Explore the unexplored, capture the untouched serenity and embark on a trip which is sur e to leave you with a melange of experiences. Here is a look at some off-beat destinations to explore this New Year.
Words: CHITRITA GANGULY
It is often said that travel is the best form of education. Not only does it expand your horizon as you immerse yourself in a new culture, it also forces you out of your comfort zone. If you are a traveller who constantly seeks new challenges and new destinations where few have gone before, then we have the perfect bucket list for you. Destination gems across India that are tucked safely away from the mainstream, are just waiting to be discovered by you. So this season, pack your bags and head off the beaten track for a richer and more fulfilling travel experience.
Himroo Factory, Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Aurangabad is best known for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites and historical marvels. But dig a little deeper and travellers will be amazed at the rich art heritage that the city has been blessed with. Its handicrafts industry has received Mughal patronage for centuries and its fabrics, especially Himroo, make for souvenirs worth travelling for.
The Story of Himroo
Himroo is a beautiful rich fabric made from silk and cotton, grown locally in Aurangabad. The story goes that when Mohammad Tughlaq shifted his capital from Daulatabad to Delhi, many craftsmen and weavers chose to stay back. Over a period of time, these artisans started innovating using local styles and the craft of Himroo flourished. Royal families in those days had entire collections of Himroo with ornate geometrical and floral designs.
The Factory Experience
Located in the old city of Aurangabad, the Himroo Factory is over 150 years old. Travellers can take a closer look at one of the oldest weaving traditions of India where the fabric is moulded in silk. Most Himroo shawls, stoles and sarees that are weaved here have artwork on it that is derived from the carvings inside Ajanta and Ellora caves. The gold and silver threads are hand woven on a special loom by the nimble fingered artists. Remember to take a customised souvenir back with you infused with memories of a very special trip.
Belum Caves, Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh
For those seeking a break from the rigours of city life, the beautiful and spiritually satisfying Belum Caves in Andhra Pradesh can be the perfect refuge. Located in Belum Village in Kurnool, these caves were known only to locals for the longest time. It was in the late 1990s, that the government of Andhra Pradesh, along with ASI, recognised the archaeological and tourism potential of the place and the caves finally opened to public in 2002. One of the largest and longest caves in India open to public, these black limestone caves, studded with stalactites and stalagmites are known for their spacious galleries and winding passages. The caves were formed due to a stream of underground water that cut through this terrain and continuously deposited limestone for many centuries. The deepest point in this cave lies 151 feet below the Earth’s surface. Visitors have to climb down a steep staircase, with railings on either side to enter an underground chamber filled with intricate wall carvings, natural sculptures and breathtaking rock formations.
ASI has discovered many pre-Buddhist-era vessels and tools here, which act as evidence to show that a wide range of people, including monks, lived and meditated in these ancient caves. Highlights of the cave include the three fascinating sinkholes (cavernous depression found mostly in limestone caves) in the Belum caves that can delight geologists and tourists alike.
Malgudi Tour, Mysuru, Karnataka
For those still enchanted with the quaint fictional town of Malgudi, there is a special tour in Mysuru that promises to bring alive those charming characters of RK Narayan’s classic. You can literally walk (or cycle) down memory lane here as the tour takes you through some of the lovely landmarks that inspired RK Narayan’s fictitious town. From the many colonial structures that found mention in the series to a quaint, open-to-sky Malgudi Cafe, a stroll through the streets and conversations with the people will easily remind bibliophiles of the many idiosyncrasies that were unique to the people of Malgudi.
The highlight of this tour is a visit to the RK N arayan museum in Yadavagiri, Mysuru. The legendary author’s beautiful home, where he lived for many years and wrote the popular Malgudi collection of short series, has been converted into a museum that now houses furniture, clothes, manuscripts, photographs and other memorabilia that recreate the magic of that bygone era. A section dedicated to quotes by the writer is a big hit with fans of Malgudi seeking to relive the era of old world charm.
Coakers Walk, Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu
Kodaikanal in Tamil means ‘gift of the forests’ and true to its name is one of the most beautiful hill stations in the Nilgiris. Lush thick forests, tranquil lakes and gently sloping landscape along with a pleasant climate makes Kodaikanal a charming retreat for the solitary soul. And one of its best kept secrets is the Coakers Walk, a path constructed by a British officer Lt Coaker when he was stationed here in 1872.
Coaker’s Walk is a narrow pedestrian walkway, about 2km long that runs along the edge of the beautiful Nilgiri hills. Since no vehicles are allowed here, the winding route that overlooks the vast blue expanse of the hills is a great place to relax and soak in panoramic views. Benches have been put along the route for visitors to sit and feast their eyes on the wonders of nature where the blue green tinted hills meet a powder blue sky in the distant horizon. An observatory with a telescope has also been built for travellers to enjoy the beautiful view. During the monsoon season, a thin layer of mist engulfs the entire place giving it a lovely romantic aura. On a clear, sunny summer day, the walk provides to its visitors clear sights of Dolphin’s nose, the Pambar river valley, Periyakulam and even the town of Madurai.
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Goa
For those a little weary of the party and beach scene at Goa, the sunshine state offers many secret sanctuaries that are waiting to be explored by a visitor whose heart beats to different rhythm. Right in the heart of North Goa, just upstream from Panjim lies the sleepy island of Chorao with a wild overgrown mangrove forest running along the western tip. The mangrove swamps here along the gentle banks of River Mandovi, are teeming with natural wonders. Home to crocodiles as well as a wide variety of birds including kingfishers, egrets and herons, this natural paradise is named after one of India’s best known ornithologists, Dr Salim Ali. The mangrove ecosystem with its thick trees, fresh water and subtropical climate provides perfect conditions for a diverse range of animals and bird life to grow and flourish. About 1.8sq km in area, this bird paradise has been home for years to many migratory and domestic birds. Take a little canoe ride on River Mandovi, which flows through the island, drifting sleepily under the green canopy in the company of chirping birds. It’s the best way to enjoy the real joys of a sleepy island life.
City of Rocks, Hyderabad, Telangana
Hyderabad, a fast growing metropolis where the old world lure of the Nizams blends seamlessly with the glitter of the HITEC city, attracts visitors from all over the world. But only a select few know the fascinating reason why the capital of Telengana is also called the ‘City of Rocks’. The city that gave the world the mysterious and much coveted rocks like Kohinoor and the Hope Blue Diamond has many more geological wonders that define and shape the very land on which Hyderabad stands.
Large boulder and rock formations, some millions of years old, still stand proud and tall as silent witnesses to the many stories that this city has told for centuries. The Society to Save Rocks in Hyderabad is a group of committed people who are trying to preserve this part of Hyderabad’s environmental and historical heritage. Opt for the weekend guided Rock Walk tours, which take you on a nature trek across the rocky areas of Hyderabad. From treasure hunts, trail biking, rappelling to rock climbing, a plethora of fun activities awaits.