During the sweltering summer months when the sun beats down relentlessly on the plains of North India, the best thing you can do is beat a retreat to the cool refuge of the Himalayas. The summer eventually leads to the monsoons, and then the pleasant winters, and all of a sudden the traveller’s heart is a-flutter again. The options for New Years Eve escapes are endless and the hardest decision is choosing the right destination.
And if you want to escape the city at the slightest excuse, New Year provides the perfect opportunity. Well, here are a few suggestions that might help you make that first and most important decision:
While many destinations in Rajasthan are being ‘done to death’, it’s little oases of quiet like Deogarh that remind us why we love Rajasthan in the first place. Reaching Deogarh, which is 145km from Ajmer, is a time-consuming affair but well worth the effort. Set in the Aravalis and surrounded by wacky rock formations, numerous lakes and scrub-like vegetation, Deogarh Resorts comprises three different properties – Deogarh Mahal, Fort Seengh Sagar and Deogarh Khayyam –in and around the tiny town itself. There are numerous activities here that make it an ideal family destination. You can take long walks into the scrubland beyond the town, go horse riding, and even have a little picnic. But what takes the cake is the train safari.
Offered as part of a package by the resort, this train safari involves travelling a distance of 17km in a rural train on a metre-gauge line built in the 1930s. The journey through tunnels, on U-shaped bridges and past waterfalls takes two hours and offers great photo ops. Don’t forget to carry biscuits to feed the friendly monkeys at the Goram Ghat station on the way.
Make it Happen: 550km from Delhi. Take the Ajmer Shatabdi to Ajmer (6.5 hours) and arrange for the hotel to pick you up from there (another 2.5-3 hours).
Binsar is highly recommended for those who welcome a world without cell-phone reception, electricity and even running water. At this point, if you are slightly confused, let me tell you this – in Binsar, you don’t need any of them! Located in a remote valley on the Almora-Bageshwar Road in Uttarakhand, Binsar is a region more than a place. There are a number of upscale resorts in the area offering every modern creature comfort. But the trick is to go one street beyond this.
Deep in the forest, about a 5km trek from the nearest road, is the village of Gaunap, the home of the enterprising, young Sundar Singh. He has converted a part of his ancestral home into a cosy homestay. You pay Rs 1000 a day (less if you bargain successfully) and in return you have this slice of paradise all to yourself. All meals are included and are cooked by Sundar’s mother from vegetables grown in the family’s farm. The only food item they buy is the rice. Also highly recommended is the unique herbal tea that is made from a collection of local herbs, often picked in front of you from the kitchen garden. Do not be surprised if you wake up in the middle of the night and find that your room is full of thick clouds rising from the valley floor below!
Make it Happen: Binsar is approximately 410km from central Delhi. If you are driving, the fastest route is through Rampur, Haldwani, Bhimtal, Bhowali and Almora. You can park your vehicle at the KMVN Resort in Binsar. There are also regular trains between Delhi and Katgodam. From Katgodam there are buses and shared jeeps going to Almora or Bageshwar. There is a nominal entry fee for tourists and vehicles at the entrance of Binsar.
Imagine a giant lake in the middle of the arid hills around Alwar. Now imagine a stately palace clinging on to the cliff over the lake! That is Siliserh Lake and Siliserh Lake Palace for you. Located on the outskirts of Alwar, around 200km from Delhi, this is one of the best family destinations making it almost the perfect New Years Eve escape. The palace, which has been converted into a hotel run by the government, offers basic comforts but scored high on the sheer beauty of its setting.
There are also numerous things to do around Siliserh Lake. The most popular choice is a spot of boating on the lake. While children love it, we strongly recommend you take that 35-km drive to Sariska National Park. A tiger reserve with a dodgy history, Sariska is a great place to spot wildlife. Also, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can drive your car right into the park (although you will attract heavy fines if you stray off the one official road for visitors). Chances are, you will spot everything other than the tigers.
New Year’s Eve is quiet and serene, as you would expect in a place like this. The only reminder of the coming of the New Year will be five minutes of fireworks. Bearable.
Make it Happen: Siliserh Lake is around 200km from Delhi and around 35km from Alwar. The best and the fastest way to get here is to drive (5-6 hours). Take National Highway 8 till Dharuhera and from there continue via Tijara and Alwar towards Siliserh. The roads are in excellent condition till Alwar.
Jim Corbett National Park
Established in 1936 and named after the legendary hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett, it is India’s first National Park. Even though the park has one of the highest tiger densities in India, it is difficult to spot them owing to the elusive nature of the big cat. Do not be disheartened, as there are elephants, various species of deer and stunning birds waiting for you.
Of Corbett’s five zones – Bijrani, Dhikala, Domunda, Jhirna and Sonanadi – Dhikala is the highlight of the park. It is located in the core zone which has the highest concentration of animals. Try and catch as many safaris as possible, thus maximising your chances of tiger spotting. Dhikala also has a wide range of accommodation options that suit every pocket. Just book well in advance.
Make it Happen: Ramnagar is 246km from Delhi and is the gateway to Dhikala. Buses leave every hour from Kashmere Gate ISBT (Rs 150, seven hours). There is also the daily overnight train that leaves Delhi at 10:40pm and reaches Ramnagar at 4:55am.
If you want a white New Year, there is no better place to be than Manali. It starts snowing here from early December, and by New Year everything is covered with a thick blanket of snow. Take a walk in the tall pine forest on the banks of the Beas and you will come across a landscape you have never witnessed before.
Manali is also a major party destination. Okay, maybe there are not as many parties happening now as compared to the summer months, but the chilled out mountain spirit still lingers in the air to be rekindled over goblets of Himachali wine and a crackling fire. Most hotels have their own New Year parties and it is quite common to go party hopping!
Make it Happen: Manali is located at a distance of 650km from Delhi. Overnight buses (both Volvos and regular coaches) leave the Himachal Tourism office in Janpath and, depending on the snow on the road, reach Manali in 12-14 hours.