Off late, have you been cancelling your holiday plans because everyone around you is too busy to accompany you on the trips? Then, it is high time that you stop postponing your plans and do what you have only imagined in your thoughts all these years – solo travelling. At first, the whole idea of travelling alone might give you a few jitters, but trust me, as you start thinking more about it, all the doubts and negative thoughts would simply fade away. And, once you clear that stage, you are ready for the adventure called Solo Travel. But before you embark on such a trip, first you need to decide on your destination. So, read on and know about some of the top destinations in India, where you can travel completely on your own.
If you know a bit of history, then you would be aware of the fact that India has been ruled by numerous dynasties. Many of these were not from the subcontinent, but from Central or West Asia. And back then, there were no proper roads, cars, aircraft or any other contemporary means to travel. Now, look at the geographical map of India for a while. You will realise that all those, coming from the north or northwest of the Indian subcontinent, had a natural barricade in their way in the form of the mountain system of the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush. In the absence of modern transportation means, the question arises, how did they cross the mountains?
In the words of the famous Greek storyteller, Aesop, “Adventure is worthwhile”.
When it comes to holidaying, I guess most of us become a little too mainstream. We go where everybody else is going and do what has already been done by many before. The true adventure is when you take the road not taken; step into the unknown, without having an idea about what might come next.In the book of India, Arunachal Pradesh is a chapter which is skipped by most readers. The north-easternmost state in the country is still a virgin territory, waiting to be discovered by adventurers, who dare to do something new, something different.
Trekking really is a great activity for a nature lover and adventure freak. Seeing nature at its best, breathing the cool, clean air, climbing mountains, such bliss. But, like everything in the world, it has a downside, in the form of health risks. Every now and then, we keep reading about avalanches and rock falls high up in the mountains trapping hikers. Did you know that on the strategically important Siachen battlefield, more soldiers have died due to adverse weather conditions than from bullets?! Just last year, a massive earthquake hit the Everest Region, killing at least 19 people! While none of this could have been avoided, there is one weather-related condition which can be, and mind you, it can be a killer too: AMS.
How beautiful would a place be, the name of which translates into the Abode of Clouds?! I am talking about Meghalaya, one of the seven states in Northeast India. The Northeast is arguably the least explored part of the country, and this is perhaps why it is not as chaotic and commercialised, and also as polluted as the rest of India. If you are anything like me, then you would want to stay in such a place, rather than concrete jungles. Now, I know it is a bit exaggerated as it is not possible for us to leave our job and comfort of city life to go live in the middle of nowhere. But, at least we can take a trip to a place like this; just to see how amazing nature looks, undisturbed by human influence.
Whenever I ask someone if they like winters, most answer me in the negative. And I think it is justified to some extent as the season, especially in North India, brings with it coldness, smog (not fog or mist) and sometimes strong and chilly winds. The sun seldom shines, and most of the times it does, it is shadowed by the light haze, which sometimes persists for many days. At least, this is what happens in Delhi. I have been patient up till now, letting winters pass as I lay curled up in a blanket or underneath layers of clothes, but no more. Enough is enough, I say. Let us get up and go out there even in the season, when everything seems gloomy.
Contrary to our belief, winters, and specifically winters in India, are not a cause for that much worry. Compare the season in our country to some other places like the Baltic, Siberia and northern Canada, where nothing grows and temperatures of –40 degree Celsius are regular. Does any such thing happen here? No, right? Winters here are much more bearable, and we still cry about the season being too cold. And, what if it is cold?! We have thermals and woollens. So, let us put them on and head out so we can live life to the fullest, leaving the so-assumed dullness of the season behind.
Here is a description of what you could do and see in the country during the winter season.
Visit the Hill Stations of the North
India has no dearth of hill stations, and these are the kind of places I love the most. Nainital, Srinagar, Shimla, Dalhousie, Munsiyari, Manali, there are so many in the Himalayas. All these lie between elevations of 5000 feet and 10000 feet, making them ideal for a relaxed vacation. It snows in all these places, but not as much as it does higher up in the mountains. For me, this is the perfect altitude range to have fun and not be frozen by the cold. All these places have coniferous trees that are all covered with snow. I just love such sights; it is the quintessential mountain scene.
