I’ve been travelling for quite some time now. My journey as an Indian traveller began backwards. I mean to say, I saw a lot of places abroad before exploring India. But since the last five years or so, I’ve been extensively travelling around India. I may have fuzzy memories of some trips, but others have been very memorable. And most of them have had to do with the places I stayed at. Some had breathtaking views; few were about roughing it on the road. And while there’s a lot more to see, here are some of the most unique stay experiences I’ve had.
1. In the middle of nowhere in a desert
In Columbia, there’s an age old tradition where on 1st January, locals roam around with an empty suitcase in the hope that they’ll have a year full of travels. I took that belief seriously, and set out to explore Jaisalmer on 1st January 2015. The trip was special as I took a leap of faith to travel with people I hadn’t ever met before (one of them was through an online dating app!).
I stayed at the Prince Desert camp in the Thar Desert, which was literally in the middle of nowhere. During evenings, we watched performances to Rajasthani folk songs, followed by traditional meals like Dal Batti Churma, Ker Sangri and Gatte ki Sabzi. We climbed sand dunes to watch the best sunsets this side of India. And at midnights, we sneaked out to sleep under the stars, while discussing art and cinema.
2. On top of the world
In August 2017, I ticked Uttarakhand - my 12th Indian state. I always suggest Bhimtal to people over Nainital. It’s a 30 minute drive and the hill station is much more relaxed and non commercial. In Bhimtal, I suggest people to stay at the Fern Hillside Resort for no extra commission from the hotel. It’s pure goodwill because I loved my stay. The rooms offer an expansive view of Bhimtal town as the property sits on a hilltop. You literally feel like you’re living in the clouds, supervising Earth from up there. Nights used to look like twinkling stars beneath you. Morning walks around the property were fun strolling through deodar trees. And when we weren’t up to step out, we chilled in the infinity pool facing the valley.
3. Inside a tiger reserve
In March 2016, I did a unique walking expedition in the Satpura Tiger Reserve with Reni Pani Jungle Lodge. By day, we hiked on foot in the core forest spotting animals in the wild. At night, we stayed in tents strategically placed within a kilometer of a forest office, albeit always locked up. I remember how I had stepped outside my tent one night to answer nature’s call but ran back inside on spotting a pair of shiny eyes with my torch. My imagination ran wild!
We hiked 21km over two days. When the heat got harsh, we jumped off gorges to cool off. Dinners were magical, drinking wine and eating kebabs under the naked sky while thousands of stars glimmered above us. And when we left, the camps left with us. There was no trace that we had lived there!
4. Like chickens
I did my open water dive course with Barefoot Scuba in the Andamans in October 2018. The course itself is 28 grands which overshot my budget. So I compensated by staying at cheap accommodations including a chicken hut. Most dive resorts have this stay option for budget travellers. Chicken huts are unique but not for the faint hearted. For 400 bucks you get an A-frame bamboo hut with a mattress, pillow, table fan, solar lamp, mosquito net and one dust bin. Bathrooms, showers and wash basins are common, but typically clean. You’ll be surprised how many foreigners I saw stay at these chicken huts while doing fun dives.
5. Ganga kinare
In February 2018, I decided to tick bunjee jumping in Rishikesh off my list, Haridwar was complementary. But I stumbled upon this lovely heritage property - Devnadi, which was once the holiday home of a Nepali queen, and later to Ramanand Sagar – the creative head of the legendary TV serial ‘Ramayana’. The haveli was more home than hotel with most of its interiors still intact including a quaint little elevator to the lower level leading to their private ghat with the Ganga River flowing calmly in its backyard. During evenings, I used to join in the Ganga aarti and dine at the private ghat soaking in the magical views of the river.
6. A do-nothing holiday
When you have a 9 to 5 desk job, you treasure do-nothing holidays. In February 2016, while solo travelling in Konkan Maharashtra, I got my first taste of staycation at the Blue Ocean Resort and Spa in Ganpatipule.
