April 29, 2013

I know what you can do this summer

(This story was published in The Hindu Metro Plus Issue Dated 27-Apr-2013)

Mention Summer, and the first thoughts that come to the mind are the tormenting heat, mangoes, water-melons, cool lemonades, and the much needed vacation to escape from the heat and get away to some nice and cool hill station. Though places like Shimla, Ooty, Koidaikanal, Nainital will always appear in the itinerary of most of the tourists, let’s escape to some uncharted getaways this summer.

This small hamlet in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand offers beguiling views of the mighty snow capped Himalayan peaks like Trishul and Panchchuli early in the morning giving your day the best start possible on a vacation. Chaukori enjoys a uber-cool climate even during summer luring tourists in search of the perfect getaway to escape from the heat. The KMVN cottages have some of the best rooms overlooking the peaks, which makes them the best option to stay put. The cave temple of Patal Bhuvaneshwar that has a mythological history is a beautiful place nearby that calls for a visit to witness the splendid formations of stalactites and stalagmites.

How to get there:Buses are very sparse in this region. You can hire a private taxi and cover many other beautiful spots in the Kumaon region.
Where to Stay:KMVN is the most recommended one here, though a few smaller hotels have come up in the recent past. 

Sarahan, the summer capital of the erstwhile rulers of Bushahr and the gateway to Kinnaur, is home to the Bhimkali temple. The temple is supposed to be 800 years old and has an atypical architecture with a blend of Hindu and Buddhist flavours. The pagoda styled roofs and the intricate carvings on the wood are a treat for the connoisseur's eye. This serene place located about 180 kilometers from Shimla is reached via scenic winding roads laden with apple trees, deodars and pines on either side. The temple is surrounded by hills and one can spot the peak of Srikhand Mahadev on a clear sky. There is a pheasant-breeding centre near the temple, which is another place of attraction. The temple offers clean and nice rooms with views that are perfect for travelers on a tight budget. Be it as a place of pilgrimage or a trekking trail or just as a place away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city life, this place has an amazing experience to offer all nature aficionados.

Bhimkali Temple At Sarahan
How to get there:From Shimla either you can take a private cab and headover to Sarahan or hop a few buses (via Rampur) and reach after a day-long ride. If coming from the other direction, buses also ply from Rekong Peo.
Where to Stay:The temple guesthouse has to be the most economical and clean option here. Food is served in the canteen, though there are smaller dhabas surrounding the temple.

This beautiful little hill station has not succumbed to the hype of tourism yet, unlike its famous neighbour Ooty. Tucked away in the Nilgiris district, this picturesque hill station boasts of a cool climate for most part of the year. The Kodanad viewpoint for the splendid vistas that it has to offer is something not to be missed out. The double-cascaded Catherine waterfall located about 8kms away is also one of the more frequented tourist spots. Kotagiri is also home to a few trekking trails like the Longwood Shola Forest for those wanting to explore the wild side of nature. You will need to take a permit from the District Forest Officer (DFO) though if you plan to traverse the Milidhane route leading to the Shola Forest. Tea gardens abound in this area as is typical of any area in the Nilgiris.
How to get there:It’s a two hour ride from Ooty. Nearest railhead is Mettupalayam from where you can take Taxis to reach Kotagiri. Or else you can reach Comibatore and reach Kotagiri by taxi in 1.5hours.

Araku Valley
Located around 120kms from Vishakapatnam, and reached via serpentine roads that go via beautiful coffee plantations and the Anantagiri Reserved Forest is the Araku Valley. AP Tousim offers a one and two day rail-cum-road tour that lets the tourists enjoy both the road and train routes. Before reaching Araku, the train winds its way through 50 odd tunnels and an equal or more number of bridges. Enroute, it touches Shimliguda, the second highest broad-gauge railway station in the country, second only to Qazigund in Jammu and Kashmir. Though the best time is just after monsoon when the valley is verdant and the green carpet covers the entire valley,if you are lucky, a mild shower can transform the entire valley into a haven of tranquility during the blistering Indian Summer. Dhimsa dance is an age-old folk dance performed by the tribal women in this region and you see women perform this near the Tribal Museum. Galikonda, Raktakonda, Sunkarimetta and Chitamogondi are some of the mountains adorning the Eastern Ghats along this stretch and you can view them during the drive back from the various view points. The tour also covers Borra caves, which is supposed to be thousands of years old. The entry to the caves looks like a big hole in the ground and it looks as if one is just about to enter into the nether world. Legend has it that the caves were discovered when a cowherd went in search of a cow that fell through the hole and in the due process he also found a shiva lingam inside the cave.

Tribal Ladies at Araku Valley

The 'Mouth' of Borra caves

How to get there:Take the one or two day tour from APTDC to experience both rail and road travel; else you can take your car and enjoy the serpentine roads in over the 115km stretch. Government and Private operators also run buses.
Where to Stay:APTDC’s Haritha Mayuri is probably the best option here. The other option would be to stay at Vizag and cover Araku Valley as a day’s getaway.
Aptly called “Meadow of Gold”, this gem of a place has historical, strategical and religious significance. What was once an important marker along the Ancient Silk Route is now a gateway to Ladakh from Kashmir along the NH 1D. It lies just 10km away from Zoji-la, a pass of strategic significance to our Indian Army. Baltal, which is a base camp for devotees thronging Amarnath, is 15km to the north. From Zojila, you can spot Baltal, which is right at its foot. Easily accessible from Kashmir via road with the clear Sindh river flowing through the valley, Sonemarg has a charm that not many hill stations can boast of. Pine and Silver Birch are in abundance in this region. You can find ponies loitering around in the meadows making it picture perfect. For the trekkers, Sonemarg marks a perfect starting point for many of the beautiful trails that surround the valley. There are a few high-altitude lakes in this region, which can be trekked to, during summer.

At Sonemarg

How to get there:A 3 hour ride from Srinagar via a private cab is the best option.
Where to Stay:JKTDC Cottages have the best locations, whereas a few other private ones offer good food and decent views. Few hotels offer camping facilities too.

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