We take you on a trip through In­dia. and re­veal its best-kept se­crets.

Slow and easy or heart-stop­ping ex­hil­a­ra­tion, hot and sul­try or cool and re­fresh­ing – Mri­nal Shekar says In­dia is a com­bi­na­tion of ex­pe­ri­ences best ex­plored in five very dif­fer­ent ways

Friday - - Front Page -

TTo the in­ex­pe­ri­enced trav­eller who de­pends on guide­books and well-worn routes, In­dia as a des­ti­na­tion can seem far too un­pre­dictable and ex­tremely over­whelm­ing. But ap­proached in the right way, em­brac­ing the ca­coph­ony can be cathar­tic, with In­dia’s riches leav­ing you want­ing more.

Fri­day throws the spotlight on five des­ti­na­tions that of­fer a taste of what In­dia is all about. A great way to start your re­la­tion­ship with this amaz­ingly beau­ti­ful and di­verse coun­try.

GOA

Goa, as a tourist hub, has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a des­ti­na­tion of un­ruly en­joy­ment, but find the right spot and Goa will help you hit the pause but­ton on life. The tiny state (home to 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple) on the West Coast of In­dia is of­ten re­ferred to as the Ibiza of In­dia, but is also packed with ac­tiv­i­ties and beaches to help you achieve a susegad (con­tented and re­laxed) state of mind.

Best for: Visit one of the nu­mer­ous fish­ing vil­lages sprin­kled across the city of­fer­ing a de­li­cious glimpse into the sim­ple lives of peo­ple who live off the sea’s bounty. In short, the seafood is ar­guably like nowhere else in In­dia. From cur­ries such as prawn pa­tia to shal­low-fried mack­erels coated with a typ­i­cally Goan spice mix, it is spicy, fin­ger­lick­ing hot and so fresh. Hire a mo­tor­bike or go pil­lion to ex­plore the an­cient cathe­drals and casas (old man­sions) that are breath­tak­ing ex­am­ples of Por­tuguese ar­chi­tec­ture. And if like the Por­tuguese, who came here many cen­turies ago in search of spice, you too crave the aro­matic stuff, make a trip to one of the spice plan­ta­tions sprin­kled across the state. The 200-year-old Savoi Plan­ta­tions, si­t­u­ated 25km from the cap­i­tal Panaji, is an or­ganic farm that has spice trees, fruit or­chards and medic­i­nal plants. The de­li­cious lunch made from fresh pro­duce makes it an un­for­get­table day out.

While there: Barely a few hours away, Ma­ha­balesh­war with its crisp moun­tain air makes for a re­fresh­ing change from Goa’s balmy beaches.

Where to stay: For a real ex­pe­ri­ence, stay at the cen­turies-old manor houses that have been con­verted into bou­tique ho­tels. The 350-year-old Si­olim House for in­stance has seven well-fur­nished suites and of­fers cook­ing lessons, and well­ness ex­pe­ri­ences. Kate Moss stayed here for a week.

Get­ting there: Air In­dia flies di­rect to Goa from Dubai (from Dh1,735 re­turn).

JAISALMER, RA­JASTHAN

With ma­jes­tic forts, pretty palaces and wind­ing al­leys of shops packed with an­tiques, pre­cious gems and ex­quis­ite silks, Ra­jasthan is con­sid­ered to be the best place to ex­pe­ri­ence the op­u­lence of In­dia’s royal her­itage. This desert state in western In­dia is best known for tourist hotspots Udaipur, Jodh­pur and Jaipur, but it is Jaisalmer, a smaller town right in the heart of the Thar desert that is a must-visit.

Best for: If you are an ar­chi­tec­ture or history afi­cionado then the Jaisalmer Fort will leave you spell­bound with its grandeur. Built in the 12th cen­tury, it is con­sid­ered to be one of the largest for­ti­fi­ca­tions in the world. Its im­pos­ing sand­stone struc­ture is a breath­tak­ing sight, which changes colour depend­ing on the time of the day – from a glit­ter­ing tawny gold hue when the sun is high in the sky to an en­chant­ing hon­eyed pink dur­ing sunset. Apart from a les­son in history, Jaisalmer is a great place for shop­ping and camel sa­faris, and Ad­ven­ture Travel Agency has itin­er­ar­ies to suit ev­ery client’s needs. Jaisalmer is home to world-class gold and sil­ver­smiths too. Crafts­men are known to at­tract de­sign­ers from swish Euro­pean brands to not only find in­spi­ra­tion but learn the craft as well. Hari Om Jew­ellers, for ex­am­ple, is world renowned for cre­at­ing cus­tomised sil­ver trin­kets on re­quest.

While there: Make time to see the palaces­turned her­itage ho­tels of Udaipur, the hawa ma­hal (palace of breeze) and Jan­tar Man­tar (ob­ser­va­tory) of Jaipur, all awe-in­spir­ing ar­chi­tec­tural mar­vels. Visit Pushkar in the Ajmer dis­trict for the world-fa­mous an­nual live­stock fair, which takes place in win­ter.

Where to stay: Serai Jaisalmer (www. su­jan­lux­ury.com/the-serai/). This ul­tra­lux­u­ri­ous camp­site right in the midst of un­du­lat­ing sand dunes and en­chant­ing wilder­ness is far from the madding crowd but close enough to the city. And, it has a well-equipped spa.

Get­ting there: Eti­had Air­ways flies from Abu Dhabi to Jaipur (from Dh524 re­turn). Ei­ther take the overnight train from Jaipur to Jaisalmer or hire a taxi for a eight-hour drive.

JAISALMER FORT will leave you ut­terly spell­bound. Its IM­POS­ING sand­stone STRUC­TURE is BREATH­TAK­ING

The Jaisalmer Fort (top) and Hawa Ma­hal are tes­ti­mony to Ra­jasthan’s ar­chi­tec­tural ex­cel­lence

Goa has nu­mer­ous Por­tuguese-inspired churches that are cen­turies old

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