1. Descend the untamed waters of the Brahmaputra
Vaibhav Kala, founder-director of Aquaterra Adventures, the only Indian company to make it to National Geographic’s list of best adventure travel companies cites the reasons why you should embark on their Great Brahmaputra Descent which culminates at Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh:
Experience true wilderness and adventure on the great Brahmaputra descent. (Nirad Grover)
u 180km of class 4 and class 4+ rapids (sometimes even straddling up to class 6)
u Reliable old-timers as guides means even beginners are welcome
u Eight nights of camping on large, untouched river beaches
u A chance to explore the virgin rainforests in Arunachal Pradesh
u A peek into the ancient way of life of the Adi tribals and their hunter-gatherer lifestyle
(Aquaterra Adventures organizes The Great Brahmaputra Descent in November. The trip costs $3,600 (Rs1.42 lakh), including roundtrip airfare from New Delhi. Log on to www.aquaterra.in)
2. Scuba-dive in Lakshadweep
Diving season: October-May. Why you should give it a shot: “The feeling of weightlessness and natural buoyancy along with the warm tropical waters with a maximum visibility of 40-50m make this experience an absolute bliss,” says Sumer Verma, a Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques course director at Lacadives diving school started by ad-man Prahlad Kakar.
Where in Lakshadweep: Lacadives offers diving facilities in Kadmat and Bangaram.
How much: The five-day beginners’ course operated by Lacadives costs Rs18,000 (plus 5% service tax)in Kadmat and Rs19,000 (plus 5% service tax) in Bangaram, at the end of which you get a sport-diving licence.
How to get there: Kingfisher Airlines operates flights between Kochi and Agatti.
(For more details on the courses, call Lacadives at 022-66627381 or log on to www.lacadives.com.)
3. Trek on the beach from Honavar to Kumta
The 15-16km trek from Honavar to Kumta in Karnataka is littered with beautiful virgin beaches and small hillocks. “There is an island along the way that you see only in summer. Our trek ended just as the sun was setting and the view over the sea was amazing,” says Pavan K.P., a chartered accountant with Britannia Industries Ltd. Though it is not recommended that you camp on the beaches as there isn’t a soul in sight, you can stop to rest at Kumta. Carry water and food.
4. Walk down the precarious rope bridges in Meghalaya
Many of these bridges are as old as 200 years and are recognized as bioengineering wonders. The village decides where it wants the bridge, and the villagers then plant an Indian Rubber tree at the spot on the banks of the river or stream. Once it grows big enough, the roots are trained to grow through beetle nut trunks that connect to the other side. It might take 20-25 years to make a bridge usable.
Dennis P. Rayen, who owns the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort in Laitkynsew village, 18km from Cherrapunjee town, along with his Khasi wife Carmela Shati, has himself discovered and promoted many of these bridges as a tourist destination. His resort offers options to go on treks to some of the bridges, which may be about five hours from the resort. (Rs100-500)
The resort offers deluxe (Rs1,200) and standard (Rs1,080) rooms, and a restaurant featuring local Khasi dishes such as Dohsniang Neiiong (pork cooked with sesame seeds) and tungtap (dried fish chutney).
(For details, log on to www.cherrapunjee.com)
5. Swim with an elephant in the Bay of Bengal
It is an incredible sight to see this mammoth monster swim deftly under the currents of the ocean. Elephants swim using their trunks as a sort of snorkel!
At Barefoot at Havelock resort on the Havelock Island on Ritchie’s archipelago, the temperamental 65-year-old pachyderm Rajan has lately been a little wary of diving into the ocean, but still ventures out at least twice a week into the fluid unknown. And when he does, it’s a grand spectacle akin to a tiger sighting.
(For details, log on to www.barefootindia.com.)
6. Walk barefoot through the untouched sacred groves in the North-East
Walk barefoot through the untouched sacred groves in the North-East.
These forest lands are revered by the locals under the traditional religious practices, and even plucking a leaf is forbidden as the souls of ancestors are thought to dwell there. The main forest patches include Mawphlang in Meghalaya and Heingang in Manipur.
“These sacred groves are the last refuge for many species which are not found anywhere else,” says M.L. Khan, department of forestry, North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology, Itanagar. Khan says a single forest patch may have many primitive species of plants not found anywhere. This remarkable biodiversity is yet to be documented. Khan says his study over the last two years has revealed 101 of these patches in Arunachal Pradesh alone.
7. Be wary of the man-eating tigers in the Sunderbans
For a trip steeped in romance, danger and beauty, head to the largest mangrove forest (54 tiny islands rising above saline mud flats) in the world. The Sunderbans were dubbed a World Heritage site in 1997, and are home to more than 200 Royal Bengal tigers.
