West India is an adventurer’s treat for the great variety of activities it packs into its many-textured terrain. Intriguing, unexplored, the stuff of folklores – that in a nutshell describes Central India, home to some of the wildest forests and quaintest landscapes in the entire nation.
The ethnic heritage of the region dates back several millennia, and the wildlife here roams primeval jungles, parts of which are still beyond the reach of humans. Come here only if you want to experience adventure at its coarsest, and don’t mind the lack of creature comforts or urban amenities for the duration of your vacation. If you drop your prejudices and travel with an open mind, Central India is bound to surprise you.
KUTCH JEEP SAFARI, GUJARAT
Rambling on the seemingly endless expanse of the Little Rann of Kutch desert in a jeep is every wanderer’s oyster. Feel the wind in your hair and watch the tracks of tyres cut patterns on the cracked texture of the mudflats as you journey across the nothingness, stopping by at salt pans to interact with workers.
The barren, blindingly white land of the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat is nature at its harshest and most compelling. It’s best known as the home of the last remaining population of the chestnut coloured Indian wild ass (also called khur), as well as bluebulls, blackbuck and chinkara. There’s also a huge bird population from October to March, comprising storks, pelicans and flamingos – several water bodies in the region double as a habitat for these species during the cooler winter months.
Best time to go: December–February
Road: There are daily buses connecting Ahmedabad with Dhrangadhra via Surendranagar (journey time 3hrs). The best access villages to the Little Rann of Kutch are Jogad, Patdi and Dasada, connected to Surendranagar by local transport. Alternatively, you could hire a taxi from Ahmedabad for about INR 3000. Ahmedabad has daily flights to and from all Indian metros.
WATER SPORTS IN GOA, GOA
Add a touch of adventure to that much-awaited vacation in Goa with a range of watersports, which are easy yet fun and can be done with no prior experience or training at all. Surf, glide and sail away all you want, and then be washed ashore in time for that sumptuous Goan lunch.
If you thought adventure holidays were only for the hardened outdoor types, think again. The myriad activities on Goa’s beaches are suited to people of all ages and experiences – this is one place where your kids can get a first-hand taste of the outdoors. There’s no preparation or training required for a roll and tumble out on the sea – just oodles of enthusiasm. Turn up on the sands after breakfast, and spend the whole day gambolling on the beaches, indulging in jet ski rides, parasailing, speedboating, or snorkelling, among many other options available.
Best time to go: October to May
Air: Dabolim Airport near Panjim in Goa is connected to all major Indian metros by daily flights. From Dabolim, you can hop onto a taxi and head to a beach of your choice. Expect to pay between INR 1000-2000 for a drop, depending on how far you’re going from Dabolim.
BASTAR TRIBAL TOURS, CHHATTISGARH
Remote but unspoilt and breathtakingly beautiful, Chhattisgarh is home to some 40 tribes whose pointillist paintings and spindly handicrafts are as vivid as their colourful haats. Transport is poor here and the infrastructure inadequate, but for intrepid travellers, that might just be the best part of their trip.
Jagdalpur, the capital of the Bastar region, is an ideal base for exploring tribal Chhattisgarh. The town itself hosts a haat every Sunday, where you will see adivasis buying, selling and bartering their wares alongside town travellers. However, it’s really in the surrounding villages where adivasi life can be fully appreciated. Some villages are extremely remote and can only be visited with a knowledgeable local guide. Others, though, are just a bus ride away and – particularly on market days – can be explored independently.
Best time to go: November–March
Air & Road: Air India has daily flights between Raipur – the state capital – and Mumbai and Delhi. Take an autorickshaw to town from the airport (INR 150) and then hop onto a bus for Jagdalpur, Bastar’s main urban centre. A seat or sleeper costs INR 245 and INR 310 respectively, and journey time is around 7hrs.
MANDU HISTORY TOUR, MADHYA PRADESH
Perched on top of a pleasantly green, thinly forested 20sq km plateau, picturesque Mandu is home to some of India’s finest examples of Afghan architecture as well as impressive baobab trees, originally from Africa. It’s a great place for playing Indiana Jones amid a vast expanse of ruins.
Littered with palaces, tombs, mosques and monuments, all within easy cycling distance of each other, Mandu is a fantastic place for wanton explorations. Some ruins cling to the edge of ravines, others stand beside lakes, while Rupmati’s pavilion – the most romantic of them all – sits at the far end of the plateau, overlooking the vast plains below.
Best time to go: throughout the year
Road: There are two direct buses from Mandu to Indore (journey time 4hrs), departing at 9am and 3.30pm. Indore has daily flights to major Indian metros.
BANDHAVGARH FOREST SAFARI, MADHYA PRADESH
A couple of days at this extremely popular national park guarantees a few encounters with the Royal Bengal tiger, which – due to its relatively small area – boasts perhaps the highest concentration of the striped cat in the world.
Apart from the showpiece tigers, Bandhavgarh’s star attraction is the leopard – there are about 40 these creatures around here, compared to about 45 tigers. That apart, the 435 sq km park contains nearly 40 species of mammals including deer, wild boar, Indian bison, sambar, barking deer and langur, some 250 species of birds and several reptiles.
Best time to go: November–May
Rail & Road: From Umaria (the access town for Bandhavgarh), there are trains going to Delhi (journey time 17hrs) via Gwalior (journey time 11hrs), and Bhopal (journey time 12hrs) via Jabalpur (journey time 5 hrs). There’s also one daily train to Varanasi (journey time 12hrs) but it’s at 4.30am. From Umaria, there are hourly buses to Tala village from 6.30am to 7pm. Alternatively, you can also hire a taxi to get between the two places for about INR 600.