The perfect winter getaway: Four destinations better than boring Goa
Tired of heading for the same old places over Christmas break? Charukesi Ramadurai offers the four best vacation options, whether you want to shop, laze or soak in some real culture.
December! Take out those woollies and plan a holiday to keep you going through the chill. Winter is the best time to travel in many parts of India, the only time you will not melt into puddles of sweat through the day. So here are a few getaway ideas… go ahead, keep those winter blues away!
The heart of India, Madhya Pradesh
Til dekho, taad dekho, aankhen phaad phad dekho….
Sher ki dahaad dekho, marble ka pahad dekho…
Hindustan ka dil dekho…
Madhya Pradesh tourism has possibly one of the best advertising campaigns in the category with their "heart of India" series, making Kerala's 'God's own country' seem pale in comparison. And right within this heart, lies Orchha, literally meaning "secret place". The capital of the Bundela kings in the 16th and 17th century, Orchha is now a forgotten little town bordering Uttar Pradesh. Most of the buildings in Orchha are in good condition because given its location, it has managed to stay off the war radar in that region.
Even today, it is largely ignored by Indian tourists; it is the wandering foreigners (with or without backpacks, but certainly with Lonely Planet guidebooks) who find their way to this lovely town). It is not surprising then that it is easier to get wood-fired pizza here than a simple meal of dal and rice. In Orchha, visit the Raj Mahal and the fabulous Jahangir Mahal at sunset for the best experience, and at daybreak, head to the tiny bridge on the Betwa river for a glimpse of the royal cenotaphs across the river. The other must-dos are the Lakshmi Narayan temples with its fabulous murals covering the walls and ceilings, and the Chaturbhuj temple, with its high vaulted ceiling that puts you in mind of a European cathedral.
Pondicherry, the French Connection
An unlikely destination — a pleasant surprise, I assure you — is Pondicherry, just a couple of hours drive from Chennai. Here, every morning, the smells of freshly brewed filter coffee compete with the aroma of freshly baked croissants that wafts from the numerous bakeries dotting the inner town. The French, who were here for more than 250 years, left behind more than just street names starting with Rue.
Pondicherry is not for those seeking a holiday filled with action and adventure. It is for those seeking to relax, let go and lose themselves in the narrow lanes of the rectangular grid that forms the heart of the town.
Actually, the true heart of the town is the Aurobindo Ashram that manages to stay quiet and cool despite the chaos on the roads outside. In the lanes around it, there are boutiques selling local silk, handmade paper and soaps and assorted gewgaws. The main road in front of the ashram leads to the beach while the other side leads to the French and Tamil areas.
The best way to enjoy Pondicherry is to head to a café and sit with a book and a Cappuccino and watch the world go past. Try the Hidesign Café on Jawaharlal Nehru Street or Le café on Goubert Avenue right on the beach. Or head out of the town to one of the resorts adjoining the beach.
Malaysia, truly Asia
The big Malaysia Year-end sale is on till 1 January, making this the ideal time to head there. You know what they say about Malaysia being Truly Asia and all that? Completely true. Malaysia is a giddy mix of culture, nature, shopping and adventure. And with its friendly people, what’s not to love? If I sound like an advertisement for the country, it is only because I am a fan. Shop in Kuala Lumpur and sit under the twinkling lights of the Petrona towers at night. Or take a bus to Melaka and wander the lanes of the town that hides a thousand stories from history. Fly to Langkawi or further East, Redang and play in the aquamarine sea all day. Or take a bus to the National Park, Taman Negara and walk on the canopy above the forest (more on this soon).
Shop till you drop in Singapore
And if you are an admirer of Singapore (as most people I know are), then December is when the country celebrates “Christmas in the Tropics”. Till January 2nd, the shopping malls on the glitzy Orchard Road offer discounts and bargains that make shopping irresistible. Last year, the lights display on this road was awarded “Top 10 World’s Best Holiday Lights” by Frommer’s Guidebook.
Orchha: The nearest airport is Gwalior (fares from Delhi begin from Rs 2600 if you book early), roughly 120 km or 3 hours by cab. Alternatively, take a train (ideally the Bhopal Shatabdi) from New Delhi to Jhansi, only 20 km away. For the best experience, stay in the MPSTDC managed Sheesh Mahal inside the main fort-palace complex (you can book online through the MP Tourism website).
Pondicherry: The easiest way to get to Pondicherry is to fly to Chennai (roughly Rs 3800 one way from Mumbai and Rs. 4500 From Delhi). From Chennai, it is a two-hour drive on the smooth East Coast Road. Stay at the Maison Perumal, a heritage stay experience in the colourful Tamil Quarters. If you prefer to stay by the beach, then the Mango Hill hotel is the place for you.
Malaysia/Singapore: It is best to take a package tour which includes air fare and stay from a reputed travel agency like Thomas Cook or Cox & Kings.
Charukesi Ramadurai is a freelance writer and travel blogger from Bangalore. When she is not actually traveling, she is busy planning her next trip. Read more about her at her website.
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