15 places to escape the festive frenzy in India

There is more to Goa than beaches and parties
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Come autumn and the entire India is gearing up for one or the other festival, followed by more to come. This could be disturbing for some who love silence and thus, do not want to participate in these cultural activities. Don’t worry; you don’t have to bear with it unwillingly. Just pack up your bags and use the festival holidays as an opportunity to escape from the madness. Here are our top 15 picks of destinations-

1. Goa

Pint-sized Goa is more than beaches and trance parties. A kaleidoscopic blend of Indian and Portuguese cultures, sweetened with sun, sea, sand, seafood and spirituality, there’s nowhere in India quite like it. Laze away days lying along the beachline or go for some sport activities like banana ride, parasailing and even scuba diving!

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2. Puducherry

 

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The union territory of Puducherry (generally known as ‘Pondy’) was under French rule until 1954. The place has a perfect blend of beach, heritage, adventure and cultural experiences. The tranquil atmosphere of this lovely destination promises calm, and time almost stops. That said, you’ll never get bored. The internationally famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its offshoot just north of town, Auroville, draw large numbers of spiritually minded visitors.

3. Kalimpong

Kalimpong
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This bustling bazaar town sprawls along a saddle-shaped mountain ridge overlooking the roaring Teesta River and lorded over by the summit of Kangchenjunga. It’s not a must-see, but it does boast of some magnificent Himalayan views, Buddhist monasteries, colonial-era architecture and a fascinating nursery industry, all linked by some fine hikes. You could easily fill three days here.

4. Kasol

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Stretched along the lovely Parvati River with mountains rising all around, Kasol is a beautiful travel hang-out in the valley. It’s a small village, but has good reggae bars, bakeries and cheap guesthouses catering to a good backpacker crowd. It’s a venue for trance parties, but only if you want to attend any of those. Otherwise, it’s lovely to spend some ‘me’ time along the river.

5. Nagaland

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The uncontested ‘wild east’ of India, Nagaland is probably one of the reasons visitors come to the northeast in the first place. Rich in primeval beauty, Nagaland’s dazzling hills and valleys – right on the edge of the India–Myanmar border – are an other-worldly place. The beauty of the place is such that one can get lost in the views and never want to return.

6. Hampi

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The magnificent ruins of Hampi dot an unearthly landscape that has captivated travellers for centuries. Heaps of giant boulders perch precariously over kilometres of undulating terrain, their rusty hues offset by jade-green palm groves, banana plantations and paddy fields. While it’s possible to see this World Heritage Site in a day or two, plan on lingering for a while.

7. Sikkim

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Hassle-free and warm-hearted, Sikkim is a state that’s all too easy to fall in love with. Clean, green and ‘all organic’ since 2016, it is mostly a maze of plunging, super-steep valleys thick with lush subtropical woodlands and rhododendron groves, rising in the north to the spectacular white-top peaks of the eastern Himalaya. When clouds clear, an ever-thrilling experience from many a ridgetop perch is spotting the world’s third-highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, on the north-western dawn horizon.

8. Gokarna

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A regular nominee among travellers’ favourite beaches in India, Gokarna attracts a crowd for a low-key, chilled-out beach holiday and not for full-scale parties. Most accommodation is in thatched bamboo huts along its several stretches of blissful coast.

9. Varkala

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Perched almost perilously along the edge of 15m-high red laterite cliffs, Varkala has a naturally beautiful setting that has steadily grown into Kerala’s quite popular backpacker hang-out. A small strand of beach nuzzles Varkala’s cliff edge, where restaurants and shopping stalls have opened up. Varkala is a great place to watch the days slowly turn into weeks, and it’s not hard to escape the crowds further north or south where the beaches are cleaner and quieter.

10. Rishikesh

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Surrounded by forests and low hills, Rishikesh is an ancient pilgrimage centre, drawing both religious and secular visitors. The bazaar bustles with fruit and garland sellers, gem dealers and internet cafes stand next to garish souvenir and clothing stalls. Tourists and devotees throng its narrow streets from early morning to late night. But it’s not all spirituality here. Rishikesh is a popular white-water rafting hub, backpacker hangout, and gateway to trips in the Himalayas.

11. Coorg

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Nestled amid evergreen hills that line the southernmost edge of Karnataka is the luscious Kodagu (Coorg) region, gifted with emerald landscapes and hectares of plantations. A major centre for coffee and spice production, this rural expanse is also home to the Kodava people, who are divided into 1000 clans. The uneven terrain and cool climate make it a fantastic area for trekking, birdwatching or lazily ambling down little-trodden paths winding around carpeted hills. All in all, Kodagu is rejuvenation guaranteed.

12. Mount Abu

Rajasthan’s only hill station nestles among green forests on the state’s highest mountain at the southwestern end of the Aravalli Hills and close to the Gujarat border. Quite unlike anywhere else in Rajasthan, Mt Abu provides Rajasthanis, Gujaratis and a steady flow of foreign tourists with respite from scorching temperatures and arid terrain elsewhere. It’s a particular hit with honeymooners and middle-class families from Gujarat.

13. Mahabaleshwar

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Mahabaleshwar’s green mountains and red earth, beautiful lakes and pleasant weather, have made this hill station a hit with holidaymakers and honeymooning couples. The best thing is the jaw-dropping mountain scenery made by the Western Ghats, on the road to get here. Take a quiet walk along one of the many winding roads and enjoy the lovely misty weather. Or visit a strawberry farm and pick your own fruits.

14. Diu

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Tiny Diu island, linked by a bridge to Gujarat’s southern coast, is infused with Portuguese history. The streets of the main town are clean and quiet once you get off the tourist-packed waterfront strip. If you’ve been spending time immersed in the intensity of Gujarati cities, or just really need a beer, Diu offers a refreshing break. It is also a hotspot for water sports.

15. Bir & Billing

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The village of Bir is internationally famous as one of the best paragliding bases in the world. The take-off point at Billing, 14km up a winding road from Bir and 1000m higher, hosts major competitive flying events. Experienced paragliders fly as far as Dharamsala, Mandi and Manali from here. Bir is also an important centre of the Tibetan exile community and there are several Buddhist monasteries and institutes in and around Bir, some of which attract a number of foreigners for courses and retreats.