By VARDHAN KONDVIKAR, Editor, Lonely Planet Magazine India
We’re going to push you out of your depth this year.
And yes, I have faith that you’re going to learn how to swim. You’re going to conquer your fear of the unknown, you’re going to take a deep breath, and you’re going to explore something new.
Don’t worry – it’s easier than it looks. Yes, it might involve a chutney made of red ants, it might involve a museum with a teddy-bear Gandhi, and it will get you to meet people who will make you feel very grubby, very grumpy and very backward, but 2015 is going to be a cracker. You might even get a free umbrella out of it.
Confused? It’s just travel, travel the way it’s meant to be, where you push your limits and go somewhere you hadn’t really considered, and come back slightly shell-shocked because you’re wondering why you never went here before. It is, in a word, spectacular.
And few places are more spectacular, more eye-opening, than Chhattisgarh. One of India’s forgotten states, remembered only when there’s a Naxal attack, it sounds like nothing more than a collection of ambushes in a forest, but it is so much more. Its natural beauty is astounding, from massive waterfalls to virgin forests, but its people are the real story. Tribals who are much more 21st-century than the rest of us, people who turn metal into art, kings who got assassinated while protecting their subjects, cave-dwellers who might possibly have met aliens – this is a special place to sit down and have a cuppa. Or a cup of moonshine.
Another strangely-maligned place (because of a cranky neighbour) is South Korea, which has turned quirkiness into a fine, fun art. Where else would you find people obsessed with plastic surgery, alongside people who designed their capital to have a soothing stream running through it? Where else would you find a truly bizarre teddy-bear museum alongside a museum of really, really weird sexual sculptures, or freediving grandmothers alongside huge quantities of hair gel? For someone open to a different experience, South Korea is awesome.
A milder, but no less fascinating option is twinning the two big Scandinavian cities: Stockholm and Copenhagen: beautiful, welcoming places both, with a quality of life and eye for design we can only dream of. Everyone is comfortably off, everyone is good-looking, and they knit sweaters so that little iron statues don’t feel cold in the winter. How could you not like them?
And if this isn’t enough, we have a gigantic bag of options for you, from the Atacama Desert to Bulgaria to Telangana, all places you really have to try to get to. This year.
Yes, you could just watch TV reruns, but I suspect this would be more fun.