You could walk around the towns, admiring the vistas, and visit the popular places of interest there. Also, remember to try some local delicacies that would make your experience even better. If you go during Christmas, there may be some celebrations going on, especially on the Mall Road of Shimla, where the famous Christ Church is located. The Dal Lake in Srinagar is completely frozen during the season, resulting in an astonishing sight. Another such scene to admire would be of fresh snow, falling on the waters of Naini Lake as you take a walk on the quiet Thandi Sadak.
Aah…trekking, a good way to explore mountains and be close to nature. Most consider trekking as a summer activity, and rightly so as the paths are clear then. But those, with an adventurous soul, can also try hiking in winters, when the landscape would be white with snow. There are numerous sites within the Himalayas, to where trekking tours are organised in the winter season. While no trek would be easy in winters, they all promise loads of thrill; is it not why we would trek in snowy conditions? For the challenge? Some of the places you could trek to in the Himalayas in winters are Naggar, Brahma Tal, Dalhousie, Kasol, Kheerganga, Tirthan Valley, Triund, Kedarkantha, Prashar Lake, Tungnath, Chandrashila, Kuari Pass and Indrahar Pass.
For those of you, who cannot summon the strength and courage to go trekking in snow, there are loads of hiking trails in the Western Ghats as well, where the cold will be nowhere as much as in the Himalayas. Even in the height of winters, the weather here remains cool and pleasant. The hills are not even as rugged as the Himalayas, making it is easier to hike here. So, if you are considering this option, you can go on a trekking tour to Mullayanagiri, Antaragange, Durga Hill, Ramanagara and Kodachadri.
Explore the Northeast
If you want to see primitive cultures and learn about warring peoples, then the north-eastern part of India is perfect as it is home to hordes of tribes. The summers here can be quite warm, and the rains are like a pestilence; hence, the winter season is perfect to come here. There is so much to see and do in the region that one trip will never be enough. Among the best things to do in the Northeast is taking a walk through the lush tea plantations of Assam and learning about the different types of teas produced in the state. A mystical place in Assam is the village of Mayong, where a large number of occultists, who claim to have spells to cure various diseases, live.
I’m personally planning to head to Meghalaya to explore astonishing caves, many of which have a river. But, what I’m most interested in is trekking to a Living Root Bridge that the locals make by letting the branches of rubber trees entwine around the trunks of betel nut trees. Nagaland is where I would be heading in order to meet the indigenous and eponymous Naga people, who have a rich warring culture. One great way would be to take trips to villages deep in the hills for a chance to stay with the tribesmen and get a first-hand look at their customs. If you don’t have that much time, then do attend the Hornbill Festival in December, where people from all Naga tribes display their dances, music, customs and food.
For those, who want to learn about the Buddhist faith, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim are the best places to visit in Northeast India. There are so many monasteries or gompas in these states like those in Tawang, Rumtek, Taktsang (different from the one in Bhutan), Urgelling, Bomdila, Pemayangtse and Phodang. Natural ponds like Sangetsar Lake in Arunachal Pradesh and Tsomgo Lake in Sikkim, and the town of Lachung in Arunachal Pradesh are also great destinations to explore in winters. The town, with snow-covered spruce trees, and typical mountain homes with sloping roofs, might remind you of a hamlet from a fairytale; it is that pretty!
Dare to go to Ladakh
Ladakh, the northernmost region of India, is arguably one of the best places for an adventure lover. Only the bravest venture there in winters as the season is characterised by heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures for 4-5 months at a stretch. Just reading about it gave me shivers, but I am determined to push myself to the limit, let me see what I’m made of. Though Ladakh is a summer destination, it is so famous around the world that it gets clogged with tourists during this time also. If you want a quiet retreat and desire to come face to face with its true magnificence, then winters are perfect for a visit.
The essential thing to do here during the season is the famous Chadar Trek on the frozen Zanskar River. It takes you past numerous frozen waterfalls and lets you spend a night in a cave. You could either head to Naerak Pullu and head back to Chilling or go all the way to Lingshed, tracing the ancient route, taken by the locals of Lingshed to transport wooden logs to Leh, every year. There are so many monasteries here; many built on hills overlooking rivers. As the entire landscape would be covered in snow, the monasteries would look amazing, like something right out of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies.
