Republic Day Weekend
By Uttara Gangopadhyay
With the long weekend coming up, here's your chance to make the most of winter
The first long weekend of 2017 is here! And that means short getaways to enjoy the last of winter. We at Outlook Traveller have a plethora of travel ideas for you to get the maximum fun from the weekend. Here we bring you five great getaways closest to your cities that are perfect for winter. From vibrant hill stations to ecological hotspots and heritage, we’ve got them all covered. Start planning your getaway now!
From New Delhi: Auli
Care for some fun and adventure? Try the snow-covered slopes of Auli bugyal (high altitude meadow) in Garhwal. Commanding ringside panoramic views of Himalayan giants such as Nanda Devi, Kamet and Chaukhamba, Auli, at about 3,000 metres, has turned into a sought-after ski destination. Forests of oak and deodar make up the treeline at Auli, adding to the beauty and also serving as a buffer against chilly winds. There are two ski lifts to take skiers to the top of the slopes. The standing lift at ₹30 per head takes you to the beginners’ Temple Track slope and the sitting lift at ₹200 per head connects Auli with the privately-run Clifftop Club. Novices and first time skiers can avail the 7- to 14-day course offered by Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN). They also provide ski equipment on hire. An aerial gondola connects Auli to the pilgrim town of Joshimath at the bottom of the mountain, by the Alaknanda River. If adventure sports is not your forte, buy a round-trip gondola ticket to enjoy a panoramic view of the snow peaks. You can even do some winter hiking, weather permitting, towards Kuari Pass.
You can board the cable car from Joshimath to reach Auli. Joshimath is well-connected by road with Rishikesh (256km), Dehra Dun (294km, the nearest rail head) and the nearest airport, Jolly Grant (272km). Since the cable car runs at fixed times and are subject to a minimum number of passengers, one can also drive to Auli from Joshimath (16km away). The GMVN lodge is located near Tower 8 of the gondola ride so ascending or descending the tower can be a little difficult for those with weak knees or the aged.
Where to Stay
GMVN operates a Tourist Complex at Auli that consists of the Auli Tourist Bungalow (from ₹1,650) and the Auli Resort (well-appointed alpine log huts starting from ₹3,000). Privately-run Clifftop Club (from ₹12,000; clifftopclubauli.com) is a luxurious ski-resort.
From Kolkata: Gangtok
The capital of one of the tiniest states of India, Gangtok packs in a variety of attractions that belie its size. Tucked away under the looming Kanchendzonga massif, Gangtok is an explorer’s delight. Start with the car-free MG Marg that runs through the centre of the town, follow the walkways and take a ride in the rope-way that runs from Deorali to Tashiling Secretariat. Tashi View Point, Hanuman To and Ganesh Tok offer great Himalayan views. Some of the popular attractions include the Enchey Monastery, the Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology (a veritable treasure house with collections of rare Lepcha, Tibetan and Sanskrit manuscripts, statues and rare thangkas, Do-Drul Chorten, the Ridge Park cum Flower Exhibition Centre, Himalayan Zoological Park, Menmecho lake, Ban Jhakri Falls, Rumtek Monastery and the Fambong Lho Wild Life Sanctuary. Devote a day to visit Tsongmo Lake (popularly called Changu lake) and the ancient high-altitude trading pass to Tibet, Nathu La. The pass is open to a limited number of domestic tourists on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and requires a special permit which can be easily arranged through any government-authorised travel agent. For shopping and local eateries, try the shops and restaurants along MG Road.
The approach to Sikkim lies through West Bengal. The nearest airport is Bagdogra (124km) from where you can take a taxi for the four-hour journey or a 30-min helicopter ride operated by Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (STDC). The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri, 124 km from Gangtok, from where shared and reserved taxis are available. Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) buses run from Siliguri to Gangtok. Private taxis also operate daily services to Kalimpong and Darjeeling hill stations.
Where to Stay
Gangtok offers a wide variety of choices when it comes to accomodation. including luxury hotels, lodges, family-run guesthouses and homestays and the STDC (sikkimstdc.com) website maintains a list of places to stay. To name a few, there’s the heritage Hotel Elgin Norkhill (from ₹9,950 on an American Plan; elginhotels.com), the Mayfair Spa Resort and Casino (mayfairhotels.com), Hotel Mt Siniolchu (from ₹5,500 doubles; hotelmountsiniolchu.com), Hotel Mayur (from ₹3,815; panchwatigroup.com), Hotel Silk Route Residency (from ₹3,300; +91-9564519048, +91-9933009960) and Hotel Red Cherry Residency (from ₹2,000; redcherryresidency.com).
