Hiding In Plain Sight
Discover India|January - February 2021
FROM AN OFFBEAT HILL TOWN IN THE NILGIRIS TO A FORMER DANISH SETTLEMENT BY THE SEA, THESE 20 LESSER-KNOWN INDIAN DESTINATIONS WILL GUARANTEE AN IDYLLIC AND PHYSICALLY DISTANCED VACATION IN 2021.
RASHIMA NAGPAL & SHRIMAYEE THAKUR

KOLUKKUMALAI, KERALA

The village of Kolukkumalai—bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu—cultivates tea leaves at an altitude of over 2,400 metres. Thirty-five kilometres from Munnar, Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, set up by the British in the 1930s, continues to use its original equipment. Instead of the mechanised crush-tear-curl (CTC) method, tea leaves are handpicked, weighed, graded, and dried indoors to ensure that they don’t crumble. The tea is then rolled, oxidised, dried some more, and ultimately packaged for sale. Get a hands-on experience with the ‘make your own tea’ programme at the estate.

GETTING THERE: Kolukkumalai is roughly 100 km from Cochin International Airport, which serves international flights and is connected to major Indian cities.

STAY: The Windermere Estate in Munnar makes for a plush stay option, and offers tea trails, photo walks, birding sessions, and picnics (starts from9,000/USD122; windermeremunnar.com).

PALI, RAJASTHAN

Known as the industrial city of Rajasthan, Pali has been a centre for merchant activities for centuries, and is a famous exporter of textiles such as cotton and synthetic materials. Pali offers its visitors the opportunity to learn about Rajasthan’s socio-economic history and its vibrant culture. Visit the 15th-century Jain Temple of Ranakpur, regarded as one of the largest and most sacred places for Jains, and admire its architectural splendour; or head to Nimbo Ka Nath temple, where the Pandavas are believed to have spent a portion of their exile. Drop by the Bangur Museum to catch glimpses of Rajasthan’s rich history in its displays, including a vast collection of coins from different periods, Rajasthani art, ornaments, armour, and traditional clothing.

GETTING THERE: Fly from the Jaipur International Airport to Jodhpur Airport, which is 73 km away from Pali. It takes a little over an hour to reach Pali by road.

STAY: Lakshman Sagar has 12 cottages made of sustainable, locally sourced materials, influenced by traditional Rajasthani architecture (starts from19,000/USD257; sewara.com).

GUREZ VALLEY, KASHMIR

Kashmir is known for its surreal beauty. While Gurez Valley does justice to that reputation, it has received little attention in comparison to popular tourist areas such as Srinagar, Gulmarg, Sonamarg, and Pahalgam. About 125 kilometres away from Srinagar, Gurez is cut off from the rest of the world for around six winter months due to heavy snowfall. Once it opens for visitors around May, the road to Gurez is dotted with tall pine trees and passes through endless meadows. Eventually, the path slopes down into Dawar village in Gurez, where Kashmiri traditions abound.

GETTING THERE: A government helicopter service transports tourists from Srinagar to Gurez. Tickets for this can be booked at the Sheikh Ul-Alam International Airport in Srinagar. The chopper flight takes around half an hour. You can also drive from Srinagar to Gurez via Razdan Pass (123 km).

STAY: Base yourself in Srinagar, at Vivanta Dal View, which offers panoramic views of the valley and the Dal Lake (starts from15,000/ USD204; vivantahotels.com).

COONOOR, TAMIL NADU

Located in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, approximately 1,850 metres above sea level, Coonoor is known for its thick foliage, myriad species of flora and fauna, tea plantations, and the toy train that connects it with Mettupalayam and Ooty. Birdwatchers can find delight in spotting cormorants, pipits, thrushes, parakeets, skylarks, and Nilgiri flycatchers. Go trekking in the mountains of the Hidden Valley, 20 kilometres from Coonoor, or take a stroll among exotic varieties of plants in Sim’s Park, a botanical park built in a ravine.

GETTING THERE: Coimbatore International Airport offers international connectivity from cities such as Colombo, Sharjah, and Singapore, and is connected to major Indian cities. The drive to Coonoor from Coimbatore takes about an hour and 45 minutes.

STAY: Gateway Coonoor - IHCL SeleQtions combines modern amenities with the charm of a 19thcentury manor (starts from7,110/ USD97; seleqtionshotels.com).

BHUBANESWAR, ODISHA

Often called ‘the temple city of India’, Bhubaneswar has developed rapidly in terms of technology and infrastructure, while preserving its historically significant sites. The gigantic Lingaraj Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Rajarani Temple built out of red and gold sandstone, and the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves that are said to have been chiselled out for Jain ascetics in the 1st century BC are just a few examples of the city’s marvels. Nature lovers can visit the Nandankanan Zoological Park, spread over 400 hectares, which sits on the north bank of the Kanjia Lake.

GETTING THERE: The Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhubaneswar connects the city to the rest of the country with regular flights.

STAY: The Trident Hotel in Bhubaneswar has elegant rooms inspired by traditional architecture (starts from7,000/USD95; tridenthotels.com).

MAJULI, ASSAM

Sitting in the heart of Assam, on River Brahmaputra, is the world’s largest river island, Majuli. It is also the first island to be recognised as a district in India. The myriad varieties of flora and fauna and the surrounding crystal clear water are just a few of its charms. The region is also a hub of Assamese culture. It is the seat of the neo-Vaishnavite movement and has long represented religious harmony and peace. The satras of Majuli (institutional establishments associated with Vaishnavism) such as Garamurkh, Dakhinpat, and Auniati are renowned as centres of traditional performing arts.

GETTING THERE: Fly to Jorhat Airport from New Delhi, Guwahati, or Kolkata. From Jorhat, take a taxi to reach Nimati Ghat, 14 km away. Ferries run from Nimati Ghat to Majuli during the day.

STAY: Thengal Manor in Jorhat is a majestic mansion where, on August 12, 1935, the first daily newspaper in the Assamese language, Dainik Batori, was launched. (starts from6,500/ USD88; heritagetourismindia.com).

BAGESHWAR, UTTARAKHAND

Located at the confluence of three rivers—Saryu, Gomti, and latent Bhagirathi—Bageshwar is considered holy for being associated with Lord Sadashiva, who is the redeemer of all sins according to Hindu mythology. According to lore, this is where one is liberated from the cycle of birth and death. Bageshwar is also a sanctuary for adventurers with opportunities for treks, skiing, and river runs. It is the entry point for popular trekking routes such as Pindari, Kafni, and Sunderdhunga.

GETTING THERE: From Delhi, fly to Pantnagar Airport. A six-hour drive takes you to Bageshwar.

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