How to go places this year

Jan 08, 2012, 11:59 IST | Dhvani Solani

Armchair travel is easy -- musing about the places you could have been to but didn't, because the task seems too daunting -- is painful. Dhvani Solani chalks out a where-to-be-when annual plan to help you travel more in 2012, to both local and international destinations. Disclaimer: we are not liable for your absence at work

Armchair travel is easy -- musing about the places you could have been to but didn't, because the task seems too daunting -- is painful. Dhvani Solani chalks out a where-to-be-when annual plan to help you travel more in 2012, to both local and international destinations. Disclaimer: we are not liable for your absence at work

January
Go fest-hopping in Jaipur

The Pink City has more to offer than palaces and precious stones. All of this January, the city is abuzz with cultural events, starting with kite wars as part of the International Kite Festival that takes place for three days, kicking off on the day of Makar Sankranti (Jan 14), at Polo Ground. Once you're done shouting, "Wo kata!", take a breather before your grey cells go on an overdrive during the 5-day Jaipur Literature Festival (Jan 20-24) that will see authors from around the world converge at the Diggi Palace and read from their books or have literary discussions, all thrown open to the public for free. Next up is the Jaipur International Film Festival (Jan 27-31) that will keep the cinephile in you glued to the screen at exotic venues including the Jal Mahal.



Where to stay:
Luxury- The Oberoi's Rajvilas (Rs 38,000 onwards; contact: 0141-2680101); Chokhi Dhani (Rs 13,999 onwards; contact: 0141-5165000)
Comfort - Fortune Park Bella Casa (Rs 3,999 onwards; contact: 0141-3988444)
Budget -RTDC Hotel Gangaur (Rs 1,800 onwards; contact: 0141-2371641)

Minimum days required: 3

Top Tip
Chuck that seedy local tout when you don your sightseeing avatar to take a trip to the iconic Jantar Mantar. Instead, log on to http://www.goplaces.in/ and download a 'picto guide' on the place that will reveal historic nuggets of information and trivia, in the form of a comic book, with speech bubbles et al (Rs 106 approx).

February
Ride the wave at Puri

The natural splendours of a religious destination in our country are easily overlooked in the quest for a higher power. Puri, however, has just been redeemed of that fate. The temple town of Orissa, most popularly known for its 11th century Jagannath temple, will see tourists of a different breed this February -- ones sporting spandex and carrying surf boards. That's because the magnificent waves of the Bay of Bengal (the Ramchandi beach along the Puri-Konark Marine Drive, to be precise) will play host to the first ever Indian Surf Festival (Feb 7-9), organised by a group that calls itself Surfing Yogis. "The idea is to also Indianise the festival, by introducing flat-water surfing that can be extremely therapeutic and done almost on any water body," says Sanjay Samantaray, head of Surfing Yogis. "We have a simple philosophy of flowing with the waters, instead of battling it," he says. To help you take to the water, there will be 16 instructors from around the world, apart from the 31 Indian surfers who will show you what they've got. And hydrophobic friends can partake of parallel events like music, movie screenings and local cultural events.



Where to stay:
Apart from guesthouses in Puri and Bhubaneshwar, you can request for accommodation at the Surfers' Village (Rs 4,000 per person onwards, for the duration of the fest) or at the festival area itself (Rs 9,000 per person). Log on to http://www.surfingyogis.com/ or http://www.highontravel.com/ to book.

Minimum days required: 3

Top Tip
If February seems like a time when you are glued to your sweetheart, you can check in at the gurukul at any time of the year, save the monsoon, and probably learn to surf at a much lower cost.

March
Discover Shangri-La at Arunachal Pradesh

In James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, Shangri-La is described as a Garden of Eden on Earth, tucked somewhere in the Himalayas, where one finds inner peace and love. We'd say Arunachal Pradesh, located in the far northeast of India and sharing its borders with Burma, Bhutan and China, comes close. It's in this 'land of dawn-lit mountains' that Krishna married Rukmini and where about 26 major tribal groups, most of them friendly and hospitable, live in their charming bamboo houses. From meandering through the Tibetan-Buddhist monastery villages in the gorgeous Tawang valley, and examining archeological excavations at Malinithan and Itanagar, to rafting on the Brahmaputra waters or discovering the 600-odd species of orchids that bloom in this state, there's lots for a tourist willing to go off the beaten track.



Where to stay:
Get information on state guesthouses, youth hostels and hotels on http://www.arunachalpradesh.nic.in/.

