We are no longer content with sight seeing and discovering a place like a quintessential tourist does. We want more, and we want it all tailor-made for us. It is no longer unimaginable to go to Paris and not see the Louvre but instead, spend all our time in the charming cafés that dot the sidewalks. A growing number of travellers are choosing to micro travel with a very specific agenda in mind. We set out to find the most appealing reasons to make you step out of that cubicle, and discover a life beyond deadlines and meetings. It could be a culinary trail or the idea of becoming fitter and finally fulfilling your New Year resolution; it could be to spend some time in nature, or just to balance out your inner rhythms. Apart from the travel industry insiders, we also quizzed those at the apex of their field, so that your ‘niche travel year’ can become a lot more wholesome. Don’t just read these pages. Get excited, make plans and find a little bit of yourself in 2013.
Travel to get fitter
Must go to: Ladakh
Says: Leena Mogre, fitness expert
The beauty of Ladakh — a celestial land that is delectably located in a place where access is limited — has been much described. Peacefully tucked away into the mountains of Kashmir, the rugged land poses a formidable but gorgeous challenge to those looking at the holiday that will make them return home not only with tales to tell but also with a fitter physique. “It’s when you go trekking in the hills around that you realise how awestruck you can get,” says Leena Mogre, director of Leena Mogre’s Fitness.
“The high-altitude training can prove to be a challenge for your heart and for yourself but it’s only when you come back from here that you realise how much fitter the trip has made you.
I have trekked in the Sahyadris and the Garhwal Himalayas but this trek was outstanding for its sheer beauty and challenge.” There are several popular trek routes in Ladakh that can range from simple to strenuous, but each is filled with captivating beauty and panoramas that no camera can do justice to. “However, it is important to acclimatise to the altitude before setting off,” advises Mogre. “Wear the right shoes, and carry enough clothing without bulking up your haversack.”
Travel to eat
Must go to: Singapore
Says: Farrokh Khambata, chef and restaurateur
What makes this Southeast Asian city-state so awesome is the fact that it beautifully blends Asian cultures and influences with Western ones. Don’t let the skyscrapers that tower over this concrete jungle, or the visibly sterile temperament faze you.
Once you scratch beneath the surface and go off the tourist trail, there’s a lot here that will impress and charm you, especially when food is involved. “Singapore might not make for the most glamorous destination but when it comes to food, it is one of the best, and right on top of the list along with New York and London,” says Farrokh Khambata, owner of Amadeus and Umame.
The fact that Singapore is a lot more accessible and can go from a weekend holiday to a weeklong one makes it all the more alluring to the Indian traveller. “You have so many options here, from Modern French Cuisine at Jaan, Swissotel to Dim Sums at Din Tai Fung, from tucking in Spanish cuisine at Catalunya to opting for Wagyu Beef at Magosaburou,” says Khambata. Spend a lovely evening at one of the many charming cafés on Clarke Quay, and if your pockets are deep enough, do sip on the Singapore Sling cocktail at the iconic Raffles Hotel to topit off.
Travel to relax
Must go to: Maldives
Says: Dharmendra Manwani, CEO of a salon-and-spa chain
Isn’t the thought of sending out a ‘Wish you were here’ postcard from a place like Maldives absolutely beautiful? If you need to get away from the maddening rhythms and rigours of a city life, this island nation in the Indian Ocean is the perfect mix of solitary repose and rejuvenation.
“Your cell phone network is limited here, which is fabulous because it helps you unwind and connect with yourself without external distractions,” says Dharmendra Manwani, CEO of Jean-Claude Biguine India. “When I am here, I connect with myself through long hours of yoga and by being amidst nature. I follow a no-carb, no-alcohol diet to maintain my energy levels.”
Traditional healing methods that have been passed on for generations, as family secrets by the hakeembe or healing experts find their way into special spa programmes in the Maldivian islands. It is easy to find a deserted beach, stare at the surf and sand for hours, and get back in tune with your inner rhythms, before you head back to the organised chaos of the city life.
Travel to discover marine wildlife
Must go to: Jamnagar
Says: Jehan Driver, adventure travel and sports expert
Imagine seeing corals without having to put on an uncomfortable snorkel and breathe through a tube. At Jamnagar is Narara, a little-known marine park — the first of its kind in India — that allows you to see exotic species by wading through shallow water, and by being amidst the marine wildlife left behind when the tide ebbs.
While the marine sanctuary extends for 458 sq km and includes 42 islands in the Gulf of Kutch, there are only two sections that are open to the public — Narara, which can be accessed via road, and Pirotan island, which requires a day excursion by boat. “This is excellent to discover marine life and examine species like octopus and jellyfish in their natural habitat,” says Jehan Driver, director, Quest Expeditions that organises trips for adventure sports enthusiasts and travellers.
“You get guides there who can show you around the place and help identify species.” What is fascinating is that this is the only place in the world where you get to see coral reefs without diving into the water. You can find as many as 52 species of coral reefs here, apart from fascinating marine life like giant sea anemone which looks like a flower and harbours shrimp in its folds, octopus that changes color for camouflage, puffer fish that swells up in defence and suddenly deflates to escape when trapped, and sea cucumbers which eject body parts to distract predators. A top tip: Wear thick-soled shoes so that corals with sharp edges don’t cut into your shoes.
Travel among wildlife
Must go to: Little Rann of Kutch
Says: Gaurav Athalye, founder of a travel boutique
The bleak landscape of the Little Rann of Kutch takes you back to a time when few of us were around on this planet; its barrenness in a way unmasks your carefully constructed world and throws you out in the open in which the only sounds are those of the wind rustling the sands and the scuffle of small animals.
“Here you can spot the Sykes’s Night Jar that comes from Afghanistan, Short-eared Owls, Pallid Scops Owls, Macqueen’s Bustard, Demoiselle Crane and flamingos among other birds,” says Gaurav Athalye, founder of Jungle Lore, an eco-tourism company that specialises in wildlife excursions.
“Apart from rare birds, you can also spot mammals like the rare Desert Fox, Desert Cat, Indian Wild Ass (found only in the Rann of Kutch) and jackals. The place throws up fabulous photo opportunities, and is a paradise for those whose idea of wildlife is not restricted to spotting tigers. There is so much more out there to explore.” Once you’ve spotted the Wild Ass, take a camel safari in the area and check out the desolate salt farms.