It’s difficult for travel enthusiasts to stay at home as pandemic restrictions loosen, double vaccination rates rise, and the weather becomes gloriously nice. So now is the ideal moment to join India Tourism’s ‘Apna Desh Dekho’ campaign and immerse yourself in the history, culture, and natural splendors of some of the country’s most stunning sites. The following are five such destinations for a well-deserved break this holiday season.
Bhopal, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh, is a thousand-year-old urban fabric brimming with history and culture. It is reported that Hindu King Bhoj founded this village around ‘palas,’ or artificial lakes, which still exist today, in the 11th century. As a result, it is known as the ‘City of Lakes.’
By the early 18th century, it had been conquered by a powerful Muslim dynasty led by Dost Mohammed Khan, an Afghan general. Khan and his forebears, four of whom were ladies, transformed Bhopal into one of India’s most magnificent cities during their 200-year reign, making the Mughal Emperors in Delhi envious. The kingdom was controlled by women queens known as Begums of Bhopal between 1817 and 1926.
The tourism cliché for Bhopal is inspired by their legacy and architectural creations that still exist in the city’s old area. Royal palaces, particularly Gohar Mahal and Shaukat Mahal, are among the most popular tourist attractions. Both have a hint of opulence and grandeur that comes from a blend of styles.
Bhopal’s mosques are a sight to behold. Because there are so many of them, estimated to be over 400 at the moment, Bhopal is also known as the ‘City of Mosques.’ The majority of them are in the ancient area, and many of them were erected by the Begums, whose architectural splendor demonstrates a penchant for art. The Taj-ul-Masajid, India’s greatest Islamic center of worship, is the crown jewel.
In Bhopal, royal heritage isn’t the sole attraction. There are many additional things to do and see in the city, which has an excellent mix of the ancient and new architecture. While sunset cruises on the lake and dining at the Bhopal Express, a train cabin turned into a restaurant, are nearly required, the gorgeous Laxmiarayan Temple, Van Vihar – a 445-hectare wildlife sanctuary, and a slew of excellent museums vie for visitors’ attention. If that isn’t enough, the World Heritage-listed Sanchi Stupa, a Buddhist pilgrimage site, and the Bhimbetka Caves, which house India’s largest collection of prehistoric art, are both within a 50-kilometer radius.
Pondicherry, presently known as Puducherry, is a coastal settlement along the Bay of Bengal, 165 kilometers from Chennai, that serves as a symbol of France in India. It was founded by the French in 1674.
The French separated the town into two sections: Ville Blanche, which was only for Europeans, and Ville Noire, which was just for locals. That schism is still visible. While traffic, noise, and mayhem abound in Ville Noire, the seaside Ville Blanche retains much of its unique French charm. The statues of French Governor Dupleix and Joan of Arc, as well as edifices such as the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) and the former French Governor’s residence, the French Consulate and Alliance Francaise office, the French War Memorial, several churches, and hotels such as De L’Orient and Le Dupleix, adorn the domain.
Aurobindo Ashram, founded in 1926 by Cambridge educated Aurobindo Ghose, a nationalist turned yogi, and his follower Mirra Alfassa, known as The Mother, who arrived in Pondicherry from France in 1920 and never left, is a prominent attraction of Pondicherry. People come from all around the world to study yoga, meditation, and Indian philosophy.
Auroville, a unique community built by The Mother in 1968 for people from all over the world to live in harmony, is located near the town center of Pondicherry. Matrimandir, a high golden metallic sphere where inhabitants contemplate, is the town’s showpiece.
There is no better destination in India to play with the sun, sea, and beach throughout the day and party after nightfall than Goa, another former European settlement. This tiny coastal colony on India’s west coast along the Arabian Sea was occupied by the Portuguese for about 400 years until 1961 and is well connected by air, train, and road from other parts of the country. However, the quarter retains a strong European flavor that draws visitors from all around India and beyond looking for a taste of the Mediterranean in an Indian setting.
The destination’s attractions are numerous, including baroque whitewashed churches, temples, old houses, vibrant markets, ancient caves, spice plantations that first attracted Europeans to its shores, and, last but not least, the endless sandy patches along the coastline, the most famous of which are the Calangute and Colva beaches.
