Vacation Mode
GQ India|April 2021
Monsoon will soon be upon us, and we’ve found all the right places to escape it – or, to make the most of it
SAUMYAA VOHRA

WHERE

Andaman & Nicobar Islands

Travel guides will tell you that monsoon months are off-season for these beautiful azure islands, but it’s exactly then that you get to experience it at its unruffled best. Monsoon drives away the swarms of tourists, leaving you with lush greens, cool breezes and romantic rains that are a couple’s getaway catnip. Stay on Havelock Island at the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, spread over 46 acres on Radhanagar Beach. Wreathed in mangroves with a view of the ocean, the 54 luxury villason-stilts give you the simultaneous sense of disconnecting from the frenetic pace of the world and connecting with nature. Take a lap in the Olympic-length infinity pool and with cocktails for two at the poolside Turtle House, before you head for a couple’s Vishrama massage at the Jiva Spa. End the days with a shared regional meal at The Settlers.

A literal stone’s throw away is Barefoot at Havelock, with 31 eco-friendly island-inspired tents, cottages and villas that are the sustainable traveller’s dream. The Nicobari villas, an homage to the village’s circular huts, make for a cosy reprieve from the world; a great starting base for your day of Elephant Beach trekking, farm-totable dinners and, on a clear day, scuba diving or snorkelling in that iridescent, ultramarine ocean.

Recreate a honeymoon vibe by renting a scooter and riding around Havelock Island. There are multiple activities you can do as a twosome, like dolphin-spotting in a glass bottom boat, selfies by the mud volcano at Baratang Island and catching the Light and Sound show at the historic Cellular Jail in Port Blair. Who says an intimate getaway can’t be action-packed?

STAYCATION

THE ST REGIS, MUMBAI

Dotted with charming cafes, decadent restaurants and luxury shopping stores all at the same address, The St Regis, Mumbai, makes for an ideal city getaway. Sink into the slow suite life with your morning coffee while gazing at the Arabian Sea from your windows. With an in-room tub looking out at the vista of the city’s skyline, a long bubble bath is just the ticket. A Grainy Mustard Fish Tikka with Kasundi Cream lunch at Farzi Cafe in the adjacent High Street Phoenix will prep you for a deep nap. As the sun sets, do a little shopping at Palladium; or, check out Tao Art Gallery or the Nehru Centre Art Gallery nearby to really induce that vacation feeling.

For dinner, head up to By The Mekong on the 37th floor of your hotel for its famous dim sums and Cochin Bay Tiger Prawns, and a glass of wine to wash it all down. If you’re there over the weekend, an evening at Asilo is mandatory. A late-night drive up to the Worli Sea Face is a good way to cap off your holiday in a true to form Mumbai manner. Good luck going back to the grind.

ROAD TRIP I3 HOURS

MUMBAI - SHILLIM

If you’re looking for a quick escape from the tedious metropolitan life, a trip to Hilton Shillim fares better than the usual Lonavala weekend. After a stunning couple of hours’ drive on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway to the little hamlet of Shilimb, you’ll be welcomed by the eco-wellness estate resting amid the lush greenery of the Sahyadri mountain range. All its rooms have panoramic forest views, but the three-bedroom Presidential Villa – with its private pool looking out to the green valley – is where you ought to spend the long weekend. The cool monsoon winds accompanied by the birdsong will pamper your senses for hours on end. When you’re done taking a dip in the pool, explore the various therapies at Dharana for a holistic experience. For outdoorsy folk, the retreat arranges nature walks, depending on the weather. Culinary offerings range from continental cuisine at Terrazzo to The Green Table, a fine-dining alfresco restaurant that uses farm forage. End your day with a walk through the tranquil paths of the estate, and you will be certifiably equipped to return to the city’s traffic again.

WHERE

Uttarakhand

There’s little that’ll set your head right like a few days by yourself, taking in the crisp mountain air of the rolling hills of Uttarakhand. Colloquially called “Devbhumi” (the land of the Gods), there is something utopic about a quiet morning in the chai-conducive climes of hilly Mussoorie, or being encircled by the emerald thickets of Rishikesh. If you’re heading to the former, the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa bodes well. A ways away from the sardined main town, the valley-view suites at this serene retreat are just the ticket for a week of decompression – or writing that novel you keep meaning to. Get in some R&R at the Cedar Spa by L’Occitane; a day of scrubs, wraps and therapy baths will ease away that build up of city-induced stress.

If a week by the riverside seems more your speed, the foliage-laced environs of The Roseate Ganges, Rishikesh are where you ought to set up camp. The state-of-the-art villas are skirted by trees and mountain mist, and are a skip away from an infinity pool hugged by the hills. Throw in a body scrub or wrap at Aheli Spa and some Garhwali and Kumaoni fare at Chidya Ghar, and you have everything a quality staycation needs. When you’re in activity mode, head to the rapids for a spot of rafting, or fall through the crisp mountain air on a Giant Swing (bungee-adjacent, but not quite). Add a challenging trek through Gattu Ghat – and who knows you could end up writing the next Wild!

WHERE

Himachal Pradesh

Here’s a radical idea: Pack the barest essentials, load up your trusty cruiser and leave the city behind for some alone time in the Himalayas. In Himachal Pradesh, where the landscape moves in real time as if in a time lapse video, there are no cliches; just unhackneyed experiences.

Begin in the state capital, Shimla. The Wildflower Hall – An Oberoi Resort, Shimla is the ideal setting for your vacation. Plenty to amuse you in this grand stately home nestled in a cedar grove – including a billiards room and a well-stocked library. A couple drams of your favourite single malt by the fireplace in The Cavalry Bar will be just the thing to leave behind the noise of your day job.

When the last of those work meetings are done, unplug and set out on a magnificent road trip. Drive north-east into the orchard district of Kinnaur (pick up bags of walnuts and figs), and then into the sweeping barren mountains of Lahaul Spiti, with pit stops in Tabo and Kaza – and a detour to the Chandra Taal Lake and the Key monastery.

Once you’ve had your fill of riding along the Sutlej, drive through the Kunzum Pass for a couple days in Manali; it’s a lot cooler than you remember from childhood. Get off the road and onto your feet for a trek into the enchanting Tosh valley. Do not forget to pack a bag or two of Malana’s “herbal” products and some prayer flags, for souvenirs.

End your trip at the Hyatt Regency Dharamshala Resort, which, with its intimacy and lovely rooms opening onto breathtaking sights of the snow-capped Dhauladhar range, is perfect for a break from your break. While the guided tour to Norbulingka Institute is not to be missed, allow yourself some rest. A massage at the Shanti spa, a rich breakfast at Thym and a signature Shala Sour at 2082: You’ll find the courage to return to the madness.

DELHI

STAYCATION

THE LEELA PALACE DELHI

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