The untamed jungle: Sunderbans.
The place has always drawn explorers, from the early 1800s when pirates made the islands their home, to George Butler, a documentary film-maker, scouting the islands for an Imax film on the Royal Bengal tiger.
Butler cautions visitors who may be faint of heart: “We recently spent 10 days in the Sunderbans…as tigers ate at least one local person during our visit, it may not be suitable for tourists. But it is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved places imaginable.”
8. Paraglide in the Western Ghats
Paragliding is the closest one can get to experiencing aviation in the purest form. The Western Ghats off the Mumbai-Pune highway with their milder slopes and relatively stable wind conditions are an ideal destination. “It is close to airports and cities, and the weather does not change on an hourly basis as in the Himalayas,” says Sanjay Rao, owner of Nirvana Adventures, who has been paragliding in the area for around 11 years.
Nirvana Adventures conducts five-day courses (at the beginners and intermediate level, each priced at Rs14,500) which include food and stay at its guest house on Vadivali Dam (lake) at Kamshet. In just 10 days, you are fit to own your own equipment and be a weekend recreational pilot.
(For details, log on to www.flynirvana.com.)
9. Drive down the East Coast Road in Tamil Nadu
Suresh Bharathan, who runs a software firm in Chennai, has been doing the Chennai-Puducherry stretch regularly for the last many years. He lists five reasons why you should give it a shot:
u The absolutely fabulous road along the beaches with no medians or dividers, and 130km of pure driving bliss.
u The Dhakshinchitra cultural centre (about 20km from Chennai) recreating the old architecture of south India.
u Excellent resorts such as the GRT Temple Bay (with a fantastic view of the Shore Temple, a seventh century structure, and the swimming pool merging into the sea) and Taj Fisherman’s Cove.
u The backwaters at Muthukadu just before the Fisherman’s Cove, with provisions for boating and a snacks bar.
u The old fort in ruins at Alamparai (about 100km from Chennai) with the sea lapping up to the bare walls.
10. Trek to the Chandratal lake in Lahaul valley, Himachal Pradesh
When you get up in the morning, there is absolutely no wind and the reflection of the mountains on the water is crystal clear,” says Sriparna Ghosh, a New Delhi-based graphic designer who recently went on a trekking trip to Chandratal or the “moon lake” in Lahaul.
The mesmerizing lake, at an altitude of 4,270m, can be trekked from Kunzum La, roughly 8-hours drive from Manali.
After the strenuous 4 hours of climbing, one can camp on the pastures by the lake. Alternatively, some tents run by the locals next to the campsite offer basic food and place to sleep in for as cheap as Rs100.
11. Take a bus ride through the Baspa valley in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh
Imagine: A narrow withered road on the face of a mountain overlooking a steep gorge, a small undulating Baspa river hundreds of feet below, a crag in the mountain jutting out on top of the path, a precarious blind turn where only one vehicle can pass at a time. Now imagine a flock of sheep suddenly appearing on the road while you are stuck in the middle of nowhere. When you put your head out of the window, you notice that the wheel of your vehicle totters a couple of inches from the unsteady edge. The ride from Karcham to Sangla and beyond to Chitkul in Kinnaur unearths the lofty Himalayas at their scariest best.
Held on a thread: Try a nail-biting bus journey in the Baspa valley.
12. Find a hidden beach by kayak in south Goa
Greg Bourne, founder of Yaka, an adventure sports equipment company in Goa, says the best sport there is kayaking. “During tourist season the weather is really calm, the waves are small and there are not really a lot of adventure sports. But in Palolem and Patnem in south Goa, we’ve sold a lot of kayaks to local offices. You can rent them for around Rs200-300 per hour. There are lots of hidden beaches and coves, so you can explore the coastline. You can use the kayaks for surfing as well.”
Kayaks can be rented at Dancing Shiva in Patnem and at Samson kiosks (09881224282) in Palolem, or they can be purchased from www.yaka.in.
13. Spot rhinos (and much more) at Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Manju Barua, chief executive, Wild Grass Resort, says there are three tourist routes to cover in Kaziranga:
Central range (approximately 35km)—yarding place of Swamp Deer. Good sunset pictures and high possibility of elephant-sightings.
Western range (approximately 20km)—the short grass areas are optimum habitat for rhino and water buffalo.
Eastern (Agartuli) range (approximately 26km)—Pallas’ fish eagle, spot-billed pelicans, elephants, water buffalos and swamp deer are all likely to be encountered.