The people of Goa are, by nature, quite friendly and enjoy having a good time. They take pleasure in their meals and beverages. That may explain why it boasts one of the country’s largest densities of cafes, restaurants, taverns, and nightclubs. Their high-octane music, which has hints of Fado from Portugal and possibly Samba from Brazil, is seductive enough to get everyone to clap and dance to its beats. This makes Goa an ideal party destination for unwinding and enjoying yourself after a day of sightseeing or beach time.
Khichan is a small Indian village in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, near the center of a triangle made by three well-known Rajasthan destinations: Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Bikaner. Between October and March, the rural nest becomes home to tens of thousands of Mongolian migratory cranes, dubbed Demoiselle by Queen Marie Antoinette of France in the 18th century for their graceful appearance and grace.
When winter arrives in their breeding grounds in October, these avian species migrate over 5000 kilometers across the Himalayas to Khichan, where they will spend the next six months on sabbatical.
The impoverished town is jolted awake by their arrival. While the winged visitors’ constant ‘kraw kraw’ pitches disrupt the customary silence, the villagers rush to organize the daily ration of 2000kg of cereal grains — for the overseas visitors. Bird lovers from adjacent localities, as well as day-trippers from Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Bikaner, begin to flock to the dirt roads to witness a one-of-a-kind display of avian life in action.
The birds can be seen during the day in the sand dunes, waterbodies, bushlands, and nearby salt pans, but the best time to see them is in the morning when they assemble in a village courtyard where food is left out for them. Thousands of these grey-bodied, two-legged beautiful creatures descend on the dispersed grains to fill their bellies is truly a sight to behold. The feeding panorama appears to be a patch of grey and black flipping up and down on a splash of yellow from afar.
If a long day excursion doesn’t appeal to you, consider staying at The Clements Retreats’ Dera Dune, a world-class eco-friendly resort in Jamba village, just a short drive from Khichan. Because they are so close, guests have plenty of opportunities to chase the cranes at various times of the day, see them up close and get to know their features, and film their numerous moves with their cameras.
Apart from crane encounters, guests staying at the resort have the opportunity to do other interesting things such as camel trekking through the sandy domain and experiencing the unspoiled desert life by visiting nearby villages where friendly locals welcome them to their mud houses called ‘Dhanis,’ narrate their lifestyle tales, show the handicrafts they produce, and even plead for a cup of tea.
Darjeeling – the ‘Queen of Hills’ is a fantastic place for a few days of roaming on winding uphill roads surrounded by the greenery of lush tea gardens if the breathtaking vista of snow-peaked Himalayan mountain ranges is on your mind and the winter chill is not an issue.
Tea ties Darjeeling to the rest of the globe. The splendor of the surrounding Himalayan mountains, particularly Mt Kanchendzonga, the world’s third-highest peak at 8586 meters, is a major draw for many visitors to the scenic mountain refuge.
The breathtaking scenery can be seen from nearly anywhere in Darjeeling, which is well connected to Kolkata by air, rail, and road. The most popular observation location, however, is Tiger Hill, the town’s highest accessible point. People come up early to witness the mystical transformation of the snowy peaks from crimson red to golden yellow as the first rays of the morning sun touch them. Although it is a celestial sight, Batasia Loop is the next best option for late risers and throng avoiders. This railway loop serves as a station for the famed ‘Toy Train,’ a Darjeeling symbol that has been operating since 1881.
Darjeeling’s ethnic population consists of people from neighboring Sikkim, Nepal, and Bhutan, who refer to their homeland as “Dorji Ling,” which means “country of the thunderbolt.” Buddhism is their religion. As a result, the quarter is home to numerous Buddhist temples, monasteries, and stupas, with the entire ensemble serving as a major tourist destination. Some of them are quite large and feature a lot of artwork.
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, founded in 1953 in honor of Tenzing Norgay after he and Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mount Everest, is another worthwhile stop. A zoo next to the institute has uncommon species like Red Pandas, Snow Leopards, and Tibetan Wolves, all of which inhabit the snow-covered regions of the upper Himalaya.
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Information Source: Hindustan Times