One reason, which is desperately making me wait for the arrival of winters, is so I can go skiing. I just love watching people come down snow-covered slopes on skis, twisting right and left. I had followed the recent Winter Olympics religiously and am now determined to do it at least once. I earlier thought that the sport is only tried in places like the Rockies and Alps, but to my pleasant surprise, the Himalayas have no dearth of ski resorts. There are so many I could pick from; Gulmarg, Kufri, Narkanda, Solang Valley and Auli. Another plus about trying skiing is that many ski tops are reached by cable cars, something I really want to ride. As all these are popular destinations, they are well connected to major cities and towns; therefore, reaching them is not a problem.
Go on Wildlife Safaris
The incredible geographical diversity of the country blesses it with an astonishing variety of animals. As the summers are quite warm and monsoons are a strict no-no for tourism in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, winters give you the perfect chance to see India’s biodiversity. Head up North to see animals like Himalayan wolves, Tibetan wolves, black bears, Himalayan brown bears, Himalayan tahrs, bharal and yak. If you go to the Spiti Valley or Hemis National Park, then get a chance to spot the snow leopard, the Himalayas’ most celebrated predator. Peninsular India, on the other hand, is known for its wide distribution of tigers, ranging from Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand all the way to Eravikulam National Park in Kerala, which is also home to the Nilgiri tahr.
Gir Forest in Gujarat, the only home of the majestic Asiatic lion, is another must visit. If you, by any chance, like snakes (like me), then I suggest you head to the forests of Agumbe in Karnataka. Winters are when migratory birds come to India, and the Rann of Kutch, Keoladeo National Park, Chilika Lake and Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary are the best places to see them.
With so much to do and see, winters will never seem boring to you again. I for one have always loved the season for this particular reason. So, wait no more. Welcome winters with a smile, and pack your bags for a wonderful time.
How many times have we seen birds soar across the sky, and thought to ourselves, “Man, wish I could fly like them.” And, during one such instance of thinking about flying, it struck me…I can actually do it. No, I wasn’t all of a sudden going to sprout wings and fly like a bird. But, what I was going to do was go for paragliding, and that is exactly what I did recently. Now, before I start telling you about my experience, let me just give you an overview of the activity.
People have all sorts of dreams and fascinations about travelling the world. Then, there must be some, who would like to never get out of their home and for whom travelling could be exhausting. I personally have never encountered one such person in my life, and therefore my conclusion is that most of us love to experience what the world has to offer. Going back to my point that different people have different choice of destination in mind, yet when planning a vacation, most of us come up with names like Goa or Shimla and the likes. Do not get me wrong here, these mainstream holiday destinations are by all means totally worth it. But, the fact is that they are mainstream after all! Most of us have actually been to a few of these locations as kids. Don’t believe me? Just ask your mom and she will take out those huge old photo albums consisting of pictures of you as a toddler, sitting in your parents’ lap against the setting of at least one of those generic holiday destinations. Well, this blog is not written to discourage your grand plans for a memorable break from your routine life, I am just trying to remind you that our incredible country has more than just scenic beauty. The world knows that we as a nation are proud owners of some of the richest wildlife areas found on earth. So, how about ditching the sceneries this time and going off on an adventure with the intriguing fauna of Bandhavgarh? Allow me to elaborate more on this proposition and make you want to arrive at this majestic location by the next flight!
“Surely, of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest.” ― Freya Stark
This line pretty much sums up the kind of person Freya Stark was. She believed in travelling unimaginable distances, seeing endless possibilities, even when most could see none. For those of you, who don’t know who this wonderful woman was, she was a British-Italian traveller and explorer, renowned for her writings about the Middle East. Her parents are known to have been quite liberal, resulting in her knowing numerous languages as a child, even though she never went to school.
Aah, Nepal! A trekking paradise! A country, which is home to the world’s highest mountain, needs no introduction to hikers. The country, however, is not only about high peaks, but mountain passes and lakes as well. As a general notion, Ladakh is associated with high mountain passes, but Nepal does not lag behind. It is also home to some incredible mountain passes as well as lakes. What I hope to achieve with this blog is to not only tell you about Nepal’s mountains, but also open up more hiking opportunities for you. Below are some of the most significant high passes and lakes of Nepal that one should know about.
