Summer sojourn
Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu

Indian-born Sir Cliff Richard had no experience of the famed Indian summer when he sang Summer Holiday, “....We're going where the sun shines brightly, we're going where the sea is blue, we've all seen it on the movies, now let's see if it's true”! For us residents of the North Indian plains, you will agree, summer is the least favourite time of year. We are already plotting our escape from the soaring temperatures and dust-laden hot winds.

Blessed with the Himalayas in the North and North-East, and the Nilgiri biosphere in the South, the many hill stations that dot these ranges remain ever popular. Endowed with amenable climate throughout the year, and with a provision of all manner of activity, a mountain escape is your best bet for rest, recreation and rejuvenation. As you ready your travel plans, we decided to provide our readers with a much-needed headstart.

Evergreen choice

The most obvious choices lie in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Places such as Srinagar, Shimla, Manali, Mussoorie and Nainital are the usual suspects with an incredibly high foot-fall during the “season”. Most of which belong to organised tours, families with gaggles of school-going children, and honeymooning couples draped in a single wrap as a public display of their new-found affection. These hill stations are also the ideal springboards for the road less travelled, say, into the lunarscape of the Ladakh region, to the lofty monasteries of the Sutlej Valley in Kinnaur; to the bugyals (high-altitude meadows) and glaciers of Kumaon and Garhwal.

Stress and spirituality

Uttarakhand has taken on the informal mantle of the spiritual destination of India., thanks to the existence of a number of ever-popular pilgrimage centres; Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath and the char dham to name a few. Increasingly, treks to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib are becoming a permanent fixture in travel parlance. A burgeoning demographic of busy individuals seeking relief and stressbusters is finding its way to luxurious spa resorts with Ananda in the Himalayas topping the chartbusters. Another gem tucked away in rural Bageshwar is the uber-luxe Shakti 360 degrees resort.

Tawang in the North-East with its waterfalls is unexplored terrain; the Gyuto monastic university in Dharamsala, which is the seat of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; and the perennial favourite of visitors, the Dal Lake, Srinagar
(From left) Tawang in the North-East with its waterfalls is unexplored terrain; the Gyuto monastic university in Dharamsala, which is the seat of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; and the perennial favourite of visitors, the Dal Lake, Srinagar.

Paradise indeed

The Kashmir Valley, long and affectionately referred to as paradise on earth, continues to hold us in its thrall since way before an energetic Shammi Kapoor serenaded a coy Sharmila Tagore while the Dal Lake looked on indulgently in Kashmir ki Kali. The splendid Mughal gardens of Srinagar — Chashme Shahi, Nishat, Shalimaar — now boast of another addition to their hall of fame, the much-acclaimed Tulip Garden; its multi-hued flower-rows providing the eyes a dramatic spectacle to feast upon. Surprisingly, despite a number of infrastructural and civic ills, the Shimla hills appear to get more popular by the summer. They combine the best of Raj heritage with a flavour truly Indian, endearing themselves to the thousands that throng here every summer. The crowds on the Shimla Mall may stand testimony to its popularity, a day of golf at the Naldehra greens is equally attractive. As could be a walk back into history at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, the erstwhile Viceregal Lodge.

Dharamsala beckons

The Kangra valley not only hosts the world’s most famous exile at Dharamsala, it is also home to the snowy majesty of the Dhauladhars, century-old tea estates in and around Palampur, and possibly one of the world’s best take-off points for para-gliding at Billing. Do visit the Tirthan valley and the neighbouring Great Himalayan National Park. This summer, for a change, pack that 4WD and head off into the alpine Sangla valley or onwards to Lahaul-Spiti.

Unexplored terrain

The North-East, with its air of mystery and exotica, has remained largely underexplored. Other than the touristy triangle that Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong collectively form. Why not visit, and bring back memories of the salubrious environs of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, or perhaps the amenable climes of the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya? How about revelling in the multi-hued orchids, blue poppies and rhododendrons of Sikkim at the foot of the Kanchenjunga?

Central and southern India is easily as bountiful, boasting justifiably of the tropical forests of the Western Ghats, as also the incredible ecology of the Nilgiris. Here, too, a well-established troika has long ruled the roost. Nestled in the blue mountains, Ooty has been one of southern India’s favoured hill destinations with its endless slopes covered in tea and coffee plantations. In the Palani hills of Tamil Nadu, lies the soothing pine-scented Kodaikanal, while Munnar in Kerala mesmerises with its tea and spice plantations. In neighbouring Karnataka, Kodagu, better known by its anglicised moniker Coorg, captivates with its lip-smacking cuisine and, its coffee plantations. Coupled with its friendly weather, and pocket-friendly plantation home stays, this delightful region is a worthy choice.

Home away from home

Andretta, in district Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, is the idyllic home of the eminent painter late Sobha Singh. It is quiet and picturesque
An ideal homestay
: Andretta, in district Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, is the idyllic home of the eminent painter late Sobha Singh. It is quiet and picturesque

An increasing number of home-owners are welcoming visitors from across India and abroad into their homes and their lifestyle; for brief as well extended home-stays. Encouraged by the government, people are putting to good use their extra bedrooms, by letting them out to discerning travellers willing to imbibe a culturally different way of life. A complete departure from the facility-rich, albeit impersonal, environs of a hotel, home-stays are indeed answering the home-away-from-home call.

Typical home-stays require visitors to check into another’s house and life for the length of their stay, in exchange for respect for their timings, and pocket-friendly tariffs that may or may not include meals. Most of which are home-cooked and usually eaten with the host-family, who will be happy oaccommodate dietary restraints if they have prior knowledge. Many travellers are happily lapping up this as it allows them a chance to experience local flavours through hospitable families. Dotting the length and breadth of the country, homestays include centuries’-old heritage homes, cottages in alpine solitude, colonial-era planters’ bungalows, restored royal mansions and well-appointed floors in homes — the list is endless.

Explore new terrain

Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar and Lonavala in Maharashtra have played a huge role in stress-busting the lives of many a celebrity and film star. Another, Khandala, even finding its way into a chart-topping Aamir Khan number! Sandwiched between Mumbai and Pune is the pedestrian-only hill station, Matheran. A quaint town, it has retained the aura of the times of Lord Ephinstone, who was responsible for developing it while he was Governor of Mumbai. Replete with colonial-era, Parsi-owned homes located amidst wild damson jungles, Matheran qualifies as another possible getaway this summer. Happy planning.

The Nagarhole wildlife sanctuary is a welcome retreat. — Photos by the writer