Kanker, Chitrakoot etc: Far from the touristy crowd
All yours: Boating at the magnificent Chitrakoot Falls in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Photos by author
A choice of off-beat, off-season destinations that spare you the scramble for ticket and hotel bookings.
You’ve woken up to the thought of a family holiday a tad late. But by this time, perennial winter favourites Goa, Rajasthan, and Kerala are all packed to capacity. Don’t fret, there’s hope. Here are some offbeat, off-season destinations where you can still hope to get hotel bookings (the heritage/ luxury resorts suggested are destinations in themselves) and relatively cheap air-tickets.
Just think beyond the usual and you could find yourself amidst experiences you’ll cherish a lifetime.
This is a popular summer destination, but if you can bear the cold a bit, this place in the lap of the Himalayas will enamour you. At this time of the year, the Nanda Devi, Trishul and Panchali peaks surrounding this town of the Kumaon hills are splendidly clear, and it’s a joy to do nothing more than enjoy their majestic sight. An overnight train from Delhi will get you there early morning, letting you make good use of the day.
The activity line-up includes a trip to the Binsar wildlife sanctuary, walks to Kumaoni villages with their well-preserved architectural heritage, treks through lovely cedar forests, and bird-spotting. If all this sounds like too much work, you can just curl up on a hammock and read, laze, and sun till the bonfires are lit.
Alipura quite really is the heart of Bundelkhand. Once a bustling dominion established in 1757 AD, it is now a quiet hamlet in Chhatarpur district. This is ideal if you are looking to spend a heritage holiday in a non-touristy place, and highly recommended if you want a genuine rural experience away from hawkers and pollution. Situated midway on NH 75, which connects Jhansi/ Orchha with Khajuraho/ Panna National Park, it is worth reshuffling your itinerary to include a visit here, more so if you don’t want to spend an entire day travelling on the highway.
Besides offering a break, Alipura allows you to explore Bundelkhand’s past. An alternative is to extend your trip to include the splendid Bandhavgarh National Park, which is connected via an overnight train to Katni/ Umaria from Harpalpur, 15 km from here.
Kanker is the gateway to Bastar, a land still refreshingly original and very welcoming, despite reports of turmoil tumbling out of its frontiers. The NH 43 running via Kanker is the State’s lifeline, linking capital Raipur with the southern district of Bastar. A stay at Kanker will allow you to visit tribal settlements, attend atmospheric village haats (see pix), go trekking in tropical forests, and visit wildlife parks. An added attraction is a stay at the Kanker Palace, which will delight you with old-world features, such as the cloth ceiling fan that’s still in usable condition. A day-trip to the spectacular Chitrakoot Waterfall and boating in its waters should be another gem.
Naldehra is well preserved and abounds in natural splendour. Pleasant hikes, mountain air, mist outside the window, and a crackling log-fire when the sun sets are some of the reasons to be here when the temperature dips. Pine and deodar trees frame this hamlet, famous for the country’s oldest nine-hole golf course designed by Lord Curzon. Naldehra is literally in Shimla’s backyard (22 km/ 35 minutes away), but away from the capital’s congestion and tourist traps, which allows you to explore its fading yet classic beauty at your convenience.
In an idyllic milieu and far from the madding crowds, Rampura allows a peep into Bundelkhand besides showing off the decadent grandeur of its out-of-a-fairytale fort. Its drawing power is its location at the edge of the infamous Chambal ravines, offering a scrumptious platter for those with an interest in history. In its vicinity are a number of forts, some crumbling, at Gopalpura, Tiher, Jagmanpur, Saravan, Sewnda, Machand, Lahar and Kalpi. Rampura lies off the Kanpur-Agra route, and can be a perfect stopover on a road journey from Lucknow to Orchha or Gwalior.