The land of the brave Ahoms, Assam is nothing short of a paradise for travellers. Rolling hills, milky waterfalls, delectable cuisine, informative archaeological sites, interesting tribal people and old shrines, there is so much to see, do and try here. If you are looking to explore the local culture, then visit one of its cities, or better yet, one of its remote villages. For a peaceful getaway amidst nature, trip to one of its scenic hill stations. But, if you are a wildlife enthusiast, then you are in for a real treat. The biological diversity of this place not only makes it one of the best wildlife safari destinations in Northeast India, but also puts it on the global biodiversity map. It is home to numerous endemic plant and animal species, along with several endangered ones. To say the least, on a wildlife adventure here, one gets to unveil the untouched side of Assam; a side that has absolutely nothing to do with humans.
It is highly unlikely that you don’t like Hindi movies. And if you have seen those typical love stories of the 90s, wherein Switzerland was a rage as an outdoor location, you must have also seen lush pastures, with the backdrop of mountains. The blog has nothing to do with Switzerland. I’m just giving you a premise to what I am about to tell you ahead. Back to the blog,there may have been times that the Swiss countryside shown on TV seemed so pretty that it made you want to go there. If you ask me, it doesn’t make sense to take an international trip just to see an alpine countryside, but if you really want to see such places, there are ways.
You must be aware of the fact that our country is one of the richest when it comes to biodiversity. But, sadly the insatiable appetite of humans to hunt for fun has greatly reduced the number of animals here. Thankfully, some people realised the importance of conserving them, and it spawned the need to establish wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. Now, some of these are especially renowned for their conservation efforts while others for their natural scenery, earning them a place in the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The latest entry in the natural category of the list is GHNP or Great Himalayan National Park. It is known both for its natural vistas and its efforts in protecting the regional wildlife.
Often, the famous places across the globe are known for certain things. But, most of the times, there is more to such places than meets the eye. A classic example of this would be Ladakh. Yes, I know that pictures of Ladakh, the lake shown in movie 3 Idiots and Khardung La, would have popped up in your mind. This is precisely where the problem lies. In our search for diamonds, we disregard the rubies, emeralds and sapphires. What I mean by this metaphor is that many go to Ladakh for the three places, known most to them, but miss out on exploring those places that are not so famous. And, it is in these small and slightly remote places that the true charm of Ladakh lies. With this blog, I hope to tell you about the unexplored places in the region that you must make a point to visit. Let’s discover the alluring offbeat places in Ladakh.
What comes to your mind when I say the word, ‘August’? Let me tell you what comes to my mind. As soon as I hear this word, I think of heavy rain showers, cool breeze and greenery. The idea of trekking in August, usually when the monsoon is at its peak, came to my mind when my friend commented in one of our conversations, “You don’t go for trekking during the monsoon!” My spontaneous reply to him was “Why not?”, and then he was silent.
The question sure may have got him thinking, but I was thinking a lot about it too. Why do people not go for trekking in August, which is only beautiful and soothing? That day, as soon as I reached home, I started researching on “trekking in the monsoon.” My search made me realise something.
Home to some of the highest peaks in the world, Nepal is arguably the best mountaineering destination on earth. For a long time, people from across the world have been coming here to experience adventure and give themselves a challenge. The popularity of trekking in the country has opened so many new trails for thrill seekers. Mountain passes, glacial lakes, valleys and peaks themselves, what don’t such tours take you to? Now, obviously, Mount Everest is the most sought-after peak by experienced mountaineers because it is the world’s highest. Annapurna is another distinguished peak among mountaineers.
Now, here is the catch. It is not just the peak you can trek to. If you don’t consider yourself that experienced or fit or adventurous, then you can also hike just to its base camp or opt for the popular Annapurna Circuit Trek. If you ask me which one is better, Annapurna Base Camp Trek (ABC) or Annapurna Circuit Trek (ACT), then even I am confused because both of them has their own different experience. It is almost like asking someone, which ice cream flavour is better, chocolate or vanilla, or which Thrash Metal band is better, Metallica or Slayer. For everyone’s sake, including my own, let us do a comparative study of the two trekking routes.
