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
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, 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).
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