The Monsoon Madness Sourcebook
Here are 20 of the finest things to do this rainy season
Oh my, just look at all that water falling from the sky! But don’t make the mistake of fleeing from the monsoon and hunkering indoors. The rainy season is a splendid time to enjoy some of India’s quirkiest destinations, resorts and experiences. Here are 20 of the finest things to do this rainy season.
Take a leaf out of The Jungle Book and spend a rainy weekend at a Cloud Forest hideaway just a couple of hours away from Mumbai. Getting to The Machan Resort (3,300ft above sea level, a short drive from Lion Point in Lonavala) is as much an adventure as spending the night in one of their many tree houses and logwood cabins kitted out with a fair share of luxury resort essentials. Oh, don’t forget the ayurvedic spa and ask for massage therapist Ram Shinde.
Details: The Machan Resort, Lonavala (www.themachan.com). Weekend tariff, inclusive of breakfast, from Rs.10,000 per couple per night in a cabin on the forest floor to Rs.30,000 for the Heritage Machan, which sleeps six guests.
2. Rain dance
It may not constitute a classy night on the town, but one of Mumbai’s best-kept nightlife secrets is an unsupervised, open-air after-party that takes place a short drive out of the city at Lion Point in Lonavala, once all the clubs and pubs shut down. The hill station’s most popular viewing deck turns into an impromptu music festival of sorts, with hundreds of cars turning up the volume on expensive in-built music systems, and food trucks peddling everything from Chindian staples and corn fritters to hookahs and glowsticks. If you really want to make a scene (or be part of it), install strobe lights and disco balls in the boot of your car.
Details: Lion Point, Lonavala. Parties don’t start until midnight on most weekends and end only at the crack of dawn. Everything is a bit underground, so there’s always a risk of the cops showing up and ending the party prematurely.
3. Check in, chill out
If the prospect of driving out of the city on a long weekend seems too cumbersome, the easiest way to a holiday state of mind is a staycation in your own city and some of the best, branded five-star hotels offer special monsoon packages and off-season rates this time of the year. Better still are dainty boutique hotels—plus their rainy day tariffs are cheaper. In Delhi, check into the Parisian-chic-y Scarlette (www.scarlettenewdelhi.com); in Bangalore, the rustic Villa Pottipati by Neemrana (www.villa-pottipati.neemranahotels.com); and in Mumbai, pick between minimalistic Abode (www.abodeboutiquehotels.com) or the brand-new Aureole (www.aureolehotel.com), inspired by the Northern Lights with distinctly different themed rooms on every level and a roof-top pool.
There are only a few things in the world that beat sleeping in when it’s pouring outside, and if they don’t include a giant whirlpool or a massage table, you’re not doing the rainy season right. Easily one of the best spas to open this year is the Spa by JW at the new Marriott property near Mumbai’s international airport. Replacing the standard-issue Quan spa format by the brand, there’s only one other Spa by JW in the world (in the US. Treatments on the menu are divided by purpose: Calm, Indulge, Invigorate and Renew; and we recommend nothing short of 90 minutes with their best therapist, Sanaya Bhatinda. Apart from a large hot tub, both the men and women’s lockers also house saunas, steam rooms and ice fountains. If you’re looking for a quick fix, Marriott has patented Fusion Chairs for express 12-40 minute treatments on centrally heated cushioned seats with in-built iPad docks. The best part? It’s open all night.
Details: Spa by JW at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar. A 90-minute Ultimate Aroma Therapy Massage is priced at Rs.5,850 plus taxes. For details and full spa menu, see www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/bomsa-jw-marriott-mumbai-sahar.
5. Taste the thunder
In Mumbai, it doesn’t take long before a light drizzle transforms into a full-blown torrential downpour, and it’s best to mark your Google Maps with the top spots to take cover and pass the time while the rains subside. To make the most of the rains, we recommend dropping pins on the city’s best terrace and seaside watering holes. In Colaba, our favourites include the Bayview Café at Hotel Harbour View or the Marina Rooftop Café at Sea Palace Hotel (both next to the Radio Club); there’s Long & Short at Dome at the InterContinental at Marine Drive; Aer at the Four Seasons Hotel in Worli; Sea Side Patio at the Citizen Hotel and Gadda da Vida at the Novotel in Juhu; and Breeze at the Supreme Business Park in Powai. All these promise dramatic views of grey skies, choppy waters and bobbing boats, chilled lagers, piping hot fried snacks and awnings to keep you warm and dry.