Best season: October-April (the dry period)
How to get there: Jorhat (88km) is the nearest airport; the fastest you can reach by car from Guwahati to Kaziranga (255km) is about 4 hours.
14. Trail the Grand Trunk Road
Rudyard Kipling wrote in Kim: “The great road which is the backbone of all Hind…for 1,500 miles such a river of life as no where else exists in the world.”
Pushpesh Pant, author of Food Path: Cuisine Along the Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Kolkata, writes: “It is a symbol of the subcontinent’s unity in diversity or other way round.”
The road—winding from Kabul all the way to Kolkata—passes through some of the most important cities of the subcontinent’s north: Lahore, Islamabad, Amritsar, New Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.
It is still difficult for Indian nationals to pass along the Pakistani leg, but the road runs along NH1 and NH2 in India.
Follow the entire route, or travel a short leg from Parasnath in Jharkhand to Kolkata for a quick trip down India’s history.
15. Trek to the source of the Ganga
Level: Easy to moderate. USP: “Trekking to the source of India’s holiest river is itself reason enough for this trip to be special,” says Akshay Kumar, general manager, operations, Mercury Himalayan Explorations. The trek goes right up to Gaumukh, where the Gangotri glacier melts into the Bhagirathi river which carries on to form the Ganga. Meditating sadhus, panoramic vistas and nice camping places—all make it an unforgettable experience.
Top view: The Gaumukh trek. (Akshay Kumar)
Suggested duration: eight-nine days (including a to and fro journey from New Delhi)
Ideal months: May, June, September and October
(Mercury Himalayan Explorations conducts the trek for Rs1,500 onwards per person, per day.)
16. Go trout fishing in the Himalayas
Pack your rods, as the trout fishing season will soon arrive. Trout fishing is allowed only between March and September, as the fish is believed to breed in the other months.
B.D. Sharma, director, fisheries, Himachal Pradesh says the Tirthan river in Kullu valley, which has been declared a “trout stream”, is the best place to fish for trout in Himachal. The streams of the state contain both rainbow and brown trout.
Licences are available from the fisheries office at Largi (Rs100; up to six fish not less than 40cm in length). “The 45km upstream from Largi to Gushaini are an angler’s paradise. You will find pools at every 10m,” says Sharma. At present, anglers need their own equipment.
One can stay at the Himachal Pradesh public works department rest house at Largi.
17. Do Manali-Leh on motorcycle
Not for the faint-hearted or the unprepared, the 475km ride can challenge the most adept of riders. Gaurav Jani, who made the well-known documentary film Riding Solo to the Top of the World, suggests a relaxed, unhurried five-day itinerary:
Day 1: Manali to Darcha/Keylong/Rispa—stock up on petrol and leave the traffic and pollution behind.
Day 2: Darcha/Keylong/Rispa to Sarchu campsite—120km marked by bad roads and the first traces of AMS (acute mountain sickness).
Day 3: Sarchu to Pang campsite—through two high-altitude passes in the open Himalayas with no towns or villages, one enters the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Day 4: Pang to Rumtse village—80-90km passing through the second highest motorable pass in the world.
Day 5: Rumtse to Leh town— around 100km, the first view of the sparkling Indus and permanent civilization.
18. Ride the toy train in Matheran
For an exhilarating ride through thick, green, hilly forests, take a ride in the Matheran toy train which begins at Neral and ends at the Matheran bazaar area. The train, which was ravaged by the monsoon in 2006, has become functional since 2007. The ticket for the slow, 90-minute ride is Rs30, and the ascent begins a little after the Hardar hills. The best rides are in winter and in the monsoon season, when fog and clouds fill the bogies; it’s difficult to believe that you’re only 180km away from Mumbai.
Take any train to Neral from the CST station, Mumbai. The Toy trains start at 8.15am from the Neral railway station. The last one leaves Matheran at 5.15pm.
19. Go in search of Nanda Devi to Choukari
Ushnish Ghosh, an engineer with Hyundai Heavy Electricals Ltd, South Korea, has done this trip “20 times” from 1992 to 2006.
“The Nanda Devi peak is not visible fully as it is surrounded by several mighty peaks, called jewels of Nanda Devi. Choukari is a small, secluded place in Pithoragarh district, Uttarakhand, from where Nanda Devi is best viewed. Driving through the forests and hills full of wild oaks, pines, rhododendrons is very enjoyable,” he says.
(Choukari is about 500km from New Delhi. The shortest route is via Almora and Sheraghat.)
(Text by Arjun Razdan, Sumana Mukherjee, Melissa A. Bell and Aarti Basnyat)