigners until the late 1950s did nothing to reduce its appeal to those determined to get there, as a certain Herr Harrer (as played by Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet) would have you know. Read more
Goa, Mandrem | Stretched like a rivercat
At Villa Rivercat, there are three stages of reception. First, the villa’s dogs skid out of the main entrance, tails wagging, past the massive Buddha head, and come up to lick you. Then the cats lolling around inside the villa get up, stretch, purr and rub against your hand, while their latest litter of fur balls scatters in fright and excitement at the site of a newcomer. Then, if you can rouse him from his afternoon nap, Rinoo Sehgal, the owner of this strange non-hotel, comes up to meet you, his eyes half-shut from the siesta, his pointy goatee bristling with humour. “Babaji!” he says, “You are back in Goa. I’m very happy, we must celebrate!”. Read more.
Garhwal, Valley of Flowers | Bark, cannabis and ladies’ slippers
Getting to the Valley of Flowers National Park is a 14km trek on a steep stone pathway littered with mule shit, your back breaking under the weight of your rucksack—but it’s worth it. Hidden among rocky mountain faces, there’s a profusion of flowers as far as the eye can see. Read more
Tamil Nadu, Wellington | Cantonment in the clouds
In the summer of 1996, we were in Bangalore, enjoying the last dregs of our vacation, when my father did something that changed our lives permanently. He bought a second-hand car. Read more
Kerala, Kovalam | That ‘Abeyaar’ moment
Kerala is known for three kinds of water: coconut water, backwater and kallu. The first one requires a labour union-backed, literate, highly fit climber of Cocos nucifera to procure, and brings a sense of cool that no other drink will ever match. Read more
Uttarakhand, Gethia | A hill of pickled chicken
I’ve always been intrigued by Delhi people who tell me, “Oh, we’re going to the Hills this weekend”, and until recently, have displayed my ignorance on several occasions by interjecting with an “Oh, you mean Kullu Manali?” Read more
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