Minimum days required: 8

Top Tip
Vinod Sreedhar, founder of Journeys with Meaning, which organises trips to the state, advises you to allocate a couple of days for securing your Inner Line Permit (required for tourists visiting Arunachal) at Assam. "When traveling between Tezpur and Tawang, schedule an overnight stay at Bomdila," he says.

April
Find catharsis at Nova Scotia

If there's one place where the tide keeps rolling but where time seems to be on a standstill, it has to be the maritime province of Nova Scotia, a peninsula on Canada's southeastern coast. From sandcastle contests, lifeguard competitions and white water rafting along the 7,600 km coastline, to organic farm wineries that crush Nova Scotia grapes into sweet vino, from reliving the maritime and military history of the place to tucking in the best seafood and camping in the national parks, this 'new Scotland' has a lot to offer. This April marks 100 years to the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic, the ill-fated travelers of which ended up at Halifax cemeteries in this region. Be part of commemorative events across the province, see remains of the ship, visit graveyards of those who died, and revisit history.



Where to stay:
Camping grounds for nature lovers, charming B&Bs, trinket-filled inns, beachside motels and luxurious hotels - you can browse through them all on http://www.novascotia.com/

Minimum days required: 8

Top Tip
To get a nice view and photo of the Halifax skyline, get on a ferry from the Halifax waterfront to downtown Dartmouth ($2.25 each way).

May
Discover Japan

Pack your bags and head to the Land of the Rising Sun where the temperatures are mild, the gardens are in full bloom and the mountains have rolling carpets of green. Since the country is still recovering from the earthquake and tsunami, tourists are fewer and hotel prices cheaper. Discover a country that cherishes its customs and traditions alongside embracing modernity and technology. Get your fill of culture in cities like Kyoto and Nara where you can feast on temples, tea ceremonies, museums, the classical Japanese dance-drama of Kabuki, take your kids to Tokyo's Disneyland, take in the stunning sight of the sea corals of Okinawa or slurp on a bowl of ramen and sushi in Osaka.



Where to stay:
Though you will easily find Western-style hotels in big cities, check out the Ryokan while at the smaller ones. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn along the highways, offering communal baths, tatami-matted rooms and chats with the owners.

Minimum days required: 7

Top Tip
"Learn a few Japanese words. It'll help vegetarians, especially, who should know how to say that they don't eat meat, chicken and fish," says Anuj Jodhani, director, Maido Enterprises that helps bring Japan closer to India through food, art and culture. "Also, etiquette is important. Do not be even a minute late for meetings. Do not dig your chopsticks into your food bowl in between bites and leave your footwear outside before entering a house."

June
Bring in the monsoon at Bhandardara

Sky high mountains. Check. Magnificent waterfalls. Check. Decent accommodation, proximity to the city, smile-inducing climate. Check, check, check. Bhandardara has all the makings of a hill station, without the infuriating commercialisation that has taken over old favourites like Matheran and Lonavala. Nestled in the Sahyadris, with the closest railhead being Igatpuri (45 kms away), this hill station comes alive during the monsoon. As you drive alongside fluorescent green paddy fields, take some time out to check out the Wilson dam (engineering marvel), Arthur Lake (will elicit a poem from the linguistically-inclined), the Agasti Rishi Ashram (mentioned in the Ramayana) and Mount Kalsubai (highest peak in the state). 



Where to stay:
MTDC Bhandardara is your best bet. Rates are lower post June 10 (Rs 800 for a standard room, Rs 1,400 for a special room and Rs 3,300 for a lakeside cottage that can accommodate 3). To book, log on to http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/.

Minimum days required: 2

Top Tip
If you are an angling fan, carry your fishing rod along and head to the lake or river.  No boating allowed, though.

July
Get sporty in London

Why? Because it's really one of the greatest cities in the world. Because it is steeped in grandeur, literature, culture, sophistication and scandal. Because it has no shortage of tourist staples: Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the iconic red bus, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Because The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will mark the third time London has hosted the modern Olympics. Because it's London.



Where to stay:
We're sure you have some friend or family here, no?

Minimum days required: 7

Top Tip
If Rs 48,000 for gymnastics finals tickets and Rs 74,500 for track and field ceremony day seem akin to insanity, opt for the Rs 2,300 badminton preliminary round seats.