From Bengaluru: Hampi
Step back in time as you explore the ancient ruins at Hampi, a UnescoWorld Heritage Site in Karnataka. Hampi’s roughly 1500 monuments spread over a wide area of about 36 sqkm on both banks of the Tungabhadra River, divided into the Royal Centre and the Sacred Centre. Catch the golden sparkle of the ruins from the top of the Matanga Hill at daybreak. Then start from the Hampi Bazaar, with the towering Virupaksha Temple said to be built around the 7th century CE. End the day at Vijaya Vittala Temple when the setting sun gilds the temple in a golden glaze. The temple’s 56 musical pillars are a must as well. In between, explore the King’s Palace, the Stone Chariot, the Mahanavami Dibba, the Queen’s Bath, Lotus Mahal, elephant stables, Pushkarni, the Hazara Rama Temple, the Lakshminarasimha and the many Ganesha statues. Other attractions include the Kaladham Museum with its artefacts from the Vijayanagara Empire, 25km from Hampi; and the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary, about 30km from Hampi. Bouldering is a popular winter attraction.
Bengaluru, the nearest airport, is about 315km by road from Hampi. You can hire a taxi or take an overnight bus. The nearest railway station is at Hospet, 13km away. Walking and cycling are the only options to see the ruins up close.
Where to Stay
There are many budget hotels and guesthouses around Hampi bus stand and also in Virupapur Gaddi across the river. Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (kstdc.com) runs the Mayura Bhuvaneswari (from ₹2,500) at Kamalapur, about 3km from Hampi. The KSTDC hotel can arrange for sightseeing and the services of an English-speaking guide. There are a few private hotels like the Heritage Resort (indoasia-hotels.com), Hampi’s Boulders (from ₹3,500 per person hampisboulders.com), Hotel Clarks Inn (clarksinn.in), Archana Guest House (booking.com) and Sunny Guest House (sunnyguesthouse.com).
From Chennai: Attapadi
Attapadi is not your regular tourist destination. Go there if you are looking for an off-beat holiday in the lap of nature. Located in the north-eastern end of the forested and mountainous Palakkad district, spread over an area of 745 sqkm, it is one of the largest tribal areas in Kerala. This is where the Irulas, Mudugas and Kurumbar tribes live beneath the sacred Malleeswaran mountain. It’s a land dotted with forests and rivers, including the Bhavani River. Apart from enjoying the scenic area, you can also interact with the local organisation Attapadi Adivasi Development Initiatives (aadiattapadi.com) who work for the ecological preservation and economic uplift of the local tribes. Attappadi Reserve Forest serves as a buffer zone for the Silent Valley National Park.
Located near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, Attapadi is best approached through Palakkad, about 40km away, and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, 55km from Palakkad, is the nearest airport and a rail-head. Mannarkkad, about 10km away by road, is the nearest big town. Agali, a gateway to Silent Valley National Park, is about 23km north-east of Mannarkkad. Palakkad is connected to Chennai and other places in Tamil Nadu and Kerala by road and rail.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is few and far between here. A PWD Rest House, a VIP Guest House and a few private hotels offer accommodation at Agali.
From Mumbai: Great Rann of Kutch
A natural and cultural hotspot, the Great Rann of Kutch is a treat for birdwatchers in winter. A seasonal salt marsh located in the Kutch District of Gujarat, India, it continues into the Sindh province of Pakistan. Spread over 7,505.22 sq. km, it is said to be the largest salt desert in the world. Bhuj, the most important town here, serves as the gateway, with popular attractions like the Aina Mahal, Prag Mahal, the Kutch Museum with its must-see 2000-year-old Kshatrapa inscriptions, the Ramakund stepwell, Hamirsar Lake and the ‘chhatardis’ of the Kutchi royal family. Bhuj and its surrounding villages are also known for their craftsmanship—weaving, patchwork, block-printing, bandhani, tie-and-dye, rogan-art and other ethnic styles of embroidery, pottery, wood-carving, metal-crafts and shell-work. Explore the areas bordering the marshlands of the Great Rann such as the Banni grasslands, and Chhari-Dhand for birdwatching and observing fossils. If you are looking for a fully-planned holiday, aim for the Rann Festival organised by the state tourism (on till February 20 this year, rannutsav.com).
Bhuj, the nearest rail head, is connected with Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Bhuj airport is connects with Mumbai.
Where to Stay
The Rann Utsav arranges for accommodation in a luxury tent colony. Outside of it, there are good hotels in Bhuj like Hotel Prince (hotelprinceonline.com), City the Village Resort (from₹5,200; citythevillage.com) and Hotel KBN (hotel-kbn-bhuj.hotelsgds.com).