To make it easier on myself, I have decided to make the comparison on the basis of the difference in route, altitude, challenge factor and a few unrelated aspects as well. Keep reading to see how it goes.
The scenery of sky-piercing mountains, with a radiant sun shining in the backdrop, only soothes one’s soul. The view makes you forget every little stress of your hectic life and brings you immense peace. For such an experience, you do not have to travel too far. A flight or drive towards north, and you are here. I am talking about, of course, the eternally serene and surreally beautiful Spiti Valley. If you don’t trust me, and why should you, you haven’t even met me, will you take a respected novelist and poet’s word? Rudyard Kipling, the English writer, said the following words about the majestic place: “…a world within a world” and a place where the gods live.” Of course, this was a long time ago, about hundred years, but the place hasn’t changed since. It is still drenched in that same elegance as during that time. It is almost like none of the advancements in the rest of the world, or any person, place or thing have been able to touch and influence its tranquillity.
Everyone in their right minds would want their life to be peaceful, rather than full of turmoil. Some take to meditation, some shut themselves from the world, some perform yoga, some look to religion and some resort to travelling like a nomad. If you are indeed thinking of heading out in search of inner peace, alone or with a group, then you do not have to go too far. There are places within our “great country”, where you can be immersed in utter serenity, with nothing troubling you. You guessed it, such places are far from the city. Isolated from modern civilisation, these places are mostly in the mountains.
My personal choice for finding peace has been to head to the Spiti Valley and the adjoining Lahaul region, in Himachal Pradesh. Its significance for serenity seekers is twofold: there is nothing here except for untouched nature all around, and Buddhism pervades through it. When you combine these two aspects, you know you will never have to go anyplace else to find peace and may be even yourself. Peace, you can find at a plethora of Buddhist monasteries, called “gompa” in the local language, that are mostly perched atop mountains, making for a spectacular view. If you have seen Lord of the Rings, then these would look to you like the White Castle of Minas Tirith. Keep reading to learn about the gompas in the region. These alluring monasteries of Spiti Valley will surely leave you astonished!
When you hear the word Ladakh, what comes to your mind? The mountains? The monasteries? The lakes? If you are an enthusiastic driver, then definitely its winding roads and mountain passes will flash before your eyes. Your bikes must call to you to take them on a long drive, and no other place will satisfy them and you other than Ladakh. You are in extreme luck as you can now plan and go on a Leh Ladakh bike tour easily. You know how and why? Because a lot of adventure clubs and tour agencies have started organising such incredible trips.
Over the last few years, the popularity of bike trips to Ladakh has literally skyrocketed. And seeing the trend, more and more clubs and travel agencies are coming up with self-drive or group drive itineraries to the one and only “Land of High Passes”. There have been many reasons for the rise in the popularity of such bike excursions, and while reading about them below, you may get an even stronger inspiration to do them at least once.
Best off-beat Himalayan Treks
The Scottish-American writer, John Muir once said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
And man, was he right! What could be a better way for people like us to get close to nature than getting lost in the forests! Truthfully, there’s not much of true nature left around us. Humans have gone everywhere; they have taken over nature and established their empire. Today, sky-piercing towers make the skyline, and bustling, over-crowded metropolises, dominate the landscape. Sometimes, it even gets hard to find a lush public park in cities.
To come across the true bounties of nature, I suggest you go on a trek. And, to find nature, you do not even have to go far to any international destination. The Himalayas in the North and Northeast, and the Western Ghats in the South are perfect for trekkers. From easy hikes that are almost like a walk in the park to some demanding ones that require you to utilise every muscle in your body, all kinds of trekking excursions are possible here.
Roopkund, Har Ki Doon, Goecha La, Beas Kund and Nag Tibba are some of the most taken trekking trails in India. However, if you are one of those, who like to, as our favourite Star Trek character, Captain Kirk, says, “Boldly go where no man has gone before”, then the following are some treks you can consider for your next excursion. I suggest that you try at least a few of these in 2016 itself! Life is too short to be delaying such amazing experiences for the future.