August
Make your own Eden at the Valley of flowers

It's amazing how the mere mention of the Valley of Flowers throws up an all-colour Garden of Eden-esque image in our heads. Rest assured that reality won't disappoint. Nestled in the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, the valley is in full bloom this time of the year, with a carpet of forget-me-not Blue Poppies swaying next to Cobra Lily and pink Geraniums sitting pretty beside the purple Himalayan Thyme. While getting to Valley of Flowers is a two-day long tedious journey from Delhi, you are bound to find energy in the multitudes of Sikhs who make this trek, since Ghangaria, the base hamlet to get to the Valley also serves as one to go to Hemkund Sahib, a holy place where Guru Gobind Singh is said to have meditated.



Where to stay:
There are lots of decent lodges in Ghangaria, but your best bet would be the Government-run GMVN tourist bungalow. Send an enquiry to http://www.euttaranchal.com/.

Top Tip
Minimum days required:
8
Average budget:

If you are unable to book your accommodation and get nothing on getting here, camp up at the Gurudwara where you are given space to sleep for free.

Top Tip
If you are an angling fan, carry your fishing rod along and head to the lake or river.  No boating allowed, though.

September
Breathe hot and cold at Iceland

Located just below the Arctic Circle, the 'land of fire and ice' has been in the travel spotlight for some years now. Offering unsurpassable access to natural phenomena, this year is even more special for Iceland since it offers two 'maximum cycles', as Lonely Planet puts it: one that is expected to produce more intense northern lights (Aurora Borealis) this winter and one that may result in increased volcanic activity in the coming year. And then there's the capital Reykjavik's famous nightlife, thermal swimming pools, the therapeutic Blue Lagoon, spurting geysers and the warmth in the Icelanders' welcome.



Where to stay:
Iceland has a wealth of inexpensive accommodations, the least expensive providing you with a bed or mattress. In Reykjavik, guesthouses in this category include: Salvation Army Guesthouse (011-354-5613203), Aurora (011-354-552-5515) and Reykjavik Youth Hostel (011-354-553-8110).

Minimum days required: 8

Top Tip
Do not forget to sign up for whale watching, and come eye-to-eye with sleek, spouting whales in H sav �k.

October
Set up bastion at Sindhudurg

A small district located to the north of Goa in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, Sindhudurg has attracted tourists in the past few years primarily because of its sturdy sea fort which was originally built by Shivaji more than 300 years ago. A ferry takes you to probably one of the most well-preserved forts in Maharashtra and back for a mere Rs 35. Also, don't miss snorkelling. You will be surprised to see the corals and schools of fish in such abundance and clarity. Go now, before the crowds get there.



Where to stay:
Check out the MTDC at Tarkarli beach nearby. Log on to http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/ for more details. There are cheaper options on Devbag beach nearby too.

Minimum days required: 3

Top Tip
Carry your own snorkel. You really don't want to breathe into something put in the mouths of a hundred others and washed with sea water.

November
Discover Asia at Myanmar

'This is Burma', wrote Kipling. 'It is quite unlike any place you know about.' Though the ruling power of Kipling's days has long disappeared and even the country's name has changed, Burma remains a country frozen in time. Myanmar, as we know it today, might not give you a full-fledged cultural reconnaissance, but with politician Aung San Suu Kyi's release and National League for Democracy party line encouraging responsible travel to the country, you can surely put it on your list for the year. Who knows, the awe-inspiring temples, soft-spoken locals and the magnificent scenery that still remains the least explored might show you what real Asia is like.



Top Tip
Check out Taunggyi's famous balloon festival in the last week of November.

Where to stay:
Log on to http://www.myanmartravelinformation.com/ to discover a range of stay options here.

Minimum days required: 7

December
Celebrate the end of the world at Mexico

52 million visitors. That's the number anticipated by Mexico Tourism this year, with most numbers making a trip to the five states richest in Maya heritage. Totally cashing in on the hype created by the Mayan prophecy that December 21, 2012 will prove to be the planet's doomsday, the Mexican government has started a year-long countdown to the end of the world even as people on Mexico's Caribbean coast are putting messages and photos in a time capsule that will be buried for 50 years. Go see the Mayan ruins along the Yucatan Peninsula, and the states of Tabasco and Chiapas.



Top Tip
Stay clear of the hordes and the stampedes that might emerge on the day of the Winter Solstice, also the day the world supposedly ends. And take your best friend along.

Where to stay:
Plenty of accommodation in any of the Mexican states. Check out http://www.globalfree/
loaders.com to chance upon some free accommodation.

Minimum days required: 8

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