Rainy day school holidays and long weekends can be a dampener if you’re the kind of parent who wishes to stay warm and enjoy a lazy sleep in. Your best bet is to whisk the family away to what is possibly India’s only theme park resort. The 300-acre plot that houses Adlabs Imagica, an amusement park homage to Hindi films, and its water park Aquamagica, now also houses a spanking new Novotel property and this is as close as you get to a Disney World in India. So while the kids queue up for roller coasters and water slides, you can walk into the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet whenever you wish to wake up, lounge by the hotel’s pool, get a massage at the spa, or plan your next meal at one of their four restaurants and bars. If you do get bored of all the me-time, the amusement park is well worth a visit, if only for its spectacular home-grown rides such as I For India and Mr India.
Details: Adlabs Imagica Theme Park, Aquamagica Water Park and Novotel Imagica are located at 30/31, Pali-Khopoli Road, off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, Khopoli, Raigad, Maharashtra. The hotel opens on Saturday 1 August. For more details, see www.adlabsimagica.com. Family packages from R10,500 per night. Theme park tickets from Rs.1,119 for children below 12 and Rs.1,399 for adults; water park tickets from Rs.799 for children below 12 and Rs.999 on the weekends.
7. Best buds
There’s no denying that Indian cities are prettier when washed over by the monsoon showers—everything looks a bit cleaner than it really is, leafy canopies are at their greenest, and otherwise barren water bodies swell up. But for green fingers big and small, there’s little else that will compare to a weekend trip to the Valley of Flowers at the Kaas plateau in Maharashtra, which comes alive in hues of pink and purple wild buds only during the rainy months. The Bombay Natural History Society organizes several one-day nature trails and monsoon camps across the country, including a longer trek to the Valley of Flowers in the Himalayan meadows in Uttranchal.
Details: Bombay Natural History Society, see www.bnhs.org. Camp charges from Rs.6,000.
No matter what you’ve heard, Goa is lovely through the year and extremely lovable in the rains. Without the rowdy party crowds, honeymooning tourists and tacky beach shacks, you’re left with pristine beaches and lush green roadways all to yourself. Sure, you can spend an entire week lounging by the resort pool (our favourite is the one with slides, fake caverns and a giant open-air hot tub at the Park Hyatt in Cansaulim), but the state tourism-approved Southern River Adventures and Sports Pvt. Ltd runs an excellent half-day river rafting adventure through the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. We won’t lie, the Class 2 and 3 rapids are fairly tame, but there are few things in Goa that beat a lazy cruise on a river flanked by imposing green ghats on both sides.
Details: Southern River Adventures and Sports Pvt. Ltd, see www.goarafting.com for details. Rs.1,800 per person.
A sure-fire way to beat rainy day blues is to test your toughness by signing up for an obstacle race. If jumping through hurdles on fire, sliding through pits filled with ice, and attempting to run across a muddy field—just 5km dotted with 20 obstacles— gets your blood pumping, sign up for the third season of The Mud Rush. Apart from 45-degree hill climbs and 30-foot-high haystacks, there is beer at the finish line, a mini music festival, and old-school camping on site, too.
Details: The Mud Rush takes place at Dudhani Lake, Silvassa, on Friday, 8 August, from 7am onwards. Participant fees from Rs.2,500; spectators pay Rs.1,500; and accommodation in tents for two from Rs.4,000.
10. All about the base
You can win the family’s temporary affection by building a blanket fort… or whisk them away for a weekend at a heritage hotel housed in a real Maratha fortress, Fort Jadhavgadh, less than an hour away from Pune. The 25-acre property houses a poolside spa, three restaurants, tents and neem forest cottages for proper luxury glamping.
Details: Fort Jadhavgadh, Jadhavwadi, Hadapsar Saswad Road, Pune. See www.fortjadhavgadh.com for more details. Weekend packages from Rs.15,999 for a double bedroom.
11. Back to the future
The monsoons afford us with the perfect opportunity to revisit some of India’s most popular hill stations and rediscover the charms of our childhood holiday destinations. The good news is that there’s no reason to rough it out in decades-old, three-to-four star hotels in desperate need of refurbishment anymore. Big-name luxury resorts have set up properties at some of the most breath-taking locations: the all-villa Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa near Lion Point in Lonavala; the Vivanta by Taj in Madikeri, Coorg, for adventure seekers; and family-friendly properties such as the Le Méridien Resort & Spa in Mahabaleshwar and the JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa in Mussoorie.
Perhaps one of the best ways to experience the rains is to get as close to the source as possible. Chase nimbus clouds as you make the trek to the Tall Trees Riverside Forest Resort in Manali (www.talltreesresort.com, from Rs.18,000 per night for a family cottage with three bedrooms) for an adventurous weekend rock climbing, paragliding and mountain biking, or spend an entire holiday soaking in the misty surrounds at The Terraces Boutique Spa Resort at Kanatal in Uttarakhand (www.theterraces.biz, from Rs.14,500 per night for a deluxe double room). It’s probably not the best time to visit if you’re looking to spend your holiday staring at sweeping views of the Himalayas—you’ll only be letting in the clouds if you dare to open your windows at all this time of the year.
