Summer Holidays on a Budget
The best part of summer is…when you can get away from it! The weight of your wallet, or lack of it, shouldn’t weigh you down in the city. You’d be surprised how far the sense of exploration and a little refreshment can take you. The North and Eastern parts of the country are famously endowed with cool Himalayan tracts. Even the peninsular and the west-coast have lush havens to escape to. So no matter where in India you are, how much time and money you have for a breather during the summer vacation, an exciting new destination for all pockets beckons. Here are the best and cheapest options.
Up in the North…
This orchard town of Himachal Pradesh is barely an hour-and-a-half away from Solan, by road. At an average elevation of 5,000 feet, it’s famous for the Bhuira Jam factory that engages local women to manufacture its produce. Squat fruit trees abound, blooms occur naturally and a handful of family resorts dot this pristine countryside. A trek to Churdhar peak, the highest of Sirmaur district at 12,000 feet, can be undertaken from Rajgarh. Picnics on the banks of the Giri River, excursions to Habban valley and a visit to the local Shaya temple should be a part of the itinerary for your summer holidays. From Delhi the 350-kilometre journey can be done by bus. The town is less commercial than other tourist attractions in the region, and that much more affordable despite easy accessibility.
Perched on lofty 7,000 feet high slopes, in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region, this sleepy cantonment town is one of the best travel destinations. Even during the peak tourist season, it’s tranquil, with a handful of bird-watchers and backpackers drifting about. Tiger Falls and Chimri Neck are some of the most popular locales. The more adventurous include Chakrata on the bike circuit to East Himachal, across the border from Deoban. From Delhi, local transport can be used for the 340-kilometre journey. Buses are also available from Kalsi, on the banks of the Yamuna. You can easily get by on dhaba meals throughout the trip and not spend on overpriced tourist traps.
Now Heading East…
This is the 130-kilometre long swath of sub-Himalayan forest land, extending from the Teesta in the west, to the river Sankosh in the east. Located mainly within West Bengal, Dooars is considered the gateway to majestic Eastern Himalayas. Hotels of the region are located primarily in Lataguri and the nearest railhead is at New Mal Junction. The local Gorumara National Park is home to animals like the Royal Bengal tiger and the rhinoceros. If you’re travelling with kids during their summer vacation, it’s a good place to expose them to wildlife. A number of rivers crisscross this belt, enhancing its natural beauty.
Before moving on to the Everest base camp, you may want to try trekking the Sandakphu peak, the highest at 3,636 metres in the Darjeeling district. The place gets its name from the poisonous aconite plant that grows here. The breathtaking views of four of the five highest mountains in the world justify this arduous trek. Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Lhotse are a sight to behold. The walk begins at Maneybhanjang, about 51 kilometres from Darjeeling. A number of hostels in a local village provide inexpensive lodging.
And Now It’s Onto West…
Situated in the ancient Sahyadris, Panhala is as historic a locale as it is scenic. Shivaji is said to have spent over 500 days in the local fort and the Ambabai temple is where he sought blessings before expeditions. The Sajja Kothi has a number of historical anecdotes associated with it. It is located 22 kilometres north-west of Kohlapur, the nearest railhead. From here, regular buses are a cheap and reliable mode of transport. Temperature usually remains in the comfortable mid-20s (Celsius).
At a distance of 280 kilometres from Mumbai, Saputara is perched a little over 2,500 feet above sea-level. The enchanting greens of the Dang forest in Gujarat’s Dang disctrict envelop it. Also ensconced in the Sahyadri range, animals like the tiger, leopard, antelope and pythons inhabit its woods. An image of a serpent, on the banks of the Sarpganga, is revered by the local tribes. A forest formerly belonging to the Maharaja of Vansada and the Purna sanctuary are the chief attractions here.
And Finally Down South…
At 6,900 feet above sea-level, the Chembra Peak in Kerala’s Wayanad is a part of the Western Ghats, adjacent to the Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu and Vellarimala of Kerala. These hill ranges are visible from a heart-shaped lake at the top of the peak. It is accessible on foot from Meppady, eight kilometres away. The local forest department grants passes for the trek and the District Tourism Promotion council rents tents and other equipment for camping so extravagant hotel expenses can be saved! Local buses are available from the major towns of Karnataka and Kerala, to Meppady.
Andhra Pradesh conjures up images of hot red chillies and hotter weather. The Araku Valley, between 600 metres and 900 metres above sea-level, offers quite the contrary. Its coffee plantations attract people in search of kind climate, and undulating countryside. A Tribal Museum, showcasing artefacts and lifestyles of the local tribes, is a highlight. The Shimiliguda station, the highest broad-gauge station of India, services this region. Vishakhapatnam is the nearest city 114 kilometres away.