The resort had a private access to the Malgund beach which is one of the nicest beaches I’ve seen in Maharashtra. One morning, I spotted three dolphins jumping in the sea, while I sat by the gazebo sipping ‘sex on the beach’. At dusk, I booked myself a foot massage which was absolutely de-stressing; may be, it always is, when you can hear the sound of the waves in the background. My tropical garden view villa had bougainvilleas, chikoo and love apple plantations in the backyard. Mobile connectivity was nonexistent and I had all the time to myself to recharge before I went back to work-life monotony.
7. At a vineyard
We owe Nashik a ‘thank you’ for shining as the wine capital of India. While Sula changed the game for Indian wines, let’s be honest, their commercialisation is working against them now. I prefer York or Soma Vineyards, within a kilometre of Sula, both are quieter and make great wines.
In September 2018, we rode from Mumbai to Nashik and stayed at the Soma Vine Village. The property is blessed with the views of the Gangapur Lake and surrounded by the Sahyadri mountain range. Our room opened to the view of sprawling vineyards and an infinity pool, where we spent our evenings guzzling bottles of wine. A complementary wine tasting is offered, and I even brought home a Shiraz Cabernet.
8. By the backwaters
Poovar was a holiday I gifted myself. It was pure indulgence, but it’s good to pamper yourself every once in a while.
We were on a road trip in Kerala in March 2017, where our last stop was Poovar, a tiny island sandwiched between the backwaters of Kerala and the Arabian Sea. We stayed at the Estuary Island Resort which was all things fancy - right from a swim in the pool under the moonlight to buffets on a floating restaurant. We also squeezed in a 30min massage after a stroll on their private beach. And if that wasn’t all, we took a drop to our car park by speed boat through Poovar’s backwaters. The resort was a world in itself, away from the hectic lives we lead in the city.
9. Earning the view
In a heartbeat I said yes to hike to the double decker living Root Bridge in Nongriat in May 2018, without realising what I had signed up for. Decent level of fitness was a huge plus, which I lack thanks to my sedentary lifestyle.
After 3500 steps, we reached Charlie’s guest house. A musty room with a single bed and an attached bath is all we got. Electricity conked off every now and then, and we ate dinner with a candle light. But boy, was that dinner good or what! It was a vegetarian meal but the veggies tasted like pork, I’m not sure how Charlie achieved that. Hot ‘lal cha’ (red tea) on rainy mornings were among the simple pleasures of living there, cut off from civilisation.
10. My ‘Monument’al moment
When I visited France in 2007, a family friend casually asked if I had seen the Taj Mahal and I kept mum. We had travelled to see the Eiffel Tower but I was yet to see the Taj. So when I finally landed in Agra in 2015, the excitement was palpable. And when I first saw the Taj Mahal, it was a sight to behold. On that trip, I also realised that you don’t have to burn a hole in your pocket to stay at a hotel with a Taj view. Hidden among a slew of residential houses was Hotel Kamal, a two storey building with a view of the Taj from the terrace. It was a no frills room but who cared when you could just hop on to your terrace to get an unobstructed view of the Taj Mahal.
11. Window to the world
I love religious towns. I’m hardly religious but I enjoy watching people go about their faith. Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh had a lot more soul compared to Banaras. I stayed at the state run Narmada Resort which was right by the Narmada River, and my room had the view of the Omkareshwar temple and the jhula pul. Evening temple bells and soft prayer chants were music to my ears over those two days. There are hardly any hotels in Omkareshwar, just dharamshalas and ashrams so this is a great stay option. If I weren’t pressed for time, I could have easily spent a week here; and I’m dying to go back!
12. At the edge of the southern tip of India
While flash-packing in southern Kerala in March 2017, we crossed the border into Tamil Nadu to visit Kanyakumari. Two magical moments in Kanyakumari are the sunrise and sunset. Two magical monuments are the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the Thiruvalluvar Statue. A view from a room that offers all of these is the icing on the cake. We picked Hotel Sea View which was literally the last resort in the row at the southern most edge of the sea. Our room had a jaw dropping view of the Thiruvalluvar Statue and Vivekananda Rock standing tall in the ocean. Nights were magical with the monuments glittering under the stars. It was the last thing we saw from our room before we slept and the first thing when we woke up.
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