The likelihood of spotting wild cats at the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh is always quite high, but that’s just one of the many reasons to plot your trip to the state. The first is the Monsoon Forest Lodge (www.monsoonforest.com, from Rs.6,000 per night for a double room), just minutes away from the home of the tigers with ayurvedic wellness and spa packages and luxury tents, cottages and log cabins. There’s also the excellent Tree House Hideaway (www.treehousehideaway.com, from Rs.18,000 per night for a double room) at the reserve if you’re looking for bedrooms at canopy level. Then there are the tourism board-run caravans, which, priced from Rs.9,200 for a one-night tour for a family of four, are almost too-perfect for the rainy season.
14. Glow in the dark
Grassroutes (www.grassroutes.co.in) promises rare working holidays that fall in the “fun” category. One of their best monsoon homestays (from Rs.4,200 for double room) takes place at Purushwadi in Ahmednagar, where, apart from working in rice paddies during the day with the local Koli tribe, you can spend an evening with millions of fireflies at your campsite by the night forest. They also offer trips to Dehena, home to a thousand waterfalls in Shahapur, an 80km drive from Thane.
15. Ocean drives
The Konkan region affords opportunities for some of the most scenic road trips from Mumbai. But we recommend you skip long drives to Alibaug or Manori and instead Google Map your way to Harihareshwar in Raigad district, Ganpatipule in Ratnagiri district, Tarkarli in Sindhudurg district, or, better still, just drive down to Goa stopping at multiple coastal towns along the way. The Maharashtra Tourism website (www.maharashtratourism.gov.in) lists all the basic information you’ll need (places to see, things to do and where to stay) before you drive off.
Let’s face it; the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) crackdown on instant noodles couldn’t come at a worse time. Warm bowls of soupy noodles are right on top of our favourite rainy day food, right after deep-fried fritters and spicy corn on the cob. Lucky for you, we’ve found the perfect replacement: home-made ramen. Trekurious.com offers a chance to spend an evening with American expat and ramen-evangelist Benpramar Laitflang at his Bandra home in Mumbai, cooking (and slurping) two kinds of broth, and prepping pork belly and assorted veggies to dress up Japan’s favourite noodle soup. If you like your dinner a less DIY, just pop into a Japanese restaurant for your fix. Our favourite ones include Guppy by Ai in Delhi, Kofuku in Mumbai and The Fatty Bao in Bengaluru.
17. The “healthy” holiday
Fair warning: Healing, all-organic meals and sweaty yoga sessions come with most respectable weekend of wellness, but we’ve cherry-picked the one that also packs in all the worldly luxuries you expect from a spa break. The 21-acre, car-free Vana Retreats in Dehradun (www.vanaretreats.com, from Rs.47,000 per night for a double room) designed by Spanish design studio Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura with a 20m temperature-controlled outdoor pool, an indoor heated pool and a watsu pool.
18. Kolkata calling
A quick chat with a pilot friend revealed that West Bengal has been enjoying the best rainfall so far, so here’s our pick of the best getaways. The Raj Bari mansion (www.therajbari.com, from Rs.16,000 for double rooms) in Bawali offers a chance to play out your clandestine Clue-inspired fantasies. Go to the Ganga Kutir Resort & Spa for its breath-taking location at Raichak-on-the-Ganges (www.gangakutir.com, from Rs.15,299 for a double room). Or do nothing but relax at the Vedic Village Spa Resort (www.thevedicvillage.com, monsoon packages from Rs.9,899 for two adults).
Motorsports enthusiasts can fuel their inner speed demons by renting AutoMission Motorsport’s 25-acre picturesque property in Khalapur, near Khopoli, this monsoon. Complete with spectator stands and multiple dirt tracks, founder Pradeep Nair recommends an evening of barbeque and night racing. To prep for the race, all participants can opt for short hour-long, one-on-one lessons with Nair on advance driving techniques, which include cool stunts straight out of the Fast and the Furious series such as slide control, throttle control and hand-brake turns.
Details: AutoMission Motorsport, old Mumbai-Pune Highway, off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, behind Bhagyashri Restaurant, Khalapur, Hal Taluka, Raigad district. Call Pradeep Nair on +91-9920332763 for more details. From Rs.10,000 per person for a one-day training course including meals and refreshments.
20. Cave man
Keyur Kapadia of Tusya Travels and Hospitality Services in Mumbai offers some of the most thrilling treks in the monsoons. One of our favourites is an overnight stay in a cave at Ratangad in Igatpuri. Kapadia helps you scale up to 4,200m with three rickety old iron ladders all the way up to the grotto; he insists the expedition is not nearly as scary as it sounds and he often brings his six-year-old Tusya along to calm first-time jitters.
Details: Call Keyur Kapadia on +91-9833820497 for more details. The Ratandad trip is priced at Rs.2,500 per person, inclusive of all meals.
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